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Sunday, December 3, 2023

Lagos Model City Plans: Not yet Uhuru – Yacoob Abiodun

Before the former governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, left office after the completion of his two-term tenure on March 28, 2015,  it was reported in the dailies that he signed (into law?) model city plans for Ikoyi/Victoria Island, Agege/IfakoIjaiye and Apapa. For Lagosians, this is pleasant news and a good parting gift particularly for the residents of the three districts who are the direct beneficiaries of the plans. Kudos must be given to the former governor for the brilliant initiative. Likewise, the former Commissioner for Physical Planning, Tpl. Toyin Ayinde, and the retinue of indigenous town planning consultants and sundry stakeholders directly involved in the planning process before the plans were concretised into plan documents, ready for implementation by all concerned-government, town planning officials, community based organisations and the residents of Ikoyi/Victoria Island, Agege/IfakoIjaiye and Apapa.

Akinwunmi Ambode, Governor of Lagos State. Photo credit: ecomium.org
Akinwunmi Ambode, Governor of Lagos State. Photo credit: ecomium.org

While the former governor would not be in office to oversee the implementation of the plans in phases, it is incumbent on his successor, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, to take charge and ensure smooth implementation of these plans, on the belief that government is a continuum. A lot of state resources must have gone into the preparation of the plans in terms of financial and human and, by extension, the extent of time it took to format the array of information (data, statistics, divergent opinions, etc) into a readable document. If the painstaking task is considered and the amount of money the state government paid for the services of the consultants who prepared the plans, it would be justified to prevail on Governor Ambode to take the plans seriously and accord same high priority among other populist programmes he promised to do for Lagos State during his tenure. However, methinks it is going to be an uphill task for Ambode, since he is not going to be in every nook and cranny of the three districts covered by the plans. Administratively, the governor would rely heavily on the report of his Commissioner for Physical Planning and District Planning Officers who would be responsible for enforcement, monitoring and evaluation of the effects of the plans on the three districts. This preface brings readers to the central focus of this piece: matters arising and suggestions to Governor Ambode about the strategies to facilitate smooth implementation of model city plans whether on-going or on the drawing board.

A plan is as good as dead or worthless if its provisions are not complied with and respected, not inclusive/people-centred, not periodically reviewed by the superintendent ministry and amended as may be necessary.  If Governor Ambode is to record any appreciable level of success concerning the implementation of the various model city plans for different districts/areas within Lagos Mega City, it would do a lot of good for him to take to heart the admonitions contained in this piece, more so when it is from coming a stakeholder resident whose vocation is town planning and advocacy.

Let us start with history. Lagos State had a Master Plan for Metropolitan Lagos (1980-2000) and Lagos State Regional Plan (1980-2000) all in the effort to properly guide developments within the Lagos Metropolitan area and the regional plan was to serve as an overall guide for future physical developments, thus providing the foundation for all urban and local area plans. As good as the recommendations contained in these pioneer plans were, their implementation suffered serious setback. For example, the Master Plan for Metropolitan Lagos recommended the establishment of 28 activity centres, to serve the commercial needs and employment centres for the fast growing Metropolis while acting as spring board for rapid economic development. Throughout the 20-year life span of the Master Plan, no single activity centre was established, despite the necessity for such need. This was a great error on the part of the government because the adverse impact of the error could still be felt regarding the inadequacy of central places within the densely populated metropolis, which has now transformed into the second largest mega city in Africa.

The Lagos State Regional Plan (1980-2000) did not fare better. There was absolute disregard for the land use element of the plan in particular. Wetlands and Conservation areas designated in the plan to protect agricultural farmland, natural habitat for flora and fauna; and to check-mate urban sprawl were flagrantly encroached upon. The Alapere Conservation area is a classic example where urban sprawl has overrun the wetland and altered the entire ecology of the area. Houses are being built on flood plain and storm water catchment areas with reckless abandon.

