Interview

February 25, 2024

Amnesty coming for Lagos landlords without building approval — Olumide, Physical Planning Commissioner

Amnesty coming for Lagos landlords without building approval — Olumide, Physical Planning Commissioner

Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, MPP&UD, is charged with the vision of Lagos as a sustainable smart city of choice and the mission of making the state attractive to business through community regeneration and inclusive physical planning.

Recently, the Lagos was ranked as the 19th best city to live in the world due to infrastructural provisions.

However, this has come with its attending challenges as many lives and properties have been lost over the years in various collapsed buildings across the state. Dr. Oluyinka Olumide, the Commissioner, MPP&UD, born in Lagos to the aboriginal Bajulaiye chieftaincy family of Lagos Island, is an erudite personality who was educated at notable institutions including the Holy Cross Primary, Lagos, Methodist High School, Ibadan, Yaba College of Technology, University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) and University of Lagos.

He was appointed by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu in August 2023 as the Commissioner for MPP&UD. Olumide rarely grants interviews, devoting most of his time to field work. But he chose to take time out of his busy schedule to speak with Olasunkanmi Akoni, our Assistant-News Editor, on sundry issues including the spate of  building collapse in Lagos, building regulations, the proposed 4th Mainland Bridge and the Magodo land tussle, among others. Excerpts:

Measures to curb buildings collapse

 Buildings collapse can be experienced from two angles; one, are dilapidated buildings due to aging or due to disturbance in sub soil structure or abnormal change of use? The second form of building collapse is when you have building being developed under construction, probably almost getting to finishing stage. 

It’s been a challenge world over and particularly in Lagos. In the past it’s been fairly frequent but not out of order and if I take the first one which is old, dilapidated buildings, what happens is that there are some areas; normally each building should have a life span of 40 or over 50 years. It’s just like human beings. We are born and we grow and, after some time, we die.

Same thing applies to buildings, they get old. It depends on how people respond to it so it doesn’t lead to collapse. Buildings that are not properly built would start showing signs of distress from 40, to 50 years. But buildings that are properly designed and well-constructed may last beyond 120 to 150 years. Part of building disintegrating is not an unusual thing but the onus lies on the professionals to be able to identify all those things and mete-out responsive actions.

Recently, in Ebute-Metta, we had cases of collapse of old buildings as a result of the reaction from soil structures. Those areas used to be water-logged and people moved in there by way of reclamation, sand-filling and build. In doing that, you are telling the soil to change form to plastic nature and when you do that, it has its life span, as well as consequences. You know it’s like you are standing on a plastic bucket and when you stand on a plastic bucket it may take your weight but, over time, with the effect of heat and cold, rain, expansion and contraction, the elasticity of that material tends to be affected. The soil will now cave-in. An example of such areas is Ebute Metta. The buildings are under the threat of collapse because of the soil structure making them prone to collapse.

The other leg is buildings under construction collapsing which ideally shouldn’t be because they are to be designed, constructed and supervised by certified professionals. The professionals are the ones to ensure everything is put in place. A proper assessment of the soil must have been done because, normally, you check the strength of the soil to ensure that the load put on it does not exceed the strength it can carry. There are different types of foundation that can be deployed depending on the strength of the soil. However, another factor is compromise. You have that basically when you don’t have certified professionals. For example, at least up till now, it has not been proven, but you have professionals who will go out of order. What I am trying to say is that you have a situation whereby the size of the foundation is determined, for example, 3 meters by 3 meters and somebody on site deliberately or otherwise reduces it to 2 by 2 meters.

Of course this will have consequence. Or the size of specified reinforcement not followed, the size of grain of concrete is not followed, these are the causes of building collapsing. Another is workmanship. Building is a sequence and must go along that line. When you have a plan, structures are formed from wet to solid, you have reinforcement in position, cage, mixed cement including water in proper aggregate, fine sand and coarse granite, all these are mixed together proportionately as designed and specified, but if not done properly, it can lead to building collapsing. If the developer is in a rush and not keeping to specified time, of course you have collapse because it will be subjected to heavy stress. But right now in Lagos MPP&UD, we have separated building planning from development control.

