• Sunday, February 25, 2024
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Lagos house demolition: Issues, confusions, way forward

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All these are begging for answers, and the inability to effectively address these interrogatives suggests the Lagos State government and Federal Housing Authority’s insincerity and confirm the irresponsibility of the affected house owners and real estate developers.

In the history of nations, when a country is ready to advance in growth and development, the citizens have conversations, but in Nigeria, the opposite is the case; citizens fight and blame each other and wallow in dreams. However, the purpose of writing on this topic is not to apportion blame but rather to invite Nigerians to a logical discussion about the ongoing demolition in Lagos.

There is no gainsaying that the giant of Africa has become lawless, and everyone seems to have accepted cutting corners as the status quo. Other countries in Africa have begun to make a mockery of us. There was this friend from Rwanda who always called me to make a mockery of my country after reading ridiculous news about politicians in Nigeria. I have begun to avoid his calls recently. I attended a meeting of Africans recently in Europe and introduced myself as a Nigerian; immediately, some Africans in the hall began to make preposterous comments about the political leadership and followership in Nigeria. Has Nigeria become an object of ridicule and scorn even among Africans who once looked up to her?

Read also: Buildings demolition in Lagos communities ignores state’s housing deficit

The current situation in Nigeria is beautifully x-rayed in Jared Diamond’s ‘Creeping Normality’ or ‘Landscape Amnesia’ in his 2005 book, “Collapse: How Societies Choose or Fail or Succeed.” Have Nigerians succumbed to fate and chosen to fail? Your guess is as good as mine.

It will not be forgotten how the young people cried in Nigeria during the #ENDSARS protest, while most political elites remained silent and refused to speak up because they saw that protest as an affront to their political aspirations. Today, the political class have begun to cry because the watchdog of democracy is seemingly captured and compromised.

The recent demolition in Lagos State has increased the number of people weeping and mourning in Nigeria, with a barrage of blame directed at the government and its agencies responsible for such exercise. At the same time, house-owners are equally criticized for building on waterways. We are in a vicious cycle of blame game. The question that agitates the mind is, “Who takes the responsibility of all this chaos?” This conspiracy of silence of the elite amidst these travails is quite distressing and perplexing.

The internet has expanded the confusion and widened the blame game, with some users peddling unverified information; each targeted at gullible followers. But what is really happening?

In Abule-Edo, Festac Town, the Federal Housing Authority has even earmarked at least 644 houses to be pulled down, while about 744 others will be partly demolished. Could one imagine the monetary value to be lost in this exercise? This is unbelievable and ridiculous.

The pulling down of houses in Abule-Edo, Festac Town in Amuwo Odofin, Oyingbo, Ebute-Metta and other areas of Lagos State have generated many unanswered questions. Why would a government be reactive instead of proactive? But would any right-thinking person build on the water channel? Why would citizens illegally occupy the property of the Federal Housing Authority without permission?

Consequently, reactions have greeted the ongoing demolition, and the level of vitriol and vituperations on social media platforms signals that there could be fundamental flaws in the exercise. Some schools of thought believe that both the state (Lagos) and federal government are on a vendetta course targeted at the Igbo race. Arguably, these accusations against the state and federal government cannot be said to be unfounded when pre-election and post-election activities are put into the crystal tube for critical evaluation.

Recall that during the 2023 general elections, Mr Bayo Onanuga, one of the spokespersons for the Tinubu/Shettima presidential campaign council, now elevated to the special adviser to the president on information and strategy, had in his tweets considered the Igbos as “existential threats” and pugnaciously said, “Let 2023 be the last time of Igbo interference in Lagos politics…. Let there be no repeat in 2027.” Despite making such hate speech, he was rewarded with an appointment by the current federal government, and the law found him worthy and guiltless. Are we in a period of normalization of absurdities? ‘Yes, we are, it seems.’

If we were not, why would any person build on waterways? Why would state-certified Real Estate Practitioners purchase lands on water channels to develop? Why would the government render her citizens homeless at this critical point without any alternative or at least show compassion through compensation? Why would the government allow those structures to be built only to destroy them afterwards? Why would the government fail to employ its regulatory powers and resources to prevent citizens from the danger of losing their property? Why would the government fail to punish developers who deceived the house owners? What punishment would the government give out to those Omo onile and community leaders who have sold some plots of land on waterways? When will the government punish illegal estate developers and land speculators who have been selling lands illegally to people?

All these are begging for answers, and the inability to effectively address these interrogatives suggests the Lagos State government and Federal Housing Authority’s insincerity and confirm the irresponsibility of the affected house owners and real estate developers.

Reacting recently, the Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development in Lagos State, Mr Oluyinka Olumide, had on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily Morning programme on Wednesday, November 29, 2023, dared any of the owners of the demolished structures in Ikota, Lekki, Alaba, Ajao Estate, Abule Ado, Ladipo Market and other areas of the state to come forward with their building plans as approved by the government.

As a result of the position described above, some analysts have blamed the property owners for not making enough enquiries before erecting those structures. Some others have accused them of being so naive and uninformed since they never sought the services of legal practitioners before embarking on such a mouth-watering investment.

But come to think of it, why haven’t the residents invoked the provisions of Lagos State Properties Protection Law, 2016, to seek legal redress in court? Why hadn’t the government used the provisions enshrined in the Real Estate Regulatory Authority Law 2022 to prosecute fraudulent real estate practitioners and developers? Why have the property owners yet to use the provisions of the Land Registration Law of Lagos State 2015 to sue the government if the government duly approved their property? But is it possible to sue the government when the Land Use Act of 1978 has vested all lands control in the territory of each state in Nigeria to the governor of that state? With the Land Use Act of 1978, the governor has the right to revoke the certificate of occupancy in his state on account of overriding public interest.

Read also: How to get building plan approval in Lagos and avoid demolition

According to Sahara Reporters, the Federal High Court in Ikeja last Wednesday gave a preliminary injunction preventing the Federal Housing Authority and the Lagos State Building Control Agency from further demolishing houses on 6th Avenue, Festac Town. Shouldn’t other landlords approach the court for redress? But how many court orders have the Nigerian government, its agencies, and state governments obeyed? A lawless country scares investors. No sensible investor would like to identify with a country where the rule of law is flagrantly disobeyed without consequences.

Who will rescue this country from this? Nigeria, as the giant of Africa, is moving with the speed of a millipede on issues of nation-building and development. Many social activists, religious leaders, privileged elite, as well as most citizens have resigned to fate. Are we all waiting for the repeat of French revolution in Nigeria?

Those who have a sense of history could vividly recall the story of Martin Niemoller, a famous Lutheran pastor in Germany who, in the 1920s and early 1930s, sympathized with many Nazi ideas until when Hitler came to power in 1933. Niemoller was one of the earliest victims of Hitler’s dictatorship, and he spent eight years in Nazi prisons and concentration camps. After the defeat of Nazi Germany in the Second World War, Niemoller, in 1946, during a lecture tour, confessed his inaction and indisposition to criticize Nazism at its nascent stage, saying, “First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then, they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then, they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then, they came for me, and no one was left to speak for me.”

Nigerians should speak up, hold the government accountable, and protest when the rule of law is jettisoned. Nigeria belongs to all of us. This, at least, points to the way forward.

Emmanuel Nwafor is a Catholic priest, a journalist, public affairs analyst and the former editor of Maranatha Newspaper, a biweekly publication of the Catholic Diocese of Ekwulobia, Anambra State.

He writes from Rome, Italy

email:[email protected]