By Jude Njoku
Nigerians were thrown into mourning penultimate Sunday when a Dana airplane which took off from the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport Abuja, crashed into a three-storey building at Iju-Ishaga, about 11 nautical miles from the Murtala Mohammed Local Airport, Ikeja, Lagos.
Ever since the ugly incident occurred, the Nigerian electronic and print media have been awash which stories of what probably caused the crash. But many have failed to look at the disregard of town planning regulations which resulted into the development of tall buildings and masts very close to Nigerian airports. Virgin lands which should have served as buffers to these airports have been built upon in contravention of internationally accepted planning regulations governing the the development of airports.
Abroad, planning regulations relating to building near airports are strictly observed. For instance, when an airport is built, there is something called the airport/runway clearing zone. A clearing zone is an area that would most likely experience a plane crash as the plane lands and takes off.
In the clearing zone, you have what is called a buffer which consists of trees and bushes. The airport buffer is made up of acres and lands surrounding the airport so that if a plane crashes, it will not kill people in their homes. It will only affect the people on the plane.
Restriction of certain buildings in a clearing zone.
In an airport clearing zone/runway protection zone, certain uses and certain heights of buildings are restricted. The erection of tall buildings and masts are restricted in such zones. But in Lagos and other airport towns in Nigeria, it is commonplace to see tall buildings even adjacent the airports. The development of high and medium rise hotels has become a recent occurrence that is fast gaining prominence around the Murtala Mohammed International Airport.
Apart from the restriction of tall buildings, certain uses are also restricted or prohibited in an airport zone. Schools and other recreational centres are prohibited. This is because such facilities attract large number of people which can be dangerous if a plane were to crash and burn after takeoff. The distance between the runway and residential areas should also be far enough to prevent an aircraft that overshoots the runway, crashing into people’s homes. But are these regulations observed in Nigeria?
A former chairman of the Lagos State branch of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, NITP, Mr. Moses Ogunleye faulted the construction of tall buildings near the airport (local or international). According to him, the town planning law stipulates that only bungalows or a maximum or one-storey buildings should be erected close to the airport. That was why places like Mangoro, Cement, Shasha, all in Lagos, do not have tall buildings.
Mr Ogunleye who is the managing director of Beachland Resources Limited, explained that the global planning regulation outlaws building high-rise structures or erecting telephone masts near the airports.
He stated that the Ikeja Model City Plan which came into force a few years ago, took this into consideration. Areas covered by the Ikeja model City plan include Ogba, Alausa, Ojota, Oba Akran, Bank Anthony, Maryland and Opebi-Allen.
He noted that technically speaking, Iju-Ishaja in the Ifako Ijaiye Local Government Area where the Dana operated plane crashed, does not fall into an airport area because it is more than 10 kilometres from the Murtala Mohammed International Airport.
The Agege Model City Plan which is still in the works, should take care of Iju-Ishaga and environs. The Association of Consulting Town Planners boss wants the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority NCAA, to liaise with the government to link up the popular plane routes in the master plan.
Ogunleye said it is an ab
erration to develop high-rise hotels near the airport. Noting that some approvals to erect such buildings are given by the Federal Government under the guise that they have the right to do whatever they like on Federal lands. He called for collaboration between the two tiers of government to stem such planning abuses. “It depends on the location of the building within the airport area. You may have one or two of such buildings but having up to five or more is totally unacceptable,” he said.
Money making mentality
Also speaking in the same, the immediate past president of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers , NIESV, Mr Bode Adediji said: “It is important to ensure that the regulation prohibiting the erection of tall buildings along airports anywhere in the world should be strictly enforced in Nigeria. One of the unfortunate developments you find you find now which has either been probably abandoned or postponed is the erection of a hotel directly facing the international airport.
“Why would a country like Nigeria be emphasizing money, money money in everything we do? Where is decency? Where is safety? Where is compatibility with international framework? If from day one, there has been an integrated hotel airport plan, it is understandable.
“If you go to Miami, Orlando or places like that, right inside the airport, you can have an integral hotel but positioning a hotel face to face with where everybody sees or something like that, to me, it is an error abinitio. Those regulatory authorities and town planners must ensure that our airways are free of any obstructions either by way of high-rise buildings or telephone masts”.
Reacting to the crash, a Lagos-based Architect, Mr Emeka Izuwah regretted that planning laws restricting the height of buildings near airports are observed more in breach in Nigeria. According to the Archiplex boss, buildings near the airport should not exceed three floors. This reason informed the location of many airports outside the city centres.
Izuwah explained that the greatest challenge facing the Murtala Mohammed Airport Ikeja, is the springing up of towns in the neighbourhood which altered the development plan of the area.