Thursday 18th February will see the start of the trial of the SCOAN trustees and the engineers responsible for the deadly building collapse. In our last post we wondered why SCOAN were so desperate to halt the case when it would appear they had a convenient (and maybe even legitimate) scapegoat. However, Vooke, who has managed commercial construction projects in Kenya and is familiar with construction regulations in the region explained to us how intertwined the relationship between the contractor and the building owner is. Over to Vooke:
How it works
Let’s start with @Jesse the Developer. He has a vacant parcel of land in Lagos and he wishes to develop it
@Jesse sits with his architect @Undertaker and after lengthy discussions, @Undertaker does the building plans.
@Jesse hands the plans to the engineer @Just Wonder who does the structural plans.
@Jesse must now seek approval for the relevant authorities for both the building and structural plans. Once approved, he can proceed to the next stage.
@Jesse hands both the Building Structural plans to his quantity surveyor , @Sheba who prepares the bill of quantities (BQ). The BQ is a breakdown of the estimated cost of each stage of construction down to the very finishing.
At this point, @Jesse may appoint a contractor or invite them to tender. The contractors will give a blanket amount that is supposed to cover the entire cost of construction. So they must access the plans and the BQ. Note, sometimes you have a single construction firm offering all these services. But for now, let us assume they are different individuals.
@Jesse settles on @DOMI DG contractor. @DOMI DG is supposed to follow the BQ and the plans to the letter.
Engineer @Just Wonder inspects @DOMI DG at various stages to check for conformity with his plans. If they don’t, he can order the work to stop or be redone.
Contractor @DOMI DG will be invoicing developer @Jesse at various stages till completion. @DOMI DG’s edge is usually in sourcing for materials cheaper but of same quality than the BQ
Now, on liability in case of a disaster.
Note all these involved are registered professionals. If @Jesse enlists somebody who is not registered but who passed themselves as registered, either the architect or the engineer, these frauds are to blame. Let’s suppose all are registered.
Disasters usually follow shoddy job and from this we can see the most responsible for building safety is the engineer and the contractor.
If engineer @Just Wonder can demonstrate that her plans were never followed, and/or she was never invited to inspect the construction, she walks free.
If contractor @DOMI DG can demonstrate that they followed the plans and the house collapsed, then he walks and engineer @Just Wonder goes to jail.
If contractor @DOMI DG is liable for deviating from the plans either procedurally or using different materials, and if they can demonstrate undue influence to deviate by the developer @Jesse, then BOTH go to jail.
Looking at SCOAN.
We don’t have access to the structural plans se we can’t tell whether there was deviation from these. But any competent engineer is not going to shamelessly deviate from such essentials as reinforcement columns. So the problem is really with the contractor.
But remember for ease of construction, many firms offer all these services so we could be dealing with a single firm.
The question is, did TB Joshua interfere with the plans, or were there any plans in the first place? And if he interfered, is there any proof? If there is no proof, TB Joshua will walk free. But as you shared, they can’t be fighting this hard if they were merely victims of the contractor’s greed.
I don’t know about Nigeria but I do know there are some works that should not be carried out with the building occupied.. This is another angle I haven’t heard explored.
About the approved plans, I wish to emphasize the importance of this exercise. It shows what should go into a building. A contractor may escape liability if they demonstrate they followed the plans as I said. But how would they prove they followed the plans? By furnishing a set of plans identical to the approved ones. Remember the authorities retain a copy.
For SCOAN, there was no approval and quite possibly there were no plans. So what were they following? If there were no plans, both SCOAN and the contractors are liable. But here is the gray area….to what extent did the contractor follow TB Joshua’s instructions?
Point is liability between the contractor and SCOAN lies in the communication between the two over the development. Poor documentation of the same will work against the contractor more than SCOAN in my opinion because they are the more knowledgeable of the two.
As such, you can bet if the prosecutors focus on the contractors, TB Joshua will never rest easy until the case is concluded because the contractors’ first line of defense will be to shift as much liability as possible to SCOAN.
Finally, I can’t emphasize enough the owner liability of TB Joshua for allowing occupation of the building. This I believe is where they could nail him. The Certificate for Fitness for habitation is among the last step before a commercial building is occupied. If you allow occupation before the Law lets you, you ought to be liable for the accident following occupation. It does not matter whether the collapse was due to shoddy work, the owner is fully liable. However, I think this would be civil law rather than criminal. Somebody would have to sue him privately on behalf of the victims (Note from editor: this is already in progress).