Monday, 4th December 2023

To reduce the pain of demolition of illegal buildings

By Editorial Board
16 June 2023   |   3:05 am
The gale of demolition of buildings generally branded as ‘illegal structures’ in many parts of the country is worrisome as the exercise usually leaves behind wailing and gnashing of teeth, besides the huge financial cost and waste running into billions of naira. In recent times, demolition has taken place in Lagos, Kano and Kaduna states.

Wreckage of illegal buildings demolition by Task Force. PHOTO: LUCY ELUKPO-ATEKO

The gale of demolition of buildings generally branded as ‘illegal structures’ in many parts of the country is worrisome as the exercise usually leaves behind wailing and gnashing of teeth, besides the huge financial cost and waste running into billions of naira. In recent times, demolition has taken place in Lagos, Kano and Kaduna states.

It is of great concern that the demolition, along with its psychological and financial heartbreaks, could have been avoided if only the builders had been a bit more diligent in their endeavour; and if the relevant authorities too have lived up to expectations in the discharge of their official duties. While the builders have no excuse to erect buildings without first obtaining building approvals, the government agencies could as well have been more proactive to prevent or stop the buildings at an early stage; and certainly before it occasions the loss and lamentations.

Recently in Lagos, the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) demolished 13 residential buildings in Ajao Estate. Similarly in Kaduna State only a few days ago, operatives of the Kaduna State Urban Planning and Development Authority (KASUPDA) reportedly demolished six structures across the state capital and environs allegedly belonging to followers of Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky known as Shi’ites. Leaders of the Shi’ites said the structures demolished included schools, hospitals and private residences, among others.

And in Kano State, Lamash Properties Limited, the developer of Daula Hotel, which was demolished by the Kano State Government, said it will sue the government and demand N10 billion as compensation for the demolition. About the same time, other buildings, including a three-storey building with 90 shops on a race course at the Nasarawa GRA were demolished as traders in the state, complained bitterly that the demolition has created a hostile business environment in the state and forcing many of their customers from within and outside the country to stay away.

It was understood that Kano State Governor Abba Yusuf ordered the demolition of certain properties across Kano Metropolis, which he claimed the immediate past government sold illegally. The misery occasioned by the demolition is unfortunate, for many Nigerians who are going through one of the toughest economic times in the country, compounded of late by high fuel prices that have triggered inflation in transportation and virtually all other sectors. In many ways, the incidents are manifestations of gross deficiencies in the process and grant of building approvals. In the case of Ajao Estate, contention by traditional landowners over the land in issue obviously aggravated the conditions leading to the demolition. But that is not a sufficient excuse for the failure of relevant agencies to do their job, which could have prevented the erection of the buildings in the first place.

The question is where is development control? Where was FAAN and the various state governments when the buildings were being constructed? Who sold the land to the owners of the buildings? Certainly, the buildings did not spring up overnight, and information that there were aviation pipelines underneath the stretch of land leading to the airport could only have necessitated greater alert and action by FAAN.

What is supposed to be a green belt, clearly mapped out and demarcated was sold and purchased by private individuals and storey structures erected with families living therein for over 15 years running, and the responsible authorities presumed to be in slumber, only to wake up one afternoon to go and bulldoze the buildings is certainly not a sign of civility or efficiency.

The General Manager of LASBCA, Gbolahan Owodunni Oki said the authorities engaged owners of the buildings since 2016 and four notices were served on them before the commencement of the removal. He blamed incessant collapse of buildings on attitudinal issues among residents, who have either refused to comply with relevant laws or report contravention to the appropriate authorities for immediate sanctions.

Also, General Manager, Business Development, FAAN, Mr. Hycienth Ugwu, said the buildings were erected on the airport lands acquired by the Federal Government in 1944, 1972 and 1975 for the expansion of the international airport. He stressed that the continued existence of the buildings in the area constitutes a security risk to the airport; and that according to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards, no building is allowed to be erected close to the perimeter fences of the airport, while there is also a limit to the height of buildings within the airport.

Although some of the affected residents tried to justify their actions in building their houses and other structures, the indications are strong that they either did not exercise enough patience while engaging the authorities or they failed to observe due diligence regarding ownership of the land before venturing to build. Nevertheless, the officials of LSBCA and FAAN in Lagos appear to self-indict themselves when they admitted that they only started to engage the building owners as late as 2015/16 when some of the buildings seem to have been completed with residents therein.

Demolition of landed properties by governments all over the country has continued to elicit passion and often controversies largely because people are thrown into serious physical dislocation when forcefully evicted from their places of abode or businesses without immediate alternative settlements. Quite often, both governments and citizens have been guilty of negative acts that lead to demolition but the government has an onerous task to prevent or reduce the hardship of the people. This they can achieve through timely warning against erection of buildings in unauthorised locations and facilitating the erection of buildings within government regulations.

Nigerians should realise that town planning regulations are for the utmost benefit of the generality of the public and must be observed, as many Nigerians are fond of circumventing proper procedures for obtaining permits for their property developments and the resultant effect is the perennial flooding experienced in areas where properties have been developed along waterways, traffic congestions and collapse of buildings due to poor designs. Where property owners believe they have a legitimate claim against the government, they should approach a court of law to seek redress rather than resort to self-help by physically assaulting law enforcement authorities.

Government should equally ensure that actions taken towards the enforcement of statutory regulations are within the ambit of the law. Nigerians have witnessed arbitrary demolition of properties by government authorities or persons with selfish interest acting through the instrumentality of state apparatus, without recourse to the issuance of requisite notices, obtaining a valid court order or award of compensation to affected persons.

Government is an institution with whom the people have entrusted the responsibility to ensure the preservation of law and order; its agencies and or officers should therefore not be in the forefront of statutory offenders. Government can do more to simplify the process of obtaining requisite licences and permits, particularly in the area of eliminating bureaucratic bottlenecks and corrupt practices by regulatory officers seeking to extort innocent members of the public. A reduction of applicable rates should also be considered, as many agencies are quick to burden the people with an increase in rates and other forms of taxation.

A government that has failed in its responsibility to provide adequate housing for its citizens should not be so quick to demolish buildings; it should rather find creative ways to encourage people to own houses. The primary responsibility of the government is the welfare and security of its citizens and there is everything wrong with a system that appears to strangulate the common class, which constitutes the vast majority of its citizenry.