“By far the greatest and most admirable form of wisdom is that needed to plan and beautify cities and human communities.” – Socrates, an erudite Greek philosopher (471-399 BC)
At this critical time of the Abule-Ado explosion in Lagos, one cannot avoid keeping quiet in the face of sweeping planning infractions and open breach of extant planning laws. One is guided by sound reasoning and the dictates of Murphy’s Law, to wit: “If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong…and at the worst possible moment.”
The grave calamity that befell the residents of the sleepy community of Abule-Ado in Amuwo-Odofin Local Government Area of Lagos State sequel to the explosion that rocked the community from a planning perspective could have been minimised in terms of the high number of human casualties and colossal property damage. At the last count, over 20 people dead, 50 buildings destroyed and 5,000 residents displayed.
It is believed that if the Lagos State Government in times past and now exerts its authority over the enforcement of physical planning laws, the tragedy could have been avoided. The professionals in the Ministries of Environment, Physical Planning & Urban Development and the Infrastructure Development Agency equally share in the blame. They either condone illegality or compromise their integrity as professionals.
Usually, the Lagos State Government professes the necessity for good urban planning and environmental sustainability but lack the political will and moral courage to practice what it propagates. In most cases, those in the corridor of power encourage environmental abuse. They adamantly push for and turn blind eyes to physical planning abuse with impunity.
They put a lot of pressure on professionals to do their biddings even when offered professional advise to the contrary. And when self-induced disaster or accidents occur as a result of their gaffe, the government is quick to set up a probe to investigate what happened and what could be done to prevent a re-occurrence of such calamity. As the norm, the government would accept the report of the probe panel and leave it on the shelve to gather dust without the implementation of the report even when mindful of the cogency of the recommendations.
Readers should recollect how many times there had been the incidences of building collapse and gas/oil pipeline explosions within Lagos megacity under different administrations and the various reports submitted to the government thereafter. We should then ask the pertinent question: Were these reports ever implemented to the letter? The question is still begging for an answer.
This preamble leads to the focus on the very recent explosion at Abule-Ado on Sunday, March 15, 2020, which led to the sudden death of the boarding pupils of the Bethlehem Girls College and the pathetic story of the school’s lady principal (Rev. Sister Henrietta Alokha) who fought gallantly to rescue the students trapped under the heavyweight of the collapsed school building but tragically lost her life in the inferno caused by the ear-shattering explosion. What could not be forgotten in a hurry is the extent and magnitude of the damage to residential buildings within the immediate location of the accident and the environs.
Who is to blame for all that happened? To date, conflicting reports and counter-allegations dominated the airwaves and the pages of local newspapers to the level of bedlam and cacophony. In one report, it was attributed to a bomb planted by the deadly terrorist group, Boko Haram. Another storyline was that a truck driver was involved in an accident at the epicenter of the scene which subsequently triggered the explosion.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) gave a polar account of what caused the explosion. The incumbent Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Corporation, Mr. Mele Kyari at an “in situ” inspection to the scene of the explosion publicly debunked the story that it was caused by the NNPC’s system 2B oil pipeline which Right of Way (RoW) runs through the community.
Another unverified story claimed it was a gas explosion from the near-by gas processing plant and gas vendors who trade close to the oil pipeline’s Right-of-Way(RoW), while both the NNPC and the Lagos State Government failed to protect the oil pipeline corridor from public encroachment. The abysmal failure by the regulatory authorities to strictly enforce the law against the illegal/criminal/life-threatening activities of the gas vendors until this fatal but preventable accident happened is rather reprehensible!
Oil pipeline/gas explosion is a usual occurrence in Lagos State because the government and its regulatory institutions have consistently failed to do the needful. At the Abule-Ado explosion, over 50 residential houses were erected within the 15-metre setback of the oil pipeline trajectory. These buildings have no locus standi within the RoW ab initio! Without sounding like a pessimist or soothsayer, another monumental catastrophe is hanging over the Lagos megacity as this piece is being written.
As the LASG and the affected community of Abule-Ado explosion mourn the dead and count their losses, it is necessary to carry out a self-appraisal of all regulatory institutions responsible for the environment, urban planning and infrastructure development in Lagos State; with consideration to the following recommendations:
- These inter-related institutions with cross-function must take a state-wide audit of environmental abuse and NNPC gas/oil pipeline RoW encroachment to determine the misconduct and culpability of professionals working at the above-named institutions. The government should not be hoodwinked into believing the usual story that the majority of the buildings have no development permit. Such a categoric statement might turn out to be untrue. If the affected building owners have building plan approval, the probing government must find out which institution(s) gave such approval and why.
- The Government has the statutory responsibility to protect all fragile environments such as parks, wetlands, flood plains, and all gas/oil pipeline corridors from indiscriminate encroachment. How can this be done? All designated areas must be signposted for public information, preserved and strictly monitored against any form of encroachment temporary or permanent. The minimum horizontal distance between NNPC Gas and Oil pipelines and a building as stipulated by government regulation shall not be less than 15 metres from the predetermined edge of the pipeline alignment. For ease of identification, the entire corridor could be transformed and designated a greenbelt and shielded from development. Any transgressor on the RoW must be prosecuted and sanctioned for breaking the law.
- The government must be less meddlesome in development matters and should respect professional advice. The recommendation should equally apply to both the legislative arm of government and politically-connected individuals who erroneously believe they can act above the law. For example, the proposed Magodo flood plain development being backed by the Lagos State House of Assembly in violation of the state’s environmental and physical planning regulations is abhorrent, condemnable and unacceptable. The lawmakers cannot probate and reprobate at the same time to circumvent state law.
- The LASG must recover and secure all gas and oil pipeline corridors where infractions have been detected if truly the government wants to forestall a recurrence of the Abule-Ado fatal incident. Therefore, the government must beam its searchlight on the numerous Tank Farms located amid uncountable residential buildings at Satellite Town. The existence of the Tank Farms within a densely populated area portends a disaster waiting to happen and according to Murphy’s Law,” if anything can go wrong, it will and usually at the worst possible moment.”
By Yacoob Abiodun, Urban Planner and Planning Advocate writes from Parkview Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos