‘Poor law enforcement responsible for building collapse’

Sir Oladipo Ajayi
Sir Oladipo Ajayi

Sir Oladipo Ajayi is the President of Architects Registration Council of Nigeria (ARCON). In this interview, he speaks about his stewardship at the council and the failure of authorities to check quacks in the industry.

What are the remote and immediate causes of building collapse?

In Nigeria we lack respect for law and law enforcement. So disrespect to laws of the land is key to building collapse, and then there is virtually no law enforcement. Institutions, individuals and even government don’t respect the laws of the land. The laws are there but enforcement agents look the other way when the law is broken.

Those who put the law there must have learnt from international experience, but when people get to public office they change the rules, and when you do that there is no way there won’t be lapses in executing projects.

For instance, we have consultants but their views are not respected. Somebody who is in administration takes over and starts giving instructions and eventually these lapses will come out and generate to the extent of building collapse.

The building collapse in Benue; we identified that the contractor was at fault because he was not qualified; not in terms of certificate, but in terms of process of executing a project of such magnitude; about 10 floors, and the original fore work was not put in place rightly. The architects that were involved did not give instruction that that particular part should be cast.

Engineers warned that the contract should be revoked. But since they were not the people that awarded the contract and were not the people to pay, they were ignored.

The recent hotel that collapsed in Owerri; a panel has been set up and we have written to it as a regulatory body and up till now it has not replied us. But from what we have identified, the consultants have their own fault; by giving instructions which are not acceptable in our profession. They were complaining from what I saw personally that the client was manipulating the drawing. They even told us.

The practice is clear. Individuals’ roles are clear and government should respect this since there is an edict in states’ physical planning department which states that approval should be obtained whether you are a government or individual or parastatal before you build or maintain.

If you go to these places I have mentioned, nobody has registered drawings. They just come and build. Even federal housing, they are supposed to register them in states.

And in fact, the name town planning should be changed to physical planning because people are exploiting the name; it is just a nomenclature.

The planning process starts with the architect who gives birth to the drawing and interprets it, gives the job to the engineers to do justice, the quantity surveyor will calculate the cost; planners will come around and say it should face here or there and then everyone has a role to play. It is when these people are given recognition and the process is not subverted that we will have sanity in the country and there will be no building collapse.

The laws should be respected, the professionals should be respected, and we should do things the way they should be done.

What have you done to resolve the myriad of court cases and infighting in ARCON since assuming office?

I was elected into office on June 12, 2018. Three of us contested in the election. We were asked what we were going to do about the problems at ARCON. So when I came in, the one that was very serious was an examination conducted by the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA) and which it reported to ARCON; being the regulatory body which takes care of education, improvement, registration and practice of architects.

When the case was reported we looked into it and were able to come up with a verdict. ARCON came up with verification and our position which we posted on our website so that everyone in the states could access and people kept quiet and stopped complaining.

We ensured that we remarked their papers and some passed and out of 300 and something, we were able to get 250 all together, and that gladdened the hearts of the people and there were no dissenting voices again.

Another one was the issue of progress? So, we compiled the examination and decided to have harmonisation with the past president and the incoming one. So since that time there has been harmonisation to conduct programmes for architects after studying for seven years.

So, having resolved those, we had so many cases in the courts and we were able to persuade some to withdraw the cases; like the Higher National Diploma (HND) holders who went to court. I appealed to them that they should withdraw the case and chart a line associated with them all over the world. All over the world, we have an executive line, in order to convert into the executive line, we told them the line to tow and we are ready to conduct examinations for them.

So far, 11 cases have been won by ARCON; which means people are just making noise, and those who are behind have kept quiet.

And the elders who are against the council here and there; we are talking to them to ensure that it is architecture we should discuss and not personal issues.

What other things have you achieved?

Let me start by thanking President Muhammadu Buhari for deeming it fit to constitute our council in various states of the federation and in federal and state tertiary institutions. We are asking for more; not just to recognise us, but to know that we are the engine of property in the world.

I promised three things: that I will re-engineer the office and make it digital. We have done 80 per cent of that. The background is being established for take-off of the digitalisation in ARCON.

I also promised to secure an office, because we hadn’t any since ARCON was birthed in 1966. Today, I can boldly say that with the help of the Minister of Housing and Works, our Lagos office has been awarded and work will soon start.

We have also located the land that was meant to accommodate our head office in Abuja. We have gotten the ratification of the land. We are moving in to that place with all energy to finish the place in less than four months.

Architects have done almost 10 designs and we are trying to merge it into a smaller version of what they have done. We have raised not less than N60m; the president sacrificed the allowances for his car and members are contributing individually from N5m to N10m. We will now appeal to the government, since we are a government agency, to give us, help and assist us during the process either through cash or kind; they are already doing that. Some people are giving us a borehole and you can give us windows or blocks.

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