“It was the opposite of grand, but it was my first true home of my own and I was mightily proud. A man is not a man until he has a house of his own.” Nelson Mandela (Long Walk to Freedom)
Housing Deficit and the Nigerian Reality: No Pun Intended!
In an article entitled Addressing Housing Challenges in Nigeria: Issues, Challenges and Prospects, published on the website of the Central Bank of Nigeria by Emmanuel Abolo Moore, which was prefaced by the above quote from Mandela, the author captured a very clear picture of the dire housing situation of Nigeria. He mentioned that the country’s present housing deficit is estimated at a staggering 20 million units and it would require about N21 trillion for the Government to finance the deficit which has been steadily increasing from 7 million units in 1991 to 12 million units in 2007, 14 million units in 2010 and 20 million unit in 2018.
Housing deficit is a major problem in Nigeria and it keeps getting worse rather than better. The Federal and State Governments do not currently have the capacity to aggressively solve this problem. This is why, despite the efforts of both the Federal and State Governments and that of private individuals, the problem does not abate.
According to the article, the total combined effort of everybody, Federal, State and private, is at about 100,000 units per year, which is grossly inadequate for a country of nearly 200 million people. The estimate is that we need at least about 1,000,000 additional units each year to bridge the 18 to 22 million housing deficits by government’s target date of 2033 (if the population continues at its annual growth rate of 3.5 per cent). It is estimated that it will cost US$363 billion to curb the current housing deficit and the number is expected to keep growing.
It was observed by the Author that in Nigeria, neither the government nor the private sector provides enough housing units, especially for the masses that need and demand it.
As observed by two other authors in another article titled Challenges of Housing delivery in Metropolitan Lagos, published on CORE’s platform by Olugbenga and Adekemi, referencing Oshodi 2010, the authors stated thus “While the growth of the population in the metropolitan Lagos has assumed a geometrical proportion, the provision of urban infrastructure and housing to meet this demand is not at commensurate level. This has resulted in acute shortage of housing to the teeming population with Lagos alone accounting for about 5 million deficit representing 31% of the estimated national housing deficit of 18 million (Oshodi, 2010)”
To address this acute problem in Lagos, the State Government in addition to building low cost housing projects on its own, is also partnering with private property developers to develop some landed properties belonging to the State Government. This solution barely scratches the surface of the problem but is better than doing nothing.
Private developers are also engaging in several development projects across the length and breadth of Lagos State, but as had been previously observed, their joint efforts are barely moving the needle of the acute shortage of housing units in Lagos State.
Property developers are needed to contribute their quota in the collaborative efforts to this tackle this major problem. This is especially so with regards to the developments of multi-units projects in Lagos State.
The behemoth problem of acute housing shortage in Lagos State requires that all hands be on deck, in working together to tackle the problem safely, soundly, without cutting corners or doing shoddy construction work. Jettisoning standards and safe practices will exacerbate rather than ameliorate the problem.
The Ikoyi High Rise: Before the Collapse
The Developer of the ill-fated high rise building had been in the news about the project, long before the 21 floors block of apartments collapsed. He has had conflicts not only with the Lagos State Government but also with his structural engineer whose sole responsibility is to assure and ensure the structural stability and integrity of the project.
His dispute with the structural engineer for the project, according to the structural engineer in a letter dated the 20th day of February 2020, is that they disagree on the “required concrete strength” of the 21 floor high rise project. The structural engineer also stated that he is “not taking responsibilities for any other construction errors that may have occurred over time on the project” that were outside his supervision. The said letter certified the other two structures which he has supervised and consulted for before the aforementioned disagreement between him and the developer. The structural engineer even requested that his name be removed from the project board. This was apparently done by the Developer because the project board standing in front of the project on the day of the collapse did not bear the name of the said structural engineer.
In an interview with TVC news, the Developer of the Project mentioned that when he first came to Nigeria to do his first project which was 2/4 Mosley Road Ikoyi, he made a lot of mistakes because, in his words “when I first came to Nigeria I believe in consultants so much, in fact, when an architect tells me something, I will do whatever he tells me to do. If an M&E tells me something, I will do whatever he tell me to do; But if my structural engineer tells me something, I do whatever he tells me to do, to the extent that I realized that lots of people, they just know about books, they do not understand the practical aspect of the work. For example…they told me to buy 1000KVA generator, my M&E, I decided to buy 800KVA, guess what, we never used the 800KVA, we have sold it now. The highest we are using is 500KVA. So I learnt a lot”
He also had it rough with the officials of the Lagos State Government in respect of compliance to specifications of the building approval he got. Because he was not compliant, the Lagos State Government even had him arrested when he resisted the sealing of the site of the project by the Lagos State Government. He was later released and the project unsealed for continuation of construction.
This article does not intend to pre-empt the outcome of the investigation currently being conducted by the Lagos State Government, but the general consensus of views expressed by structural engineers on why the collapse happened is that, there was a fundamental structural failings of the load bearing components of the house.
It was in the news that the head of the Lagos State Building Control Agency, LABSCA, and the Lagos State Deputy Governor expressed differing views on the floor approval that the Developer got from Lagos State, however, the collapse is not entirely or barely even about the approval. The reason is simple, whether or not the developer got an approval for a 21 floor apartment, if the actual and physical structural members of the development itself are not designed or built to conveniently carry the weight of a 21 floor development, collapse will be inevitable, and this is irrespective of the kind of approval the developer got. The fidelity and interplay of actual construction design, physical site construction, experienced structural engineer supervision/control, materials used, are fundamentally more important and supersede the relevance of the approval given by the Lagos State Government for the project.
