“Don’t do anything you would not want to read on the front page of your local newspaper.” – V. Gail Easley, former President, Florida State chapter of the American Planning Association
Before going further on the subject matter of this piece, I want to digress briefly with this preface: On critical building and physical planning matter(s), Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and the Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Dr. Idris Salako, don’t have to like what this writer says, but they can count on it being true. Ironically, a person who always speaks the truth to power is erroneously labeled as a “bellyacher,” a grouch, or an “enemy” of government in our clime.
But the late Dr. Martin Luther King, the iconic Afro-American civil rights crusader, reminds us that “our lives began to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” This writer verily believes that the citizens must have the courage to speak out about things that matter to them, most especially in their communities. Be that as it may, we return to the subject matter of this piece.
Residents’ Associations vs Developers’ acrimony over town planning regulations
Like a recurring decimal, the issue of “Town Planning Regulations vs Property Developers” is still front burner news and continuous public discourse. The whole of last week was replete with SOS advertorials in the dailies by the Osborne-Foreshore Residents’ Association (OSFRA) calling on Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, to wade into the imbroglio between the Association and a controversial private-sector developer in the estate who was alleged of uncooperative attitude and “unchecked violation of officially approved building plans”; and “relentless, extreme and unconscionable distortion of the Estate’s Master Plan.” (“Save Our Soul” advertorial, This Day, March 22, 2021, page 31).
Despite a town hall meeting of all stakeholders held in late March 2021, which was organised by the Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban development (MPPUD), temper remains high. Neither the Association nor the obdurate developer wants to blink first. The feuding parties have been issuing one rejoinder and counter rejoinder against themselves in the newspapers regularly. The dispute continued with increase acrimony.
In what seems to be a cat with nine lives, the issue of the development of a “green belt zone” located in a vast gorge in Magodo Phase 1 in the Ikosi-Isheri Local Council Development Area of Lagos State resurfaced in a local newspaper with the title “Land grabbers defy Sanwo-Olu on building in greenbelt-CDA” (The Punch, Thursday, April 8, 2021 pages 4-5.)
As reported, the Chairman, Gateway Zone Estate, Oyebode Ojomu unequivocally said, and he is quoted verbatim: “The Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu; the Commissioner for the Environment and Water Resources, Tunji Bello; and the Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Dr. Idris Salako, are feigning ignorance over the activities of land grabbers building houses in the green belt located in…Magodo phase 1.” (ibid).
Ojomu recalled that, for the past three years, the Association has been engaging the Lagos State Government (LASG) to preclude the development of the gorge in the Magodo area for an obvious environmental reason. The gorge is a basin for the collection of stormwaters in Magodo and the adjoining settlement areas. If the basin is built up, it will be blocked, and when the rains come it could trigger a serious environmental crisis in terms of flooding. Although the government shared the concern of the community, it is yet to walk the talk. Meaning: Talk without any concrete action.
Another dispute between a property developer vs Parkview Residents’ Association (PVRA) over the contravention of town planning regulations is evolving in Parkview Estate as we write. The Association has stoutly risen against the apparent violations of extant building/planning rules and regulations in the estate. The PVRA has written letters to both the offices of the Lagos State governor, the general manager, LASBCA, and had also informed the Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development to that effect. The Association pointedly demanded that the developer should be sanctioned for failure to comply with the provisions of the Lagos State Physical Planning Permit Regulations (2019) and requested that all the contraventions should be removed.
Why Governor Sanwo-Olu must intervene
Citizens are not government: they elect it and want to be served by it. During his inauguration ceremony at the Tafawa Balewa Square on May 29, 2019, His Excellency Babajide Sanwo-Olu in his speech said inter alia: “This day marks the beginning of a new chapter in our journey to greatness…Let us agree this day that we shall collectively rise up to build the Lagos of our dreams” and he promised expectant Lagosians that: “My door shall remain open to all. I shall seek the advice of the learned, the wise, and the ordinary Lagosians. I must pay …closer attention to the voice of my critics. In constructive criticism lies the seed of improvement.”
Though the statement contains soothing and encouraging words, what is playing out about the three scenarios earlier expatiated above is a total departure from what the governor promised Lagosians. The affected Residents’ Associations in their lamentation and public utterances are now expressing some feelings of disappointment, distrust, and fear of abandonment by the Lagos State Government. We tender a few evidentiary proofs as follows.
Suspicion of impropriety and public distrust
The Residents’ Associations have explicitly stated the various problems of infractions going on in their estates graphically, via letters, newspapers’ publications and SOS advertorials to the Governor when all entreaties made to the regulatory Ministries/Agencies for Environment, Physical Planning and Building Control Agency were handled with hebetude or foot-dragging. For example, regarding the indiscriminate development of the greenbelt in Magodo by land grabbers, the Chairman, Gateway Zone Estate, Oyebode Ojumu has this to say and it is instructive to readers: “…If we have written petitions and the governor’s office has written to the appropriate ministry to take action… and yet, the order of government is being flouted and nobody is concerned about it, that is silence (my emphasis) and it means that certain officials may have been compromised.”(The Punch, Thursday, April 8, 2021).
Ojomu, not yet finished, he went further to ask a poignant question: Who approved the development of a housing estate in the gorge? He was unapologetic that “the land grabbers were directly being backed by some interested parties in government.” And secondly, why were the illegal houses constructed in the government-reserved greenbelt (not allowed for any development) still standing and have not been demolished because they violated extant physical planning and environmental laws? Why the foot-dragging? These are questions the LASG fails to provide cogent answers to the public.
Your Excellency is at liberty to choose the truth, or the lie neither is inferior to each other, but the latter can be damaging than the former. Therefore, Governor Sanwo-Olu must listen to and address the evolving critical planning issues in Lagos under his watch. The various complaints coming from the residents of the posh estates and other private individuals are laden with genuine fears and are worthwhile. They are real. Governor Sanwo-Olu should try as much as possible to have independent assessments of what has transpired and still going on in these estates.
To rely on the field reports being presented to the governor by the regulatory agencies and the supervising Ministries on their face value would be a colossal error of judgement. Yes, you can give responsibility to your officials, but occasionally you have to check up on them to ascertain they are doing the right thing.
We have compelling reasons to sound this caveat. Why? It is because we suspect double standards. We suspect malpractice. We suspect impunity.
Infractions are neither in the realm of conjecture nor abstract. They are not intangible but manifestly visible, in situ, and easily verifiable but sadly, they are being condoned through reckless use of discretionary powers thereby causing more problems than they intend to solve. Such an act is unacceptable. This is why the calls for an independent investigation coming from the aggrieved communities are unrelenting and at the highest decibels.
Excessive densification of housing estates can lead to insalubrity and rapid environmental degradation. There is palpable public apprehension Lagos megacity is being gradually afflicted by “urbicide” – fatal city deceases usually self-inflicted through the wrongdoings and misguided efforts of some government officials or the indifference and deliberate neglect of the citizenry. This calls for pragmatic and quick interventions by the government to reverse the looming trend in Lagos, not minding whose ox is gored.
The legacy of this administration must be the focus of its handlers if it were to be remembered in glowing terms as a pro-people government.
We call on Governor Sanwo-Olu to pay a fact-finding visit to these estates to confirm the veracity or otherwise of the numerous complaints. As they say, seeing is believing.
By Yacoob Abiodun, Urban Planner/Planning Gadfly, Parkview Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos