Opinion: Nigerian building contractors and their eyesore of errant craftsmanship

by Desmond Ovbiagele

1356364563_467351827_1-Pictures-of--A-Storey-Building-for-sale-at-Odogboolu-Street-Palmgrove-LagosLet’s renovate the house called Nigeria. But to do so sustainably, let’s ‘make justice the measuring line, and righteousness the plummet.’ Then we would have a building that would not only stand the test of time, but would also be easy on the eye.

Recently, I had cause to marvel as I wandered through the innards of a residential building constructed two decades earlier on the Lagos Mainland.

Yes, the design of the house still held its own stylistically in comparison with more contemporary structures. And yes, the wood panelling, terrazzo tiling and other building materials used had proved admirably durable over the 20 years that had transpired since their first introduction to each other.

But the true source of my fascination was considerably less technical than these. Simply put — what I appreciated more than anything was my inability to identify a single line in the house that was crooked or a single curve that wasn’t smooth.

Granted that the owner of the house (who I am … ehm …somewhat familiar with) was legendary in his uncompromising quest for quality (which earned him the informal title of ‘Brigadier’ from his frequently chastised workmen). But it could be argued that in those days, that level of construction quality (or something approaching it) was the rule, rather than the exception. As a people, we just had much lower thresholds then for tolerating mediocrity—particularly when it concerned something we were putting down our hard-earned money to pay for.

Compare that to the situation today. Across the land from the least to the greatest, from church to airport, it appears there is no structure too modest or ostentatious, too sacrosanct or profane, to escape the curse of glaringly defective workmanship, to evade the accusing marks of a culture surrendered to compromise.

I honestly thought I had seen all the worst examples of shoddy construction until I happened to visit a client recently and was ushered into a meeting room to await my host. I cast a look around the room and my jaw slowly dropped entirely of its own volition.

You couldn’t have seen worse interior finishing if you had paid your staunchest adversary a hefty sum to inflict it; the quality bordered on diabolical. I gaped at door and window frames with shapes I last saw in my secondary school geometry textbook (e.g. parallelogram, trapezium, etc).

The floor surface at first glance appeared to slope downwards for no apparent reason until closer inspection revealed that it was an illusion created by the anomaly of the left and right sides of the room’s walls inexplicably being of diverging heights. As for the wall plastering? Well, it was — to put it mildly— turbulent.

Now if this office was some dingy branch or regional outpost of a one-man outfit situated in one of the city’s typically sprawling and overpopulated commercial areas, one could perhaps understand the setting’s aesthetic lapses, if not excuse them.

But this was the head office of a very recognizable brand located in a prime business district on the Island. Obviously they do not own the building but they are invariably paying mega naira for the dubious privilege of their tenancy there and it baffles me why they would accept to do that. Just as I had frequently wondered in times past at the puzzling complacency with which not-a-few house owners accepted the structural atrocities meted out to their dream projects by cavalier contractors. Didn’t the wanton waste of their hard-earned funds mean anything to them?

Then I realized that perhaps therein lay the problem. I was generalizing about the source of their income in a system riddled with acts of illicit opportunism. It is reasonable to assume that a healthy proportion of the funds that drive construction activity in this land were by no means fertilized by blood, sweat and tears. And as the saying goes —Easy come, easy go.

Wealth acquired by dishonesty can never be the strongest proponent of accountability; it simply doesn’t have the power to attract it (in fact, it actually only thrives in its absence). So when it receives a shoddy response to its demands, it simply shrugs its shoulders and moves on to the next outlet for squandering.

But unfortunately it leaves behind a legacy of compromise that is carried over by the building contractors to their next customer. Who shouts himself hoarse at their laxity until a resigned comment of ‘Don’t mind them — that’s how all of them are!’ from a similarly-treated colleague subdues him to a state of reluctant acceptance of the ‘inevitable’.

And the contractors move on. And the toxic cycle that actually started from the society’s sin of omission in appropriately addressing the impunity of corruption in its midst continues. You reap what you sow.

And every time we sit in a building and gaze at the crooked lines of its finishing, it’s as though God were reminding us that our ways as a people are far from straight and we need to sort ourselves out. The iniquity that we have consciously or unconsciously chosen to allow to live amongst us has found physical expression in our homes and offices as a wordless testament to our moral condition.

Because the implications of our continued negligence go far beyond the superficial eyesore of errant craftsmanship. They eat into the fabric of our daily endeavour in several critical sectors … wrenching our planes out of the skies, somersaulting our vehicles on the express-ways, scuttling our ferries on the seas, collapsing our buildings on the innocent, exposing our most vulnerable to epidemics. Leaving a trail of needless and entirely avoidable disasters and desolation in their wake.

Let’s renovate the house called Nigeria. But to do so sustainably, let’s ‘make justice the measuring line, and righteousness the plummet.’ Then we would have a building that would not only stand the test of time, but would also be easy on the eye.

I never did like geometry very much, anyway.

Read this article in the Vanguard Newspapers
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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