December 16, 2023

Of demolitions and collateral damages, By Muyiwa Adetiba

Of demolitions and collateral damages, By Muyiwa Adetiba

Muyiwa Adetiba

Far away in Pettswood, Kent in South-east London, lives a childhood friend whom I love to visit. On the way to his house from the train station, lies a piece of land which has been fallow for as long as I have been visiting. It is near a T-junction which makes it visible and attractive. One day, I asked my friend why no one has found a ‘better’ use for this corner piece.

Or why the neighbours have not encroached. He smiled and said ‘that is when you find it is not as fallow as you think. No piece of land, no matter how small, can be ‘appropriated’ without express permission from the authorities. In fact, you cannot give your house a facelift without a request and a go ahead from the relevant authorities. Your neighbours would also need to give their consent sometimes to any external facelift. In other words, no one is allowed to alter the symmetry and harmony of a row of houses on a whim’. Of course, it is unthinkable for buildings to just ‘spring up’ in areas that are not earmarked for them. 

This used to be the situation in Festac Town some four decades ago when some of us first moved there. Everything was regulated.Even your fence, after obtaining permission to erect it, must conform to specificationswhich will make it to align with others on your street.  There were parks, walkways and open spaces for children to play in. Electrical cables were buried and substations were isolated from houses. The underground drains worked.

The effect was that rains cleansed the streets and perfumed the air as opposed to pooling on the streets and fouling the air which is what Festac later became.Festac Town then was beautiful and orderly as well as peaceful. Then the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), under whose watch Festac Town was placed, dropped the ball. It became compromised and tardy.

Buildings sprang up along drainage routes;open spaces where underground cables were laid became private property making routine repairs and services impossible; lands around substations were sold; parks were partitioned and sold. Grotesque alterations sprang up where symmetry and harmony once reigned. Festac Town became congested, unsightly and unhealthy.

The story of Festac Town is the story of many estates in Lagos state. It is even worse in areas that are seemingly virgin and unplanned. Between developers and ‘OmoOniles’, buildings spring up wherever and however. All it takes is for compromised and complicit officials to look the other way for a while. It is assumed, and often proved right, that once the building is completed, the builders are home dry. Then the same people who have built on drainages and water channels will now turn around to complain of flooding.

The same people who have built on setbacks and walkways will now complain of congestion. People who have disrupted the flow of water will now complain of soil erosion. People who have broken the streets to pass cables across now complain of terrible roads. This impunity has continued for so long because there are no consequences for flouting the law. Now Lagos State and some other States including the Federal Capital, are saying it is no longer going to be business as usual. Those who build illegally, including those whose buildings affect the eco system, will now face the consequences of their action. I think this initiative should be commended rather than condemned as long as it is not selective. 

Most buildings will take at least a year to complete. Where were the officials who are empowered to stop illegal buildings when the buildings were going up? I do not believe they should go scot free. They should suffer some collateral damages too. After all, the countries we run to, whose greenery and parks we admire, are deemed beautiful because of laws and officials who make sure those laws are not flouted.

Then ‘OmoOniles’ and developers who sell and develop lands that are earmarked for other purposes should be made to suffer some collateral damages too to serve as deterrents. I commiserate with those who lost or have to lose their properties and have become homeless as a result. But how much due diligence did they do? The term, ‘buyers beware’ is a term people must take seriously when it comes to lands in certain parts of the country to avoid being scorched. Our ‘settlement culture’towards officials and custodians of law and order must have consequences for all concerned – the officials inclusive – if we are going to evolve a saner country.

Finally, it is unfortunate but not surprising that ethnicity has creeped into this as it does to almost everything in the country. I have a true life story for those who are playing the victim card on account of tribe. Years ago, when I was the Publisher of a weekly magazine, a staff came to me complaining of victimization because the Editor didn’t like him. I asked him how long he had been aware that his boss didn’t like him and he said for a while. 

I asked him if he committed the offence for which he was being punished.He answered in the affirmative and gave the lame excuse that he wasn’t the only one. I simply told him the onus was on him to be above board if he suspected his boss didn’t like him. The onus was also on him to reconcile with his boss and put himself in his good books. To commit an offence and then play the victim doesn’t sit well. Not with me. This will be my advice to those who allege victimization on account of ethnicity after committing acts of illegality.

This brings me to what has become a raging, but unfortunately divisive topic. It is about the ownership of Lagos. Lagos is a Yoruba town. No amount of revisionism will change that.But it is also a Nigerian town which should make it home to every Nigerian. But there must be respect for its laws and the sensibilities of its indigenes.Nowhere is a ‘no man’s land’. Marshy lands and even coastal waters belong to a people.

As for the State, over eighty per cent of what constitutes Lagos State today was under the old Western Region. The earlier those who choose to live in Lagos State accepted that, the more cordial their relationship with their hosts will be. Investing in Lagos State is a choice with mutual benefits. Entries and exits are therefore by choice also. This current confrontational attitude is not helpful. It can only breed distrust and hostility. Let love and brotherhood reign. We need each other.