Thursday, 14 January 2016

LAGOS GOVERNOR, AKINWUNMI AMBODE, AND THE STATE’S URBAN RENEWAL

Akinwunmi Ambode, Lagos State Governor
If the on-going demolition and enforcement of environmental regulations in parts of Lagos State are indications of efforts to renew it, the governor deserves to be supported rather than crucified. It must be noted that urban renewal is a sine qua non for any serious government of a hustling and bustling community as Lagos, which is one of the most populous states, and easily the state with the highest population density in the country.

Besides, the gains recorded by the preceding administration of Barrister Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) can only be of benefit to the people of the state if they are consolidated by the succeeding administration. Failure to so consolidate will sooner than later spell chaos for the state.

Before now, the new administration has been harshly criticised over the worsening traffic gridlock, and the seeming irresolvable lawlessness of motorists in Lagos. While these problems are not new, some people, particularly commercial drivers, seem to derive pleasure in taking advantage of government’s slow take-off. That the government appears to be alive to its responsibility should be a matter for cheers. This has been noticed in its restoration of order at the Falomo roundabout of Ikoyi and Victoria Island, easily the highest brow of the state, home also to huge business concerns.

Until now, the existence of Falomo Market had produced combined snags of traffic snarls, crime, environmental abuse and general lawlessness which have carved a dark spot in the area, tending to demean the rest of the area. It began as Mammy market for the police but has grown to become an eye-sore.

Similarly, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State, the other day, deployed bulldozers that demolished the popular Owonifari Market in Oshodi in a bid to build a modern bus terminus. The earlier demolition by the former governor, Babatunde Fashola, opened the roads and eased traffic.

Notwithstanding the positives of these efforts at restoring sanity to the state, government should not pretend to be unaware of tangential problems that will necessarily arise from its actions. Such problems include finding alternatives to people who were otherwise pre-occupied in the reclaimed areas, paying compensation, wherever applicable, to the victims, and maintaining the areas with a view to preventing a relapse of the degradation and disorder previously prevalent in them.

In Ikoyi for instance, it would appear that the Falomo Roundabout was ceded to the wives of policemen in the adjoining barrack to be used for commercial activities close to their home. Naturally, there should be some palliatives from government to resettle them at a more convenient place that will not constitute nuisance to the rest of the public. It is hoped that government is mindful of these requirements in Oshodi, and indeed all other places that will be affected by the renewal exercise. The demolition has brought hardship to thousands of traders whose goods and shops were reportedly destroyed. The traders claimed they were given short notice, even as the demolition took place while many were still away on Christmas and New Year holiday.

The Oshodi market, which had existed for over 40 years, had brought fame and notoriety to Oshodi. Traffic was perpetually paralysed while hoodlums and other criminal elements made Oshodi their safe haven; perpetrating heinous crimes amid the chaotic mess. From that angle, the State Government deserves support for the move to transform Oshodi.
Whereas the affected traders and shop owners were relocated to the newly built Isopakodowo Market in the Bolade area of Oshodi, government should assist traders who genuinely lost their wares in the demolition process. The welfare of the people should be uppermost in whatever the government is doing.

In a battle to bring sanity to the traffic-choked city, the Lagos State Task Force, Monitoring and Enforcement Unit had earlier sanitised the Ladipo auto spare parts market on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, where some unruly traders had virtually taken over the service lane and parts of the Expressway with disused vehicles, and turned the axis into a huge mechanic workshop. The raid opened the lanes and enhanced free flow of traffic.

Indeed, the environmental anomie in Lagos encompasses the entire metropolis and requires a holistic approach to tackle effectively. There is practically no part of Lagos that does not face congestion resulting from among other things, lack of planning, unfettered street trading, violation of traffic rules and general impunity in conduct of personal and business affairs.

Although the Lagos State Government is currently working on a mega-city plan that seeks to transform the metropolis into a modern functional city, a lot still needs to be done both in the short and long run to realise this dream. The massive redevelopment taking place in the Ikoyi and Victoria Island axis, hitherto two highbrow residential suburbs, is a case in point. What is the intendment of the authorities in watching these areas transform from residential to commercial centres?

Ikoyi was originally created as a Government Reserved Area (GRA), where expatriate colonial staffers lived with their Nigerian servants. It mimicked the greenery that adorned similar residential suburbs in England. It was serene, noiseless and clean, with enough space for gardens, swimming pools and parking. Today, Ikoyi has lost the attraction and splendour of a GRA.

In approving development projects for the area, the concerns of the Victoria Island and Ikoyi Residents Association (VIIRA), should be taken into account. Failure of this accounts for the disharmony in the two upscale suburbs.

As more high-rise buildings dot Ikoyi, traffic gridlock would become more pronounced as no new roads or flyovers are being built. This seeming confusion in the development aspirations of the Lagos State Government to manage various environmental infrastructure should not be allowed to distort the city.

A way of possibly resolving the problem is to diffuse developments to the suburbs rather than concentrating in the long existing two-sector Lagos Island/Mainland. The State Master plan, which extends development to Epe and Badagry axis, should be brought into action, with a focus on to the future. Similarly, it is counterproductive to demolish all the iconic landmarks that make Lagos in order to accommodate new developments.

A link light railway, good highways and functional water transport to connect different parts is one sure way to decongest Lagos, and extend development to its outskirts. (Source: Guardian)