By Kunle Adeshina
It is no longer news that the Lagos State Government has intensified efforts toward sanitising the State’s environmental landscape. This is being done through a variety of strategies, which include dislodgment of traders from illegal trading spots, demolition of unlawful buildings, strict enforcement of building/environmental laws as well as reclamation of road setbacks among others.
It is, however, rather absurd and disgusting that some people are trying to give the exercise ethnic and tribal colourations. That, indeed, is one of the banes of development in our society. It is part of the reason why our progress has been stunted.
The truth is that from the outset, the current Commissioner for the Environment and Water Resources, Mr. Tokunbo Wahab was very categorical in insisting that it will no longer be business as usual for perpetrators of environmental infractions in the State.
This stance is quite logical, considering the degradation the environment has suffered overtime. Upon assumption of office, the Commissioner embarked on a tour of ongoing projects as well as areas affected by perennial flooding in places such as Aboru in Alimosho, Oladoje in Ojokoro, Area G in Ogba and Jankara/Idumagbo in Lagos Island.
Noting the colossal damage done to the environment through flagrant disregard for building codes and regulations as well as astounding environmental abuse, Wahab was unequivocal in his insistence that application of the law is non-negotiable.
Things were so awry! Along the Lekki Phase 2-Ikota channel, for instance, structures have been illegally put up on the drains. After a series of meetings held with the property owners, a number of corrective measures were recommended to be undertaken to mitigate the infractions.
Awkwardly, rather than abated, more structures started springing up in the affected area. Land speculators and developers became more brazen, fencing off the upstream of the Mobil Ologolo area totally sand filling the channel to start another round of construction.
Based on SOS messages from the residents, from about 22 communities, who were regularly being traumatized by floods, the government had no choice but to take decisive decisions, which included demolishing unlawful structures.
At the Oke-Afa Bucknor community in Ejigbo LCDA, some property owners equally took brazenness to a new height by totally blocking the alignment of the Oke-Afa Bucknor channel. Sadly, this has been responsible for the persistent flooding of areas like Jakande Estate in Isolo as well as structures by the foot of the Ejigbo-Isheri Osun Bridge.
After two years of legal battle, a Lagos High Court in Ikeja recently struck out the case instituted by the property owners against the government.
The same level of barefaced disregard for environmental law was demonstrated at the Dodan Barracks praying ground in Obalende, Lagos where several buildings extended their fences into the setback of the drainage, thereby impeding free flow of water when it rains.
At an interactive session convened by the Ministry after the serving of contravention notices and pleas for mercy by affected property owners and their attorneys, the Ministry opted to be humane by reducing the setback to be observed from the mandatory 3.5 meters to 2 meters. It also gave the property owners the option of removing the contravening walls and fences themselves to minimize damages.
From the foregoing, it is quite evident that something urgent needed to be done to redress the unabashed devastation of the environment through illegal human activities. It is in view of this that the Commissioner approved the serving of 7-days’ notice on illegal properties in some parts of the State, especially in the Lekki axis.
Around the same time, the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) equally began to enforce environmental rules at Festac Village and its extension (including Abule-Ado) in the Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area. It should be stressed that whatever is being done in this axis is strictly a Federal Government affair and it has nothing to do with the State government.
Pitifully, many self—seeking public affairs commentators and ethnic bigots have been going about making unfounded claims about the government’s efforts to cleanse the environment.
Many are busy peddling half-truths on social media, claiming that the demolitions were intended to target members of the opposition. What a pity!
The truth, however, is that none of the owners of the demolished structures possess legal documents approving their illegitimate buildings. Anyone with a contrary claim is quite welcome to back such up with relevant documents.
Right from Lekki 2-Ikota in Eti-Osa to Oke Afa-Bucknor in Oshodi-Isolo LG to Ajiran, Agungi, Orchid, Osapa and Igbo Efon among others, all the affected structures were erected without approved building plans and drainage clearance approvals.
In view of this, the calls for the prosecution of officers in the regulatory offices does not arise. We all watch with glee when regulatory enforcement officials approach sites of buildings under construction to ask for approval documents and are chased out with hired thugs, who sometimes maim and brutalise them.
In our neighborhoods, we watch with an “I don’t care attitude” when work continues on buildings marked with “stop work order”. We see all the mindless contraventions but choose to pretend as if all is well. However, when the government moves to wield the big stick, people will suddenly find their voices and begin to justify illegalities.
Accusing the Lagos State government of ethnic impunity is to say the least absurd and unfair. Today, the state public service has in its fold Nigerians that cut across the major ethnic/ tribal divides in the country.
The relative peace being enjoyed in the State amply reflects the unrelenting efforts of the government to accommodate various interest groups. The government has a healthy relation with the various ethnic and tribal groups in the State. The result of this robust relationship is the atmosphere of peace and harmony that currently reign in the state.
The issues involved in the development and growth of Lagos State and, indeed, Nigeria transcends ethnic and religious sentiments. The brotherly love and bond that have existed between the Lagos State government and the diverse ethnic and tribal groups in the State must not be compromised.
Fifth columnists, whose major preoccupation is to fan the embers of disaffection for self-seeking interests must not be allowed to profit, as it is their practice, from the current false campaigns.
Respected elders and statesmen must not be seen championing divisive ethnic causes. Agba ki wa loja kori omo tuntun wo (elders must not permit untoward happenings in their presence).
•Adeshina is Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, Alausa, Ikeja.