By Agbo-Paul Augustine
Mohammed Attah is the National Coordinator of Standards Awareness Group and member, National Technical Committee on Standards in Nigeria which is in the process of raising five million voices against sub-standard products in Nigeria. He bares his mind to AGBO-PAUL AUGUSTINE on the crisis of cement grading and building collapse in Nigeria.
Can you give us the background to the current cement crisis in the country?
Many Nigerians are out of the box largely due to the inability of the regulators and manufacturers to come to terms over a period of time and advised Nigerians adequately on the usage of cement. The issue actually started when Nigeria was recording high number of building collapses. We had the highest number then in Lagos followed by Port Harcourt and Abuja. Stakeholders largely consumers were affected and they rose-up from a meeting with a formal protest to the regulator which is Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) that something need to be done urgently.
That material used in building is the cause of some of the building collapse in the country and needs to be investigated. As a fact, they pointed directly at cement because for them they don’t believe that things like iron rods and other materials are responsible. They believed that for a building to collapse it must be that cement formation is not holding other particles well. The agitation began and SON conducted its facts for a period of one year leading to the meeting of the technical committee on standards.
In March, 2014 the technical committee met and with all stakeholders in the cement industry and the regulators, the academia, civil society organisations and consumer protection council. Prior to that meeting, we had received a 14-page memo on cement and building collapse in Nigeria as well as a review of cement status across the world.
After that meeting we are all agreed that there is no cement that is produced in Nigeria that is sub-standard. However, it was agreed that the problem is that cement has different grades and each grades are applicable to one purpose or the other but that is what the consumers were not aware of and largely responsible for building collapse in Nigeria.
If you use cement that is meant for only plastering for block making, there will be problem or you use cement that is meant for block making for concreting there will problem. We analysed and concluded that the regulator need to do more in conjunction with the manufacturers to ensure that the public is aware and can begin to use it effectively without much of building collapse.
But some of the cement companies are protesting the classification of cement into usages since there are no clear signs on the bags?
That is where the problem is and that is why we are involve in informing Nigerians of the different types of cements, their grades and applications. Let me clearly tell you that there are three different types of cements in use worldwide. That is the 32.5 mpa, 42.5 mpa and 52.5 mpa earlier we had 22.5 mpa that was being used for light concrete.
Experts within the industry that are also part of the technical committee came up with the view that globally there is a shift in the usage of cement. There was an advice that we should have a centrally accepted cement that can be used for all purposes and that rather than shifting up or down, the country should stay in the middle so that it can get result. That was when it was agreed of the grade of cement to be use. But first we must identify these cements and their usage based on the contents. The experts came out and say that the 32.5 had been reviewed and scientific evidence showed it can only be used for plastering and other light blocking while 42.5 is for all purposes because it can be used for plastering, block moulding, concreting and high-rise building. While on the other hand, 52.5 can be used for density work like bridges etc. The position we are maintaining is that the wrong mix of these various grades of cement will also affect buildings in the sense that whether you are using any of the grades for your construction work and is not mixed well with sands or water there is likely going to be problem. It was agreed by the National Technical Committee on Standard that all the manufacturers should go back and begin to label their product to the grades and their usages.
Has that directive been followed by cement manufacturers in the country?
We have not seen anyone that has abused it yet except of course we also know that some cement manufacturers have taken the case to court because in their own estimation, the process was not followed in declaring the grades according to what was agreed upon. But ours is to look at the issues involved and make presentation.
In your opinion, what do think are their fears?
The fear is that some manufacturers over time have been producing 32.5 mpa cement. For them to shift to multipurpose cement they have to upgrade. The cost of upgrading may have scared some them but scientifically, it has been proved that it does not cost much to upgrade except of course the issue of patriotism comes in. That was why when we went to the National Assembly for presentation before the Adhoc Committee on Cement and Pigmentation; I told the chairman that the issue is separating business from patriotism. The committee now declared that 32.5 should be phased-out of the market and maintain only 42.5 mpa. The National Assembly’s position was even worse than the recommendations we made earlier.
Ours is that 32.5, 42.5 and 52.5 grades of cement have different usages. We should identify what each stands for and brand them as well. That was what we recommended and the council also presented same.