Our people have a saying, to wit: For as long as you have bugs (lies) in your hair or clothes, there will always be blood on your nails. This is so because you must repeatedly and constantly seek out the tormentors and extirpate them before you can have respite. Until the problem of the Alapere canal is positively sorted out by the Lagos State Government, those of us who suffer from its adverse effects can only keep quiet to our peril. Fortunately, reports are that the LASG is preparing a massive intervention on canal and flood matters in the state for the 2020 fiscal or budget year. I commend this!
Another proverb of our people says it is when you see the person interested in your plight that you must open up and cry the loudest, like biblical Bartimaeus. When blind Bartimaeus was ordered to keep quiet was when he cried out the loudest – and respite came his way. We have heard it said repeatedly that Mr. Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, is interested in addressing the long-neglected problems of canals and floods in the state; so we must state our own case as vociferously as we can. Politics is the art – or science – of who gets what, when and how. Resources are scare but needs and wants are insatiable. Priorities are set by Government and only the man whose voice is heard and who can pull the right strings in the right places gets answered.
Another proverb says if you keep quiet, your problems also keep quiet with you. We have seen Mr. Governor visit high-brow areas of the State to have first-hand understanding and information on their flood problems so as to proffer appropriate solutions. We want him to also visit us at Alapere. The big men that the politicians often pander to hardly vote in elections; it is the poor that do in their numbers. I don’t need to remind you that the big men and their children are hardly around when shove becomes pushing in the street; the poor are usually the canon-fodders who face the music – and the fire. Unfortunately, once election is won, the leaders pander to the wishes of the rich, which is quite understandable because they belong in the same social class. The poor is conveniently side-tracked – until the next election. That must stop!
Today, I bring the views of a respected Town Planner on this matter. He is Town Planner Yacoob Abiodun. This is the first of many such informed commentaries and interventions on flood/environmental issues not only in Lagos but also elsewhere that this column will entertain. Flooding is a global problem that must be addressed head-on, especially with global warming rapidly on the rise while the needed global action to stem the tide falls far short of what is required. Said TPL Abiodun:
“I read your piece on Alapere canal and my reactions are as contained in my book, which I launched at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) in 2016 to mark my 70th birthday. I am forwarding the relevant excerpts for your attention. People and the Lagos State Government must bear in mind that our reckless tampering with nature will sooner than later back-fire with dire consequences. We cannot be hell bent on insisting on developing every urban space in the mega city. We must conserve and protect the wetlands because they have their environmental values. Please take time and read the excerpts to be better informed”
As advised, I took time to peruse the excerpts from the book titled “The Citizen’s Guide to Planning in Nigeria: How to Get your Voice Heard” It runs thus:“Example: Alapere Conservation Area of Lagos is a wetland covered by water all-year round with wet soil and vegetation. The area has important value as reservoir for storm water and holding zone for sediments and sundry atmospheric pollution. For its environmental value, the wetland ought to be protected from urban development activities and through the enforcement of development control regulation, which specifies setback provisions and buffer strips.
“However, development around Alapere wetland is left uncontrolled with indiscriminate construction of residential dwellings. All the houses are built below the sea level. Ideally, the conservation area should serve as the collection basin for storm water whenever it rains in order to mitigate the effect of flooding. Some neighbourhoods in Lagos have experienced heavy flooding due to the blockage of the canals by uncontrolled dumping of refuse.
