By Jude Njoku

Lagos Island is unarguably the hub of business and economic activities, not only in Lagos metropolis but also in Nigeria. The Lagos Island Business District is home to several markets, banks and other corporate institutions. In fact, if a company does not have its head office or branch network in this commercial hub, such a company is seen to be still toddling.

The quest to have a foothold in Lagos Island has therefore led to the construction of sub-standard buildings by Shylock developers who charge outrageous rents; illegal conversion of residential apartments into commercial and even industrial uses and non-compliance with the planning and environmental laws/regulations governing the Island.

Only last week, fire emanating from a building which was stockpiled with fireworks and other explosives, caused unprecedented havoc at Jankara market and its adjourning neighbourhood. The spread of the fire and the attendant destruction would have been reduced if rescue operations had not been hindered because of the inability of rescue workers to get access to the site of the disaster.

File photo: Fire caused by firecrackers at Idumota market Lagos.

Against this backdrop, built environment experts have called for a strict enforcement of the Lagos State  Development Control and Town planning laws.

Development control is seen as a potent tool for city management because it ensures that the continual growth and management of a city make for orderliness, improved city image, health and aesthetics. It also ensures that the environmental challenges as a result of city growth are reduced to tolerable levels. In Lagos, development control requires special skills because the authorities are confronted with a myriad of problems on a daily basis. These problems can be traced size and rate of increase of these settlements and the complexities of the tasks involved. The problems range from uncontrolled change of use of property to non compliance with space standards and approved design as well as unguided and ineffective enforcement of building regulations.

Chairman, Building Collapse Prevention Guild BCPG, Mr Kunle Awobodu regretted that in Lagos Island,  buildings meant for residential accommodation are rampantly converted to commercial uses and nobody raises eyebrow. He noted that those who engage in such illegal conversions care less about the structural implications of their actions.

Awobodu who is a former chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Building, NIOB, enjoined the relevant arms of the government to do a proper follow-up on building approvals to enable them detect whether a building is being used for the purpose it was not approved for.

He also decried the non-compliance with the development control and planning laws/regulations in Lagos Island. According to him, the required setbacks between buildings are hardly observed, hence he called on the Lagos State Government to find a way of addressing the cramping together of houses in the Island.

“The slow pace at which Lagos State Government is treading towards the implementation of the 2010 Physical Planning, urban regeneration and building control law will be inimical to the urgency required to correct the anomalies,” he said.

Continuing, the NIOB image maker said:Lagos Island is a peculiar case, therefore the setbacks were reduced. They normally approve a group of buildings for the Island. There appears to be a fundamental error from the Ministry of Town Planning. Adequate setbacks to prevent the spread of hazards like fire disasters should be recognised. The situation in Lagos Island gives a lot of professional concern… It poses a serious challenge to the state government. They (government) should find a way of addressing the problem”.

Another issue which is giving Awobodu food for thought is the fact nobody inspects goods before they are packed in warehouses.

“There seems to be little anybody can do about this. Goods stored in a building are not examined and this is common in Lagos Island. People import all sorts of things and store them anyhow. The Market Associations and the Local Government Council should be vigilant to know what the contents of these cartons are, before they are stocked,” he said.

Also reacting to this development, a former chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, NITP, Mr. Moses Ogunleye described the enforcement of town planning laws in Lagos as very weak.

He explained that although the required setback of six metres between two buildings has been reduced in Lagos Island, developers still do not comply with the setback rule. He attributed the flouting of the regulation to the fact that land is a high value commodity hence greedy developers want to maximise proceeds from it.

“The real issue is not building code but town planning regulation. In Lagos State, the last town planning regulation which deals with building control and urban furniture was done in 2005. They are presently trying to review it. But the enforcement machinery is very weak. In Lagos Island, the setback is not up to three metres but they (builders) don’t even observe up to one metre setback,” he lamented.

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