The Nigerian construction industry is a dreadful paradox. While millions of Nigerians live in grossly inadequate housing with more even lacking shelter, a considerable part of the money Nigerians invest in building houses, calculated at 50% of all capital investment per annum is wasted through defective construction.

According to Nigerian architects, A.M Ojo and O.O Ijatuyi, who undertook a study of the phenomenon, “defective construction work can be a result of inadequate design, faulty workmanship or poor materialsor a combination of these failings”. These defects appear one end of the scaleas unpleasant aesthetics such as wavy lines or at the other end as significant defects which may require large remedial works or costly maintenance by the owners or occupants after the building is completed. The cost of these “reworks” in the industry professional jargon may run into as much as 20-25% of the cost of the project. There have been extreme cases where buildings have had to be pulled down and rebuilt or in the most unfortunate cases, they have collapsed leading to loss of lives and properties.

The reasons for “defective construction” are not far fetched. Despite the huge number of people employed in the construction industry most are unskilled. Few have the project managementcapabilities sorely required to coordinate and supervise workers in view of the dearth of skills. Hence the ecosystem in which the overwhelming majority of Nigerians build their houseis itself defective. In the United Kingdom for instance, houses were procured mainly by local councils with 42% of Britons living in council houses in 1979. Though the majority of these houses have now been sold to former tenants, large developers or “house builders” rather than individuals have replaced councils as the main developers of houses. The country’s largest developer, Barrat Homes will in 2017 deliver 2,500 new homes in just Scotland. This provides an ecosystem where training, regulation, and supervision are easily standardized.

According to a civil engineer, Mr. Ayo Sumonu, in such advanced construction ecosystems, only companies with well trained staff and insurance indemnifying clients against defects can be employed by developers. This will happen in Nigeria only when there’s a mortgage system which allows Nigerians repay the loan to acquire houses over 15-25 years.And thus give developers and banks an incentive to develop massive residential projects. Regulators will also find it much easier to monitor and punish builders responsible for defects.

However, a scheme by Lafarge Africa Plc, part of LafargeHolcim, the world’s biggest building materials company demonstrates that Nigeria doesn’t follow the way other countries have developed and standardized construction skills. Or wait till the development of a systematic mortgage scheme. Lafarge has developed “EasyHome”, a product for intending homebuilders. EasyHome provides a range of professional technical services, for instance access to 2,000 trained artisansand a network of cement retailers at no cost to aspiring homeowners. Nigerians who want to build, renovate or extend their homes, workshops, schools, clinics etc are provided free access to a deep database of designs for bungalows, duplexes, self-contained apartments, shops etc. After they have chosen the designs they prefer, they could have them modified according to their specific needs and preferences. The cost of the building or renovation could then be transparently determined in 5 minutes through an “app” that processes the bill of quantity (BOQ) also free of charge.

A civil engineer, Mr. Dayo Aluko-Oluokun says although he doesn’t think Lafarge Africa Plc’s principal intention is to upgrade skills in the industry, the Easy Home scheme will have a very significant and positive impact on the spread of good construction practices and the deepen building and construction supervision skills in Nigeria. According to him, if Nigerians who intend to build houses with N3-N80 million can have access to reliable and transparent bill of quantity, practical and sensible designs and qualified builders at little or no cost, an overwhelming majority of them will not patronize unregistered and low-skilled artisans or unscrupulous professionals. To him, EasyHome will make it easier for Nigerians to step on the home acquisition ladder because it takes significant initial costs away but it will also incentivize the development of skills in the ecosystem.

The Lafarge EasyHome also provides access to trusted builders, with Lafarge giving the assurance that cost inflation, use of inappropriate or counterfeit materials etc. will not occur on the project. Cement the projects are supplied by distributors of Lafarge; the manufacturer says this is because the professionals on the scheme have a high degree of confidence due to years of experience delivering high quality projects with the products of Lafarge.

Aurelien Boyer, Head of the Lafarge Africa Affordable Housing initiative says “our provision of free technical assistance, links to trusted builders, reliable retailers and qualified artisans, maximizes home builders’ budget and makes their dream a reality.” He also notes that Lafarge has played a role in providing intelligent housing and infrastructure solutions in the over 125 cities it operates in across developed and emerging markets, and EasyHome has been designed to solve the local challenges faced by aspiring property owners in Nigeria. Intending homebuilders are also connected to financial institutions that provide them more affordable mortgages, further easing the pains of building.

Nigeria’s population is growing at a rate of 2.8% per year and its urban population at 4.7%, according to the World Bank. In 2050, the UN reckons there will be 400 million people in Nigeria, the third-largest in the world. At this pace of growth the number of houses available can’t keep up; Nigeria needs ₦59.5 trillion to bridge its 18 million housing deficit. Every year, only a tenth of the one million homes required are built. Most of these are individuals who contend with deficient financing, shoddy workmanship, poor building materials, and an under-developed mortgage market—challenges Lafarge Africa Plc helps solve through Easy Home, an innovative solution that suits individual home builders and soothes their pains.

Surveys carried out have shown that the use of substandard building materials; poor workmanship, the use of quacks instead of professionals, non-enforcement of building codes or construction regulations, corruption in the building industry etc are the cause of defective buildings in Nigeria—70% of collapsed buildings do not have government approval prior to the building development.

Can Easy Home curb the spate of defective construction in Nigeria? Is the scheme sustainable? Lafarge Africa Plc says the Easy home initiative has already impacted over 30,000 persons in the last 3 years alone. The services form an ecosystem which creates value for all stakeholders: Individual home builders, artisans, construction professionals and retailers It’s another example of how Lafarge is contributing to the construction of cities around the world, through innovative solutions providing them with more housing and making them more compact, more durable, more beautiful, and better connected.

By Marc Philips