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Lagos Govt, Rhodes-Vivour clash over Mende estate demolition

By Monsurudeen Olowoopejo

The demolition of buildings marked by the Lagos State Government as illegal in Mende Estate and other locations to prevent flooding as rainy season intensified have become subject of disagreement between opposition parties and cabinet members in the state.

Disagreement which started on social media had become an issue with the opposition accusing the Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration of being insensitive to Lagosians plight while the political officeholders and the members of the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC), arguing that the move was embarked upon to prevent major disaster within Lagos.

The disagreement over removal of buildings erected on the major drainage setbacks in Mende Estate and other location came to peak on Friday when the Lagos State Commissioner for Environment and Water Resources, Tokunboh Wahab, and the gubernatorial candidate of the Labour Party during 2023 governorship election, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, clashed publicly over the demolition exercise embarked upon by the government.

Both personalities spoke extensively on their stance as it concerns the demolition exercise while responding to questions on a popular television show anchored by a three-man team that include former presidential aide, Ruben Abati, and Rufai Oseni.

Rhodes-Vivour, who kicked started the argument, stated that the Sanwo-Olu administration embarked on the exercise without putting a human face to the demolition considering that the occupants were tax payers.

The former candidate added that during an assessment of the demolition site, he discovered that the government team allegedly pulled down structures that were not on the right of way, or in contravention of the law as claimed by the government through the ministry of environment and water resources.

Rhodes-Vivour, who is a master’s degree holder in Architecture, from the Massachusetts institute of technology, in the United States, alleged that previous administrations was aware of the structures and did not remove the buildings after a thorough review but the Sanwo-Olu administration, without considering the economic challenges, displaced the occupants and did not pay compensation.

He added that the occupants had proof of ownership and other documents obtained from Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) which indicated government was aware that these structures were erected in a community where the state’s major drain collector, system 1, passed through.

The former gubernatorial candidate stated that if the previous and current governments had maintained system 1 as well as enforced laws guiding the facility over the years, the properties would have been prevented from springing up, rather than pulling them down after they have been completed.

He argued that the officials from the ministries that were expected to prevent construction around the channel should also be penalised for negligence.

According to him, in 2021, the state government approved over N200 million for the drainage maintenance and did same in following year. But these contracts and others were not executed.

He also claimed that residents of Mende were not given notices before their buildings were demolished.

Responding swiftly to the allegations, Wahab, who argued that the move was to restore the master plan, described Rhodes-Vivour’s visit to the estate and other claims made on the demolition as strategy to gain popularity ahead of the 2027 elections.

According to him, Politicians think of the next election but statesmen think of the next generation. Rhodes-Vivour can wait for next election but for now, we have to do what is right for Lagos.

He noted that the need to provide better platform for the next generation and prevent present Lagos from being submerged by flood considering the challenges confronting other major cities globally formed the move.

While confirming that contracts were awarded for the channel, the commissioner disclosed that the contractors had not been able to complete the task assigned to them due to contraventions from residents who despite series of notices and engagements refused to remove their structures willingly.

Arguing that the demolition exercise was to restore System 1 to its original state,

Wahab noted that this facility is critical to flood prevention in Lagos considering its role, saying this is the reason the former military administrator of Lagos, Mobolaji Johnson, gazetted the facility to protect it.

The commissioner stated that if governor Sanwo-Olu had not adjusted the approved meters for setbacks, the number of affected buildings would have been massive, adding this could have removed about 85 percent of the estate, but this was reviewed and the reviewed setback meter was used for the exercise.

“It is not our joy to demolish but we have to do what is right for the state. I may also inform our former gubernatorial candidate that there is an All Progressives Congress (APC) that lost four buildings during the demolition”.

He added that many of the property owners had built beyond the approval obtained from the state government, urging Rhodes-Vivour to return back to the community and investigate.

“For instance, Mende Villa’s owner approached the government to reclaim the used part of land around Odo-Iya alaro. This was not approved by the government due to the location. But the owner went ahead to build. This is encroachment by the residents.

“When we realised this, my predecessor, Mr. Tuni Bello, engaged them, serving notices to owners of the affected properties. Alter I assumed office; I also did reminded the property owners through notices that were sent to them before we started enforcement.

“I need to remind Rhodes-Vivour and the occupants that justice may be slow but one day, it will surely come to past”, he added.

COMPENSATION

While countering Rhodes-Vivour, the commissioner stressed that the incumbent government had since assuming office paid many residents compensation on their property when it was realised that public interest has override existence of the building.

He added: “The residents of Mende Estate can apply for compensation. They can do this as a group or approach the government through the developer and this will be considered by the government.

“But we need to understand that the government cannot be using genuine tax payers’ money to compensate property owners that contravene the law.

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