First thing is to access the building and check all details are in order which goes under Lagos State Planning Permit. The other stage is the building control where you have the approval and ready to start work on site in which case our men will visit at every stage, that’s what we call staging to ensure compliance with design, we now start with concreting, we check that. Also, do the German floor and now the upper structures, at every stage our men are involved to certify and samples of those concretes are taken to lab for test to ensure compliance to standard. These holistic innovations have gone a long way in reducing the spate of building collapse in Lagos.

Manpower constraints

 Yeah, we have the constraints. However, in this ministry, we work almost 24 hours, seven days a week to be able to meet all our challenges. There is shortage of manpower because the whole staff of LABSCA is about 100, and to cover the whole state, it might not be possible. So, what we are trying to do is to leverage on upright professionals to bring them in as assistants under a programme called, CAP, Certified Accredited Programme, These are professionals from their various fields  They assist us, assign building sites  to them for staging. They will also report back to Lagos State Building Control Agency, LABSCA. These are some of the measures in place to curb spate of building collapse. There is another major one which is when you have a design for certain number of floors. Maybe, you applied for a design of six floors storey building for business venture with intent to sell, there is always the temptation to include additional floors this is extremely very bad because that foundation might have been designed for six floors. So for you to take it to nine floors is completely out of order. However, a lot of engagements are on-going with stakeholders to let them know the inherent dangers and desist from the act. Also some developers use any form of water during construction.

They are supposed to use potable water. A lot of developers make this mistake; they just get to site, dig well and start using the water. This is unacceptable and risky because it will react and shorten the lifespan of the reinforcement. So, water for building construction should be drinkable water and not well or sea water. I want to appeal to property owners to engage correct professionals. Ideally, in every construction site, the amount you pay as consultancy fee is about eight to 12 per cent of total cost. This is meager percentage for anyone to cut corners. Perhaps, if you must control the cost of building, which is basically the problem, the carcass, that’s the structure of a building, is about 60 per cent of the total cost and, unfortunately, these are basic things that you just can’t cut corners. If it’s a design for 16mm rod, you can’t use 12mm. But when you get to the finishing stage, that’s when you have the options to play with in terms of cost reduction such as in tiles, doors, paints, and others. The choice is yours, but regarding structures, you have no choice.        

Requirements for building approval 

 For building approval, it all depends on the status of that development. Now, for the purpose of this discussion, let us just assume the regular one, which is a block of four flats in a standard plot of land, which is 18 x 3648 square meter. That is standard plot. And people build four blocks of flat, two down, two up, my advice to you if you are purchasing any property is to approach the ministry through any of the district offices to inquire about the status of that land, whether that land is possible for you to do that development there. Because there are some land that are under acquisition.

Those ones you cannot get approval. So, they should take their time to approach the district office to find out the status of the land. So, let’s assume that all that is done, that you have a survey cleared, you approach the district office before you even design, before you get your architect, also approach the district office to find out about the development information, planning information, whether that place is zoned for residential or whether the particular use is going to be suitable. Because if you have a land that falls under acquisition, for example, you can’t get approval for a residential building.

If you have a land that is zoned for medical or religious, you can’t get approval for residential. These are very, very vital. And that is where people run into problems. So, once all these are cleared, then you can now approach your consultant, architect, software engineer to do all your design. And  once the designs are okay, before again you go into a serious design, a competent professional architect knows that he has to first submit the draft architecture to the district office to get clearer in terms of height, in terms of space and things like that. Once the design is ready, you now approach the planning office to submit.

