Cover Stories, Politics

Senator Obanikoro opens up: ‘Why I visited Ilubirin project’

Former head of Nigeria’s High Commission to Ghana and current Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro has denied using soldiers to disrupt development of housing projects by the Lagos state government.

In recent weeks, the Lagos state government has raised the alarm over the deployment of soldiers by the Minister to seal off premises of two of its ongoing projects in Lagos. Claims have it that soldiers stormed Ilubirin Foreshore Housing Project going on on a reclaimed land near the Third Mainland Bridge, Lagos and another project opposite Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) building Ikoyi, Lagos, maintaining the properties belong to the federal government. Lagos state government accused Senator Obanikoro of using his new position as minister of state for defence to settle scores with the state government by frustrating the development of these two projects that will benefit Lagosians. Lagos State Commissioner for Information, Lateef Ibirogba observed that it is so unfortunate that Obanikoro wanted to destabilise the state that gave President Goodluck Jonathan over 1.2 million votes in the last presidential elections.

We reached out to the honourable minister through text message on Saturday, April 12, 2014, and he responded immediately. Senator Obanikoro said it is not true that he disrupted work on the projects mentioned, neither did he deploy soldiers to the two places. He said the claims by the Lagos state government are all lies meant to deceive the general public.

We visited the two places on Friday, April 11, 2014 and construction was going on in Ilubirin reclaimed land and the projects opposite NNPC building Ikoyi Lagos. There was no sign of soldiers around these two places other than uniformed police officers. Perhaps they are there for securing the two places.

Ilubirin Foreshore Housing Project is a new project by the Lagos state government. The reclaimed land near Third Mainland Bridge, Adeniji, Lagos, will host the new project modelled after the expensive Ikoyi Foreshore Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos. The project just started this year after the reclamation. About N10 billion is in the budget to facilitate the project.

The other project opposite NNPC building in Ikoyi Lagos is a planned three structures one a multi storey car park expected to accommodate 850 cars, an edifice that will serve as the head office of the Lagos State Waterways Authority and a world class jetty. This project is handled by a private firm in partnership with Lagos state government. Lagos state government claims about N7 billion have been expended on the project.

Senator Musiliu Obanikoro stated his own side further in a message he sent to ENCOMIUM Weekly via email on Saturday, April 12, 2014.

Ilubirin development, my interest and the Lagos State Government campaign of calumny against my person

My attention has been drawn to the recent allegations by the Lagos State Government (LASG) led by Governor Babatunde Fashola that I authorized and personally led the deployment of soldiers to the ongoing development at the Ilubirin reclaimed land. He further alleged I stopped the ongoing construction and installed a sign post proclaiming the land belongs to the Federal Government.

While I was contemplating whether to formally respond to these illicit allegations 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 Progressive Congress (APC), in its continuing debasement of party politics in Nigeria and trivialization of issues embarrassingly lent its voice, calling me land grabber, among other names.

A few weeks ago, while passing through the Ilubirin area on my way to a function on the mainland, 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 pulled over immediately to observe and assess the project. Perhaps the presence of the military men attached to my convoy is what was termed ‘commando-like’ by the governor, who one would expect should know better if his intentions were genuine. At the end of my brief visit (less than 10 minutes), no attempt was made by myself or any one in my company to communicate, stop or disturb any of the workers onsite. It was therefore, 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.

It is no surprise however, that the repressive propaganda skills of the governor and his party, the APC was massively deployed for one obvious reason; their illegality. The original reclamation of the lagoon that created this particular strip of land at Ilubirin is 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 (NIWA).

The legality of the reclamation nor the ownership of the land, as being propagated by the state government however, are not my principal concern. My main concern is the safety and the potential adverse environmental effects of the project on the area and its immediate environ, as well as the general focus of development of our great state. This prompted me to seek the opinion of environmental experts on the Ilubirin project. The disturbing discovery is that none of them have seen the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the Ilubirin project. Furthermore, the following observations were made across board:

Aggravation to existing flooding challenges

There is a major concern the project is more than likely to contribute to the major flooding challenges already being faced in the Lagos Island and Ikoyi area (along the Dolphin axis). There is no information whatsoever available of the possible proposal for the construction of protection against sudden rise in water level for the Ilubirin project, one can only hope and assume. In addition, the poor maintenance culture and emergency management system in Lagos State pose significant concerns at this time of increasing and devastating impacts of global warming on coastal areas around the world.