In the afternoon of the 1st day of November 2021, exactly about one year, seven months and eleven days after the said letter of the structural engineer, there was a thunderous collapse of the exact same building that the structural engineer had raised an alarm about and had disagreed with the developer on, in respect of the “required concrete strength” of the said 21 floor development, while the other two blocks of high rise certified by the structural engineer remained standing despite the collapse of the 21 floors right beside them, which may or may not affect them, subject to the outcome of a test advisably to be done on their current structural integrity. Sadly, the collapse took away the lives of several labourers and workers in the project. Also, the developer of the ill-fated project was inside the project as it collapses and his body was only recovered a few days after. It was indeed a day of grief, sadness, shock and disbelief!
Lagos currently has the highest number of high rise buildings in the whole of Nigeria. Yet, despite the presence of several high rise buildings in Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Lagos Island, some of them over 40 years old, (Nitel Building in Marina also known as NECOM House is 32 floors and was completed in 1979, 42 years ago), there is no history whatsoever in Lagos of the collapse of a high rise building as high as 21 floors.
However, the effect of that singular collapse of this 21 floors high rise building is as pervasive and even louder and has a wider spread than the physical noise generated by the collapse of the structure. November 1, 2021 was and remains the darkest day yet for real estate development in Nigeria, and especially Lagos. Fears, both rational and irrational suddenly enveloped everyone, especially prospective buyers and investors in several real estate projects currently ongoing in the entire length and breadth of the State. People are afraid and it has become a popular assumption albeit erroneously so, that MOST, if not ALL projects currently undergoing development by a developer is suspect as “ALL” developers cut corners and do not listen to professional advice.
This dark and pervasive cloud on a lot of ongoing real estate projects in Lagos at the moment is understandable.
Real Estate Development and the Incidence
The fears in the mind of prospective buyers and investors which borders on the integrity of structures in developments being put up by developers, while understandable and based on an event of immense proportion that has far reaching effects and of great significance, is also not rooted in general facts. The error is of induction rather than of deduction. An occurrence of a major bad event, in this case, the collapse of a 21 floor project by a developer, while significant, unprecedented and deeply emotional, is, respectfully, not sufficient enough to conclude that ALL other ongoing constructions by other developers will suffer a similar fate. The error of this very understandably deep emotional fear becomes obvious when we just stop for a brief moment to re-evaluate our feelings in the light of the pervading and ever present fact that there are a multitude of developments that are standing tall for decades and have stood the test of time, whether high rise or not, and there is no reason whatsoever to call the structural integrity of these numerous developments into question. The inescapable conclusion, despite the urge of strong emotional reasons to think otherwise is that, building collapse in Lagos is an exception as opposed to a rule and there are lots and lots of structurally sturdy developments ongoing or completed in Lagos by developers and which will stand tall, or have been standing tall, for decades.
Lessons for All Stakeholders
There are a lot of stakeholders in any property development project, whether such development is private, public or collaborative. Incidences like the Ikoyi collapse come with a lot of lessons for all stakeholders. They show that everyone involved can do more to ensure the right things are done in a real estate development project because if things go wrong, like in this case, the stakes are high and the losses, both human and material, can be phenomenal.
There is a major lesson in the Ikoyi collapse for all developers. The ones that have been doing the right things should NEVER EVER relent. The cost of cutting corners or doing shoddy construction works far exceed the “benefits”, whether in terms of financial cost or time allegedly saved. The developers that are not up to par in respect of their development processes should up their game and ensure that no stone is left unturned in their efforts to do an excellent construction work. They should use the services of competent and experienced professionals; they should listen to professional advice; they should use the best materials and they should NEVER EVER EVER compromise on the structural integrity and other aspects of the development of a project.
For supervisory State Authorities, their functions go beyond just granting approvals. Site supervision of the development should be paramount and should ACTUALLY be done. The importance of ensuring that the right things are done at the right time can never be over emphasized. The cost of doing otherwise can, and will be colossal.
Professional bodies whose members are the heartbeat of any construction project should do the right thing from the outset of a construction project. They should not give the wrong advise and where the project sponsor suggests a wrong or dangerous course of action to save cost or time, they should object vehemently and insist on doing only the right things. Also the supervisory authorities of these bodies should ensure that their erring members who are culpable and did not diligently discharge their professional duties or exhibit the highest level of professional competence during a construction project should face severe sanctions, including the forfeiture of their licenses to practice and/or even criminal sanctions with severe punitive consequences.
The Way Forward
The battle to conquer the dire shortages of suitable housing units in Nigeria, and especially in Lagos, is a joint battle. In this battle, we are all on the same side. The ginormous enemy on the other side is housing shortages. All hands need to be on deck to tackle this massive problem.
The State (saddled with the enormous responsibility to solve housing problem) and large percentage of the members of the public aspiring to own affordable housing units need property developers to build these units. Property developers are private persons who have made it their business to actually tackle this gargantuan problem head-on and they cannot do it alone. They need subscribers, investors, buyers and an appropriate regulatory environment to thrive. Yes! Developers need you. Guess what, we actually do need developers too!
It is unrealistic to expect everyone to abandon their current businesses, passions or professions or area of expertise or line of work to jump into the complex and very dynamic nerve-wracking business of housing construction because of the fear that the developers who are tackling this enormous challenge will not do it right. This would not only compound the problem, but would, in the long run, be counterproductive. We need developers to do it; and to do it right and a whole lot of them are doing it right. We need developers to build affordable housing units in places where we will otherwise not be able to afford to own a house at; whether as investment or as residence. Our inability to afford to buy or build our own houses in such locations may be as a result of the lack of adequate time or finances or competence or even our justified desire to avoid the enormous stress that comes with the complexity of building construction. We need developers to tackle all of these dynamics and to make these multiple variables work smoothly together for our benefit. Now, more than ever, we need to work together as a team to have a fighting chance against the ever increasing problem of suitable housing shortages.
Let us do this together because we can!