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Illegal buildings: Lagos is victim of its own development – Commissioner

The Lagos State Commissioner for Environment and Water Resources, Tokunbo Wahab said the recent crackdown and demolition of illegal structures across Lagos State was an indication that the state is a victim of its own development.

Wahab stated this in an interview with Arise Television on Sunday.He said the government of Lagos State is not battering its citizens but is rather just a victim of its own development, and as such, everybody coming into the state has got to come in and be responsible and be able to be accounted for.“The truth is that no matter what the government does, there is a state of mistrust between them and the citizens globally. It is a global thing. My response to this is we are not battering them. You can’t say you are under the bridge and you want us to account for you. It is not habitable at all. It is not about battering people that are under privileged, we can’t do that. But it is about taking ownership. Lagos is just a victim of its own development.”

Speaking on the incident that led to the recent demolition of the illegal under bridge structure at Dolphin Estate Ikoyi, the commissioner said a whistleblower alerted authorities about suspicious activities under the bridge and following the tip-off, investigations uncovered a network facilitating illegal tenancy arrangements, with individuals, including women and young people, being exploited.

“The past few weeks and months, the state made a policy that we shall reclaim all our ungoverned spaces and we started out with Ijora under bridge, under national theatre, from there we went to Apongbon, Obalende, then a whistleblower called our attention last week Wednesday, he said he was jogging and heard voices under the bridge. He didn’t even stop, he slowed down and peeped in, took a video and sent it to my social media handle.

“Right there and then, I had to inform the governor that something was happening there and that we had to go, and he approved and the rest they say is history. What is not history is the fact that we have declared the ringleader wanted because somebody somewhere has been collecting rent and giving out spaces to individuals, women, young people and we have said to him that the long hand of the law shall surely catch up with him, no matter how long it takes us.”

He said efforts are underway to repurpose these spaces for beneficial use.

“We are also trying to put these spaces to functional usage. We have an agency called Glass pack. The role of that agency is to put these ungoverned spaces to proper usage to citizens.

“The one at Ijora, a design has been approved and it’s a CSR by a Lagosian who believes we can turn it to a football pitch and have some other games in there. Obalende has been taken up by one of the biggest telecoms companies in the country, MTN and the design is already in the works. Same thing we are going to do for Apongbon and the Dolphin area.“So, what we are saying to the citizens is, don’t be vulnerable, no matter how desperate you are. If you have the means to pay two hundred and fifty thousand naira for a small space under the bridge, you don’t have to be in Ikoyi, you can go and live outside the Island or where you can pay for rent for a decent accommodation.

“We were even there yesterday and it was very emotional. We saw three young kids and I spoke to my colleague in the ministry of youth and social development and I said to him to take them to our homes and I will be personally responsible for them from now till they are able to go to the University and graduate and that for me is the path and way to go as a State. 

“We are profiling each one of the tenants. I am not the one that will perform that duty. The agency under which they were arrested is profiling them. With the profiling they are going to remove those that were just there and then take the criminal elements or suspects to court on Monday.”

Wahab said several notices were served prior to the demolition as well as engagements with major stakeholders.

“I don’t demolish properties; I remove contraventions on the right of way of the drainage system or the canal and with respect to Mende…in 2021, my predecessor in office served them a notice and they had engagements that ran into months and years.

“In November 2023, we called a stakeholders meeting, we served notices before then and even marked buildings on the right of way and they came to my office and we had a meeting, played the video and they did admit that they were on the right of way but however pleaded that we reduce the right of way. 

“On the issue of notices, they have been served enough notices. We served in 2021, renewed again in 2023, that is about six months ago. In my first life, I was a lawyer and notices are the first of every activity and we have served them and I am sure of that.  

“If they have a genuine claim, they have a means to ventilate that claim and that is the court of law. The executives have done what they believe is overriding public interest.”

On government plans to curb reemergence of illegal structures in the future, he called on citizens to collaborate by reporting illegal activities, emphasising that the collaboration will aid the government in being accountable for the people.

“We have ramped up the capacities of our enforcement units, so they have to start pinning down officers in every area where we have ungoverned spaces and then we are relying on the citizens to take ownership and trust the government to do the right thing in the sense that when you whistle blow, the government will take steps of actions.“With respect to those people who have no business to be where they are staying, what we are trying to push back in Lagos here is for us to be able to account for everyone that is in this space. For the sake of the generality of our citizens, if you come in and you are staying under the bridge, how do we plan for your education, for your health and for our own infrastructure to take care of you. If you are under the bridge, nobody can make plans for you.”


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