Unsafe proximity to high-voltage electric cables: High-voltage electricity transmission cables run through the Ilubirin land. To mitigate the effect of the electromagnetic (EM) radiation from high-voltage electricity transmission lines on human beings living and working close to the lines, the former Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) mandated that any building constructed close to the lines must give right of way (RoW) of 15m and 25m for 132kV and 330kV lines respectively. This poses another major challenge for the project regarding the safety and health of the proposed occupants.

Unhealthy and risky proximity to road transport infrastructure

In addition to significant proximity of the larger part of the Ilubirin land to both roads and waterways, some part of the land seat directly under the Third Mainland Bridge. Arguably, not only are potential residents exposed to road traffic hazards such as air and noise pollution, but they are also exposed to road accidents. There is also the potent security challenges via access to the proposed estate from the Lagoon.

In addition to the above, I believe the following challenges also ought to be given serious consideration:

Infrastructural challenge

During peak traffic hours, a worrying traffic bottleneck currently characterizes the Osborne-3rd Mainland Bridge link roads through Ilubirin. At such times, commuters spends an average of 30 mins – 1hr navigating through this area from Ikoyi/Victoria Island and Lagos Island. Regardless of where the main entrance to the propose Ilubirin Housing Estate is situated, at the proposed 1,248 units of flats in the estate and 5 individuals per household, an estimated additional 2,400 vehicles could be added to the pressure on that area at 2 vehicles per household. The potential pressure on education, health and other social infrastructure such as markets in the area is obvious. This begs the question of whether the LASG considered any of these in the design of the Ilubirin project. It is important to note that the existing infrastructure in Lagos Island, Ikoyi and Victoria Island, were not built for the population currently inhabiting the area, thus significantly adding to it will only fast track the decay of the infrastructure and compound the challenges currently being faced in the area.

Affordability of IIubirin project

The need for mass and affordable housing in Lagos State is obvious, thus the intention of the LASG to invest in such is lofty. However, there is nowhere in the world where affordable mass housing projects are built on sand filled water body. What happened to already existing land in areas like Ibeju  Lekki, Epe, Badagry, or Ikorodu? The most populated areas in Lagos where the majority of low income earners reside, such as Ajeromi-Ifelodun, Alagbado, Agboyi-Ketu, Oke-Odo, Ayobo-Ipaja, Bariga, Epe and Igando, do not have access to any of the housing projects of the LASG as currently designed. These are the people who should be beneficiaries of any mass housing initiative.  The Ilubirin project at N16 million per 2 bedroom flat on a 10-year mortgage scheme at 9 percent interest rate is simply an Elite Housing Scheme.

From the foregoing, I have a number of advices for the LASG:

Strategic development of Lagos State

To create the metropolitan city desired for Lagos State, government must maintain focus on decongesting the center and making the surrounding areas more attractive. This can only be achieved by creating new residential/commercial districts with equal or superior infrastructural development to the center.The use of tax incentives to businesses, zero or concessional land use charges for specific number of years on pioneering developments in such areas will go a long way to achieving this goal.

Stakeholders’ approval and referendum

Beyond the best practice of subjecting an important and environmentally related project like Ilubirin to a stakeholders’ review and approval, it is important that we begin to adopt the use of referendums for an inclusive public debate on projects or policy. Related projects like this include the Lekki/ikoyi toll bridge, among others. In the Ilubirin project case, the residents of Ikoyi and Lagos Island should be allowed to voice and take a position on the project. The adoption of referendums doesn’t only inform government on the position of the people, it also affords government the opportunity to provide the people with all information regarding the project and the opportunity to dialogue and convince them on the benefits of the project, while being open to a mutually beneficial modification based on citizens’ concerns.

I will conclude by restating again, that the insinuations and allegations by Governor Fashola and the APC that I authorized the deployment of soldiers and stopped the ongoing construction works at Ilubirin are totally false and untrue. I ask that they refrain from using cheap lies and blackmail for the advancement of this project. I am convinced the Ilubirin Housing Project is a project in the best interests of the few at the expense of many.

I also believe the concerns raised above are shared by many, therefore I call on the LASG to immediately avail the public the EIA and final recommendations for the Ilubirin Housing Project, if such exist. I also recommend that the project be discontinued until proper EIA and stakeholders’ forum and approval, possibly, via a referendum have been achieved. Above all, the approvals from federal agencies with jurisdiction over the land in question must be sought and received.

I remain Senator Musiliu Obanikoro.



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