Built Environment Experts Sound The Alarm

As the country marks its 53rd independence anniversary, professionals take a cursory look at activities in the built environment in the last one year and conclude that much still needs to be done, Maureen Azuh writes.

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Stakeholders in the built environment have said that the industry has not moved forward in the last one year, despite several efforts at improvement.

Some of those who spoke with Punch correspondent said there had been efforts at tackling some of the issues that confront the industry, including housing deficit, menace of building collapse and flooding, among others, but only marginal success had been recorded.

Available statistics indicate that the country currently has a housing deficit of about 17 million units, with the tendency of the figure rising further.

In the past one year, stakeholders have focused on ways of making houses available and affordable yet, housing has remained out of the reach of ordinary Nigerians.

While some blamed the problem on insensitivity on the part of the Federal Government, others have said that the amendment of the Land Use Act will be a way out.

A former President, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, Alhaji Waheed Kadiri, said despite the fact that stakeholders had limited their discourse to housing at the detriment of other infrastructure; there had been no progress, especially in the area of housing for the masses.

He said, “Now, if you move to where we usually focus on – housing – you can see that nothing much has been done; the rich are building for themselves houses that are out of the reach of the common man.

“In Ogun State, for instance, there is an estate where blocks of duplexes have been built and are being sold for N27m, we all know that Abeokuta is a city of civil servants but they build houses for N27m.”

In his submission, the Chairman, Housing Faculty, Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, Chief Kola Akomolede, said in terms of housing, there had been a lull at the national level where it appeared nothing was happening either through legislation, or construction of houses by the Federal Government.

He said, “Some states are making some impacts, such as Lagos, where some new estates have been inaugurated; they have also been doing a lot in the environment, in terms of building drainages and road construction, and housing itself; but like I said, there is still much to be done.

“But in terms of legislation about land and the Land Use Act, which is something that plays a big role in housing, the Federal Government has been talking about it in the last 14 years but we haven’t seen anything done; even in housing finance, nothing has been done. It appears that housing is not taken as a serious matter at the national level.

“You will recall that in the seven-point agenda of the former PresidentUmaru Yar’Adua, housing was not one of them and since PresidentGoodluck Jonathan came in, he has not taken steps to do that.

“You can’t compare it with the time of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, whose concern was food and shelter; he initiated a programme for the construction of houses in almost all the local government areas of the nation; we know that for political and some other reasons, it wasn’t quite successful, but one could see a government that was passionate about housing.”

Akomolede added that there had not been conscious efforts by the Federal Government to make housing available to the masses.

“Look at the budget every year, they are not doing anything on housing, anything they allocate is for the payment of salaries of employees of the Ministry of Housing and not for construction of houses for the masses,” he said.

Climate change, floods and droughts…

Apart from housing, in the last one year also, the country has been plagued with the effects of climate change, which has become a major problem all over the world.

The country experienced the worst form of flooding in 2012.

The floods, which began in early July and ended around the first week of November that year, was estimated to have claimed 363 lives, displaced over 2,100,000 people and cost the country over N2tn.

Several states, including Adamawa, Taraba, Benue, Plateau, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo and Anambra, were affected.

In the last few days, some South Western states had also experienced severe flooding.

According to stakeholders in the built environment, the country has recorded more flooding disasters in the last one year than it has in several decades.

According to Kadiri, apart from some states, there have not been many efforts at controlling the floods.

“Like someone said, we have been running a government by condolence, but nobody does anything before it happens. In Ondo State, they are blaming the ecological fund for not providing enough funds to fight flooding because two people died in one of the towns,” he said.

The United Nations Habitat Programme Manager for Nigeria, Mr. Kabir Yari, said efforts at combating flooding could only be given a marginal pass mark as some of the initiatives that were introduced had not been implemented.

He said, “I found out that there were so many efforts being made, the flooding issue for instance, assessment was done by the Nigerian government, the World Bank and the United Nations. I think there are so many blueprints that have been planned for the environment too. And there have been efforts; for instance, tree-planting and the green world initiative; my fear, however, is whether all those things are being implemented.

“I think issues were identified such as the green world, but I don’t know how much of that green world has been implemented because the people have still not been able to overcome flooding.”

Yari, a former president of the NITP, said perhaps, a higher magnitude of last years’ flooding experience would spur stakeholders into implementing the various policies and initiatives.

Building collapse is a serious problem

Beyond housing and flooding, building collapse has become a source of worry to stakeholders in the built environment as the last one year has recorded the highest number of collapses in different parts of the country.

The menace has seen professionals setting up different committees and bodies in a bid to find a lasting solution to a phenomenon that has becomea source of embarrassment to not only the industry, but the country at large.

Recently, the Lagos State Government set up a tribunal of inquiry into the causes of building collapse, with the aim of finding solutions.

However, the menace has continued unabated with the recent collapse of a three-storey building and a bungalow in Lagos Island.

According to Kadiri, in the last one year, the only success that has been achieved in the fight against building collapse has been in the area of creating awareness but other root causes, including cultural causes and the use of substandard building materials have not been tackled.

He said, “There are some remote causes; the cultural side, which nobody is paying attention to. We also talk of buildings that are being rushed; if I have to take time to build a house and pay the area boys each time I build, then why can’t I rush it in a few days or weeks and pay once. Nobody is looking into that area, the Omo Onile syndrome.

“The other cultural side is the inheritance culture where a man leaves a block of four flats to four different children. Who takes care of the roof, the stairway and the surroundings at the ground level? All these are hampering maintenance and lack of maintenance is one of the greatest causes of building collapse.”

For Akomolede, the issue of collapse would not end until the cost of building materials was reduced drastically because the high cost was the reason why people cut corners and do shoddy jobs.

He said, “If you happen to be involved in the demolition of a house, you will discover that with your hands, you can break the blocks and that’s because the people are cutting corners; where they are supposed to use 100 bags of cement, they will use 50 and the result is what we get, building collapse.

“Part of the problem of building collapse is the cost of building materials; if the government can reduce the import duty on GSM, why can’t they do so on building materials so that more people can build and stop cutting corners.”

He added that despite the inability of the government and stakeholders to do much to curbing building collapse or provide housing in the last one year, a lot could still be done.

“I think a lot can still be done like making land available to people through the Land Use Act, it doesn’t take one year to do that; they can do that between now and next year. Reduction of import duty on building materials can be done in the coming budget, and then we will be talking of a vibrant built environment,” Akomolede said.

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