“There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans.”……Jane Jacobs(the American author of the famed book-The Life and Death of Great American Cities)
The incumbent Lagos State Commissioner for the Environment and Water Resources, Tunji Bello, was recently reported in the dailies that “the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) had been mandated to apply the full weight of the law on noise pollution.” (THE PUNCH, November 13, 2019). This directive from the Commissioner to LASEPA was sequel to the sealing of some night clubs and bars by government because of noise pollution.
Tunji Bello said that “the action became imperative because his office has been inundated with complaints and petitions from many residents and residents’ associations about the obnoxious noise levels of many leisure centres and religious homes.” For the government to unseal the night clubs and bars and reopened for business, Tunji Bello said the affected leisure centres must obtain “a letter of clearance from the residents’ association of the area where they do business.”
Tunji Bello, with due respect, is shying away from his responsibility
Being the Commissioner for the Environment and Water Resources whose Ministry is statutorily empowered to enforce all environmental laws through its regulatory agency, which in this case is Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA), so why pass the buck to the residents’ association to issue “a letter of clearance” to the sealed night clubs and bars as a conditionality before the businesses could be reopened?
The residents who complained about noise pollution expect the government to completely get rid of the irritant developments from their localities in order to have a quiet environment. That is the reason why they petitioned the government. They are not in accord with the respite suggested by Tunji Bello that the night clubs must install sound-proof equipment to minimise the noise emanating from their premises during clubs’ unholy hours of business operation.
The residents believe that most of the night clubs are “oddities.” They should not have been given the approval to operate at all if the necessary development control laws had been strictly enforced. Even if the noise is minimised, what about the heavy traffic such businesses normally generate where they operate? Is there any mitigation measure put in place to deal with the attendant traffic congestion?
Logically, the horse must be put before the cart
As a first step, Commissioner Tunji Bello should find out which agency of the Lagos State Government gave the approval to the affected leisure centres to build the structures at the locations where they presently operate. Two, he should confirm if these structures were in existence before they were converted to another use different from the initial “use approval” obtained by the property owners from the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, and who gave the approval?
Three, what were the conditions given for the change of use and the stipulated requirements to fulfill? Were the conditions complied with before the owners of the leisure centres began to operate? Four, what is the general/predominant land use in each of the localities where the leisure centres are located…residential, commercial or mixed land use? Five, in processing the building plan approval, was consideration given for bulk, height, and for on-site parking?
Information is power. By the time Tunji Bello is furnished with “honest answers” to all the pertinent questions asked above, he would be better informed. He would be surprised that some unscrupulous government officials who are neck-deep in venality aided and abetted these controversial developments.
Since most developers in Lagos State are unabashedly mendacious, it is easy to find an ally among government officials who are equally ready to tag along with the illegal practice of the developer for pecuniary gain. Although an allegation of corruption is often denied among the rank and file of government officials; however, in the court of public opinion, it is an incredible story better “told to the marines”.
Planning is meant to guide development and prevent obnoxious land use
Unfortunately, strict enforcement of environmental and physical planning laws in Lagos is more often reactionary. The law is applied when the offence had been committed; but never enforced to prevent an infraction. Or better still, the officials intentionally overlook the infraction for an inexplicable (?) reason. In the case of the sealed night clubs and bars, how and when did they spring up at their present locations? Are they officially allowed to be where they are located?
Lagos is replete with incompatible developments, which ought not to have been allowed ab initio, yet Eko o ni baje is the meme (buzz word) among government officials who gave questionable building plan approvals to the incongruous developments common all over the nooks and crannies of the megacity.
Here are examples of noticeable incompatible developments abound in Lagos: petrol station tucked within the precinct of residential houses or on the road setback, event centres built at awkward/heavily trafficked locations, bank buildings with a minimal/inadequate parking space for their customers, conversion of residential buildings to places of worship with daily/noisy vigil service at the dead of the night and sundry non-conforming uses. All these mumbo-jumbo developments give Lagos a bad image as a lawless/planless city, the truth of which is rebuffed by those in authority in Lagos State.
Lagos battles with liveability challenges
No wonder the mega-city was rated the least liveable city in the world in the yearly Global Ranking of Liveable Cities survey consecutively for two years – 2018 and 2019. Lagos cannot attain a reasonable level of liveability and a modicum of a better quality of life by the citizenry when the government is NEVER (my emphasis) ready to act decisively about the strict enforcement of its development control regulations.
Most times, a fire brigade approach is adopted instead of applying an effective/sustainable method to curb illegal development. It counts twice when erring officials who indulged in proven unethical conduct are treated with kid gloves or never sanctioned for wrongdoing once they are well-connected. The interference of some politically-connected persons in planning matters is not helpful. They sometimes pressurised town planners to bend the rules in favour of developers of their interest. This is a vexing issue that Tunji Bello is prevailed upon to discuss with his principal, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
The lofty dream of a Greater Lagos as evinced in Sanwo-Olu’s public pronouncements would be difficult to attain under a meddlesome political elite and; the use of double-standard in conducting government business, particularly professional matters. Lagos would need a rebirth and copious urban regeneration interventions coupled with attitudinal change among the citizens/developers who have a penchant for breaking environmental regulations, especially noise pollution. The effect of prolonged and excessive noise pollution on human health is better imagined… stress, insomnia, nervousness, cognitive disorder, constant irritation, hearing problem, and cardiovascular disease.
LASEPA has set maximum noise levels within the zones of different land uses. In the industrial zone, the maximum allowed is 90 decibels during the day and at night is 80 decibels. In residential areas, the noise level allowed is 65 decibels during the day and 55 decibels at night. Any amount of noise above the range specified by the regulatory agency is considered noise pollution and offenders are liable to sanction. The crux of the matter is that LASEPA has failed woefully in the past to enforce the provisions of its own law on noise pollution.
Therefore, it has wittingly given the citizens the leeway to cultivate lawless behaviour about noise making. The agency needs to be alive to its responsibility as the “police of the environment” and make sure it is not a lame-duck government agency.
If the truth must be told to power, Lagos is infected with bad planning. The megacity suffers from a malady called urbicide: “the death of a city at the hands of its own people through the misguided efforts of its officials or the indifference and neglect of its citizens.”
The LASG has only one option to promote liveability. The government must eradicate all manners of indiscipline before indiscipline destroys Lagos! Leadership in Lagos must go beyond the acceptance of “good enough” as good enough. The city must emulate Dubai’s style of leadership as stated by Tommy Weir (an expert in leadership advice): “leading is a constant pursuit of being better, actually being the best.” It calls for a leadership that has a strong political will to do what is right at the right time without pussy-footing. Nowadays, people know their rights. To them, the top-down approach in planning has become an anathema. The citizens can easily sue the government if they have a justifiable reason to do so.
By Yacoob Abiodun (Urban Planner/Planning Advocate, Lagos)