Army, police residential buildings in barracks can collapse anytime, Lagos govt, experts raise the alarm

July 17, 2021
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DAYO AYEYEMI, in this report, looks at the pitiable condition of buildings in army and police barracks in Lagos State.

RESIDENTIAL buildings within army and police barracks in Lagos are a disaster waiting to happen, the Lagos State Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Idris Okanla Salako, has warned.

In an interview with Saturday Tribune, Salako also listed the challenges confronting the state in its bid to avert the imminent disaster to include getting an integrity test (stress test) done on the distressed buildings which are homes to hundreds of uniformed men and women and their immediate families.

His views are widely shared by experts in the built industry who are saying military and police authorities should not wait for we-told-you-so moment before rehabilitating the dilapidated structures in the barracks.

When confronted with the barracks’ situation at the sidelines of a forum in Ikeja last week, Salako said the state government lacked the power to enter into army and police barracks for any renovation works. He therefore appealed to the authorities of the two institutions to help the state government look into those houses/buildings and do the necessary clean-up of their premises.

He said: “They are still within the ambit of the police and army hierarchies. The Lagos State government does not have power to enter their barracks and do any renovation. It is within their ambit to do. We just encourage them to do the necessary things there. These buildings are a disaster waiting to happen and we are monitoring the situation, and we are discussing with them to do the needful. I hope they will listen to us.”

Midnight death in Ikeja

As the rainy season peaks, occasioning regular and heavy downpour, there are renewed fears that the buildings in Ikeja Cantonment and most police barracks in Lagos may collapse with tragic consequences.

While many stakeholders are worried that regular heavy downpour could bring down the dilapidated buildings, some are worried about the seeming inactivity of the state government regarding the said buildings despite its continuous demolitions around the state.

Fears are not unfounded

About two months ago, a bungalow collapsed at Ikeja Police Barracks, leaving one person dead. Information available to Saturday Tribune from the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) showed that the incident happened on May 5, 2021. The bungalow in the Mounted Troop axis of Ikeja police barracks partially collapsed, killing one Peace Bulus and breaking the arm of her sister.

The victims’ mother, Hauwa, who reportedly escaped death by a whisker alongside the injured victim and her two other daughters, was said to have collapsed due to shock. It was gathered that Hauwa and her four children were sleeping in their one-room apartment in the barracks when an implosion occurred in the building around 3.00 a.m. Saturday Tribune further learnt that the lintel of the door suddenly fell, smashed Peace’s skull and broke her sister’s arm. An eyewitness said that Peace died on the spot, adding that her injured sister alongside their mother, who fainted from shock, were rushed to the Police Clinic in Ikeja for treatment.

A gory sight

The sight of most buildings in police barracks is no doubt a shame to the built environment in Lagos, revealing a lack of maintenance culture. A Saturday Tribune’s survey showed that most of the buildings in these barracks are decrepit.

It is common knowledge that one of the major reasons for constructing barracks is to address the housing needs of the nation’s military and para-military institutions. Apart from providing shelter, housing has a major impact on the quality of life generally with unique economic, psychological and symbolic significance. This notwithstanding, the blocks of buildings in Ikeja cantonment and police barracks, both on the mainland and island, are nothing to write home about, going by their degraded state.

Saturday Tribune’s visit to these barracks revealed the extent of the rot within the environment as evident in the derelict structures providing accommodation to the nation’s security personnel. At the police barracks, while some structures are on the verge of collapse, those still considered fit for habitation are bad in optics, leaving residents scratching their heads and wondering if the authorities in charge of the falling facilities and generally-unhealthy environment are aware of the extent of the problems.

When Saturday Tribune visited Ikeja cantonment, it was observed that a few buildings had been renovated but many other, especially the blocks of flats in 123 Area, were poorly maintained. Apart from the wall paints that had peeled off, most of the pipes connecting the toilets and kitchens were leaking badly, soaking the wall down to the foundation of the buildings.

This occurrence, experts said, might have weakened the structural stability of the buildings. Also, the road leading to the facilities has been decimated by erosion, with stagnant pools of water everywhere. The roof of a block of old bungalows in the vicinity was leaking amid obvious lack of routine maintenance.

The untidy environment at Ikeja cantonment cannot be compared to the rot at Ikeja’s police barracks, no thanks to the deplorable state of the blocks of three-storey buildings in the vicinity. The buildings, as sighted by Saturday Tribune, are already showing signs of possible collapse with no signs of requisite maintenance.

The derelict state of these buildings is already creating fear among building professionals who are now calling on both the federal and state governments to quickly do the needful before a major catastrophe breaks out in the barracks.

