Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Building Codes and the Need for Semi Skilled Labor in Nigeria

"We have witnessed several disasters in recent times when lives and properties were lost in collapsed buildings. To address these issues it became necessary to develop a systematic model to review the operation of building control mechanism..."--Dr Mimiko, Nigerian Minister for Housing & Urban Development during the National Council on Housing and Urban Development and approval a building code for Nigeria. July 21, 2006.
Photo (AP/VOA) shows a collapsed building in Lagos, Nigeria.


As Nigeria sets to ratify its first-ever sets of building codes after four decades of existence as a nation I can't help but ponder the significance of this move.

Building is a craft; and over the years there has been a gradual loss of the skill-sets necessary for the proper "Craftsmanship" of buildings (one doesn't need to look too closely to see the tale signs of this lack) in the country. One area the enforcement of the building codes would impact is in skills acquisition and knowledge transfer- for I can't see how these codes will be enforceable if building artisans and contractors are not required to be "re-educated" and certified.

One thing I quickly realized on arriving in the America is the extent of involvement of the local and state authorities in regulating the building and construction industry. It doesn't matter how minor the project is- one has to go through the hoops and secure the right permits- one can't even dig up the yard without first calling the utilities company. It is that simple, and the American society has a lot to show for it.

The majority of the buildings in Nigeria are built without such scrutiny and regulation. The effects of this "free-for-all-model" range from the ill designed and collapsing structures and the resultant loss of lives to neighborhoods that are devoid of planning and purpose. No wonder Nigerian urban areas have turned into jungles of haphazardly juxtaposed concrete, iron and wood with little regard to aesthetics and convenience.

Home and house building is a learned craft; at present, there is a general drought of semi-skilled labor in Nigeria, and there are no or few formal institutions that offer this form of skill transfer in Nigeria. Yet no nation thrives without a ready pool of semi-skilled labor.

Are we going to see the resurrection of technical and trade schools in the country? It appears that the thorough implementation of the building codes may have far-reaching impacts that may initiate a cascade of positive effects in other sectors of the Nigerian economy. If this is the case, a thriving opportunity may be in the making for the thousand of jobless and under-employed Nigerians.

Related link: Is Housing Revolution Imminent in Nigeria?