There is an ongoing race against time among cement manufacturers in the country to upgrade their production process to enable them turnout the 42.5 grade of cement from their production lines.
With all avenues for negotiation with government now being shut and the 42.5 grade of cement now almost certain as the minimum acceptable grade of cement to be sold in the Nigerian market, most manufacturers of cement are now in a frantic last ditch effort to raise the strength of their products.
The over N800 billion per year Nigerian cement market has about four local producers including Lafarge WAPCO, Lafarge Ashaka, Sokoto Cement and UNICEM producing the 32.5 cement grade to the tune of 80 percent of their capacity while Dangote cement said it produces 100 percent 42.5 grade of cement.
Ibeto cement, which currently imports the product also claimed that all the cement it brings into the nation’s market are of the 42.5 grade.
An intense battle among cement stakeholders in the country began a few months ago when a coalition of civil society organisations threatened to target cement manufacturers in the country with protests over the belief that buildings and other civil structures were collapsing and killing people partly because of the common use of the lower 32.5 cement grade.
The threat prompted Dangote cement to clarify that his cement plants across the country only produced the higher 42.5 grade of cement, while a couple of others argued that the coalition was not well informed about the nature and quality of cement and the impact of cement strength of buildings.
THISDAY gathered that the move by cement companies to recalibrate their systems to comply with the imminent mandatory 42.5 minimum cement standard in the country would take a toll on the profitability and market share of manufacturers in the country, thereby casting a shadow over their ability to deliver to their share holders in the current and coming year.
The Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) last week announced the inauguration of a technical committee to address the claims and counter claims of various stakeholders over the quality of cement in the market.
SON Director General, Dr. Joseph Odumodu, said raising the technical committee became necessary because the issues in contention were technical in nature and needed to be addressed by experts and stakeholders from various segments of the construction industry and the society.
According to him, the members of the committee are well-informed technical people from professional bodies, the academia, civil society organisations, trade unions , cement manufacturing companies and journalists, among others.
Odumodu, at a press conference in Lagos, explained that this approach was necessary to involve all stakeholders in ascertaining the quality of cement in the market as a step to guarding against the spate of building collapses in the country.
Reacting to insinuations of indifference to regulation in the building and construction sector, Odumodu said the quality of essential building materials, including cement, had never been left to the operators to determine.
SON however stated that the challenge of building collapse was not what it could tackle alone considering the multiple sectors involved in the construction industry.
“This technical committee is not chaired by SON, we are just a secretariat and it is what the committee arrives at that would be taken to the council of SON and once it is approved, it becomes a standard. Let me also state that standards are not enforceable except the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment designates it as a mandatory standard,” he added.
Addressing the cement grade issue, which has sparked an intense debate in the past one week, Odumodu noted that there were two grades of cement with various degrees of strength in circulation in Nigeria and they include the 32.5 mass per unit area (mpa) cement grade and the 42.5mpa grade.
He said according to the current SON standards, both cement grades were good provided they were applied in line with prescription.
According to him, while the 32.5 mpa grade is prescribed for activities such as plastering, flooring, block moulding, culvert making and building simple domestic houses, the 42.5 mpa grade is designed for construction of tall buildings, bridges and load bearing columns, among others. He however said the challenge was the level of awareness of the nature and uses of the different grades of cement, adding that there is a need to review the process through the new technical committee.
“More surprisingly, many experienced and acclaimed experts in the construction sector are also not aware of these cement varieties and standards. This low level of awareness has contributed to the wide spate of building collapse, as well as avoidable hazards in the construction sector,” he said.
He added that in the last five years, more building collapses had occurred compared to 15 years ago just as he attributed the major reason for building collapse to the misapplication of building materials by artisans; corruption on the part of contractors in compromising standards and improper storage of cement by distributors and retailers.
“Cement has a life span and if it goes beyond the life span, it would fail to meet required quality parameters. I want to state that there is a huge gap between what is put in the market and what the consumer take up,” he said.
He said the federal government was concerned about the spate of building collapses and was exploring initiatives to stem the tide. Odumodu also explained that SON was carrying out block testing activities in some major parts of the country and had been having consultative meetings with chief executive officers of local cement companies to find a lasting solution to the controversy over the use of 32.5 cement grade.