The Angst over New Roads

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Recently, the Lagos State Government unveiled the construction of 114 inner-city roads, two in each of the 57 local councils in the state. But the road projects have stoked communal resistance in Surulere due to what has been ascribed to the demolition of illegal structures built on the drainage network, Gboyega Akinsanmi writes

Residents of Michael Ogun and Durojaiye Streets, Surulere have been at loggerheads with Surulere Local Government in the recent time. The reason for the difference is perhaps what other communities and residents in different parts of the state have been praying for unceasingly.

At the root of their resistance is the drainage and road reconstruction already ongoing in the two communities. Obviously, the projects were designed to end the nightmares of deplorable roads and flooding in the two communities in line with the state’s vision of urban renewal.

The fences and other structures of almost all buildings on the streets were affected. As a result, their residents had resisted the project execution, which the construction firm, Olag Nigeria Limited said, was supposed to be completed under one year. But the firm’s Site Engineer, Mr. Samuel Tomori, said residents’ resistance to the projects has been a real challenge.

Surmounting this challenge is now an issue, especially for the local government. But former Chairman of Obele Oniwala Community Development Association (CDA), Mr. Folahan Onikori, said breaking the impasse should not be an issue at all. For him, there is a cost that goes with project development or urban renewal, especially in a metropolis like Lagos.

Contrary to the position of some residents, the community leader provided reasons residents’ resistance should not constitute an impediment to the road reconstruction.Onikoyi’s reason is rooted in the history of the two communities, which he said, was as old as the era of colonial masters.

Onikori first observed that the quarters were constructed on the two streets more than 50 years. He added that it was the colonial authorities that constructed the quarters. However, the state government took over the ownership of the quarters after the colonial authorities transited in 1960.

Onikoyi, also an engineer, observed that the quarters were similar “to the council apartments in the United Kingdom. The quarters were built close to the roads. So, the way the quarters were constructed did not give their owners chance to build additional structures in their front.”

Onikoyi said the apartments “have been under the management of Lagos State Property Development Corporation (LSPDC). When the quarters were sold to the present owners, it was made clear that the state government only sold the houses and not the land. It was in the agreement we all entered, and the reason was to give room for future project development.”

He said all the residents were aware of this clause in the agreement “before the quarters were sold to the present owners, we were all briefed that no resident could build beyond where alignments had already been established. There is no basis for resisting development projects brought to our communities even though their execution might have caused some pains.”

He explained that the quarters were built close “to the roads. But the state government promised not to touch any of the quarters in the communities. Likewise, the state government strongly advised home owners not to build on or beyond alignments that had been established. Contrary to the agreement, some home owners built on the drainage alignments.”

Onikoyi therefore observed that it was improper for people “to erect structures on drainage alignment and road setback. With the way things are now, illegal structures have to give way for road development. Rather than resisting, we should all appreciate what the state government and Surulere Local Government are doing in our communities.”

Onikoyi explained what the residents have been facing on the roads in the past. He said the roads were “built during the colonial era. The roads had become deplorable and almost impassable.” At some points, he added that some portions of the roads became so bad that the residents had “to provide some intervention to make them motorable to some extent.”

Aside, the account of the construction firm depicted series of challenges the execution of the projects had posed. Tomori, the firm’s site engineer, acknowledged that some residents only raised false alarm over the project execution. He said there was no time the idea of relocating power installations to the rooves of the government quarters in the two communities.

The site engineer said the projects were delayed because it took about 10 weeks “to get the Eko Disco to give approval for the relocation of the power installations. Some residents in the communities also alleged that we were trying to relocate the poles on top of their rooves. We are not relocating the poles and high-tension wires on their rooves.”

Much later, Tomori explained how some residents “came up with the issue of some structures erected on drainage alignments and road setbacks. Some home owners encroached on the setback. Some even relocated their soakaway and septic tanks from its original location to the front of the quarters. Despite this violation, they did not want to remove illegal structures.”

However, the site engineer said some intervention “have been made,” which he said, had brought some level of respite. He explained diverse roles the traditional rulers, CDA leaders and some residents had played to end the impasse. He thus said the work “is ongoing already and progressing fast. We are about completing the drainage, and the relocation of the power installations is about to start. Before middle of May, we may complete the projects.”

However, the Executive Secretary of Surulere Local Government, Mrs. Bamidele Hussain, said there was no reason for resistance to the road project. Before the project execution started, Hussain said a stakeholder’s meeting was held with the CDAs and residents in the two communities on the need “to reconstruct the road and reclaim the setback and alignment.”

She said all the stakeholders agreed that the road “must be constructed and illegal structures on the right of way removed. It was the CDA leaders who chose that the Michael Ogun and Durojaiye roads should be constructed due to its economic and social importance to the area. We had delay with the approval to relocate the electric poles by the Eko Disco.

“To work on the drainage, we had to break some walls erected on the road setback. About 80 per cent of the residents were happy with the ongoing construction of the roads in the two communities. Also, the residents wanted the state government and local council to speed up work on the roads. Aside, the residents are grateful,” the executive secretary said.

Before the project execution started, Hussain said the CDA leaders were invited “to the Lagos House, Alausa in December 2015 as part of orientation programmes on the projects. The CDA submitted Micheal Ogun and Durojaiye roads as part of the proposed roads to be constructed by the Surulere LGA in 2015/2016. Micheal Ogun, Durojaiye and Aralile roads.”

After the contract award, Hussain said the council engineers visited the site to mark illegal structures erected on road setbacks and equally pasted necessary notices informing the affected property owners to remove such illegal structures. She also cited her personal visits to the communities to meet with the residents on the need for the project to go on smoothly.

She said before works began on the Michael Ogun and Durojaiye roads, the area was a slum with deep potholes littering the road, making it deplorable. “The roads were replete with potholes and craters. We decided to do the roads because they are link road to LUTH instead of using the Itire Road. The road has lots of economic importance as well as social value.”

Despite some resistance the project execution had generated, some residents have endorsed the projects, citing relief and succour the roads will bring them when completed. One of the residents, Mr. Ezekiel Emela described the road reconstruction as a welcome project. Emela said the dusty nature of the roads made him to think of relocating from the area.

He explained that the roads “have been so dusty and bad for a very long time.During the rainy season, the roads are always muddy and impassable. Most car owners often find it difficult to drive home due to the deplorable state of the roads. During the dry season, residents often battle with dusts day and night. There is indeed no time for respite or relief.

But now that the reconstruction had started, Emela said residents “are having some sense of relief. Even though the work cause some pains, residents are already feeling some respite already. It is a good development. We must learn to bear some cost when projects of this nature are being executed,” which he said, should be supported by all residents in the communities

The roads are among 114 inner-city roads, which the state governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode initiated about four months after he took over the reign of power. As designed, the state government is executing the projects in collaboration with Conference 57, costing N19 billion.

Both Michael Ogun and Durojaiye Streets are already undergoing reconstruction under the scheme. In Surulere, the other road is Aralile road. The initiative took roots in Ambode’s campaign promises. Ambode promised to construct two roads in each of the 20 Local Government Areas (LGAs) and 37 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) in the first year of his administration.

While the local councils are in charge of project development in their domains, the state government is playing the role of monitoring the implementation to ensure that the roads meet international standard. The councils would provide part funding for the project execution.