• Tuesday, March 05, 2024
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BusinessDay

Lagos: Safety and urban regeneration in the Fashola years

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A critical role of governments the world over is provision of security, as well as protection of lives and property. Indeed, Section 14 of the Nigerian Constitution amplifies this. A canon in this regard is ensuring safety and general well-being of the citizenry.

If a government is not able to guarantee this, it is tantamount to failure. The era of Governor Fashola appears to understand the value of the challenge of Section 14 of the Constitution vis –a – vis, the essence of governance.  Thus, the commitment shown in matters of safety and urban regeneration. Because of the impacts which the activities of a government that is concerned about issues of safety will have on the social and economic well-being of the people, such activities tend to generate some reactions. If the action is carried out with good intention and utmost commitment, the people or public will certainly be appreciative through support for the government.

In reality, safety and urban regeneration matters tend to be cross –cutting, involving an array of actors. Thus, the safety and settlement regeneration activities, programmes and projects of the Fashola Administration cut across many sectors.

For example, the concern of his government for a very efficient system of physical planning and building control culminated in the setting up of a Technical Committee on Policy Reform on Planning Regulation and Building Control in 2008.

One of the Terms of Reference of the Committee was to recommend strategy to mitigate security threats posed by several abandoned buildings in the State. Another is to examine the need to reduce incidence of slums towards attainment of the Millennium Development Goals, as well as saving the unnecessary cost of relocating slum dwellers.

The Committee, which was comprised of seasoned professionals made far reaching recommendations. One of such is the institutional reforms that gave birth to the establishment of the Lagos State Building Control Agency, through the State Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law 2010.

The function of ensuring quality building, as well as monitoring developers for compliance through stage certification was thus institutionalized. The State became the first in the Federation to separate the common single Development Control System into two but mutually operating agencies in charge of Planning Permit and Building Control. Some States of the Federation have been understudying the system since it took off in 2012.

Apart from this, the incidents of collapsed building in the State became embarrassing not only to Lagos as the country’s commercial capital but to the entire nation. The concern of the administration to reduce to near zero the incidents led to some other actions. One of such was the setting up of a six- man Tribunal of Inquiry into Collapsed Buildings in Lagos State. Among the task of the Tribunal was to recommend measures to prevent occurrence of building collapse. Although, the Tribunal has submitted its report, a government white paper was not issued on the matter. The white paper would have facilitated the implementation of actions acceptable to government from the Tribunal’s work. This appears retrogressive.

Funds required for tackling safety and emergence issues are enormous and could be debilitating to a government. As a way of dealing with emergency related matters with regards to collapse of building, flooding, including fire outbreak, the Fashola Administration introduced a payment known as Disaster Management Levy for all developers seeking Planning Permits (approvals) for building construction.

The payment, which is five percent of the assessment fee for Planning Permit was compulsory for all buildings above three floors. This was ingenious, as it provided opportunity to fund the Lagos State Emergence Management Agency (LASEMA), as a critical responder to emergency issues.

The preparedness of LASEMA for emergency management was displayed in many instances. The most recent being the rescue operation carried out at the site of the collapse of the Synagogue Church building in Ejigbo. Prior to the establishment of LASEMA, the State was always at the mercy of construction giant like Julius Berger Plc for support in rescue operation during emergencies.

The need to create statutory institutions to deal with matters of safety through legislations is also part of the legacy of the Fashola Administration. The key ones were Law No. 16 of 2008, which established LASEMA and Law No. 6 of 2011, which established the Lagos State Safety Commission.

Like safety matters, urban regeneration is also cross-cutting and financially demanding. However, the difference is that while most safety or emergency matters are intangibles, those of regeneration are tangibles and can be felt directly. The Fashola Government will be remembered for long years for the rebirth of Oshodi, which is probably the busiest terminus in Mainland Lagos. The area is reputed for its high level of disorderliness, poor sanitation, crime / insecurity and decayed infrastructure, among others, all within a commercial precinct. Apart from traders, Oshodi became unattractive to major real estate developers and other investors. Hence, there were no new major commercial buildings.

The improvement in road infrastructure in the area, the removal of shanties and illegal development by the government was the turn around that Oshodi needed to open it to opportunities for business development. The street lighting and tree planting done for Oshodi drove away miscreants who hitherto have made the place a “haven”. The news of the change in Oshodi was all over the country and the globe. Oshodi that was a place that people avoided, then became “a must see”.

