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Controversy over the quality of cement produced in Nigeria took a new dimension at the Public Hearing of the House of Representatives Ad hoc committee on composition and pigmentation of cement product last week, when stakeholders in the construction industry questioned why Nigeria should continue to produce the low-grade 32.5 and substandard cement while the world is moving ahead, reports Festus Akanbi
It is no longer news that the Dangote Cement Plc has completely switched to the production of a very high quality of 42.5R, while other manufacturers are producing different grades of cement, with the attendant controversy.
Industry experts have likened it to a ‘cement war’, yet others describe it as resistance by some manufacturers to the wind of change that is blowing in the industry.
Yet others say it is a storm in a tea cup as there is no significant difference between the two types of cement, and that cement manufacturers who are resistant to the high quality do so on the ground that there is nothing significantly wrong with using the lower grade of 32.5.
Not Settling for Less
The lone Dangote Cement Plc which is producing the high quality 42.5R warned that Nigeria must not settle for substandard cement in order to mitigate the continuing cases of collapse building that have led to the death of so many Nigerians.
It is estimated that from 1974 to 2010, collapse building had claimed 297 lives.
It would appeared that the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) has waded into the crisis by offering a semblance of what experts have described as temporary relief, yet they say the real problem has not been addressed on whether Nigeria should settle for quality or quantity; profit or saving lives.
The SON has issued a directive saying that 52.5R be used for bridges, 42.5R for casting of columns, beams, slabs and for molding block, and 32.5 for plastering only.
In business, positive change is said to be a thorny path yet the only path to a country’s greatness. Change often comes with pain and sacrifice, yet the only constant phenomenon. But this change, observers say, is not coming without a stiff resistance from those who will prefer profit than lives.
Piqued by the incidences of collapse building in the country, the Dangote Cement Plc has warned of an imminent danger if Nigerian manufacturers were to be allowed to continue to produce low-grade cement for building.
The view is that virtually all the advanced and emerging countries including India and China manufacture 42.5 grade, wondering why Nigerian manufacturers should produce inferior quality for building its infrastructure.
Speaking at the Public Hearing of the House of Representatives Ad hoc committee on composition and pigmentation of cement product Wednesday, Group Managing Director/CEO of Dangote Cement, Mr. DVG Edwin, said Nigerians must choose between profit and saving lives.
Mr. Edwin who said his company started producing the high grade 42.5R cement since 2006, added that it was counter-productive and life threatening by allowing other manufacturers to keep pumping inferior product into the Nigerian market.
He said when Nigerian businessmen were only importing cement into the country; it was only importing a superior 42.5 grade, questioning why local companies should be manufacturing low grade despite government efforts at stemming the tides of collapse building in the country.
He said India and China had both phased out the low-grade cement being produced by Nigerian local manufacturers.
According to him, in spite of the superior grade of the Dangote Cement, it has not increased its price.
The World is Moving Ahead
Lawmakers conducting the Public Hearing have questioned why Nigeria should continue to produce the low-grade 32.5 and substandard cement while the world is moving ahead.
The House of Representatives Ad hoc Committee on the composition and pigmentation of cement in the country led by its Chairman, Hon Yakubu Dogara, opened a Public Hearing Tuesday aimed at addressing the phenomenon of collapse building in the country.
In his remarks, Hon Dogara said: “There is no gainsaying the fact that the serial incidence of building collapse in the country has become a source of anxiety.”
He said: “Some have blamed substandard materials including cement, while others have blamed it (collapse building) on lack of regulatory framework.”
Contributing, President of the Cement Manufacturers Association of Nigerian, Engr Joseph Makoju, said the 42.5 grade is superior cement over 32.5 and that Nigeria used to produce and import 42.5 before the coming of 32.5 grade.
Contributing, Hon Ayi Essien, a member of the ad hoc committee, said Nigerians were worried about the quality of cement as well as the professional administration of the cement in construction works.
Unraveling Causes of Collapsed Building
Speaker of the House of Representatives Hon Aminu Waziri Tambuwal had said while declaring the hearing open that Nigeria would not relent in its effort to unraveling the causes of collapse building in the country.
Also last week, construction giant, Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, joined the clamour for the production of higher grade of cement.
The company’s financial director, Mr. Wolfgang Kollermann, at an investor’s forum in Lagos said the 42.5 grade cement like the one being manufactured by Dangote Cement was needed for solid construction. A coalition of civil society groups and professional bodies in the building industry had protested against ineffective standardisation of locally produced and imported cement in the country and this has thrown up foggy but crucial issues which demand urgent attention to ensure public safety.
The coalition believes that the 32.5 grade of cement which many cement manufacturers in the country have been producing and supplying to the consumers instead of the higher 42.5 grade is partly responsible for the increasing incident of collapsed building across the country. They blamed the dangerous development on lax regulation by the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and called on it to ensure that cement manufacturers produce the standard 42.5 grade.
Experts warned that the concern over sub-standard cement is weighty and must not be overlooked because as a developing country, a lot of development projects and construction works go on all the time with cement as the major material; be it residential houses, public buildings such as schools, markets, hotels, airports, roads and bridges among others. Ultimately, any failure of a major construction component such as cement due to compromised standard would only result in tragic loss of human lives and property.
Unfortunately, the alarm sounded by the civil society groups over sub-standard cement which should be a timely wake-up call for the government regulatory agencies, cement manufacturers and other stakeholders to do the right thing had been turned into needless controversy with different parties seeking to justify their positions.
Meanwhile, the controversies surrounding the right quality of cement may be gradually coming to an end following the reported approval of the new cement standards in the country by the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr Olusegun Aganga.
The approved standards based on the recommendation of the Technical Committee set up by the Governing Board of the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), in the wake of cement quality debate by the stakeholders, according to a report, has been given mandatory compliance by the local manufacturers of cement and importers as well.
Earlier, SON Governing Council recently met in Abuja and approved the TC recommendation on the new cement standards before it was sent to Minister Aganga for final approval.
It remains to be seen whether Nigeria will move ahead or stick to its old way of low grade cement and suffer the burden of collapse building.