I was part of the euphoria that welcomed the presentation of the National Building Code to the National Assembly. Even though I was not in Abuja where the ceremony was held, I went round Lagos to observe the feelings of professionals in the built environment, for whom the document was designed. That was way back in 2006. Some of us who were on property beat later got a soft copy of the document and reviewed it for publication in our various media houses, with analysis from several professionals. Sad enough, it has not gone beyond that stage as it is yet to metamorphose into law, unlike its twin-brother, Freedom of information (FOI) Bill, a code of practice for media practitioners.
I think the FOI bill was passed into law as a result of the intensity of Abike Dabiri, a professional journalist, who was in the senate and made the bill her pet project. However, one would have thought that other professionals from the built environment, who were in such privileged position, would have pressed hard for the passage of the bill into law. After all, the bill is in their primary domain, but their interest must have either been consumed by their political callings or have not recognised the need for the construction industry to operate within any code of practice.
The document, which was put together by the seven professions of the building industry and respective regulatory bodies of Architecture, Building, Engineering, Estate Surveying and Valuation, Quantity Surveying, Land Surveying, and Urban and Regional Planning was intended to open a new vista in the building industry and eliminate or reduce the incidents of collapsed building syndrome in Nigeria and promote safety and qualitative housing for every Nigerianni.
Not only professionals were excited by the arrival of this document, but also Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, then honourable minister of housing and urban development. While presenting the document to President Olusegun Obasanjo, in Abuja, he had admonished every tier of government, (federal, state and local) to imbibe the spirit and intent of the Code. “To this end, state governments are implored to integrate the provisions of this Code into their local laws particularly those relating to design, construction and maintenance (post construction) and efficiently monitor the implementation of the Code,” Mimiko said.
He also charged the relevant professional bodies not to rest on their oars urging them to encourage their members to religiously observe the provisions of the Code by organising various seminars to educate their members on the implications of the Code. He advised various professional bodies to establish monitoring units to ensure effective compliance with the Code and punish erring members within the confines of the ethics of the professions in order to compliment the efforts of the Building Code Enforcement Officers.
The need for the four-part document, which are administration, technical professionals, enforcement and, schedules and references arose from the existing conditions of the built environment. Specifically, improper planning of our towns and cities, incessant collapse of buildings, fire infernos, built environment abuse and other disasters. It was also meant to address issues like dearth of referenced design standards for professionals, use of non-professionals and quacks, use of untested products and materials; and lack of maintenance culture in the country.
There is no other time to have the Code than now. It would not only improve the local built environment, but would afford relevant professional bodies to practice in accordance with international standards.
According to Babatunde Lasabi, one-time president of the Nigerian Institute of Building, NIOB, the failure of the National Assembly to pass it into law is to say the least “a disservice to the built environment.” He was quick to point out, that the absence of a building code for the construction industry has, no doubt, affected the operations of the industry, adding that this development in the country has rubbed-off negatively on the performance of the built environment. He said that the lawmakers should put the interest of the nation first by ensuring the passage of the Code if only to sanitise the construction industry.
Lasabi’s view was corroborated by Steve Onu, former president of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, NITP. He said that the need for the code to see the light of day was stating the obvious, adding that the delay was not only worrisome but discouraging to players in the construction industry. He wondered why the legislators were foot-dragging on a very important bill as the Building Code, adding that “unless there is more to it,” it should have gone beyond the third reading and ready for the committee of the whole house.
In as much as no lawyer can practice successfully without a deep knowledge of the Federal Constitution and operate within its ambit, likewise, professionals in the built environment would do better with the Code, especially these days when ethical inadequacies are becoming rampart and stakeholders operate in a manner that is far from the purview of any regulating code. One thing I found amusing about the present state of the Code is having to engage the services of building professionals without knowing my rights. The person I hire is not better-off either.
Apart from the Code of Conduct which is peculiar to individual disciplines, I know that many professionals, contractors and stakeholders have not seen the draft of the Code; all are askance as to what it is all about. Amazingly, incidents of building collapse have since lost prime place in the media. These days, you have building foundations sinking before the building itself is ever constructed.
I still have the soft copy of the draft Code and hope to review it again in a later write-up. In case you need the draft, you can contact me; perhaps if we join hands to provoke more public agitation this time around, it could pass the third reading in the National Assembly and translate into law binding on professionals as well as stakeholders in the built environment.