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The Nigerian Construction Industry: The Past, The Present, and The Future

Construction has always been influenced by environmental and cultural elements. This is why the construction style in old Nigeria reflected the culture of the residents. Not only the culture but also the environment influenced the style of building. 

Presently, modernization has made similar materials widely spread. Materials such as bricks, glass, tiles, are either imported or made locally. The Nigerian construction industry has tried to meet up to the world’s standards. 

They have evolved from roughly hewn stones to finely polished ones. Similarly, this evolution in construction has caused a shift in the economy. A positive shift, as construction, contributed 3-6% to Nigeria’s GDP (pre-pandemic).

The Past

In Nigeria, organized building practices began in the 1930s. Before then, buildings existed but they were not organized (following codes, or building laws). Buildings have evolved from cave dwellings to skyscrapers. 

The foremost factor causing this change is the evolution of human needs. As man develops, his needs change to suit the new state. Before the colonial period, settlements in Nigeria each had their distinct form of construction. 

These settlements were kingdoms with distinct cultures and environments. Each settlement developed at its own pace. So while the Bini kingdom had buildings made of mud, an Urhobo kingdom could have buildings made from wood.

Pre-colonial Construction

The needs of the settlements in pre-colonial Nigeria were functionality, security, and usability. Aesthetics was probably the last thing on the mind of some of these settlements. Buildings were constructed based on what materials were available, while also considering other factors.

The construction practices of these settlements had vast differences. As the environments were different, the weather too, and the culture was different. Constructions in hot, humid settlements were built with safety from the heat in mind. Each settlement had its codes for construction based on some indisputable factors.

Factors that Influenced Pre-colonial Construction

During the pre-colonial era, the following factors influenced the structure of buildings:

  • Weather & Climate: The humidity, or the level of rainfall, high winds, or dry weather affected construction. Not only the structure of the building but also the timeframe for commencing construction.
  • Vegetation & Soil: The type of wood used in construction was determined by the trees available in the environment. Again, the type of soil available served as the major material for construction. The availability of sandy soil, clay soil, rocks, defined how and how much of the soil would be used.
  • Wars & Slave Trade: Due to the constant inter-tribal wars, buildings were constructed with protection/defense in mind. Long winding walls, fences, trenches, watch-spot, rocks, were all types of structures influenced by wars. Additionally, the stealing of people to sell into slavery impacted the building structure. Some houses were built with only one door for entrance and exit.
  • Socio-cultural Factors: The culture of the residents of an environment affected the size of the building. In particular, the heads of authority had their buildings constructed very differently from those of their subjects. The family size also defined the size of the building.
  • Religion: The religious practices of residents affected the structure of their buildings too. They either built mud temples, or wooden ones, dependent on the god they believed in.
  • Festivals & Ceremonies: The kinds of festivals celebrated by certain settlements in pre-colonial Nigeria played a role in construction. Where the ceremonies would hold, and then how people could easily participate from their homes were some criteria considered.
  • Economy & Political Factors: The wealth of a village or settlement influenced construction. The heads of authority also selected which material to be used and what style to be built. An inconsiderate set of leaders meant buildings that won’t protect the people. Not necessarily from invasion and wars, but also from rain, cold, or dire weather conditions.

Colonial Construction

As mentioned earlier, the 1930s witnessed organized construction. Construction was handled either by the Public Works Department (PWD) or the Royal Army Engineers (later, Nigerian Army Engineers). From the foregoing discussion, construction witnessed a shift.

Unlike the pre-colonial construction, all settlements became one entity (Nigeria). And then, construction in all parts of the country began to follow the same codes and regulations. Likewise, in the 1940s, contracting of construction was introduced.

It birthed the construction industry as most British and Italian companies came into operation in Nigeria. But after Nigeria’s independence, there was a second shift.

Factors that Influenced Colonial Construction

  • Style: The style of the colonialist was very different from the traditional Nigerian architecture. There was a lot more use of imported materials, stone/brick masonry, tall columns, etc. Their style was reflected in the construction of houses, offices, and bridges too. The style was also uniform – the same in every city.
  • Materials: The difference in materials wasn’t too glaring, as most of the traditional architecture materials were still in use. The major difference was in the finishing/processing. Tons of raw materials were processed or finished, and then used in building.
  • Technological Advancement: The colonialists were ahead of us in certain areas of construction. They knew how to employ some crude machinery in the construction process. Alternatively, they could build with any material, anywhere. Restrictions were reduced, as more housing interior finishing was introduced (such as fan, bulbs, etc.).

The Post-colonial Construction

After Nigeria’s independence, the construction industry witnessed a boom/surge. Moreover, this was owing to the oil boom that rocked Nigeria, beginning in the 70s. Although, after the British initially pulled out, there was a high demand for construction contracts. Even so, the number of qualified contractors was limited.

Furthermore, with the oil boom, things changed as more construction companies sprang up. The biggest problem with this period (the 1970s-1980s) was that the materials being used for construction were substandard. Buildings became shabby and less durable.

In Nigeria, the public sector produces the highest clients for the construction industry. Also, the traditional contracting approach introduced in 1984 had two separate construction phases. It aimed at reducing the mismanagement of funds and increasing the use of standard materials.

The two phases were manned by two different teams:

  1. The design team
  2. The construction team

The Design Team

This team comprises consultants. They are also a body of professionals, such as;

  • The architect
  • The quantity surveyor
  • The structural engineer
  • The electrical engineer
  • The mechanical engineer

The Construction Team

This team, on the other hand, consists not only of a major contractor. But also of sub-contractors who are chosen based on competitive tenders. It is referred to as “contract procurement”.

Other construction project methods that have evolved since the 70s are;

  • Management contracting
  • Partnering, designing, and building 
  • Construction management

Factors that Influenced Post-colonial Construction

  • Scarcity of Companies: When most construction companies left Nigeria after she received her independence, contractors were in high demand. Bringing about a lot of companies that didn’t know jack about construction. Similarly, it birthed companies that just wanted a piece of the construction industry’s cake.
  • Greed: The greed of most constructors produced buildings that were prone to collapsing. Substandard materials were used because they were cheap, and in order to make extra profits. Even so, when standard materials were used for the exterior, substandard ones were used on the interior.
  • Oil Boom: The oil boom period equaled economic boost in Nigeria. There was more money available, and most people could afford the building designs they wanted. Despite the fact that buildings retained similar structures, designs became daring.

Subsequently, it wasn’t till early 2000, that the Nigerian construction industry witnessed another shift. Up until then, the construction industry was still taking baby steps. Despite the evolution of buildings, the industry itself was still in diapers.

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