Penultimate week, there was a news item concerning the lamentation of one Mr. James Anifowose, a pioneer resident of Lekki Phase I who, out of frustration and vituperation against the Lagos State Government (LASG) and officials of the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, blew the whistle concerning the blatant bastardisation of the Lagos Master Plan. He accused the LASG and its officials of criminally tinkering with the land use of the Lagos Master Plan in respect of Lekki Phase I to the detriment of the residents.
Among the specifics of the criminal infractions are: deliberate allocation of the land reserved for Police Station in the Master Plan and public car park to individuals, arbitrary allocation of residents’ waterfronts to unscrupulous individuals for landfilling and for non-permissible development, obstruction of the scenic beauty of the waterfronts which people have paid for, and unpardonable violations of zoning regulations leading to the conversion of land use from residential to commercial and vice versa.
The lack of a well-defined Central Business District (CBD) was also a major concern. As specified in the Master Plan, each building within the CBD is meant to be 10-storey in height. But the proposed district is now populated with container shops and a variant of duplex residential buildings including a cluster of night clubs and entertainment outfits sharing the urban space.
The consequences of deliberate violations of the land use plan are manifold. They range from overcrowding, traffic congestion, destruction of road infrastructure in residential areas due to overuse by trailers plying residential areas to discharge goods in shops, supermarkets and other commercial concerns located in residential areas, the imbalance in the sharing of power supply to the mixed-use enclaves and noise pollution with the adverse effect of stress on the health of the residents to irreversible damage to the overall environment of the supposedly planned(?) precinct called Lekki Phase I.
In all of these, the right question to ask is: Who is to blame? Is it the LASG or the technocrats/advisers in charge of urban planning or the consumers of planning products in Lagos State? The answer is not far-fetched. In order of blame, the LASG, as a government entity, takes the “lion share” of the blame. From one administration to the other (both military and civilian) none has the “self-discipline and political will” not to tamper with the elements of past and subsisting Lagos Master Plan(s). Successive administrations in Lagos State in times past are guilty of the blame.
It is what this writer label as “power abuse, not land misuse.” The powers that be usually put too much pressure on town planners in government service to do their biddings when desperately looking for land to develop in order to satisfy the demands from party loyalists, acolytes, cronies, and prospective investors. The pressure is more intense whenever undeveloped lands are sighted anywhere in Lagos anytime high-profile officials go on routine/facts finding tour of the metropolis.
The Lekki Phase I is a classic example where so many reserved areas for the provision of infrastructure and essential public services were left undeveloped for too long and were seldom protected (from encroachment) by the New Town Development Authority (NTDA) which has the responsibility for development control in Lekki and its environs. Upon sighting such vast land left undeveloped within any district, the craving for immediate allocation becomes irresistible and no amount of explanation or reasons adduced by the technocrats to enlighten the authority concerned why the land is kept in abeyance for future development in conformity with the elements of the master plan is accepted. They are often ignored or overruled by the government ostensibly with an indefensible excuse.
Any technocrat unwilling to obey the instruction of his principal to release the land for allocation or change its use normally incurs the wrath of the authority. In civil service parlance, it is called “insubordination” and “party perfidy” in political lingo. Therefore, in most instances, for the fear of not losing their job the technocrats are hamstrung and would end up tampering with the land use plan of the Master Plan in compliance with the directive given by the authority. The sorry state that Lekki Phase I has turned into was a result of the meddlesomeness of high-profile personae in LASG who “won’t take no” for an answer when professionally advised to refrain from tinkering with the elements of Lagos Master Plan.
Truth must be told to the authority that there is no short-cut to urban planning in Lagos, nay anywhere in the world. Those who intentionally change the rules of urban planning should expect the consequences. It is illusory for the LASG to claim that the city has well-structured master plan upon which physical planning implementation has been based to achieve the vision of being safe, organised and business-friendly state, whereas the existing living conditions at the Lekki axis of the megacity do not lend credence to such aspirations. The rules guiding urban planning are meant to be obeyed to the letter. Some are even sacrosanct. Meaning you cannot alter them. They are legalised. The LASG cannot pass a specific law on urban planning or any law for that matter and at the same time be in the vanguard of breaking such a law and expect absolute compliance by the citizenry.
Cities are man-made. Their creation is the handiwork of city planners through meticulous planning and plan-making inclusive of community participation as stakeholders. Like living organisms, cities are vulnerable to decay when they are not properly planned and managed. The LASG needs to decide firmly about its vision for the megacity. Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is a magnet to tourists from across the globe because it is a well-planned and managed city where institutions and citizens do not give room for planning rascality.
The LASG authority cannot engage in planning on the one hand, and on the other willfully disrupt the aims and objectives of the master plan and expect to have a positive result in terms of liveability and sustainability. In saner climes what transpired in Lekki Phase I would have incurred the wrath of the property owners leading to numerous court cases, which the municipal government would be compelled to pay restitution or revert the master plan to its original concept. In our clime, history is replete with apparent misuse of political power and constant interference in the cause and course of governance at all levels of government.
Our cities cannot be like the cities of the developed world without paying due cognizance to urban planning. Without proper planning, zoning, and enforcement of development regulations, the result we get is the mumbo-jumbo physical arrangement and unwholesomeness of our cities. If we want to keep our cities running, safe and efficient, the government and the citizenry must have due respect for master plan’s component which deals with infrastructure and public facilities such as roads, schools, communication services, hospitals, and police stations. Put simply, land reserved for these “city essentials” must be jealously protected from encroachment because it is the community that would bear the consequences of mal development.
This piece cannot be complete if I fail to focus on the unfortunate things the professionals (town planners) and the citizenry in Lagos do to tamper with the land use plan of the city’s master plan. The public outcry has been the underhand dealings, i.e. aiding and abetting the abuse of the master plan by public officials. It has been an untamed practice in urban development in Lekki environs and Lagos megacity in general. Due to the evident laxity of enforcement of planning regulations made worse by inadequate manpower, unscrupulous developers are in the habit of flouting planning rules with the belief that they can escape sanction at a price if they get caught.
Such is the temerity usually displayed in some parts of Lagos by obdurate developers who often encroach on government acquired land or undeveloped public space with impunity. The professionals cannot claim ignorance of this unholy practice. In fact, among the various reasons why town planners are held in contempt by the citizenry, “Aiding and abetting the violation of planning standards and regulations” top the list of the complaints, followed by low level citizen’s participation in the planning process.
The government cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the lawless behaviour of a few developers who, out of greed for financial gain, indulge in making life unbearable for their neigbours and the city residents at large. It is saying the obvious, therefore, that land interlopers whose action can thwart the efforts of the government to realise the dreams of achieving a liveable megacity must be held accountable no matter whose ox is gored.
If truly “the dream of a better city is always in the heads of its residents,” as Jaime Lerner, former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil rightly posited, the LASG and the technocrats responsible for physical planning and urban development are “duty bound” to play by the rules of the game and keep their house in order as exemplary as possible before beaming their searchlight on the citizenry who have a penchant for urban planning infractions.
The government cannot be openly acting above the law and expect total obedience of the same law from the governed. The LASG’s public institution(s) should always imbibe culture of untainted service delivery in the course of its business transactions. Lagosians have a right to expect openness and accountability in the conduct of public business.
By Yacoob Abiodun (Urban Planner/Planning Advocate, Parkview Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos)