Wasiu Abiola Anifowose is an architect and renowned town planner of over 30 years. He bagged BSc in Architecture from Howard University, Washington DC, USA in 1979, where he also bagged MSc in the same field in 1980. He also had MSc in City and Regional Planning, same university, 1987. He’s a fellow of Institute of Town Planning. He joined Lagos state government in March 1985, became General Manager before retiring in 2012, at the mandatory age of 60. Now, he is back as a commissioner in the same ministry where he had worked for 27 years.
ENCOMIUM Weekly had an interview with the amiable commissioner on Thursday, March 10, 2016, when we visited him in his Alausa, Lagos office where he spoke on many issues, including the recently collapsed Lekki, Lagos building which killed about 34 people, life as commissioner and much more.
Accept our congratulations on your appointment as Hon. Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Lagos state, though belated?
Thank you my brother. God bless you.
How does it feel being the Lagos Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development?
First, I want to thank God Almighty, I also want to thank my governor, His Excellency, Akinwunmi Ambode, who gave me the opportunity to serve my state. As a commissioner of Physical Planning and Urban Development, that’s going to be the icing on the cake for whatever he thought I might have had. So, I say a big thank you to God, Governor Ambode, all members of great party, All Progressives Congress (APC) and the state as a whole for the opportunity.
Since October 2015, when you were sworn-in, what has the experience been?
I don’t know what you mean by experience. It’s like homecoming for me. It’s still the same ministry that I know in and out. And most of my life, I worked here and left without blemish. I reached the pinnacle of my career. I left as a general manager. And to God be the glory, I came back. And virtually what I do here now is like a routine. The thing I have done for 27 years when I was in government as civil servant. And I am here to serve in a capacity of commissioner, to God be the glory.
Has there been any specific challenge of running the ministry?
The only challenge I can think of is that as the man at the helm of affair, everything that happens in the ministry, both the ugly and the good ones lie on your head. You carry the burden of everybody on your shoulder. But we thank God so far, He has been guiding us. We’re doing the best we could do.
Now, you have busy schedules, how do you manage your home front now that you mostly stay late in the office?
It is a thing that has been in practice for long. Ever since I joined government service, I have been trained to do my best and best is not good enough. So, I keep on doing the best. So, working late is the norm in this ministry. If you want to better what you’re doing, you have to put in your best because it’s a ministry that cuts across all spheres of life. You just have to keep on doing your best.
Do you have time for relaxation?
When you say relaxation, if my oga calls me on a Saturday, I can’t say no to him. If he calls me on Sunday, I can’t say no as well. Like yesterday, I didn’t close, I stayed till 1:30 in the morning. I have been in this office since 8am and I am still here. So, it’s only God that gives us strength, it’s not by our might.
How would you assess the performance of Governor Ambode since he took over the mantle of leadership of Lagos state?
To be sincere, I think the only thing I can say is that Lagosians haven’t seen anything yet. It’s less than one year that the gentleman came as a governor, and you have seen so many changes. And I can tell you, the changes will continue. Many beautiful things are still coming. I give kudos to Almighty God for giving him the strength, wisdom and wherewithal to carry this state to a higher level.
Are there any area(s) you want him to concentrate more?
Being a public servant himself, he knows virtually everything. Although, he is a human being, he may not know it all. Governor Ambode as a man that listens to advice, he listens to his commissioners a lot. He takes advice from them. We take the decisions together at the Executive Council. He’s not a dictatorial person. Anything we want to decide on, we put it to vote, and the majority will carry the vote. He carries everybody along, he doesn’t believe in one man show.
How would you describe working with him as a person?
Working with Governor Ambode as a person is like a blessing from God because you will be surprised that with the knowledge he has about the state, I think he’s the best man for the job. And I am enjoying working with him.
What are your agenda in changing the lives of some poorly planned areas in Lagos, especially the slums?
Lagos state has 100 slum areas, but it has been upgraded and it’s less than 100 now. I have just charged the Lagos State Urban Regional Agency, to give me the list of the slum upgrade that we are going to do this year. We are going to engage our consultants to assist us in the slum upgrade. By doing that, we are going to have the stakeholders that will carry people along, planning with the people and not for the people.
The kind of demolition in Oshodi, which some people believed is for the betterment of the people and for the kind of planning that would befit Lagos state in general, what’s the development concerning that?
About the demolition that was carried out in Oshodi, what most people don’t understand is that the place that was demolished has been an acquisition under the defunct Western region. It is an acquisition as part of Ilupeju Industrial Scheme. It was a plot. If you go through my record I can get you the plot and block number of that very particular area. It is because of the express, by the time they did the layer plan, there was no Apapa-Oshodi Express Road. It was the construction of Apapa-Oshodi Express Road that divided Ilupeju into two. If you look at the back before you get to Oshodi, you will see some industrial buildings there, and it goes all the way to that junction that was demolished, but because it was not developed some people took the chance to jump on the land and started building.
Before we demolished, we served them a notice. We asked them to quit the place. We showed them the year the acquisition was filed. The House of Assembly has called us. We have proven we didn’t just send them away like that.
That means they don’t have a case?
I won’t say that they don’t have a case, all I am saying is that all the structures are illegal.
In case of the building collapse in Lagos state, which has been a great concern to the people as well as to the government, what do you think should be done to forestall future occurrence?
The first thing we could do is that all Lagosians should be on alert. We should be our brother’s keeper. We’re all neighbours. If you see any development going on, we have 20 zonal offices in Lagos state, and those offices are open 24/7. You can contact them. You can get in touch with us and give us information. It is done abroad. There is nothing wrong if we do it here. So, we can assist ourselves, to save lives and property.
The building in question got permit for four floors. Because of greed, the developer went ahead to add two floors to the existing building. The foundation was meant for only four floors. For instance, this chair that I am sitting on is meant for one person. If two persons sit on it at once, it will collapse. The car that we drive, if you carry more than its capacity, everyone sitting in it won’t be comfortable.
Everybody needs to love one another and obey government laws. If you are a builder, once you collect a permit, the permit is meant for certain floors, abide by it. Why do we want to go higher. It’s greed.
The greed has cost lives of innocent citizens. It’s very unfortunate. May the souls of our loved ones rest in perfect peace.
Are there penalties for defaulting building regulations in Lagos state?
For any prospective developer while developing, if the mistake comes from him, and the mistake must have been done by him because the building in question is still under construction. That means the major materials he used are sub-standard. If such building collapses, there is a law In Lagos state for the developer. We are going to prosecute the person, once he is found guilty, he will forfeit the property to the Lagos state government.