Ebosie Ezeoke is the chairman of Anambra State Material Testing Laboratory, instituted by law under the present administration to check construction failures across the state. In this exclusive interview with O’star Eze, he explains how the laboratory works and issues surrounding the laboratory.
What is the essence of this laboratory?
The lab was set up by law few years back to forestall incidences of failure and collapses of buildings and civil infrastructures which includes bridges, dams, culverts, roads and structures generally.
Recently there were some structures that were built and they collapsed within the state capital. Were these structures tested by your laboratory and what informed the failure?
I am not going to say that so far we have had a clean record when you talk about collapses but the fact is that no structure that has been tested by this particular lab within the last few years has experienced any failure or collapses. In other words, I would say that there has been positive contribution to the integrity of buildings within Anambra State. So, any of the buildings you have seen collapse have for some reasons, did not pass through the testing of this laboratory.
Do you test all structures or do you select structures that you test?
You cannot be selective when you deal with the public. Besides, it is highly professional. We have, probably, the best material testing lab in the country. It took us quite some time t put together the structures we have in place. So we cannot be selective because we are a highly professional setting. What we do is that when you are constructing a house newly, we normally expect you to test your materials which include your iron rods, your granite, your sand, your cement and other basic materials. This is because of the inferiority of materials we have in the society today, particularly iron rods. We are probably the only lab east of the Niger that has the capacity to deal with testing of iron rods up to 25/30 millimetre in diameter. So, what we do here we take very seriously. So, we follow up on buildings under construction. Buildings are supposed to be framed structures once they are beyond bungalow and are susceptible to failures and collapse. Bungalows we do not bother so much about but once it is beyond one floor, it means that one can collapse on the other. So, if we do not follow you from start to finish to test your component materials; your sand and steel, we do have what we call non destructive testing department. Here we have specialized equipments which gives us the opportunity to test buildings that are already finished and still get the same result as to strength, stability and integrity of those buildings, and we are probably the only lab in the country that has that capacity. If a building is also collapsed, we can also recreate to determine the probable cause of failure or collapses. So, I would say that since the existence of the lab, failure and collapse of buildings, from statistics that we keep, has reduced by at least 70 per cent. So, there is nothing selective about our operations but we do is that for buildings that have already been constructed, there must be signal points for us to go there. If somebody is reconstructing; either removing a roof or adding some columns, in the cause of that you are either touching some existing members and introducing new members and that gives us a flash signal to go there. People who may think that somebody sent us because they are rehabilitating their house should note that we already have a flash signal that something is going on there, so we have to check the stability of what you are doing because these are things that lead to some collapses. But we do not see buildings that already exist for a long time without any signal and we go there. If our field people notice any crack on your building or subsidence on your building due to global change that is a signal that something is not completely right that might lead to failure or cascading collapse. So, they should not be surprised to see our people there.
Are there payments expected to be made by the owners of the building being constructed or reconstructed to carry out these inspections you have mentioned?
All payments are made officially and are payments for services. It is like you engaging your consulting engineers. But because we are doing it at the behest of the government, those charges are relatively less than when someone has gone to procure the services of an agency like ours. So, we do have tariff which is official and accounts are official. For technical services, people expect that payments must be made because we do have professionals who go with instruments to various parts of the state to conduct these inspections. We have in our employ over 100 graduates that are Anambra State indigenes and are professionals being paid by the lab. The lab gets subsidies for payments for technical services rendered. If you request a consultant engineer to be paid N100,000, our services here would cost a little less than half of it for the same technical service. So, that gives you an impression of the benefits to the society. But you cannot have professional services anywhere in the world, particularly for your own development, and you are not ready to make payments. If you are constructing a six floor building, for instance, and we come in there to do subsoil investigation, we are going to come with borings and rigs and dig up to 50 metres below the ground to collect samples. We come back to the lab to test them. We have geologists, civil engineers and all kinds of personnel to do that. The point is that whatever you are charged officially is only a proportion of what you would be charged if you go out in the market for the same services. All this is geared by the government of the state to forestall incidences of failures and collapses of buildings which we are happy to note that most people in our state appreciate. In addition to that, the lab has become a resource centre for upcoming engineers and scientists. If you go to most universities, you find out that many of their equipments are no longer functional so you can have engineering student go through a four or five year programme without knowing how to carry out some basic engineering procedures like concrete compression test, because the institution’s compression machine is not working. So, the universities are using our facility as resource centre for their students. A particular university within the state is seeking accreditation and they might get it just by having access to the facilities in the lab. So, I can say that we are a good thing to the environment than the opposite.
In a situation where someone procures materials and your lab attendants come to test it and find it wanting, what happens?
Our business is to tell you how good the material you are using for your construction is and to advise you on the consequences of using them. Most of our work ends up in proffering recommendation. Even when buildings have already been constructed and we find them with some failures or defective, we also give you recommendations on what you should do to be able to use them. Where it becomes almost impossible and you need to deconstruct the building, we will also tell you. We have machines in the lab that tell you how long a building built on a particular kind of soil would last before it starts to develop cracks. We call it consolidation odometer machine. Because people are expected to pay for services, naturally you would expect resistance especially when you are ignorant about the values of the services to be rendered. But government is very conscious of these things and we are also professionally and morally responsible to make sure that we do the right thing.
In a situation where someone is not forthcoming with the fees needed to conduct the inspection, what happens?
If someone is carrying out a construction and he cannot afford to pay for inspection of the construction to ensure he constructs right, I wonder what makes that rational. There is no way anybody can provide you the requisite alibi because indeed you are constructing and you are not constructing to kill people but to make sure lives are contained within the confines of the building. But we are not expected to threaten anybody. The law has provisions for penalties for people who fail to comply. Sometimes, charging the person to court is part of it. Sealing the premises is part of it. Recommendation for demolition is part of it. But of course, these things are not meant to be used carelessly. Under my watch, I am sure there is minimal provision for recklessness. So if there is any genuine case of intimidation, I would be glad to deal with it. We serve notices to people and we do have records. We are ICT compliant and if somebody says he did not get the notice, we can easily go to our computer database and be able to identify when we served the notice. The client is entitled to a report of what we do and we have records of all our activities both hard and soft copies for the past four years of our existence. So, this inspection is something that we do recommend for anybody for the sake of the development of our society, without any doubt.