President of the Nigeria Institute of Building, Prof. Yohana Izam, who recently led his management team to interface with the Senate Committee on Housing at the National Assembly, speaks on how the National Building Code Enforcement Law and the Builders Registration Act (Amendment Bill), when passed into law, would curb quackery and constant building collapse in the housing sector.
You were at the National Assembly recently with your team, where you had an interactive session with the Senate Committee on Housing. What actually brought you to the nation’s apex legislative Assembly?
Well, as you will recall, we as professional builders celebrated an event we called Builders Day on the 13th of March 2022. It was an opportunity to reflect over the situation of the housing industry in Nigeria. Again, it was also an opportunity to reflect over the problems of housing deficits; the problems of poor quality of housing delivery, the problems of shortages in the regulatory frameworks in terms of absence of required laws. And sometimes even when the laws are there, implementation has been a problem. So, we are here in the National Assembly to interface with the Committee on Housing and to draw attention to some pending regulations over which we want to synergise with the National Assembly to ensure that these laws are passed. And first and foremost is the National Building Code Enforcement law. We think that if the National Building Code which is already existing has the force of law, it will create sanity in the building industry. It will defeat quackery and create minimum standards in the processes that lead to the creation of housing stock in this country. Second, is the Builders Registration Act, which is also being revised. We are hoping to create our synergy with the National Assembly to see to the passage of these legislations. That is why we were in the National Assembly in the first place.
Are you saying that you are following up some bills being processed by the National Assembly to create the required legal frameworks to effect the outcomes you are expecting in the housing or building sector?
Yes, one is an amendment to an existing law but the second one is an enforcement code which has been in existence since 2006. The enforcement law has not been there. We want to see a situation where the law is created to help in the enforcement of the building code.
As a professional builder, what can you say are the causes of rampant building collapse in Nigeria?
Well, there are multilateral causes. You know building is multilateral collaboration of many stakeholders. A building will go through what you call planning stage, designing stage, construction stage before you go to occupancy. And the professionals including the architects, engineers, quantity surveyors, town planners and so on and so forth, have specific duties and responsibilities to perform and to make sure that buildings have integrity at the end of the day. So, if any of these professions fail in the distinct performance of their duties, as we have seen in Nigeria where all the professions are suffering from the infiltration of quacks; people who are not trained to carry out design, people who are not trained to carry out construction, people who are not trained as planners, coming in to undertake these kinds of functions. Added to that again is building construction market that has been invaded by substandard materials. So, all of these are likely going to impact on the quality of or the kinds of buildings we have in the country, thereby resulting in the rampant collapse of buildings in the country.
How are you fighting the menace of quackery, use of substandard materials and other problems affecting the building sector?
Well, the menace is actually a Nigerian problem. It is just that, as professional builders we think that we can provide some lead because the nation has bestowed on the professionals in the industry the responsibility of delivering safe buildings. And when we see that safe buildings are not being delivered, we have to talk about remedies that are required to salvage the situation. On our own part, we have been conscientising our members to ensure that in their engagements with building projects, there is integrity in what they do. But the problem is that, more often than not, the clients do not recognise the different professionals that should be used in a building project. Maybe because of cost, they will rather engage with quacks and people who are not trained to carry out such functions in the industry. So, we do public enlightenment. We appeal to clients, whether they are private sector clients or public sector clients, to ensure that their designs, their buildings are professionally orchestrated. The building construction must be handled by professionals. And we move round and do monitoring of sites to also ensure that professional builders are doing their work in various sites. But we are also seeing in this occasion of our visit to the National Assembly that enforcement laws that will help in our professional activities will also help us because if you do not have the backing of the law, even if you bark, you cannot bite. It is a law that says these are the things you do and these are the sanctions to apply. And once Nigerians know that any building that collapses and kills a human being, the person who built it will be sentenced to death, people will become fearful to handle buildings that will collapse under their hands. So, we are saying that there is need also for enforcement of our regulatory frameworks to ensure that professionals have the backing of the law to do that which they have been called to do in the building industry.
From what you have seen in the building industry, do you think that the enforcement of those laws has been effective or successful in the country?
Enforcement issues are there. Like we have seen in one of the recent Council meetings that we had, and taken reports across the States, that the development control institutions in our various State governments are challenges also, which include the normal logistics challenge, manpower and equipment to work with. Therefore, almost in every State, there are reports that there is request for more manpower to be able to police the entire environment. Where for instance you have a building development control agency, look at the case of Lagos for instance, the whole of Lagos is divided into about eight districts. Even with that, they are not sufficient in number and effectiveness to cover the whole of Lagos because we still have building sites that are cropping up without the knowledge of the development control authorities. So, it cuts across the whole country. Development control is a function that should enjoy the requisite manpower and logistics support to ensure that no single building in this country comes without control functions attached to it. There must be a permit to build. There must be State approvals as the building is developing to completion. All these require manpower and logistics support and enforcement agencies. And this is work in progress, and we hope that one day we get there as a nation; that there will be no building collapse or poor quality buildings in Nigeria.
What is your take on the issue of housing deficit in Nigeria?
Well, housing deficit is not peculiar to Nigeria as a country. The reasons are simple. The rate of population growth is such that in every country you find that, housing which is a basic need will always exist, and the only difference is the severity of the need. In our own case, it is very severe. By the conspiracy of the factors of rural-urban migration, a lot of deficits have been created in urban areas. The other deficit that people are not really looking at also is the deficit in quality; the emergence of slum settlements, whereby nine people live in a room in shanty towns. These are all symptoms of underdevelopment of the housing sector. And we are thinking that planning is required, policy is required, and that we provide for social housing particularly in Nigeria. But this calls for a lot of funding. We are also calling on the private sector to play its own part. We have seen private sector organisations going into estate development, which is a good omen for the country. But I think that organisations such as ours will partner with all other housing development agencies. Even in the areas of research, we have to bring down the cost of housing by a combination of research, application of local materials and indigenous technologies because at the high cost of the input of housing now, this deficit is not likely to reduce. So, our tertiary institutions must do research; professional organisations must do research and government funding for social housing must be improved in the budgetary allocations.
As a professional and active participant in the housing sector, can you say that the National Housing Fund is functioning effectively?
The National Housing Fund is a policy of the 1990s, which recognised the fact that there has been a failure of government direct funding. And it talks about the creation of a pool of resources through the Federal Mortgage Bank and other secondary mortgage institutions, to create a situation where some contributions can also come from the demand side, so that people who want to build can also make contribution; for instance workers. I think that policy is good because of the fact that it is sustainable. If you contribute a certain number of months, within six months or thereabouts, you can get a loan to build your houses. There are different levels of successes across the country. I won’t say yes, it’s there or no it’s not there. The policy is still there, it has not been scrapped. What we need to do is to reinforce and re-engineer it, so that it will be more effective in addressing the housing needs, particularly for workers who have a regular source of income, so that they can participate in the creation of the Fund. I think, it’s something that should be encouraged.
Source : New Telegraph