A LASBCA source disclosed that letters had been sent to the management of the barracks in Lagos on the need to conduct integrity tests on all the buildings and submit their reports to the agency, noting that the authority had been avoiding going to the barracks for inspection due to the experience of past violent attacks by the police.

The source explained that the agency has control over physical development in Lagos State but “our officials don’t just go to army or police barracks for inspection because of harassment. They will just shout and say ‘who are these bloody civilians?’ Some of our officers were harassed in the past when they marked a building in the police barracks. They had to run for dear lives. Anyway, now that we have been informed, we are going to write letters to the authorities to do the needful.”

 

Builders to petition IGP

President of the Nigerian Institute of Builders (NIOB), Mr Kunle Awobodu, said dilapidated buildings in the barracks have always been a source of concern to the group, disclosing that at a time, they met with the state Commissioner of Police in Ikeja over the matter and told him that reports revealed that there were lots of dilapidated building in the barracks

According to him, the commissioner gave his group a technical officer to liaise with, with the intention of raising support for the police for the renovation of the buildings. He also alluded to the May incident.

He said: “One building collapsed in Ikeja in May. This gave us a lot of concern. We are going to do a press release to the Inspector General of Police, drawing his attention to this. It is good to stay safe. Obviously, some of these buildings need rehabilitation and there is the need to carry out structural integrity tests on them. If the condition of police buildings improves, it will be a motivating factor,” Awobodu said. He noted that the authorities in Ikeja Military Cantonment actually did some renovation works on their building when informed.

Expressing concern over the state of police barracks in Lagos, a member of the Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG), a pressure group in the building industry, Charles Orebola, said the story would not be complete without adding Falomo Police Barracks to the narrative.

According to another professional, Mr A. Oluwatimilehin, virtually all police barracks across the country are “calamity waiting to happen, particularly Obalende and Apapa Police Barracks.”

Another professional, Mr Yaccob Abiodun, stated that in order to be on the safe side, the building regulatory councils should document their findings in all barracks graphically and forward the reports to the relevant ministries and agencies so as to call their attention to the looming danger.

“That done, the councils would be in a good stead to say ‘I told you so’ should any avoidable accidents happen, God forbid. Murphy’s Law has taught us that if there is possibility of anything happening, it will happen at the least expected time.

“Therefore, the regulatory councils ought to be proactive in the discharge of their statutory functions. Prevention is better than cure. Let us avoid the recent Surfside city, Florida’s self-caused calamity from happening on our shores,” Abiodun said

Another professional sees the BCPG as just a pressure group, pointing out that it could only advocate, advise and sensitise. “We have no statutory backing to enforce,” he explained.

In his inaugural lecture on ‘Building Maintenance: An a Posteriori Culture in Nigeria –The quest for Economic Sustainability’ in 2018, a professor of Building at the University of Lagos, Olumide Afolarin Adenuga, listed failure to carry out routine maintenance well in time; lack of knowledge about factors causing deterioration; poor planning, budgeting and allocation of inadequate monetary resources to enable maintenance activities to be undertaken; lack of sharing responsibilities and accountability towards  maintenance; poor security leading to misuse, and lack of awareness of maintenance needs among other users as human factors leading to deterioration of public buildings.

 

Three hours of electricity per day?

Apart from housing issue, a source said that soldiers living in Ikeja cantonment are also groaning in silence over incessant power outage in the barracks. Enquiries from some of the soldiers living in the barracks revealed that they get electricity for just three hours every day. Findings also showed that trouble started when Ikeja Electric took over from the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), with the new operators complaining that the army was millions of naira in debt.

According to available information, the indebtedness led to Ikeja Electric providing the barracks with meters and since then, the military authorities have reportedly been paying for a supply that rations electricity three hours per day.

“Soldiers and their families cannot get their individual meters due to the structure of the buildings, so their only option is to buy between two and three generators per soldier and fuel them to provide electricity for their families.

“Soldiers who cannot afford generators and fuel are left in darkness. The situation is so pathetic that soldiers are now spending their hard-earned salaries on petrol to fuel their generators which have to run for between eight and 12 hours daily,” a source said.

It was gathered that criminals now use the cover of the constant darkness in the barracks to steal car brain-box in their numbers, as well as other car parts, in the vicinity.

 

State agents must follow due process –Police

Spokesman for the state police command, Muyiwa Adejobi, sought to know if state agents complaining of lack of cooperation from police and military authorities followed due process in seeking the integrity test to determine whether the buildings in focus are still habitable.

He advised the agencies of the state government responsible for preventing building collapse in the state to first write to the appropriate police authorities.

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