The loss of business hours in traffic by commuters who pass through the area daily or those who ordinarily should have taken the Oshodi route for journeys but had to use other routes became a thing of the past. In monetary value, the time saved daily by commuters for passing through Oshodi after the facelift runs into millions of naira.

It is worthy to note that there were other regeneration projects / programmes across the State. The rebuilding of Oyingbo and Tejuosho Markets gave commerce in these two locations a boost. Although, it has been observed that the adoption of Public Private Partnership (PPP) method for these projects led to the exclusion of some categories of supposed shop owners, vis – a – vis affordability. The lesson in this regard is the need for the new government to consider the probability of making access to shops from similar projects more inclusive. This can be done by balancing social imperatives with economic realities. There were also substantial attempts in regeneration of slums / blighted neighbourhoods. The Ijora and Adeniji Adele areas received some attention. There were evidences that the government provided temporary alternative accommodation to those displaced by such projects. The stakeholders engagement strategy contributed to the success as recorded. Hitherto such regeneration efforts by governments are fraught with suspicions by the public.

The implosion of the Bank of Industry (BOI) building barely 15 months after assuming office as Governor, even with the Federal Government initial uncooperative attitude, was perhaps one of the early actions of Governor Fashola that endeared him to Lagosians.

The public was able to “dissect” his personality as someone with determination to succeed. As stated by the Governor on Page 118 of the book, The Lagos Blow Down “it helped us, in my view to build more confidence in the people. It also helped on this side, with our team, to instill a belief in our own ability to find solutions to the problems of Lagos.”

One could imagine if there were causalities as result of the planned demolition. What would have been the reaction of cynics, including politicians of the opposing people’s Democratic Party (PDP), who had earlier expressed doubts on the inability of the Governor to achieve that feat.

A major lesson learnt in the blow down is the leadership quality of the Governor, in directing the process. The conviction that it is safe and sensible to bring the building down through controlled demolition trigger subsequent actions. As documented in the book, the Governor realized early enough that such exercise require a high level of technical competence or expertise. Not being a scientist or an engineer, Governor Fashola allowed the expert to guide the process, while he led. That is the first principle in leadership.

The methodology or approach adopted in the process was most fascinating. That the procedure covered pre blow down, the blow down and post blow down stages is noteworthy. To the uninitiated or a non – professional, the planning stage of the demolition project was too long and unnecessary. But to a professional Project Manager, the time spent for planning the project was most desirable. For instance, it was of immense value that many stakeholders were brought into the project. They were properly engaged for their support, co-operation and understanding for the success of the implosion. Owners of property within the immediate setting of the BOI building, which included operators of business and religious organizations were themselves convinced of the need for the implosion. Their conviction and involvement therefore, became part of the success factors for the exercise.

The planning done with regards to health risk assessment, safety management and general risk including public liability insurance cover showed that the government was concerned about the well-being of the citizenry.

Besides, as indicated in the book, the knowledge and expertise involved in the process were shared with Nigerian professionals including engineering students. So, in a way, the blow down exercise became a subject in knowledge advancement and research.

One of the implications of the success recorded in the exercise on the Lagos Island Central Business District (CBD) is that operators of businesses within the immediate vicinity of the site of the demolition felt very safe. They saw the effect of a government that was concerned about their economic and social well-being. To other stakeholders like the Federal Government and the Bank of Industry, it could be assumed that the lesson in the implosion is that a government can prove to be responsible only when it acts strategically in resolving matters that affect public safety.

The exercise of the powers conferred on State Governor by Section 28 of Land Use Act by acquiring the site was strategic. It put paid to the bickering between the Federal and Lagos State Governments. Being a building of a Federal Government institution, the action leading to the demolition should have been facilitated by the Federal Government. This probably would have sore up the reputation or image of the Government at the centre, among Lagosians.

From all indications, the  action of the Fashola administration to pull down the BOI building remain, by far the most historic, strategic and involving public safety activity it carried out. The memory will linger on not only in the minds of those who were directly involved in the process or those who live or operate businesses within the area, but in the minds of the generality of the citizenry.

It appears that the exercise really stimulated many people who have latent spirit of “you can do it”, while it strengthened the resolve of those who already have the same spirit to remain resolute.

Moses Ogunleye