• Sunday, May 19, 2024
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‘We spent between N40m and N200m to construct a park’

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The Lagos state government has in the last seven years embarked on an aggressive sustainable environment campaign through several laudable platforms. One of such platform is the Lagos State Parks and Gardens agency. Titi Anibaba, managing director, LASPARK in this interview with ODINAKA MBONU highlights the agency’s role, achievements and challenges since its establishment.

What informed the establishment of LASPARK?

In Lagos state we have always had skeletal greening  programmes during past administrations but we started the aggressive green programme in 2008 with the current administration. However, the Bola led administration did some landscaping around some areas such as the Costain-Ijora axis which was taken over by First bank, they actually bought into, rehabilitated it and maintained it. Likewise Guaranty Trust bank developed the Alausa park and Fidelity took charge of the Falomo and Onikan roundabouts. But when Governor Fashola came into power he pursued environmental renewal in Lagos aggressively.  The governor actually came to office with a ten point agenda which included environmental sustainability, and one of the cardinal programmes of achieving such feat was through the greenery initiative. It was initially called Operation Green Lagos and so we set out to look for degraded area and reclaim them to restore the ecological glory of the city.

We started by aggressive landscaping and beautification of roundabouts, beneath the bridges and so later as the scourge of climate change began to take it tolls on us, we added the aggressive tree planting initiative.

We launched the tree planting campaign in September 2008 and it has become a yearly programme and we have continuously planted trees and we have to our record 5,000,313 trees state wide and we have a target of planting One million every year. So in another five years we intend to hit the Ten million mark.

So there was also the case of when you leave the office what would happen to this greenery initiative, so the best thing to do was to have a dedicated unit to handle it, maintain and create more parks and that gave berth to the Lagos State Parks and Gardens as a parastatal under ministry of environment. Hence, the function that was initially executed by the Ecology and Conservation department was transferred to LASPARK.

So LASPARK is to continue to sustain the huge achievement of the greening initiative. It is also set up to ensure that the greening initiative is sustained and become a norm in the state, because it was set up by a law.

So under the law it is mandatory that every year 14th of July is being celebrated as the Tree planting campaign. The law also makes it a criminal offence to fell any tree in Lagos without permission from this agency.

What is the cost implication of these parks and Gardens to the state government?

I can’t divulge that because LASPARK is an agency under the ministry of environment, so we access our funds through the ministry of environment but what I can affirm to you is that we have a political will on the part of the Governor. So when ever we need to do anything he is always willing to provide us with the funds in accordance with what is available.

How much does it cost your agency to construct a park?

It depends on how big and the facilities expected at the park, for instance some parks do have irrigations systems, gatehouse etc. For those kinds of parks it could go as much as over N200 million and for the ordinary parks with just greening and walkways it costs about N40 million.

How many parks have the agency been able to set up?

Till date  we have captured 297 sites state wide and by mid 2015 we should have added another 30. But out these 297, about 64 of them are by private firms such as Fidelity bank, First City Monument Bank (FCMB), Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), Seven Up bottling company, First Bank, United Bank for Africa (UBA), clubs and local governments.

There is this feeling among residents that most of the parks are under utilised, do you sincerely think your parks are achieving their aims?

With all sense of modesty and responsibility I believe they are achieving their aims. What has happened is that we have categorised these parks into three. There is the scenic parks which are degraded areas that were reclaimed and so are not designed for relaxing, so there are no sitting furniture there. It is designed for people to just appreciate nature, and enhance the  aesthetics of the environment.

Then, there is the public event parks such as the Muri Okunola in Victoria Island, Alausa park and the Ndubisi Kanu also in Alausa in Ikeja, where people can use for different functions such as exhibitions. From our records every month over 5,000 Lagosians use our parks monthly.

The third park is the community park which are always located closer to the communities. When we develop them we hand it over to the communities to use. One of such parks is the Heritage park.

Beyond leisure and relaxation, do these parks have economic benefits?

