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Lagos Island building collapse: One too many

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PHOTO: Architecture Lab

Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Lagos Island are the three main islands that people loosely refer to as Island. The three of them had been there for a long time before the Lekki Axis sprang to life. Ikoyi and Victoria Island are the rich cousins, Lagos Island is the very poor cousin. But cousins they are.

The process that led to the fatal collapse of the building at Ita Faji on Wednesday (13/03/19) is not an isolated case. Neither is the fact that private developers are the group mostly involved in the re-construction of old houses in any of the three locations on the Island. Verticalization, to accommodate the ever increasing demand for residential and commercial spaces, is a continuous activity all over the Island. However, while the best of technical and financial means are deployed in V.I and Ikoyi, the same cannot be said of the building consultants, building contractors and the shylock developers involved in the construction of the buildings in Lagos Island. And Government officials, both responsible for building drawings approvals and building construction supervisions, are not more compromised in Lagos Island than in Ikoyi, Victoria Island or any other location in Lagos for that matter.

What sets Lagos Island apart is the government’s overly relaxed attitude to the chaos that has been taking place there for over five decades! There is the seeming position that the place is a mess anyway and cannot possible get worse. The other reason, and this is crucial, is that it is the ancestral homes to the indigenous Lagosians even if the most notable members of them no longer live there. This latter is the main reason why succeeding governments have shied away from taking incisive corrective measures. Unfortunately, the corollary to that laisser-faire attitude will be the ever recurring collapsing of these precarious buildings. I make bold to say that 90 per cent of them or more are not fit for human habitation especially in this digital YouTube 21st Century. Indeed many of them are accidents waiting to happen.

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Urgent steps need to be taken to guarantee the safety of lives in Lagos Island. And the Government must be BOLD; it can no longer continue the erstwhile “politically correct” postures that have yielded only further chaos instead of positive results.

A: What the Government MUST do.
1, Declare an IMMEDIATE moratorium on new constructions in this area even where planning approvals have been granted.
2, Declare IMMEDIATE moratorium on the approval of new building permit requests.
3, Update the data of unstable buildings and these MUST be immediately evacuated. Their controlled demolition must commence at once, starting from the most precarious of them.

It is therefore gladdening that the demolitions of such defective houses commenced on Friday the 15th March (dailypost.ng) The hope is that it will continue.

B: What the Government should do.
1, Semi privatize the approval of building plans to augment the capacity of the badly understaffed government officials by utilizing the professional services of the numerous reputable consultancy firms that abound in Lagos. Time will also be saved.
2, Almost completely privatize the supervision of the construction of buildings by again utilizing the services of the professionals referred to above. This should provide a more rigorous implementation of the Building Codes and will create more job opportunities.
3. Urgently review upwards the minimum plot size and density of development for new constructions and renovations. Plot size, after location, is the most important difference between upscale developments and not so pleasant ones in similar locations.
4. The time has come for a comprehensive urban renewal of this strategically located real estate.

A.The road network, legacy of the colonial government, is in urgent need of a through reassessment. I can’t go into the details here but it is important to have a hierarchy of roads composed of main roads, wide enough and cleverly interconnected to serve as additional links to Eko, Carter and Third Mainland Bridges in addition to neighborhood roads and purely pedestrian streets.

Principally the government might want to look at these significant linkages,
1. Adeniji Adele, Cater Bridge, Iddo, Murtala Mohmmed Way, Yaba, Ikorodu Roadand the reverse movement, as an alternative route in and out of Lagos that does not need to take the commuter back to the 3rd mainland Bridge or Eko Bridge.

2. Third Mainland Bridge, Idumagbo, then
a) One arm goes to join Nnamdi Azikiwe street and then Carter Bridge and the return movement.
b) The second arm joins Princess Street, Alli Street, Bamgbose Street, Igbosere Street, Obalende, Ring Road, Third Mainland Bridge and the return movement. Simpson Street should be upgraded to link Igbosere to Osborne.
These should form two pivotal internal Ring Roads. Other secondary roads and Pedestrian roads will derive from these.

3. Trams should be considered.
4. Others.
b. Compulsory acquisition of lands by government to build multi-storey parking, schools, hospitals and other social infrastructure.
c. Registration and rigorous monitoring of building construction consultants to ensure that only the most qualified ones are permitted to carry out the design and supervision of the construction of the new buildings in the new endeavor.
C: What the government may want to do
1. The government may want the LSDPC or any other designated organ, in PPP arrangements, to lead the new spatial intervention by pioneering the process of negotiating with the owners of adjoining properties to obtain the minimum land sizes for the required new constructions. The existing land sizes are too small and too haphazard. The government’s involvement should not be more than this. It is the private sector that should then drive the effort.

2. The approval and construction supervision process are in need of urgent upgrading. The present process is too cumbersome, archaic and unfit for a population of about 20 million. The process has to be digitalized. I understand that Governor Ambode started some process in this regard but it has not taken off because of a lack of will to implement and too much involvement of the government officials. This matter, as hinted earlier, should be taken out of the hands of the officials (even if it is only the technical aspect at the initial stage.) This issue has become too fundamental and critical to be left solely in their hands.

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3. Declare 13th May as Children’s Safety Day to always remind us that the safety of our children will henceforth be of the highest priority to all of us.

It is unfortunate and sad that this unnecessary loss of innocent lives came about through our negligence what in local parlance may be called “afowofa.” But it will be even sadder still and more ignominious and irreprehensible if we do not use this tragedy to correct all the anomalies in the construction of buildings in this unfortunate part of Lagos. It will also be an affront on the memory of those children and others who lost their lives. On the other hand, we could celebrate them as the martyrs that they are, if we do all that is necessary to ensure that this kind of calamity never occurs again and if we transform Lagos Island into a truly beautiful modern city.

Believe me, it is achievable if the governments have the will to do so. I lived the first 15 years of my life at Onola, aka Isalegangan Square, and I still have many relatives all over Lagos Island. It will be glorious for me to know that our precious childhood neighborhoods have started donning the toga of spatial excellence befitting of the place that once served as the Capital of the Federal Government of Nigeria!
•Adams, Architect and Urbanist wrote from Lagos.


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