With the lockdown lasting until at least April 14 — and probably longer. Many built environment professionals have had their lives upended because they are sequestered at home or, if they can still go into work, they cannot collaborate in person with colleagues.
They didn’t have any option than to follow government’s emergency lockdown, especially in major cities. As more than 318 people have been infected in the country and about 10 have died. Lagos remains the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, with about 230 infected.
Currently, an estimated 2.6 billion people –one-third of the world’s population- is living under some kind of lockdown or quarantine. The figures may be higher, with more people standing the risk or always exposed to the pandemic.
The real estate sector, which was just recovering from the 2008 economic recession, is swimming in murky waters as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged several parts of the world.
Consequently, the transnational and multi-disciplinary nature of the built environment meant that the sector is one of the worst hit by the presidential COVID-19 lock down directive.
Here, professionals describe how they are navigating the lockdown. Former President, Association of Town Planning Consultants of Nigeria (ATOPCON), Mr. Olaide Afolabi said the regulation is a law that has caught up with everybody and hence they don’t have any option than to be law abiding, since it is for everybody’s good.
“When you looked at it from the point of view of the type of profession we are in it is more of government related profession. “Anything, I do for my client have to go through government approvals.
“So by so doing, it means that if government is not working, the best I can do is to work on whatever projects I have at hand and wait for that time, when government will open and I push in my application. So, we are caught up to it in that respect.”
On the use of technology, Afolabi said he has been relating with his clients virtually through conference call and zoom software. He said; “For building approval, you can submit online, but there has to be somebody at the other end too to threat your application.
“Moreover they are multidisciplinary kind of, so it is a bit difficult for them to work except for some applications with special interest not the common application that people submits.
“ If, it is a project that is dear to government, then it could be done virtually”, he added. Also, past president Association of Consultant Architect of Nigeria (ACAN), Ibare Akinsan, said it is obvious that the most aspect of the lockdown was the effect on the economy generally.
“Even now, banks are more or less on shutdown, ordinary ATM, you can’t get money out it. So that is very worrisome. People, who are supposed to pay you are using lockdown as an excuse”. He said.
According to him, in the first two days, it was alright but afterwards we start getting bored and frustrated.
“The economic implication is dire, I know a lot of colleagues that said they are going to sack all their staff at least majority of them because this pandemic has killed the economy. Akinsan stressed that the lockdown has caused him not being able to execute jobs, while staff are not working with a high tendency of reducing the staff strength.
“How do you start paying staff when they are all sitting at home? If there is lockdown, where is the money to pay them? Look at the exchange rate, it is very high.
”We don’t know how long it is going to take for the world economy to recover and for people to start making money again. So you have to lay people off now , just apologize to them and if things get better you call them back. “
For the President, Nigerian Institute of Builders, (NIOB), Kunle Awobodu, the lockdown was an opportunity to do academic and theoretical works. The lockdown, he said, came with diverse implications as professionals who are more on the sites are handicapped.
According to him, it is illegal to be working on the site because construction is a team work. For consultant engineer and immediate past president of Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Adekunle Mokuolu, “the lockdown has stressed the need for us to enter into a conversation on how to benchmark the pandemic and learn to do things differently going forward.”
Mokuolu, who has been on safe isolation after having meetings with people that were positive of the virus until his test sample came out negative last week, said the last one week has been horrific. He said: “We thank God for technology, I have been working from home. I have not gone out, it is a very dangerous thing, if you know how virus operates, let us work from home, what is work when your life is not there because if I expose myself, I am endangering other people some body will have to live his house to come and treat me.
“If, I don’t isolate myself, I will infect other people, some body have to treat them and that person will be exposing his or her self to the virus.
“So everybody will just die if you don’t have somebody treating you.
“In my isolation, I was thinking of what I can contribute to make my country better, sometimes things can happen even if you have a means to go to other country and get what you want but you cannot go. If this continues to happen in the next ten years, all of us will go naked because we will not have cloths”, he said. On the lesson for the country, Mokuolu said, this last week has shown that we have not start thinking about developing our knowledge.
“We are just building houses anyhow and if we do that it will be very difficult for us to continue to add value to others.
“There must be someone to support all of us, for example, washing of hands, a situation where people don’t have running water or tap water and all they have is to depend on boreholes, then they are at the mercy of somebody to wash their hands when they are at home.
“Even response to people who are not feeling fine is a challenge as about 90 per cent of Nigerians do not have tar roads to their houses. So how do help gets to them, even if you want to distribute this palliatives and there is no road to facilitate your movement you will be frustrated.
Essentially, I know all over the world, there is going to be post COVID-19, just like it was during 911, we did not benchmark Ebola, if we did, as historical fact we will not be in this kind of situation.
“In every country as a nation, you must have a reference point that made you to do something. In the United States, there was post -911, you will see what will happen, they will have pre-COVID-19 and post COVID-19, and this is what is going to happen. We must bench mark, one of these things.
“ That is what happened in the east for a very long time until people took it from them.You hear people in the 70s in the east before the war, the war really helped people to start becoming enterprising to do so many things.
“ The experience from the war that is what brought about a lot of development in the southeast but people are now forgetting it and you no longer hear before the war again, they have been diluted into doing things without cooperation.
“ There was a lot of cooperation from the southeast in Nigeria, there was honesty because they have seen that all these things are for their good.
“It is not about one person owing everything because at the end of the day all these things are useless. Just like now, those things are useless. These are the ways we as human beings should be thinking.
“The bottom thing is that humans are here to interact, animals have given us template about how to live on earth, they share among themselves, of course there must be greedy ones among them but at the end of the day, you only have one stomach.
“We need to build local sufficiency. If other country citizens will go out because of the pandemic and did not return, who will construct our roads since we are not building local capacity”, he said.