This greening initiative has successfully created 60,000 jobs for Lagosians from artisans to electricians, bricklayers, horticulturists, land scape experts and also the sculptors who help us design some of the personalities we have identified these parks with.

There is this notion that most of your parks are always located in highbrow or mid-income communities, but hardly found in low income neighborhoods such as Amukoko, Okomaiko, Ikotun, Agbara etc.

I don’t want to agree with you because the desire of the Governor is to have these parks in all the local government and we notified all the local government in 2011 to provide us with sites where we can develop these parks but only seven of them responded. However, we currently have a park coming up in Ikorodu whicb is not highbrow, we also have parks coming up at Badagry and Alimosho which are not highbrow neighbourhoods.

Recently we were at Ajeromi-Ifelodun to set up a park there. The truth is that it is not easy getting the desired land space in these places to set up parks. For instance, for our park in Ikorodu, it took us the intervention of a me member of the House of Representative to be able to get permission to use the site we are currently using. We are gradually moving into the sub-urban areas, but there are so many factors that tend to limit us sometimes, such as space, terrain but we are working hard to ensure the project get to every nook and cranny of the state. Also, the state government has given us an expansive land at             towards the Epe axis to develop a central park there which we will call a Metropolitan park, where everybody along the axis can come to and relax.

What are the health benefits of the Parks?

The benefits ate quite immense. Let me start by saying that plants and trees are the oldest of all living things on planet earth and they have so many benefits some are quantifiable while others are not. Some of the benefits that are quantifiable is that you can see the jobs created, but some are hidden. One of the health benefits is that it cleanses the air. The carbon dioxide that humans give out is what plants take to make their food through Photosynthesis and in return they give us oxygen and we all need this oxygen.

Also when you have a lot of oxygen released in the atmosphere it cleanses the air. It also helps to absorb pollution especially in Lagos where we have alot of pollution from both mobile and stationery sources.  It absorbs oxides of Nitrogen, Sulphur and so it cleanses the air. The sight of these Gardens also have an effect on you, even if you are under tension.

Trees also helps prevents flooding. For instance when you have erosion and you plant trees in some areas the roots will help grip the soil ands so it prevent erosion. Also, when the rains are coming down the canopies help stop the velocity at which the rain come down, and by evaporation it is a climate humidifier because buy the time the sun takes the water away through evaporation the humidity is balanced. So there are so many benefits for planting trees.

What is the update on the proposed Garden at Apapa?

Our landscaping site at Apapa aligns with our regeneration agenda of Lagos. Apapa has been degraded because of activities of the trailers and tankers who have eroded the peace and serenity of that area, so the Lagos state government is out to regenerate the area with effective drainages, lighting and also beautification of the environment.

Though we are currently constrained by funds, we have succeeded in securing the area we intend to use for the Garden. We are about 60 percent completion state of the landscaping and beautification project. However, later when we have more funds we could create a football pitch, lawn tennis court in the park.

What is the Metropolitan park all about?

We are proposing to have our zonal office in the park. We will have a sitting area. We intend to have a mini-zoo for kids and an horticultural centre that would serve as a botanical Garden for kids. Also, we intend to equip the park with a swimming pool, a play area and a basketball court.

Do you have any new technologies or equipment that can help sustain all these achievements you have made in beautifying Lagos?

One of the equipments we have acquired to help ease our quest in creating a sustainable environment in Lagos is the Big Jonny otherwise known as a Transplanter. We have come to observe that as roads are being constructed we sometimes have trees on the way. A good example of this scenario was witnessed along Adeniran Ogunsanya, Surulere when the state government wanted to expand the road, there were some trees on the road and they were still healthy. So it was an issue for us, but with the Transplanter we were able to uproot these trees and plant them elsewhere.

We have also seen the need to commercialise this equipment as some state government faced with similar challenges are already leveraging on it. For instance the Akwa-Ibom state government is currently developing an estate and they need to relocate some trees from the road.

ODINAKA MBONU