Proper monitoring was not done to ensure compliance with the provisions of the plans, while the periodic review expected to be carried at five years interval was never done. Albeit feeble attempts were made in 2005 and 2007, it was too late. It was a case of medicine after death because colossal damages had been done.

In the two examples cited here, the government lacked the political will to implement the provisions of the plans, which negates the value of the plans. While the colossal damages were being done, the state government could not hold any culprit responsible, more so the plans were never backed by any force of law. It is in the light of this experience that cautious optimism rather than euphoria should greet the news of the three model city plans signed by erstwhile Governor Babatunde Fashola before he left office in May this year. However, Governor Abode could avoid a repeat of the mistake of the past if he could be proactive and do the needful.

The model city plans must be backed by force of law, which would make the plan document the legally approved development plans for the three districts. All stakeholders including the government, sundry developers and the citizenry must comply with the provisions of the plans. All development approvals must conform to the development regulations/standards specified in the plans, while arbitrary change of land use must be discouraged. But where it is necessary, justified and inevitable, such proposal must be brought to a public hearing for a collective decision, not a decision made at the whims and caprices or fancy of a powerful individual or government officials. Punitive measure must be taken against any individual or corporate entity that violates this provision of the law.

The law must declare the plan document as the “people’s plan” subject to the protection of each district’s residents, who would be empowered to monitor and report to designated authority any development activities not in conformity to the plan’s guidelines. This is to immediately check-mate any illegal development at the nick of time before it is full blown. The eyes of the government cannot be everywhere.  Therefore, the government should allow the formation of a “Citizen Brigade” in each district for in-situ oversight functions in the coverage area for effective implementation of the plan. The citizenry should be allowed the right to challenge any noticeable the wrong-doing, while the state government should create a window where aggrieved residents can petition for fair hearing.

The provision of new public infrastructure is essential. And as recommended in the model city plans, the state government should have the “political will” to provide the infrastructure in phases, realizing the fact that the financial requirement for wholesale capital improvement projects might be too costly for the budget of the state government. In the alternative, the state government might want to enlist the involvement of the private sector under its well-established Public Private Partnership (PPP) for such development as shopping malls, traditional markets, tourism, multi-level parking, health farms, golf course, commercial offices, hotels and bus transport services, which are areas where the private sector has financial capacity and entrepreneurship to succeed. The government should just provide the enabling policy, incentive and conducive environment for the private sector businesses to thrive, which in turn will create more sources for revenue generation.  The lack of political will to implement many of the physical planning and socio-economic recommendations in the previous plans, contributed to some of the problems the Lagos Mega City has and is still contending with over the last 35 years- traffic congestion, housing shortage, urban sprawl, flooding, shortage of public parks and vehicle parking facilities, environmental pollution and urban decay.

Effective monitoring, transparency and accountability are pivotal to successful implementation of any plan, model city plan inclusive. Governor Ambode must not mince words in this important aspect. The governor must put the Commissioner for Physical Planning on his toes by ensuring that the latter holds brief with his principal on a regular basis concerning the implementation of the model city plans. In turn, the Commissioner must be briefed by his management team about the activities of the District Planning Officers who are directly in the field and are better-placed to enforce compliance with the development plan’s regulations. These are the officers who should demonstrate high level of transparency and shun the temptation to do things that are inimical to the good intensions of the plans because of lucre and unwholesome enticement. Planners are trained to improve the lot of the areas where they operate and must not be caught doing bad things that could atrophied the communities.

Governor Ambode must hold government town planning officials responsible and accountable for any lapses arising from the implementation of the model city plans under their watch. Erring officials must be sanctioned for proven professional misconduct to serve as deterrent to others who might be nursing the wicked thought to kill the spirit and the lofty ideals of the model city plans, for an all-embracing urban renewal effort by the Lagos State Government.

By Yacoob Abiodun (Urban Planning Advocate and former Secretary, Federal Housing Policy Council, Abuja)

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