As Nigerians lament the towering figure of housing deficit in the country despite the huge resource accruing to government from crude oil, a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Building and the Hon. General Secretary of the Institute, Bldr. Abdulrazaq Alao in this interview with Linus Aleke attributed the ever growing number of homeless Nigerians to corruption and lack of government will to address the situation. He also spoke on other issues such as building collapse. His except;
One thing that had given Nigeria a negative publicity in the recent time is incessant building collapse in the country. As a builder, what do you think is responsible for these rampant collapses of building?
In fairness to government, we have all the legal frame work and regulations but they are not been applied. When these ugly incidents became rampant, all the stakeholders in the built environment came together and drafted a document which is today known as the National Building Code. This fine regulatory document is still pending before the National Assembly. If the Code is passed by the parliament, I believe it will bring to an end the issue of building collapse in the country. The document specified what is expected of every professional in the built environment. With the code in place, every professional will be liable for their actions and inactions. For example, the building code states that the architect and engineers will supervise in line with their inputs and their inputs are just designs. It also said that building production management is the role of a builder who is trained to manage. So if that code is followed strictly, I can assure you that there will be no building collapse either during construction or after construction. Then, the other thing is that since the laws are there and they are not enforced, a carpenter can wake up and say that he is a builder. There is also inadequate information out there about the dangers of using non professional; those who want to build houses want to spend minimum cost. So if he employs a professional and they give him a brief and the cost, if it is high for him, he will go and engage someone who may claim that he had worked for a construction firm for over 30 years in a bid to cut cost. Some times this factor compels the person to give out the work to a carpenter or painter who lacks the professional competence to build the house for him. But I do not see how such building will stand the test of time, so you can see some of the causes of the collapse.
What can be done to reduce these perennial collapses of building in Nigeria?
What can be done to the best of my knowledge is to first of all, ensure that the building code pending before the National Assembly is passed. Then we can now ensure that only the professionals are given contracts to build houses for government and even corporate enterprise. And for professional to be allowed to do their job in addition to imposing stringent penalty for defaulting professional, in fact I propose death penalty for defaulters. In so doing, I am sure every professional will be very careful. There is need also to flush out quarks in the built environment. I understand design but I am not licensed to do design and if we go by building code, it says that only the architect is permitted to do a design. Then if he finishes the design and it needs the input of a structural Engineer, he call a structural Engineer who will also make his input, then the electrical and mechanical Engineers are called in to make their input into the design, then the quantity surveyors before a builder is invited to then go to the site with the design to supervise the artisans and craft men who will do the field work. This is because by law, it is the builder who is supposed to supervise and manage the site. And if we do it like that, it means that the building will come out with some documents that will make the building stand the test of time. One, the builder, during the process, will have a construction programme which means the building will not stay longer than it is supposed to stay. Two, he will come out with quality management plan where the quality of all the materials at every stage of work is specified. He will come out with health and safety plan which means there will be no single accident during construction. Then when he has finished, he is expected to produce a maintenance manual that will tell the owner of the house, that after two years, he is expected to change certain bulbs or door handle etc. and the owner will have a planned programme on how to maintain his house and all these problem will end.
Is there any regulation that checkmates encroachment of one professional into another professions’ professional role in the built environment?
The regulation is the building code, so that is why we praying for its passage into law.
Can the blame for the incessant collapse of building in the country be attributed to government inactive of its monitory role in the built environment?
I will tell you something that I know, the monitoring and regulatory agencies of government are grossly under staffed. So they do not have the capacity to check what is going on in the building industry. What I think government needs to do to arrest the situation is to engage the professional bodies and consulting firms in the building environment to ensure effective monitoring of projects around the country. Take for instance, if government engages our institute to monitor all the construction activities in Garki district of Abuja, Institute of architect, Maitama district, Institute of engineers, Asokoro district etc. with an MOU that if anything goes wrong in the district you are monitoring, government will come after you instead of the contractor because you approved stages of the construction. I bet you, if that is done, Nigerians will begin to witness high quality jobs because these professional bodies will not do anything that will bring their name into disrepute.
Is Nigeria lacking skilled crafts men and artisans that foreigners from neigbouring African countries are preferred to do jobs such as brick laying and POP in most building sites in the country?
It is not that we do not have skilled and qualified craftsmen and artisans in the country, of a truth; our institute has been training artisans in Nigeria over the years. The problem is that contractors want to maximize profit whenever they are given a job to do. So that is the reason why they prefer to engage the services of foreigners who will bill them less than what Nigerian artisans will demand for the same services. Because of the economic situation in Nigeria, the bill of artisans in the country is often higher than what their counterpart from these smaller African countries like Togo and Ghana will demand for same quality of job. Unfortunately again for home breed artisans, our borders are porous and these foreign artisans troop into the country in their number without the immigration service knowing. As a business man, I cannot take a Nigerian who will bill me one thousand five hundred naira per square meter of POP, when I can actually get the same job done for me at the cost of three hundred naira by a foreign artisan. So it is not that we do not have these artisans but using foreign artisan is more cost effective to contractors. Secondly, the foreign firms that are the major government contractors in the country also smuggle in these artisans from their countries in the guise of expatriate and use them to siphon our money. Meanwhile, I put the blame on the door step of immigration because some of these companies bring in more expatriate than the law allows them to.
