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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Lagos: A mega-city affliction with urbicide

“…Lagos is very far from the Nigerian paradise it purports to be…. the truth must be told, many things are wrong with the State that prides itself as the fifth-largest economy in Africa. One wonders if the State’s managers have ever considered seeking feedback on the activities in the various Ministries, Departments, and Agencies from the people.…. What is puzzling is the obvious truth that our elected officials, particularly the executive, seem to rely exclusively on feedback from their various enforcement agencies while ignoring the need to reach out to the people, for whose sake laws and policies are ordinarily crafted and implemented. (Dauda Busari, May Lagos never happen to you, The Punch, Tuesday, March 29, 2023, page 37).

Babajide Sanwo-Olu
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State

The elaborate opening quote excerpted from a newspaper article serves as the apt “preface” to this piece. Thereafter, we intend to focus on the unorthodox enforcement of rules and regulations by certain Regulatory Agencies in Lagos State to lend credence to Dauda Busari’s outburst.

We would first focus on the two operative words used in the headline above, wit: affliction and urbicide for ease of comprehension. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, affliction simply means, “a cause of persistent pain or distress; the state of being (affected) by something that causes suffering.”

Urbicide was coined by the great American Urban Planner, Charles Abrams (1902-1970), once described by Architectural Forum as “the foremost housing consultant in the United States”, and the world’s leading Housing Expert. He was the author of an urban lexicon titled The Language of Cities: A glossary of terms first published in 1971 after his death in 1970 of cancer. From his fertile mind, he defined Urbicide (as an affliction that could cause)“the death of a city at the hands of its people through the misguided efforts of its officials or the indifference and neglect of its citizens.” 

For illustrations, we cite two instances:

MDAs incessant misconduct. What obtains currently in Lagos State regarding the way and manner some “regulatory agencies” are discharging their functions is very worrisome. Their modus opera di is more in the breach than the compliance of the Acts that set them up. The methodology adopted for monitoring and compliance with the sectors’ rules and regulations is brash, improper, and a form of harassment/intimidation. If this is a harsh accusatory tone, we welcome rebuttals from readers.

Lagos State Physical Planning Permit Authority (LASPPPA) is one government institution that should tread softly, softly.

Recently in Ikoyi, field officials of the Monitoring and Compliance Unit (MCU), Lagos State Physical Planning Permit Authority (LASPPPA) went on a rampage under the guise of conducting “planning audits” (?) on some property located within the planning district. In the process of the exercise, they adopted an “off-the-book” approach to obtaining information from property owners. For an inexplicable reason, they choose to act ultra vires against the statutory procedures in carrying out their functions.

Many affected property owners complained bitterly that they were suddenly bombarded with the “Seal off Order” notice posted on their buildings together with the inscriptions boldly in red paint… LASPPA SEALED, MCU, HQ with the date the action was taken. On interrogation, the building owners raised a pertinent issue about the content of the notice which states: “As previously served”. The building owners inveighed and outrightly denied it. They considered the statement “logically inconsistent,” not factual. Upon investigation, this writer cannot agree less.

Albeit the MCU officials wrote the contentious words, curiously, they did not list the previous documents served on the owners of the property sea-vast from the provision of the Lagos State Physical Planning Permit Regulation 2019, section 23 (1) which unambiguously states: “the Notice of Enforcement to be served where there is non-compliance with the Principal Law and these Regulations shall include the following: (a) Demand Notice; (b) Stop Work Order; (c) Quit Notice; (d) Seal off order; (e) Demand Notice; and (f) Regularisation Notice.”

The operatives of the MCU brazenly sidetracked steps (a) to (c) of the regulation in a wrong manner by putting the proverbial cart before the horse. They did the right thing in the wrong way and in the process committed an unpardonable mistake.

They were oblivious of the fact that the misguided approach to conducting the planning audits has its implications and unintended consequences on both the MCU officials and the property owners. The MCU operatives who should be punctilious and fully understand the rudiments of the law guiding their operations acted unprofessionally.  They display less law and more lawlessness. They should stop behaving as city undertakers.

On the other hand, the property owners suffered unwarranted embarrassment as a result of the seal up of their buildings by the overzealous MCU officials. It counts twice when such embarrassment is shared by the current tenants in the affected buildings who, in a few cases, are foreign nationals. While the seal-up order notice subsists on the property, prospective tenants are disinclined to rent the property for obvious reasons. The inability to lease out their property is a loss of substantial rental income.

It amounts to double jeopardy for a few of the owners whose buildings are specifically for commercial purposes -apartment leasing. It is an affliction caused by the misconduct of MCU officials on innocent property owners. Most law-abiding property owners in Lagos and elsewhere crave a user-friendly city, a city for all, not a city where their voice is not heard.

Again, we are quick to point out that, no law-abiding denizen would obstruct government officials from performing their lawful duties. However, such functions must be rule-compliant. They must be done with decorum and within the ambit of the law, not outside of it as in this instance. All exercises must be conducted the right way which is the ONLY way.

Apogbon bridge inferno: Residents’ blatant disregard for city ordinances is another pointer to urbicide. When subsisting ordinances are not obeyed by unscrupulous city stakeholders, the resultant effect is chaos, disorderliness, and sometimes unexpected disaster of unimaginable proportion as witnessed in the fire accident under the popular Apogbon bridge on Wednesday, March 23, 2021. Many makeshift shops under the bridge and goods worth millions of naira were razed by the inferno.

Despite copious laws banning trading on the streets and at other prohibited locations within the mega-city, itinerant traders in collusion with government officials are always found culpable of flouting the edicts. They turn any available open space under the bridges into markets where they display their goods and carry out other economic and anti-social activities in the full glare of local council officials who offer protection to the traders under a symbiotic relationship.

According to Governor Sanwo-Olu, “no fewer than nine bridges have recorded fire incidents in Lagos in the past two years.” Therefore, for safety reasons, the Governor must seize the opportunity of the Apongbon fire incident to ban trading activities under all the bridges in the metropolis having publicly said so when he inspected the Apongbon bridge on Monday, March 28, 2022. He must not pussy foot but take the bull by the horns. He must not be pusillanimous because of external pressure or perceived political backlash from such a sensitive decision. If he does the needful, he will be crowned the people’s GOAT (Greatest Of All Time).

And if Governor Sanwo-Olu fails to do the needful, that is the definition of governmental complicity, at best. Or urbicide…an accomplice to the death of a city he was elected to govern and pledged “to offer progressive/inclusive governance” in sync with his orchestrated THEMES agenda and Greater Lagos vision.

By Tpl. Yacoob Abiodun (Planning Advocate), Lagos

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