We are out to let Lagosians see the benefit of our intervention, but it is also about time we made the correction and say that government would not condone reckless and unguided development in our state. – Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu during the inauguration of members of the Appeals Committee on Physical Planning and Building Control on Monday, December 2, 2019 at the Governor’s office Alausa, Ikeja
If there is one thing the incumbent Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, did right to deserve “special kudos” from the good people of Lagos State since he assumed office on May 29, 2019, it was the bold step he took to inaugurate the members of the Lagos State Appeals Committee on Physical Planning and Building Control, after a protracted delay of over nine years! He did “what Napoleon could not”.
Unlike before, Governor Sanwo-Olu was in the news last week for the right reason after being subjected to a battery of criticisms for being too slow and clueless about governance, and for failing to hit the ground running despite all the promises he made during his electioneering for the coveted seat.
The constitution of the 13-member Appeals Committee followed the provisions of Section 79 of the Lagos State Urban and Regional and Development Law of 2010. Sanwo-Olu’s predecessors in office, Babatunde Fashola and Akinwunmi Ambode, for reasons not explained to the public, never bothered to constitute the Appeals Committee (despite its importance) to strengthen the implementation of the Planning Law enacted by the then Lagos State House of Assembly under former Governor Fashola. The failure of the duo (Fashola and Ambode) to constitute the Appeals Committee had set Lagos State many steps backward in matters of physical planning and building control because the absence of a check and balance mechanism made the Planning Law incomplete and difficult to implement.
It made the law open to abuse and virtually impossible to checkmate the excesses of government officials and lawless developers who often indulge in planning infractions. Ditto other members of the public who also relish in violating planning regulations with impunity. There was no avenue to lodge any complaint about physical planning abuse, infractions and deliberate damage to the environment due to reckless urban development.
For taking the bull by the horn, Lagosians have been singing the praises of Sanwo-Olu since he inaugurated the Appeals Committee on Monday, December 2, 2019. The function of the Appeals Committee is clear-cut. Reproduce verbatim from the statute book, the functions of the Appeals Committee shall include:
- investigation of petitions sent to it on Physical Planning, Regeneration or Building Control matters;
- consideration of appeals from members of the public on the decisions of the relevant agency;
- investigation of complaints concerning officials on matters relating to the grants of Planning Permit;
- recommendation of appropriate remedial action;
- advise on matters referred to it by the Commissioner or relevant agency or other Departments and agencies of government and the general public; and
- submission of an annual report to the Commissioner (for Physical Planning).
The ultimate is that the Appeals Committee is statutorily empowered “to investigate and decide on all public complaints concerning decisions on development application, Development Plans, Layouts or Schemes, Change of Use, Approval-in-Principle, Demolition, Conduct of Planning or Building officials, and service of Notices,” among other pertinent powers which would enable the Appeals Committee to carry out its functions efficiently, effectively and independently without bias.
This is a welcome development in the annals of physical planning policy in Lagos State. In times past, development in the megacity has been a subject of abuse at the whims and caprices of town planners who collude with the citizens and money monger developers to violate planning laws for pecuniary gains. In the process, they debase city aesthetics with its improper urban planning, lack of order, and arbitrary change of use, non-conformity with planning standards, induced environmental pollution and their tactlessness in pro-people planning. Now that the Appeals Committee has been set up, the expectation of the public about how the Committee would stem/eradicate current “dysfunctionality” of the megacity is very high.
Therefore, we want to counsel that the Appeals Committee must discharge its duties dispassionately, independently and without a biased mindset. The Committee must be a good listener, a problem-solver, incorruptible and must avoid unnecessary controversy. It must avoid procrastination and get its job done promptly. Because the Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Dr. Idris Salako, has said that “we have so many issues that border on planning permit, the slow process of approval, non-compliance with building laws, road setback and drainage networks,” which ought to be attended to urgently by the Appeals Committee and resolved within a reasonable timeframe. As they say, delay is costly, and time is money!
Fortunately, Governor Sanwo-Olu had appointed a tested hand and a consummate urban planning professional who has the guts and verve. He happens to be a human encyclopaedia in urban planning matters in Lagos State. Put simply, the Governor has put the axiomatic “round peg in a round hole” and one hopes that the work of the Committee will be seamless under the chairmanship of Tpl. Ayodele Adediran who retired as a Permanent Secretary from the Lagos State Civil Service a few years ago. He said during the inauguration that “the constitution of the Committee is a turning point in the implementation of the state’s urban planning laws. I agree with him intoto.
Governor Sanwo-Olu has given the Appeals Committee unfettered power to right the wrongs in physical planning and building control matters within the megacity region. He should give the Committee the wherewithal to facilitate its work in terms of publicity to enable the public to know about the existence of the Committee, allocate befitting office accommodation and provide adequate funding. The ball is in the court of the Appeals Committee to help sanitise planning in the state in order to achieve its planning objectives in line with global best practices. Meaning: Dream must become reality.
As I was about to conclude this piece, I stumbled into a news item in the Sunday Punch edition of December 8, 2019, captioned: Lekki residents protest school location.” The storyline was that some members of Central Lekki Phase I Residents Association are protesting the proposed location of a five-storey school building in their residential estate. The residents aver that such a development in a strictly residential estate would lead to chaos and sudden surge in the number of vehicles plying the street location where the proposed school will be sited whenever parents bring their wards to the school in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon.
Randomly interviewed by The Punch newspaper reporter, some members of the residents’ association reacted in negative tones to the location of the school in their area. One said, “The estate is very communal, and we have a serene environment. We already have some schools in the neighbourhood.” One opined that the area where the school is going to be situated is not convenient for such bulky/towering development. Another resident said, “there ought to have been an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) conducted before siting the school in the area, and that the school should not have been approved if the assessment had been carried out.”
The poser is: why should the MPPUD approve the siting of five-storey school building in a fully developed residential area without being mindful of the consequences/confusion the incompatible land use would generate? Was any EIA conducted to determine the suitability of the chosen location for the project? The Residents Association has written a petition to the LASG for intervention in the matter. Perhaps, this would be the first litmus case for the newly constituted Appeals Committee to adjudicate the claims made against the planning permit approved for the controversial school developer by the MPPUD. The public is watching and waiting.
By Tpl. Yacoob Abiodun (Urban Planner/Planning Advocate, Parkview Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos)