Nurudeen Shodeinde is the General Manager, Lagos State Building Control Agency. In this interview with MAUREEN IHUA-MADUENYI, he says compliance with building laws is very poor
Considering the population of Lagos, how is LASBCA able to effectively carry out its duties?
Structurally, there are two ways to this. My agency on one hand, and the public on the other hand. Whatever we do in the agency is a clear reaction to what the people are doing, even though the law clearly spells out what either party is supposed to do, which hitherto, people have not been sticking to. So, we need to strategize all the time to ensure that people do what they are supposed to do but by and large, the agency is saddled with the job of ensuring that people build right and according to the law.
You must get permit before LASBCA can come for an inspection but over time, we found that people don’t really conform with the law so we monitor. Our structure is such that we are present in all the local governments in the state. We have district heads and monitoring officers in the field and across the state monitoring activities.
Ordinarily, LASBCA is supposed to be doing stage inspection, which means monitoring construction work after a permit has been obtained, and we work with you at all the stages and ensure you have good hands on the field, using good materials and work within the ambit of safety standards.
What is the compliance level from the public?
The compliance level is very poor. For several reasons that people have adduced to, I can say that about 90 per cent of people in Lagos have no permits and have not built right. Either they don’t have a permit, or they do not conform to the permit they have or one way or the other, they have run afoul of the law. So, the state government is trying to encourage the people to get their permit even if they have completed their house because the law has not exonerated them from getting a permit.
We now encourage people to come with their as built drawings that is building what has been completed, which can be used to get a permit. Normally, people should pay a penalty for this but the governor has waved it this year for anyone willing to come forward and so I expect people to come forward. LASBCA will ensure that the said buildings are safe for habitation and so we will be requiring that they do a non-destructive test on the building to test the integrity of all its components, if satisfactory, we will be issuing a certificate of completion and fit for habitation for all such buildings, meaning that based on the results submitted, LASBCA is certifying that the building is sound and safe. All these we are doing to stem the tide of building collapse.
All existing buildings are supposed to go through this. We expect people to come forward because we know what our people can do; my team will be going round and serving notices not just for new construction, but for houses where people are living in, to either give us their approved building drawings or certificates of completion and fitness for habitation. I said earlier that LASBCA engages with the developer all through the lifespan of the work and at the conclusion stage, we issue the certificate of completion and fitness for habitation. So, even if it’s an existing building and you have a permit and building plan, this is also an opportunity to get the certificate of completion and fitness for habitation to show the building is sound.
But if the report says the building is not safe, depending on the severity of the defect, if it is still something that can be repaired, we will give time for it to be done and we will inspect before issuing the certificate; but if the report says otherwise, then we will demolish it at the owner’s cost within a period and if the developer refuses to do what he is supposed to do at the right time, the government will be compelled to remove such a building and he is duty bound by the law to pay for the land before taking over the land, depending on the size of the building and where it is built but where they are not willing to pay back, they stand the risk of forfeiting the land to the government after 90 days.
You have said a lot about existing buildings, how about rules for prospective developers?
The first thing after the intention to engage in physical development is to get information on the land, whether your dream can fit into the land and whether the use you are proposing is actually allowable in the area of interest; these are questions you must answer. There are government agencies that provide the answers.
Then you do the drawing and submit to LASBCA for vetting; after it is vetted, it is sent to the Lagos State Physical Planning Authority, where the approval process will be concluded. At this stage, you cannot start construction. It is when you obtain your final approval, which is called development permit, that you can approach LASBCA again because we are going to work with you all through. At this point, you are expected to introduce to us your qualified professionals and your contractor and you are supposed to add their practising licences. It doesn’t mean that any architect can work on any building for instance.
When you start working, we will come periodically to check activities on the site and ensure you are abiding by safety standards and that you are using quality materials. When the project is completed, we require you to get a letter of indemnity from your consultant and then we issue you the certificate of completion and fitness for habitation.
But you must make enquiries about land use; there are modal city and master plans that guide land use; we also enforce these, we must ensure that residential buildings are not erected in commercial areas and vice versa, even when there is mixed use, we must ensure it is balanced.
A lot of people complain about the approval process, how long does it take?
We have a standard of 28 days but if you wish to get it faster, there is a fast-track system. But 28 days may not be 28 days with LASBCA sometimes. We have to work with the developer; it is 28 days when you have everything you need, when your drawing has been cleared; if your drawing is not clear, we send it back.
The 28 days is strictly if you follow the rules; LASBCA does not give permit, LASPPPA does but everything, including your tax compliance, must be complete and up to date. Most people get hooked when they get to tax confirmation level; you want to build in Banana Island but your tax is that of a civil servant, you have to regularise it. So, 28 days is 28 days with compliance.
There are several marked buildings across the state, what does this mean because a lot of people still go ahead with the construction even with the marks?
The red ‘X’ mark means the building is under investigation. Often times, people take it for granted and continue building; in the past, our enforcement had been described as a tap on the wrist, we were not very effective with enforcement but 2018 is not going to be so; we are coming harder, we are going to enforce more effectively and once you start your house, within one week we are there, and if you are not in conformity with the law, we will stop you and if you refuse to stop, we will demolish the building.
We are no longer going to serve notices and go away for one month and allow people to finish their construction. Our officers are paid to be in the field to go after people and make them conform. People often deny that we serve them when they get to the court during prosecution, so the red sign also serves as an evidence that we were there.
There have been several allegations of your officers compromising, what are you doing about this?
Several is relative. Yes, I have heard the allegation and yes, we are working on it. Discipline is the only way we intend to stop it. If you don’t have integrity, you can’t work in LASBCA, and integrity is relative, it doesn’t show on the face.
We encourage the public to come forward if they have any evidence. We will prosecute the defaulting officer because it is a criminal offence. If the person is found guilty by law enforcement agents, we will then carry out the administrative punishment. We are coming hard on everyone, both in and out. So, I encourage residents to please bring such occurrence to my attention, we are looking for scapegoats.
When you talk, people won’t believe until you act. If an officer of the Lagos State Government tries to harass you to part with your hard-earned money, please report him. Unfortunately, people also encourage them because they don’t want to get their permit; so in that case, we encourage whistle-blowing. We have toll free lines where people can call and make reports. We feed on information on buildings but as much as we have offices in all local governments, we can’t reach everywhere, Lagos is big.
Our major challenge is the people; they just want to build. The time and discipline required to do the right things are often ignored. People want to buy half a plot and build a mansion. If we could do a magic today and every Lagosian becomes straight-thinking, we won’t be doing so much monitoring and trying to compel people to comply. When you build a house without due process, it is suicidal; the governor is not happy and has charged us to comb Lagos for illegal structures and bring the developers to book.
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