 Why developers run into trouble

 However, what is important in Lagos now is that we ask for tax status. So if you are a PAYE staffer who works in a corporate environment where you pay your tax regularly, you have your tax card. With that, once you are submitting your design for approval, you also submit that. But what we’ve discovered is that you have somebody who is paying tax of, let’s say, N600, 000 as tax, and you are now presenting that you want to create development of N30 million, something is not right here. What that simply means is that your total income for the year is about N2 million per annum. Now you want to develop a property of N30 million but you cannot build beyond your level of income. So, what we have now is that there is an assessment by Lagos Internally Revenue Service, LIRS, you have to clear. And if that is not cleared, we cannot commence the process of approval. This is where a lot of people have problems that they will say they submitted design, and they’re not getting approval. If your tax status is not clear, you can’t get approval. So, assuming all those ones are cleared, we have a window.

Once your tax status is cleared, your land status is cleared, there is no reason you should not get your approval in 10 days for Planning Permit.  That is not authority. Of course, you must have paid when you submit your drawing. And if it’s okay, they will assess it and give you the assessment fee with the necessary code to pay. At the assessment stage, you get all these done. If everything is clear, they will give you the assessment and the amount to pay, then go and pay. Once you pay, you get official receipt. You now take it back. That is when the process starts. So, once you get approval, it is not authority that you just go and start.  When you want to start construction, you now approach through your consultant. You approach building control agency that you want to start construction, they will now give you authorization having assessed you to your consultant that you’ve met all the necessary requirements. They will give you authorization to start and they will follow it up with staging foundation. They will come up and certify you that, okay, German floor, they will come and certify your decking, they will come for the roofing, they will come until finally when the building is completed and they issue you certificate of completion.

Digital applications for building permit approval

 The governor just launched the automated land processing administration portal in Lagos. The Permanent Secretary, who initiated and started the program, took us through the processes and the challenges that they faced. It’s only in Lagos you can find this in the whole of West Africa now. It took them time because they had to go back to the archive from the colonial days, when land was first allocated to the first person. We have it on record now digitally, from the original person to the last person. On that portal, you can get the status of every land and do your application for consent online at the comfort of your own house. 

The next phase now is incorporating that into the physical planning process. And I can tell you that as of today, we are about to launch it. It’s about 70 per cent completed whereby you can sit down in the comfort of your home and make your application for building plan permit. And it’s very simple. You key in the status of your land, which is confirmed, you key in your tax status with LIRS which are linked.

Once it’s okay, you get your physical planning permit. What are the requirements? It involves your survey; we know the line on what you want to build. You download it into it. Your site plan, it shows clean, clear once all that requirements are made, setback, side, front and back. It goes into the area, the floor space area for the room, the window area, the ventilation.

Once it is cleared, you can do that electronically from the comfort of your room. That’s the next phase we are doing and I think by second quarter or early third quarter this year it will be launched. However, it remains the next stage which is development control. Control cannot be done online because it’s physical structure on ground. So, we must be there. What will be done electronically is the application, all the requirements you can send out, in and authorization will be granted and dates will be fixed. To start and finish demo-floor officers will come, this cannot be online. But the first phase, which is building planning permit, can.

Fourth Mainland Bridge, EIA, compensation, resettlement plans

 Well, compensation is one issue that the state government doesn’t joke with. The issue of compensation is under the Land Bureau and I’ve been opportune to meet with the land people and I know that on a yearly basis they pay. I think last year it was about N60 billion. So, we are the starting point, we clear the head of weight, we identify people for compensation. The only problem is that sometimes it might not be early enough as expected. I’m aware now that we have reached an agreement with affected people, we just concluded conversations and we have collected all data and payment would be made in due course. Maybe, you should use the opportunity to tell people that one of the advantages of approved plan getting up the process is very simple, very simple. And that’s another thing I will take as my number two. Number one is my manpower development. Number two is the education of people to know their right, because if a child is born today it will be named and will get birth certificate. If you buy a car today, you register it, if you buy a phone or you want a SIM card, you register; this is the same thing with building plan. We must have record because if you don’t have the status of your building approved, when it gets to compensation, you will not be entitled. So, it’s very important that they get their building approved. The process is simple. In another month’s time, I think from March 1, we are rolling out a program, amnesty period to the whole public that have buildings without approval that they can approach the ministry and get their building approved. The other leg you talk about the Fourth Mainland Bridge. It started during the era of President Bola Tinubu, our leader, when he was governor of the state. The layout is available.  What I can tell you on the Fourth Mainland Bridge is that we are probably going to start that project by March. And the way it’s structured, the alignment taking is such that we have very minimal disruption in terms of people being affected. Majority of the affected areas, 95 per cent of it is on water and open land, only very few are on occupied land. So, very minimal people affected will be compensated. 

