By Bolanle Bolawole
Before COVID-19 broke, the apprehension in Lagos surrounded the prediction that most of Year 2020 would witness heavy rains – and that they would be really, really heavy. What it automatically means is that Lagos, ever prone to flooding, would experience the “Mother of all flooding” – and we were asked to get ready.
Sane men and women would understand that to mean clearing the drains of garbage and all manner of blockages, removing obstructions on flood plains, sensitizing the people to clear the wastes they generate properly, and arming and kitting the appropriate agencies of government to get ready for the task ahead. Unfortunately, not the Lagos State Government!
Yacoob Abiodun, a retired federal Director of Housing and an urban planning advocate whose voice resonates locally and internationally, today dwells on another act of impunity characteristic of the Lagos State Government’s habitual but dangerous “habit” of destroying the Lagos habitat, mangling its master plan, and endangering lives and property. He titled it “Magodo greenbelt development: A physical planning taboo” Read on:
“The Lagos State House of Assembly, New Towns Development Authority, and two key state ministries; namely, the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development have been in the news lately, regrettably for the wrong and embarrassing reasons.
Going by the sequence of a report in the February 6, 2020 edition of a national newspaper with the headline, ‘Lagos grants ‘secret approval’ for estate on flood-prone Magodo greenbelt,’ it was suspected that the Lagos State Government must have bowed to pressure from some members of the State House of Assembly and must have secretly approved a controversial project.
The controversial project under reference was ‘the alleged plan by a consortium of land-grabbers, a company, and traditional authorities to convert a flood-prone greenbelt between Magodo Phase I and Phase 2 to a housing estate, which the members of the Gateway Zone Community Development Association in Magodo area of Lagos vehemently protested’
The CDA opposed the proposed development in such a delicate environment reserved as “greenbelt” which, by environmental fiat and urban planning regulation, must not be developed or tampered with. The proposed site is an expansive gorge area that plays a very significant and critical role in flood control and abatement during the rainy season by containing the run-off storm water within that particular area and its environs. If the greenbelt is developed, there will be no room to contain run-off storm water because the entire area must have been blocked by the numerous structures built on the wetland, which is an environmental asset useful in controlling the frequency of flood in that part of the megacity.
The embarrassing aspect of the newspaper report was the allegedly unhidden bias displayed by members of the House of Assembly Committee on Lands, led by its Chairman, during an inspection of the wetland in December 2019, to confirm if the site being proposed was designated as a greenbelt.
Despite the attestation by the then Acting General Manager of the New Town Development Authority, Aderenle Oni, who told members of the state House of Assembly’s Committee on Lands during the site inspection, that ‘the area was a wetland and that building an estate in the greenbelt would spell danger for the surrounding communities’, he was ignored by the visiting lawmakers.
Oni went further to inform the lawmakers that the little work that the developer did at the site (before the site was sealed off by officials of the Ministry of Environment) had caused unprecedented flooding in the area. Unperturbed by the advice of experts that the wetland should not be developed, the lawmakers seemed to support the prospective developer to build a housing estate on a wetland without any superior argument to justify their position.
On February 7, 2020, the newspaper again reported that some officials of the Drainage Enforcement and Compliance Unit of the Lagos State Ministry of the Environment visited the designated greenbelt area and served a stop-work order on all buildings under construction within the gorge area. The team leader of the Unit was quoted as saying, ‘The whole area was a gorge reserved for downpour…. It is not right for a building to be located here…We have given them a contravention notice before because the building under construction is on a floodplain and it should not be there’
The Lagos State Commissioner for the Environment, Mr Tunji Bello, while commenting on the issue, made it clear that the Ministry of the Environment had zero-tolerance for environmental abuse in all ramifications. He added that it was the responsibility of the ministry to jealously protect all areas delineated as greenbelts from any encroachment whatsoever.
Surprisingly on February 20, 2020, the newspaper also reported that, despite the public outcry and opposition, as well as professional advice, against the development of the greenbelt, the state House of Assembly Committee on Lands had declared its support for the housing estate development on the greenbelt. The committee also claimed that its support was based on the reports it got from various government agencies, including the New Town Development Authority and the Drainage Service. It added that the development could continue after the drainage channel had been upgraded to accommodate a larger volume of water flow.
At this point, it is pertinent to ask the following questions: Who gave planning approval to the developer to start building on a flood plain? What is the position of the Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development in the Magodo greenbelt saga?
Bello had issued a warning against environmental abuse. He also reiterated that the government would NOT ALLOW such developments (as in this case) and it would protect the green belt areas. Why is it that his counterpart, the Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Idris Salako, kept mute on a matter regarding land use and physical planning, which is directly under the purview of the ministry he superintends?
Who are the officials at the Drainage Service and the NTDA that (ill-) advised the lawmakers that development could be carried out around the greenbelt? Was the advice made out of fear, under duress or due to pressure? Was it a compromise?
Can the lawmakers recommend that the Commissioner for the Environment back down and allow the development of Magodo greenbelt to proceed, despite the dire consequences inherent in such action?
It is clearly stated in a recent Lagos State Government publication titled, ‘Lagos Resilience Strategy’ that floods are particularly problematic in Lagos as the city is low-lying, with most of its land elevated less than 15 metres above sea level. Therefore, the government, as part of its community participatory flood management initiatives, has enlisted the participation of flood-prone communities throughout the state by strengthening their capacities in the production and use of flood hazard maps, so that they are better educated and informed about flood occurrences.
Government ought to be commended for working relentlessly to prevent flood through the preservation of the Magodo green belt as a basin and an environmental asset for flood control. The efforts of the residents of the community, who stood in strong opposition to the encroachment of the green belt by the capitalist developer, are also very courageous. It will be counter-productive on the part of the lawmakers to dabble in a matter which they have very limited knowledge of. They are only relying on the advice of lily-livered “experts” who were intimidated to succumb to the whims and caprices of the lawmakers.
Urban planning and environmental management is under the purview of the executive arm of government. It is not a legislative matter. Therefore, the presumption of the lawmakers that the House of Assembly has the final say on such matters is a fallacy. Law-making cannot be tantamount to urban planning.
If the Lagos State Government allows the greenbelt to be developed, it will be setting a precedent, which may have far-reaching consequences on the environmental health of the state. The ministries of the Environment and Physical Planning and Urban Development will be inundated with applications from greedy developers seeking to deplete other pristine areas in Lagos using the Magodo greenbelt as a reference point. Be warned!
The residents of the affected community, the Gateway Zone CDA, should urgently go to court and file an interlocutory injunction against the developer to stop work, pending when the CDA and the developer will have their day in court.
The second option for the residents is to send a petition to the Chairman, Lagos State Physical Planning and Building Control Appeals Committee, Block 15, Secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja, for a public hearing and proper adjudication.
The Appeals Committee is the new institution of the Lagos State Government set up to investigate public petitions and complaints relating to the granting of Physical Planning Permit, the decisions concerning approval, among its other mandates.
The Magodo green belt development will be a litmus case for the Appeals Committee to decide in the public interest.
Need I say more!
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