Civil society groups have picked holes in government processes involved in the establishment of the Lagos Free Trade Zone, Lekki, in particular, and housing as well as urban renewal mega projects, calling for a paradigm shift.
They unanimously submitted that community inclusion and stakeholder participation as well as resettlement and compensation practices of the government to affected communities before, during and after mega projects in the state, have largely been far removed from the reality on the ground.
The programme was held to culminate a year-long research commissioned by the Heinrich Boell Foundation involving four teams of experts, professionals and students of urban planning, housing, environment and other related fields of practice. The researches conducted sought to beam the searchlight on past and present government policies and projects that border on urban regeneration, housing and infrastructure development in the state, especially mega projects like the Lekki Free Trade Zone and the Eko Atlantic City, transportation and solid waste management.
Findings of the research on ‘Housing, Slums and Informal settlements’ led by Mr. Lookman Osodi, an architect, concluded that government’s policy reflection on the housing situation in Lagos State which is inadequate, as it were, consists more in unending stories of regeneration, lacks historical data on planning and development, lacks disaggregated data on communities in Lagos, regeneration is not based on the principles of integration and inclusion, an absence of Local Governments in the regeneration process and that it lacks a housing delivery structure to accommodate the low-income groups.
He further gave the following statistics:” average home delivery – 1, 250 units per year, beneficiaries since March 2014 to April 2015 – 603 households, current status – unknown and between 2007 and April 2015 (8 years) – 10, 000 housing units total home delivery”.
He said the possible avenues for solution lies in government’s ability to henceforth set meaningful housing agenda for the city of Lagos, the adoption of decentralized development models, a holistic process of urban regeneration, institutional reform of the existing Agency for Urban Regeneration in the state, legislation for land reforms and a process shift from self-built housing to coordinated housing delivery system.
Mr. Aro Ismaila who led the team on the research titled ‘Strategic Planning and Urban Mega Projects’, stated that although Lagos State has embarked on several intensive large-scale projects such as: expansions of Lagos-Badagry expressway to 10 lanes, the light rail scheme from Okoko to Marina, the Ejigbo-Ajao Estate link bridge etc. all in its bid to be Africa’s model mega city by 2025, but due diligence has been grossly lacking.
Going back 12 years, the report stated submitted that the Lagos government’s strategic plan to achieve the eradication of poverty through sustainable economic growth, which gave rise to the concept of free zones was not implemented with a human face as the affected communities are still complaining of not being compensated as they were promised, among other things.
He explained that free zones are areas designated for economic purposes to attract foreign investment to the territory by removing the hindrances to trade such as complex customs regulations and tariffs such as tax.
Thus, although the Zone was one of the mega projects envisioned by the State Government to serve as a boost to the financial and economic wealth of the State, the reality seems to point to the dominance of the foreign partner country, China. The ownership structure of the zone is illuminating: 60 per cent to China – Africa Lekki Investment Limited (CALI (a consortium of Chinese companies including the China – Africa Development Fund), 20 per cent to Lekki Worldwide Investment Limited (LWIL a public enterprise set up by the Lagos State government to manage the zone for commercial purposes) and 20 percent to the Lagos State government, revealed the report.
According to Ismaila, “LFZ has been a project where the Lagos State Government in its own contribution provided 16,500 hectares of land and the Chinese consortium provides the construction. This, in turn, signifies most of the finances are borne by the Chinese consortium and with the already planning gap its much easier to fill with Chinese standards and some of the documents are yet to be translated into English.
“The large scale manufacturing within the zone is expected to boost labour productivity of the State as well as enhance skills but that impact is yet to be felt. The expected impact of the LFZ has been described as superlative only. The vision of future Lagos is still determined among selected individuals at the political level and the planning process is yet to be transparent.”
He said several visits to the Free Zone as well as the affected communities revealed a number of loopholes in the project prominent among which is that that Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports carried out to determine the consequences of environmental and social impacts of the LFZ on its environment is practically none- existent.
“It is inaccessible or not existing and neither was it made available to stakeholders. The Memorandum of Understanding signed with the communities has not been honoured. Chinese planning standard and construction norms are mostly adopted due to the lack of complete and mature planning in Nigeria. The government expressed that the people of the community have given their support but the reverse is the case, which led to the unfortunate killing of the Managing Director of LWIL. Stakeholders’ involvement in the entire process is flawed, riddled with tales of incoherent resettlement and compensation procedure, among other discoveries,” said Ismaila.