Update on Magodo land tussle between government, families

 I can tell you, authoritatively, that there are no issues. However, what happened was that there was a Supreme Court judgment against Lagos State government with the responsibility to make land available to some families. Now those families have met with us, Ministry of Environment, MPP&UD and Land Bureau, Survey, and we’ve agreed on a new site. And of the 573 plots that are supposed to be provided for the family, we’ve gotten 502 plots and those ones that cannot be given will be given elsewhere. And they’ve shown agreement to that. So, in the next couple of weeks, we probably resolve that all the paperwork. Finishing is just an assignment that is remaining.

Message on building structures

 In building structures in the state, my message is very simple and clear. They have given us a mandate to plan Lagos like New York, London, Dubai and we are ready to do that. So, the next appeal is for residents to cooperate with us. When we say setbacks, setbacks are there for a purpose. If you have a building and there is no setback in case of fire and there is fire to that site, how will they assess that point? There must be airspace. Airspace is supposed to help ventilation into their own spaces otherwise they are not helping us to achieve the mandate they’re giving us. And like I said, the policy that we run in now is an open door policy. If anybody is dissatisfied with any district office, they are free to come to the ministry and make a report. You don’t need to know anybody. Just walk in and you will be attended to.

Whistle blowers

 Very soon we are going to roll out our whistle blower number that people can come and lodge complaints. In a matter of weeks, maybe, two or three weeks, it should be ready. If you go online, there is MPP&UD, they can interact with us on that platform, and they can get to know everything about the ministry and they can interface with us on that platform.

 Ethnic target allegation by Igbo

 I think about two weeks ago, there was a demolition exercise across the state without any preference. We operate under the mandate of the people. It’s a pity because the level of our risk-taking differs. There are some parts in this country where the level of their risk-taking is far higher than some other people. What a Hausa man will do, a Yoruba man may not do it. What a Yoruba man will do, an Igbo man may not do it. Our appetite for risk-taking differs. I’ve been to China, and you have a small enclave entirely for our Igbo brothers, same thing in Dubai. There is also area entirely for Yoruba in Dubai. Now let’s bring it down to Lagos. You go to Lagos Island, the place we recently carried out exercise, most of what the people are doing trading there are in terms of electronics. Most of them are our Igbo brothers and sisters. In markets you also have segments. But when they do something wrong and we try to correct them they called it names. They are not being targeted. What we discovered in Lagos Island, you have buildings and people now altered the staircase that is supposed to be inside. But the traders changed the planning. So, what do they do? They will break open and put glass and door and they will do metal support with step so that people on the road, instead of passing inside, will use that metal step to go up to assess their shop. Is that what was designed? We went to Trade Fair Complex which they claimed is Federal Government land. But there is a law that says that anywhere in Nigeria, each state has the power for physical development. It’s there.

There is no contention about that. So, even if a land is Federal Government land in Lagos, for you to do anything there like construction, you need Lagos State approval. So you now have some people who disregard that and just build on their own. And you now go there to tell them that this thing you are doing is wrong, the next thing is the ethnic fight? What is the ethnic fight in that?  They will build up to the edges of canal. They will build because the building is never controlled, never supervised, never permitted or allowed. It’s just a hazard development. The Yoruba markets, for example, in Ketu, Ebute-Metta, Mushin, officials of the Ministry of Environment went there and sealed of the markets over violation environmental laws. We cannot just allow people to behave anyhow. What we are doing is the mandate that we are given to do. What we should do is to look at the content, let’s go to the roots of the matter. We must learn to do the right things at all time.