“The water table has receded because of reckless digging of boreholes without any regulation to control such activity, despite the seismic problem it could cause… The contamination of underground water is another environmental pollution which Government should try to mitigate. In general, the quality of life, safety and public health can be enhanced in a locality if planners draw up a protection plan for that specific purpose and ensure compliance of the relevant environmental/planning regulations…”
TPL Abiodun followed with a photograph of the Alapere Conservation Area captioned “A conservation belt where housing development should not be allowed. The wetland is a natural drainage for containing storm water run-off”
There we are! I have known TPL Yacoob Abiodun for decades, through my cousin, Architect Akintunde Imolehin and another Town Planner, Moses Ogunleye, both of whom worked with me when I was The PUNCH editor. In fact, TPL Abiodun, as well as Imolehin and Ogunleye respectively, contributed a chapter each to my book “State Administration and the Challenges of the 21st Century: A Case-Study of the Marwa Years in Lagos State, 1996 – 1999”
TPL Abiodun is also an author in his own right. Apart from “The Citizen’s Guide”, he had also written “Affordable Housing and Urban Planning Practice in Nigeria: Advocacy for Change” He is a passionate and voracious writer and social affairs commentator par excellence. He must have had hundreds of such write-ups in his kitty. Readers of this column will be familiar with TPL Abiodun’s regular interventions in the FEEDBACK section.
After working for over two decades in the Federal Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, TPL Abiodun retired in 2006 as Deputy Director (Urban Planning). He now lives in the United States of America and still works tirelessly on advocacy issues. Only in October, he had, together with “eight other notable urban planners in Nigeria”, as he described them, “floated an NGO called PHYSICAL PLANNING RENAISSANCE INITIATIVE (PPRI) to advance urban planning agenda in Nigeria for sustainable environmental, social, and economic development”
PPRI could not have chosen a better time – or a more laudable initiative! With global warming and rising water level the world over, the problems of floods and heat waves will become more pronounced and accentuated instead of receding, especially in a clime like Nigeria where impunity and “bigmanism” compound every problem. I have lived and attended church in the Ketu/Alapere/Ojota/Ogudu axis since the 1980s and have seen, firsthand, the indiscriminate and wanton depletion of the Alapere wetland as stated by TPL Abiodun. Residential houses, events centres, petrol stations, places of worship, among others, have, in the last 10 years, taken over the wetland – from the foot of the Oworonshoki/Third Mainland Bridge up to the Alapere/Estate Bus stop junction.
Those who suffer for this impunity and encroachment are structures that have long been in place and which have the relevant government approvals. Recently, a newly-elected legislator on the platform of the ruling party in the state was alleged to have started filling up a portion of the Alapere wetland, blocking the flow of the Alapere canal. I hope this allegation proves untrue!
Since that unfortunate incident, however, settlements along the canal have known no peace. Rain waters denied access into the wetland or eventual passage into the lagoon now flow rapaciously into homes and streets, causing untold damage, destruction and havoc. Lives have been lost and properties worth millions destroyed. Investments in the area are imperilled and respite appears not in sight – except the Lagos State Government musters the political will to rein-in the rampaging bull of impunity.
The LASG authorities – the politicians especially – should call a meeting and tell one another the bitter truth. All obstructions/violations of the big men causing havoc in the Alapere area should be removed. The poor and hapless citizens being harassed with the demolition of their structures again and again should be given a respite. Government should move beyond the palliatives of dredging the canal, which has turned what used to be a stream into a river – and is still expanding. The time has come to do the needful!
Shrink the Alapere canal. Recover all the land it has swallowed up. Line it on both sides with concrete walls. Find the funds to do so. We see LASG finding the funds to do more expensive projects elsewhere. Do similarly for us at Alapere, even though this is majorly a poor suburb. We, too, are important in more than one area. We have voters card and we vote in elections. We contribute to the electoral fortunes or otherwise of political leaders. We, therefore, are not as powerless as some people may think! In this age of social media, everyone has a voice. Social media was the weapon the “Arab Spring” leveraged upon to devastating effect. Here, we want to use our “people power” positively to support our political leaders – and make Lagos into the mega city of our dream.
As TPL Abiodun stated, and which this writer has not tired to emphasize, LASG has to find a solution to the problem of indiscriminate dumping of refuse. The menace of empty bottles is also a major part of the problem of blockage of drainages in the state. Truth be told, PSP has not worked. Vision Scope did not, either. We must think out of the box. Return to the drawing board. Interrogate the current ideas which are not working. Explore fresh ideas. How is this problem tackled and solved in other climes? What innovations of ours can we bring on board? Let this important issue be not politicised.
Bola Bolawole, turnpot 07052631058