Musiliu Obanikoro Reacts To Ilubirin Land Grabbing Allegation-In the past week, my attention was drawn to the allegation by the Lagos State Government that I stormed the ongoing development on the Ilubirin reclaimed land in a commando-like manner, chased workers out of the site and also went as far as erecting sign posts proclaiming the land a Federal Government property. While I was contemplating a proper response to this comment allegedly made by the Governor at the celebration of his 2,500 days in office, the media was awash with different versions of concocted lies in the following days to my greatest shock and amazement. The All Progressives Congress, in its continuing debasement of party politics in Nigeria and trivialization of issues, embarrassingly lent its voice, calling me land grabber among other names.
The massive deployment of cheap lies and blackmail by the Lagos State Government and its party in the bid to force its ideas and ways down the throat of the governed cannot be more obvious than in this situation. Concerned Lagosians and discerning individuals would observe that work is still ongoing on that piece of land at a speedy rate. I think Lagosians deserve to know the truth in relation to my role in this brouhaha that has been whipped up by the Lagos State Government in the bid to cover up their inadequacies and inhuman programmes.
A few weeks ago while passing through the Ilubirin area of the state on my way to a function, I observed a beehive of activities on the reclaimed strip of land. I could not ignore the large banner proclaiming the development as “Ilubirin Housing Estate”, placed strategically around the piece of land. As a concerned Lagosian, I was immediately worried for a number of reasons. And to assuage or confirm my fears, I made an unscheduled visit to the land on the fateful day in question to take a physical assessment of the land.
Perhaps, the presence of the military men attached to my convoy is what was termed ‘commando-like’ by the Lagos State Government, but one would expect that the Governor should know better if his intentions are genuine. This is because, beyond a physical inspection of the land by my team, no attempt was made to disturb workers on the site. It, therefore, was a mirage that the Governor saw what he allegedly claimed to be a deployment of soldiers to the land and the phantom signpost proclaiming the land a Federal Government property.
The reason why the Lagos State Government was preempting my actions and that of the Federal Government on the ongoing development on the Ilubirin reclaimed land is obvious. The original reclamation of the lagoon that created the Ilubirin housing site (reclaimed land) was illegal. The Nigerian Inland Waterway Act of 1997, Sections 10, 11, 12 and 13 made this activity illegal without the approved consent of the Nigerian Inland Waterway Authority. I doubt if such approval exists for the dredging of the lagoon floor to fill a part of the same lagoon by the state government. Given the commencement of development on that land by the state government today, it is clear who the land grabber is.
The above is, however, not my principal concern. My worry is on the safety and hence the appropriateness of the reclaimed land for mass housing. Mass housing is for middle and low-income earners who depend largely on the government to ensure and protect them against environmental hazards and natural occurrences. It is for these people that the Lagos State Government plans homes for on a reclaimed lagoon land. I have spoken to experts on matters of reclaimed land and related environmental hazards in relation to this land; none of them has seen the environmental impact assessment for the Ilubirin development or the protection plan against rise in water levels. There are existing allegation by researchers that the reclamation of Ilubirin is contributory to flooding in areas of Lagos Island. In other words, a comprehensive EIA with stakeholders’ approval is sacrosanct to the development of that land. The question is: did Lagos State Government get such before the commencement of the development on that land?
Another source of concern to me, which necessitated my visit to the land, was my observation that high-tension electricity cables run through the Ilubirin land, the electricity cables used to be in the middle of the water. While I recognise that it is usually difficult to enforce the legal setbacks for development around such high-tension cables in Nigeria, it is disturbing to see the Lagos State Government may be in the process of violating such setbacks. This would compromise the safety of lives and property of proposed residents of the estate when completed. I am particularly worried that in the usual Lagos State Government manner of flaying laws and disregarding necessary approval processes, it may have failed to conduct proper due diligence on the implications of the project before commencing development on it.
The question of affordability of homes built on reclaimed land is apparent. In this regard, who are the proposed houses targeted at? Families living in the densely populated areas of the state need affordable houses. And affordable housing communities, the world over, are located on land and not on the water. Despite the scarce land resources of the state, there are massive undeveloped lands that are suitable for mass housing in many areas of the state such as Ibeju Lekki, Epe, Badagry, Ikorodu, etc, where affordable and accessible homes could be developed with robust and integrated urban planning and transportation systems. Rather than focusing on alleviating the environmental challenges of places where the masses in Lagos reside in Agege, Iba, Ifelodun, Ikorodu-North, Oto-Awori and Lagos-Island, which are constantly flooded in raining season, the government is pursuing elite housing projects that contribute to the problems of the majority.
I know what affordable houses look like. My family and I lived in one (Iponrin Housing Estate) of the good affordable (low-income) houses built by the former Governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande. Those houses were built around the people who needed them most. In contrast, the current government appears to be ignoring the fact that 97 per cent of the families living in Ajeromi-Ifelodun, Alagbado, Agboyi-Ketu, Oke-Odo, Ayobo-Ipaja, Bariga, Ikorodu and Igando do not have access to any of its housing projects as currently designed and located. In addition, one would expect that for expediency that the government would at least focus on development of mass housing in areas with the lowest home-ownership rate in the state such as Ifelodun (4%), Shomolu (8%), Mushin (8%). In the alternative ,there is another piece of land, which was used by Alhaji Jakande as quarters for the members of the Lagos State House of Assembly during the Second Republic, almost adjacent to the area in question. The governor may want to tell the good people of our state what himself and his predecessor did with that expanse of land. The Lagos State Government can focus on redesigning and redeveloping the Jakande Estates alone into modern high-rise buildings, homes in multiples of the current ridiculous number of units to be built could be gotten.
I will conclude my side of this story with a demand each from the government of Lagos State and Lagosians. To the Lagos State Government, I dare you to make the EIA and necessary approvals on the Ilubirin development public if such exist for all to see and evaluate. I am convinced that developments that are for the interest of the few at the expense of many would hardly stand the test of time. Similar outcome awaits sympathy that is gotten with the use of cheap lies and blackmails. To Lagosians, it is important to demand for a comprehensive EIA on the Ilubirin development from the state government and demand a shutdown of the project if such does not exist.
-By Amb. Musiliu Obanikoro, Minister of State for Defence.