Recently, the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) announced that it would commence the demolition of illegal structures constructed under high tension cables and others. The demolition exercise is expected to affect owners of structures constructed under power lines, which contravene the state’s Physical Planning Laws.
Significantly, there is no doubt that the present administrations in Lagos state, south west, Nigeria, have a sincere desire to move the state forward through fair and far-reaching policies that bothers particularly in creating an organized and livable environment for the citizens of the state. Out of so much evidence, the above move by the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), appears newest.
Peripherally, there are also reasons that qualify this development as alluring.
Separate from the awareness that the Lagos State Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law prohibits building under the centre line of overhead electricity cables and should ensure that there should be a reasonable amount of distance between a property and high-tension wire, this opinion piece recognizes that this particular move again narrates the state government’s efforts to engineer sustainable development in ways that protects the present and the rights of the future generations, and most particularly help enthrone organized and livable environment for the citizens of the state.
However, beyond this applaud, stems some concerns. The global communities, especially development practitioners do not think that what the state government is doing in the name of urban renewal/upgrade/regeneration is the best way of turning ‘Slum to Neighborhood’
To add context to the discourse, from recent reports by development practitioners, it is obvious that sustainable development and the related notion of sustainability are becoming increasingly important policy objectives for government at different levels as well as in the private sector. They suggest that there is a growing need to strengthen the conceptual understanding of different notions of sustainability and their implications. In particular, there is a need to design effective policies that aim to achieve sustainability objectives, and more importantly, to analyze the implications of proposed policies.
From the above flows the ill inherent in the development efforts of Lagos state.
Fundamentally, the state is yet to conceptualize governance as business that requires a series of objective analysis of implications of proposed policies. Tragically interesting is the awareness that the state has chronically become reputed for achieving urban related upgrades, renewal and developmental programmes more from a reactionary perspective and evictions as against being a function of proactive design of effective policies anchored on international best practices. This, in the opinion of the piece, partially explains why they lie in wait for citizens to build in unapproved places before moving in with their bulldozers for demolition/eviction.
If not, Why is it that the state finds it difficult nipping illegal constructions/unapproved buildings by the bud, but convenient to demolish after construction? Which one is easier and more cost effective; taking proactive mechanisms/steps that prevent Lagosians from building in unauthorized places, or deploying state’s resources to effect demolition of structures built in the full glare of the State Government? Most importantly and strategic, as a government, which one is most noble and dignifying option; being reactive or proactive?
While answer(s) to the above is awaited, there is urgent need to underline that this act is by no means unique to the present administration in the state.
It may be recalled that demolition/forced eviction gained entrance into the state leadership lexicon in July 1990 when Raji Rasaki in his capacity as Military Governor of Lagos State and Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) as Military President for yet to be identified reasons destroyed Maroko. Over 300,000 people that inhabited Maroko then were reportedly affected.
About nine years after the Maroko experience, democracy came on board. But contrary to that expectation, even the dawn of democracy in May 1999, did not bring a shift in paradigm as successive democratically elected governors beginning with- Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu (May 1999 to 2007, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), 2007 to 2015, Akinwunmi Ambode (2015 to 2019) and presently Mr. Babajide Sanwoolu, stuck to the practice.
Broadly speaking, the above sad account is a symbol of governments that are unmindful of, or consciously decided to flagrantly ignore global framework on physical planning of livable Neighborhood, Slum upgrade and urban regeneration.
To buttress this claim, let’s cast a glance at how a similar slum challenge was creatively handled in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, without displacement or eviction of the original occupants.
Instead of removing the favelas,- a people initially considered/described as illegal occupants, many of the government’s policies were made to focus more on improving the infrastructure of the people/the area. The Inter-American Development Bank for example, funded a US$180 million “slum to neighborhood” project in 1995, which sought to integrate existing favelas into the fabric of the city through infrastructure upgrading and service development. The project involved 253,000 residents in 73 favela neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro. When a favela was selected, a master plan for upgrades was drafted and community organizations were contacted and asked to provide their input. When the final plan was approved, incentive plans were implemented for hiring construction companies that employed local community workers.
From Brazil to Spain and South Africa, the story and experience is the same.
Comparatively, when one juxtaposes the above accounts as recorded in Brazil, with that of July 1990 Maroko’s experience, there exists a gully of difference.
Essentially, aside from the imperative of drawing useful lessons from Brazil experience, why the above examples are important is that here in Lagos state, each time the government wants to achieve this heinous objective (forced eviction/demolition), they tag the targeted community as highly populated urban residential area consisting decrepit housing units in a situation of deteriorated or incomplete infrastructures.
At this point, one may be tempted to ask; whose responsibility is it to provide infrastructures, government or the people/residents?
Similarly, under the above excuse, the following Lagos communities has between 2003 and 2015 partly or wholly fallen under the bulldozers of the Lagos state Government; Makoko community, Yaba, Ijora East and Ijora Badiya, PURA-NPA Bar Beach, Ikota Housing Estate, Ogudu Ori-Oke, Mosafejo in Oshodi, Agric-Owutu communities, Ajelogo-Mile 12, and some communities along Mile 2 Okokomaiko to mention but a few. A population totaling about 300,000, according to the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Association was affected by this exercise.
To change this narrative, the state must be humble enough to admit that slums/illegal structures/unplanned settlements exist in the state as a result of Government’s inability to provide the needed, monitoring, enforcement and infrastructural needs of such localities.
More importantly, the state must commit to mind the fact that forced eviction is a brazen violation of the right to life, right to fair hearing, right to dignity of the human person, the right to a private and family life, and the rights to property guaranteed by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and the African charter of Human and peoples’ Right (Ratification and Enforcement Act 1990).
Most essentially, is that UN Resolution 2004/28, recommends clearance operations only when conservation arrangements and rehabilitation are not feasible, but relocation measures must stand made, Governments must ensure that any eviction that is otherwise deemed lawful is carried out in a manner that does not violate any of the human rights of those evicted.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;firstname.lastname@example.org/08032725374.