Politicians weakening town planning laws, say operators

Operators in the built industry have voiced their discontent over how politicians are negatively impacting town planning laws.

In an exclusive interview with The PUNCH, a former President of the Association of Town Planning Consultants of Nigeria, Moses Ogunleye, said the enforcement of town planning laws was ineffective because of the weak system.

He said, “Enforcement can be expensive, and one must be consistent with the process, because most times when government officials serve notice once, they do not follow up with serving the required subsequent notices. Hence, those who flout the regulations assume the government is not serious.

“The effect of this is that it has created more disorderliness. Some of our towns and cities do not have development forms or patterns of growth. So, people build as they like, and it has gotten to the point when there are available financial resources, you would be free to abuse existing regulations.

“There is also the political dimension weakening the enforcement process of town planning laws. Once you try to enforce, some people immediately make political moves by going to tell a higher authority who would then order the officers doing the enforcement to slow down or look away.”

According to Ogunleye, the element of policies and plans comes in, because some of the involved violators have spent money and because they have political influence, they reach out to top political personalities to intervene.

He added, “The ultimate thing is that once enforcement is done, the property is removed, but if we have more responsive and responsible eggs in the political offices, people would sit up and know that nobody is above the law.

“Let the law be operated as it is in the books because when political people intervene, it weakens the enthusiasm of public officers to enforce. These political people are very smart; they would not write the officers to stop, but instead give verbal orders which creates problems for those enforcing them because verbal order is not an official order.

“We need to be very serious as a nation because the government is the ones breaking the laws; so, the government is part of the lawlessness.”

In the same vein, another town planner who spoke under anonymity said if laws are followed to the letter, half of the buildings in Lagos State would have been demolished.

Also, the pioneer President of the Building Collapse Prevention Guild, Kunle Awobodu, noted that the political interference was the reason civil servants were finding difficult to cope with.

He stated that there was a need for serious counselling of those in positions of power to lessen their influence in encouraging those violating the regulations.

He said, “The influence of these political dons is encouraging the growth of slums, which leads to a haphazard development.”

In the same vein, the National Chairman of the Nigerian Institution of Builders in Facilities Management, Dr Akinsola Olufemi, said the enforcement being done was selective.

He said, “Town planners are very powerful professionals because they make the law to make money for the state government. So, the government is very careful in dealing with them because the bulk of the money that comes from the built environment comes from the town planners. So, most of the director-generals, and permanent secretaries, among others, are very serious politicians, who can shield and protect them. If the building that collapses is not as big as Four-Score in Ikoyi, they would not do anything to them.

“It is only when these kinds of big buildings collapse that the permanent secretary is affected. If it is a small building that collapses, the government would not touch them because they know their revenue generator.”

According to Olufemi, the way forward is to re-orientate people’s minds and culture from corruption tendencies; otherwise, all efforts being put in would not yield the desired result.