These expatriate take jobs made for local professional in the country, what is your institute doing to stop such ugly practice in order to make these jobs available to your members?
There is really little that we can do as professional body to stop such practice by foreign firms. Only government has the powers to wade in and stop such practice with the view to preserving the jobs for our citizens. On our part, we have been doing advocacy, to draw government attention to it. I believe that in no distant time, such sharp practices will be history in Nigeria. This is because government will be willing to cooperate so as to reduce the rate of unemployment.
Is it normal for these foreign firms to bring in these so called expatriate, even when such skill and services can be provided by local professional?
No, that is a serious misnomer; you can only bring in expatriate in a situation whereby you cannot source such skill locally. But what they do is to bring in even painters from their country and give excuse that they could not find a skilled painter in Nigeria. That in a way is an insult on our professional and artisan.
What are the aims and objectives of Nigerian Institute of Building?
The Nigerian Institute of Building is the professional body for Builders and those who are about to be engaged in the Building Profession. The institute is set up to accomplish the flowing intentions; promote the Science and Practice of Building Technology, Building Maintenance, Building Surveying, Building Production/Construction Management and Project Management including all research and publication of the results for public benefit. Maintain a high standard of competence and Conduct of those engaged or about to be engaged in the said Science and practice of Building and the education and research connected therewith. Provide a forum for meeting and discussing matters of mutual interest to professional Builders in Nigeria and to preserve and further the interest of those within. Support, encourage and stimulate the improvement of the technical and general knowledge of persons engaged or trained to engage in the Building profession. Make available information on matters affecting the Building Profession in Nigeria and abroad. Promote an understanding of the Building profession among members of the public and to confer with all professionals and other bodies within the construction industry and to act as the sole authority in the Federation of Nigeria with regards to all matter affecting the profession. And act as a body which the Government or other official or unofficial authorities or organization(s) in Nigeria can seek advice, assistance or the expression of views on any subjects of concern or interest, to the Building profession in Nigeria.
What is responsible for the huge housing deficit in the country today?
There are lots of things that are responsible for the housing deficit in the country, officially Nigeria is said to have 17 million housing deficit. The bugging question will now be what is responsible. I will attribute the problems to high cost of building materials, high unemployment rate in Nigeria, unbridled corruption in the system and lack of political will on the part of government. When I said lack of political will, I meant that government need to create a frame work to subsidize housing in the country. Government can achieve that by insisting that the mortgage system in the country work effectively. Commercial banks can also be compelled by law to set aside certain amount of their income annually for housing development in Nigeria. Government can also establish what I may call Construction Development Bank or Development Board that will initiate policies that will help government address the challenges of housing deficit in Nigeria. That is on the part of government. A lot of Nigerians are unemployed and a man without income cannot buy a house. So he will sleep any where he finds and that is why you still see some Nigerians sleeping under the bridge and in motor parks. The huge resources available, find its way into the pockets of few privilege Nigerians, thereby creating scarcity of funds for majority to be unable to embark on building projects. That is why there is increment in the numbers of slums and shanties in most urban centers across Nigeria. Therefore government need to declare a state of emergency in the housing sector considering the fact that shelter is one of the basic necessities of life after food and clothing.
Despite this threatening figures of 17 million deficit there are still many unoccupied houses in high brow areas of FCT such as Asokoro, and Maitama. Why are houses in those areas locked up because they are too expensive and so many people are homeless?
Houses are expensive, not only in Abuja but even other big cities like Lagos and Port Harcourt. The reasons are simple, the high cost of building such houses are responsible for it, being unaffordable to majority of Nigerians. You hardly can find one or two bedroom apartment in those areas, you mentioned, unoccupied. Those big-big duplex and mansions are built for the rich men. Take for instance, that you are an estate developer, and you acquire a land in such areas at a very exorbitant price, you are not likely going to build one or two bedroom apartment on it. This is because it will take you decades to recover your money whereas you are doing business. Another factor is the culture and mentality of the big men in Nigeria. Most of them build these mansions not because they want to sell or live in it, but because they want to boast their ego and exhibit their pride of ‘I have a house in Maitama, I have a house in Lekki or there about. It is just a pride thing and nothing more.
Over 60 percent of building materials used in Nigeria are imported, why can Nigerians not sourcing their building material locally to help reduce the cost of houses?
With adequate research, Nigeria can source a lot of building materials locally. For example, we can generate our steel locally; most of the cement we use in the country are sourced locally. Another thing that can bring down the cost of houses in Nigeria is making the use of clay bricks acceptable in the building environment. The Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute (NBRRI) have done a research and have come up with new material that was made from clay which is relatively cheap when compared to cement blocks and the machines are there, but because of the culture of pride in the country, we are not making use of it. Nigerians do not like anything that is local, not only in the building materials but also in clothing and other utensils. If we make use of that material produced by the research institute, it will make houses affordable. This is because it is cheap, but Nigerians prefer the bricks wit cement because of pride.