The Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, Thursday called for the prosecution of builders found culpable in building collapse incidents in any part of the country saying it was the only way to send a strong message to builders to comply with the national building standards.
Mr Fashola, who spoke in his office in Abuja while hosting members of the National Building Code Advisory Committee who paid him a courtesy visit, said where an investigation has been concluded in any event of building collapse and someone was found not to have complied to any of the building standards, such a person should be prosecuted as an example to others.
Expressing regrets that there has been little or no prosecution of any person after an investigation has been concluded over a collapsed building, the minister noted, “Somebody must have acted wrongly, either in the design stage, whether it is in the material supply, whether it is in the compliance stage, somebody did something that he or she should not have done”, adding that such a person must be exposed and taken up for prosecution.
“I think that we have come to a point where after each unfortunate collapse we go back to the investigations, let us find one person who has acted wrongly; somebody must have acted wrongly, either in the design stage, whether it is in the material stage, whether it is in the compliance stage, somebody did something that he or she should not have done. Find that person and let us take him up for prosecution,” the minister said.
Pointing out that such an example was what every society needed, the minister said people needed to know that there would be consequences for non-compliance to the law adding that because people have died in any event of building collapse, the culprit could become answerable for manslaughter or for criminal negligence or answerable for so many other things.
“It is important for people to know that those laws are there to affect how people behave and that when people don’t comply with those laws there would be consequences”, he said adding that once somebody was made to answer questions before the public, “irrespective of the outcome, others will sit up. People will know that it is no longer the way it was and that you do it at your own peril”.
Advising professional builders to resist the temptation to shield their members during investigations, Mr Fashola recalled an incident in Lagos when he was governor pointing out that while the investigation was getting close to the culprit of a building collapse, there was “conspiratorial silence” in the industry which enabled the culprit to escape prosecution.
“In places where investigations have been concluded, there will be findings; that there were substandard materials used, who supplied; or wrong design , who designed it? That is the person to hold. Or that designs were okay and materials were appropriate but they removed some, so who removed, who supplied? We can track all these things down. We have that ability,” he said.
On the notion in some quarters that the major reason for building collapse was the absence of a National Building Code, Mr Fashola declared, “I am not sure in my mind and I find it difficult to accept that the absence or presence of a Building Code or an updated Building Code is the major cause of building collapse”.
According to the minister, a lot of things have been quite standard for buildings for over a century and that if builders do those things and build with them; things like designs, materials and compliance to the basic standards there would be less of building collapse across the country adding that it is not enough to have a Code or have trying laws but to comply with the Code or building standards.
He expressed delight at the disclosure that the committee’s work on the Standards for Gas Piping was essentially getting toa conclusion. He said that it was a matter of national priority then that the committee, in collaboration with the then Minister of State for Petroleum, should work to totally eliminate gas flaring by increasing demand for gas for domestic use.
He said because safety was the basic concern as people generally thought that gas was not safe, the only way to make it safe was to design minimum standards that were applied in other countries to ensure that gas could “pass through our cities and be beneficial to us without us being in any danger when we use it”, adding that in that sense the committee was contributing and supporting a major source of the nation’s energy use.
Mr Fashola, who commended the advocacy plan of the Committee aimed at sensitizing members of the public on the basic building standards, however, advised that such sensitization should start from primary up to tertiary levels adding that the contents should be broken into “easy modules and easy bites” at every level for easy understanding and consumption.
Describing students as the “more critical stakeholders” in the building industry, the minister said they were going to be more involved in the industry from now adding that unless they were exposed early in life to the global best practices in the building industry, they would learn it very late.
He declared, “Every level of education is important; the undergraduate level, the secondary school and even the primary school level. You can breakdown what they need to learn in easy modules and easy bites. Just like you learn something at the primary school level and it gets tougher as you progress to the secondary and university levels”.
The minister promised that government would get involved at this point with school teachers and principals as well as state Ministries of Education “so that some basic essentials of the building are to be inculcated to the people in childhood”, adding that there was need “to be sufficiently connected with our habitats like in other communities”.
Mr Fashola also advised the committee to use street level conversation strategy in their interaction with the public during their sensitisation programme for a better and effective sensitisation pointing out that such programmes had failed in situations where professionals used technical languages and codes while explaining matters of public importance to them.
“All too often, professionals cannot breakdown the essential elements of their profession to street level conversation. We speak in such technical terms that make no connection with the ordinary people”, the minister said and recommended for adaptation the example set by Professor Ransome Kuti as Minister of Health when he introduced the Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT) Programme to the public.
“All that he was talking about had all the scientific codes and electrolyte balance in the body. But he broke it down to just water, salt and sugar; things that people can understand at street level”, he said adding, “That is the kind of communication that you can effectively have at street level so that you let people understand and appreciate some of the minimum standards that we have, and where they don’t exist, they can escalate them quickly to the authorities and we can prevent accidents and disasters before they happen”.
The minister also expressed delight that the committee was researching into the earth movement in some parts of the country adding that he would love to see the results of whatever investigations that the body would arrive at and the recommendations that could affect the industry in terms of designs and quantity and quality of materials, among others.
Earlier, in his remarks, Chairman of the committee, Mohammed Faworaja, had given an update of the activities of the committee since inauguration on July 26, 2018 to include conclusion of work on the guidelines for gas piping to buildings in the form of Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) adding that a draft code has been prepared to be procedurally presented to a Stakeholders’ Workshop between now and November before incorporating it in the National Building Code.
Also, according to him, the committee had, after inauguration, also set up some needed technical committees which include the Design, the Construction and Post–construction sections adding that the sub-committees have already commenced work monitoring the day-to-day activities of the Committee.
Other activities, he said, include monitoring building related activities nationwide, adding that one of the most worrisome outcomes of the monitoring was the incidences of building collapse across the country particularly in the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and other cities in the country.