By Sopuru Uwadiegwu
Urban development in Nigeria took the front burner under the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose patriotic zeal fired up one of his chief helmsmen, Nair el-Rufai, then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory to take on violators of the capital territory’s master plan in combatant fashion. This was a brave decision as many beautiful houses were pulled down and many toes stepped on in the bid to get housing and other urban development to conform to the original master-plan of the Abuja FCT.
Interestingly radical El-Rufai demonstrated enough courage in attempting to stick to development plans laid out long before the administration that appointed him came to power. This saw many mansions as well as shanties, erected in violation of the FCT’s master-plan pulled down. Even very senior serving government officials were not spared the bulldozers under El-Rufai’s command. Nigerians loved this action Minister for enthroning the laws over men, no matter how highly placed. It remains one of the low points of the Jonathan administration that the reform El-Rufai started in the FCT has not been sustained.
It has to be said that while the El-Rufai reign lasted, the pain was severe but well meaning Nigerians commend the strength of character and vision shown by the radical Minister is taking sides with common good and constitutionality as against personal interests and self seeking individuals. Little wonder the man’s popularity soared in the process. Sadly, less than a decade after the exit of Chief Obasanjo and his super ministers, the FCT is gradually becoming defaced with no Minister showing strong enough resolve to abide by the master-plan.
Environmen-talists are now taking solace in the drive by the Fashola administration to position Lagos as a megacity. This drive is commendable because it has seen the visionary governor set up professional agencies like the Lagos State New Towns Development Agency to ensure the vision is achieved. El-Rufai and Fashola share the common character of championing the supremacy of the law over men, irrespective of social, religious, political or economic status. This has seen Lagos State become a reference point on discipline and rule of law in Nigeria’s democracy. The strong leadership disposition of Gov Fashola has seen opinion leaders from other states call on their governments to take a cue from him leadership.
This good reputation has come under several tests that Gov Fashola had passed. There is another test, though with news filtering out that few residents of Lekki Phase 1 estate have beaten their chests that the master-plan of the estate will not stand. Nigerians are wondering, who’s responsibility it is to plan estates as I understand that few powerful individuals have taken it upon themselves to confront and fight businesses that want to follow the master-plan of the estate in opening branches there to a standstill. This action points towards impunity, impudence and decadence, banes that Nigerians must fight and get rid of or face retrogression.
The late Moshood Abiola with all he represented and represents in Nigeria did not champion any class system that killed businesses or confined other citizens behind the walls or to a safe distance from his residence. He lived in a people’s area of Ikeja and all manners of businesses, so long as they were legal, existed close to his residence. His cherished and well respected family still lives there with common people and businesses as neighbours!
There is inherent danger in having a state government under Fashola order the stoppage of certain commercial developments at Lekki Phase 1 estate upon the complaint of people who can boast of having the ears of those that matter! This could lead to impudence and decadence. Laws are made for men and when men feel they are above the law, it spells anarchy, mostly if they carry on as such. The drift of society towards anarchy is often gradual and Lagosians must watch out for those minded towards possessing the State under any guise as this might derail the ship of state.
If claims that some powerful individuals are using every means possible to stop businesses from going on with developments provided for in the master-plan of elite estates like the Lekki Phase 1 are true, it leads to a certain kind of fear that must be guarded against if the opinion of common people like my humble self is to be addressed to avoid setting an avoidable dangerous precedence. Should this handful of people succeed in altering the master-plan laid out by the LSNDA, it makes a statement that whoever does not like the master-plan of the estate of his/her residence can follow the footsteps of these fellows and alter it to suit personal motives. This is clearly avoidable.
The issue that comes to mind on this is: ‘Should the government bow to this pressure, stop the commercial developments at the Lekki Phase 1 estate, understood to include a filling station designed to international standards altering the master-plan in the process; would that not amount to changing the rules in the midst of the game?’ My simple mind tells me that the government should count on the impartiality and professionalism of its officers and reach proactive decisions should the need arise. Where one or two persons feel comfortable to coerce government into cancelling developmental projects that could benefit the masses in today’s Nigeria, it questions the integrity of leaders, professionalism of government officials and defines our quest for democracy!
I am not of the opinion that government agencies are infallible, what I stand by is that master-plans are strategic and corrections to strategic plans must be done cautiously not at the behest of persons who can be adjudged to be pursuing myopic or personal interests, rightly or wrongly. Government must at all times be seen as unbiased and protect rather than expose the weaker segments of the society. Today when governments and well meaning individuals are striving to attract investment and businesses to the country, does it not amount to some form of foolhardiness to see some people chase businesses away from Lagos with her reputation as the economic capital of Nigeria?
These issues are begging for answers and the business communities, not just Lagosians are watching to see the way the pendulum will swing. The master-plan of any estate is set out blindly, that is without any knowledge of who the owners or occupants would be. If it comes to a point of altering such a plan because certain people have bought into it or now live there, it spells doom. The ball is now in the courts of decision makers to send the right signals to all stakeholders by reaching a pro people and pro business decision on this.
Sopuru Uwadiegwu lives at Lekki, Lagos