The Ogun state Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, TPL Tunji Odunlami, in this interview with KAYODE OLOWOLEYE, OLUFEMI OGUNDELE AND UTHMAN SALAMI, explains how the state government under the leadership of His Excellency, Prince (Dr.) Dapo Abiodun, is changing the fortune of the state in the area of town planning.
Since you assumed office as a commissioner of physical planning and urban development, how would you describe the journey so far?
The vision of the Governor is for the development of our state. This is captioned under the acronym of “Iseya” which includes Infrastructure and Social Development, Youth Empowerment, Education, Agric and so on.
All we are doing as members of the Excos and as political appointees is to help the governor ensure his plans for the development of Ogun state, which is actually to ensure prosperity for the people, are brought to fruition.
The town planning that we do falls under one of the five key areas which is social development where housing falls. Last two years, it’s been a mixed bag. There were quite a number of challenges when we came.
However, we got our bootstrap on. We got ourselves into the business of the day which is to ensure that the physical environment of Ogun State is better developed and organized to enable people to live in a more conducive and pleasing environment. Of course, we had human, institutional and material challenges, but what the Governor has asked us to come and do is to make the change.
Recently, there have been talks about Lagos-Ogun joint commission. How far has it gone and how will Ogun people benefit from it?
The Lagos-Ogun joint development commission is what should have come on like yesterday. It is a partnership between Lagos and Ogun. This is because we are neighbours- It is just like we are living in a community.
I think it’s just a partnership for development knowing fully that we are neighbours. We are not only neighbours, even before now, but we also used to be part of one regional entity called a Western region.
We are together and our development agenda were modeled along the line. When the states were created, every state went on its own.
But the fact remains that along our common borders, you cannot really differentiate. You can imagine if you are in Berger, you can actually walk from one part of Berger to the other you will have entered Ogun state twice and entered Lagos twice.
You will not know because you are walking. In actual fact, they are four local government of Ogun state that border Lagos and you can actually appeal into one another. In fact, there are parts of these states that the boundaries actually cut a house into two. That means when something happening in one state, automatically, it affects the other state.
For instance, if somebody commits an offense in Lagos state, he doesn’t need a vehicle.
He only needs to cross and he will be in another state. He can actually disappear. Let’s take the issue of coronavirus as another instance. When it happens, if the incident happens in Ogun state but the man ran to Lagos State that is when the entire thing blew away.
And during the lockdown, Lagos was opening its gate people crossed on foot through those boundaries. So there are a lot of things that we need to work on. We can talk about transportation, security, environment and developmental issues.
Lagos has no massive land. They are filled with water. In this area, Lagos can partner with Ogun state to provide certain things. Ogun state can be the food basket of Lagos State. You don’t have to bring food from as far as Gombe State and it is an Agric state.
We can actually plant enough food for the population of Lagos State to survive on. The need for these partnerships is very significant because we are tied together as one and whatever affects one affects the other.
Again, a lot of people work in Lagos. They commute daily from Ogun state like Ifo, Mowe-Ibafo, Ogijo, Sagamu and Ota to actually work in Lagos. This has a lot of implications for many things. You can carry people, disease and crime across.
These are the issues on the ground that lead to the need to partner with each other for both states to benefit. This is the reason for Lagos-Ogun joint development commission.
On the issue of telecommunication masts sitting in residential areas, does the state give approval and what is your relationship with the service provider?
The mast telecommunication infrastructure, we call them, obtain approval from us but those approvals are based on prior permit given by the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC).
Most of those masts you see they will have taken the permit from the NCC. They will have also carry out Environmental Impact Assessment.
Thus, before they site the masts, their engineers must have gone to that site and assessed it. Though a lot of people have raised issue about that safety whether they are safe or not—these are technical things that they would have looked in to.
There are specifications about where you can sight them. How near to the building and the height of those building. So, there are two levels of approval. One from NCC which is the federal agency and the other one is permit from the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
They are the authority in terms of flight pass or whatever, they bring all those things together and they will now look at their own regulations to see some other things.
In terms of relationships, we are a regulatory agency. All we need is to ensure that the service providers or whoever, follow the regulations that are established. So, we go around checking the mass that is approved or not. Since this government came on board, we have made sure that those that are not permitted, they come, and we have given them permission.
Ogun is a state with huge land mass. How has the state-monitored and enforced compliance in the implementation of physical planning development?
It has not been easy. We always take Lagos as example because it is very easy to police. Lagos is very small as you can actually drive around the city and still do many things at the same time.
Ogun state is not like that. The State is five times Lagos. When Lagos is 3577 square Kilometres, Ogun State is 16900km. It is a huge place to monitor. It has implications for mobility. We have 23 zonal offices covering those areas. But then again, each zone also has a huge area to cover. Hitherto, it’s been a problem.
Recently, the governor is driving this vision by providing us with mini-buses. As we speak, each of those offices has a minibus about five or six of them; before now we only had a few. Our job is like that of a policeman.
All we do is going around to the development sites whether what is being approved for you is what you are building. If you don’t have approval, we will convince you to come and submit your approval. All we are doing is to ensure that our cities are developed so that people don’t build houses blocking road and blocking channel.
That is all we have to do at ensuring people live in a conducive state. We ensure that we are adhering to the law.
This allows us to do our business because the governor stands for equity, fairness and the rule of law. We must follow due process because we are governed by law. That is one of the things we have done in the last two years.
We used to have lots of ministries and one Urban renewal planning board. We unbundled them when we came into three Agencies instead of one.
The reason we did this was because that ministry was burdened with a lot of work. They had only focused on one thing making others to lag behind. For instance, they were supposed to monitor buildings that follow certain guidelines so that they will not collapse. However, they are now better organized to be able to deal with whatsoever. One is granting approval, the urban renewal, and the last one is building monitoring.
One is Ogun state Planning And Development Permit Authority. This is strictly to grant approval. Another one is building production. They are strictly to ensure that people build based on approval using quality materials. The third is Ogun State Slum Generation Authority job is to ensure those far-reaching places with no roads and toilets, to make sure they are provided. This is the first time a state will have six regulations.
Urban planning development is one of the units under the Urban Development Department. What are the functions of that specific unit?
We have four policy formulations, the ministry has four professional departments, one of them is the development department. Planning has so many aspects, development urban renewal, physical planning and development plan.
Let me start with the urban development department — that department is to go to town and begin to see where you can create new bus stops, where you need to move bus stops away.
So, they look at those things that are making living in the city problematic and decide to find the solution to it. That’s what they do.
They go and look where to locate market, village, bus stop, bus shelter — a lot of things in the city, that’s the work of the department and they continuously bring up a plan for us to do that.
The urban development department also deals with masts and powers, they are responsible for regulating and giving them the approval; and see that it means specifications are not one, that is urban development department. They give approval and monitor.
The other department is Development Matters. They are responsible for granting layout to build houses. The layout allows one to know where the road is; to know where your plot and school will be, to know where health center will be.
They are also the ones responsible for granting and what we called Right of Way for other infrastructure such as lay optic-fiber, lay cables, gas pipeline and oil pipeline — that is the job of the department.
What we are doing now is optic-fiber and that is the only way we can bring the world down to the state.
This is basically on internet usage. We use social media but the problem we have is that the reception is not working on top gear because of the kind of data. Hence, the government wants every school, hospital and higher institution in Ogun state to have access to data connectivity.
We are partnering with 21st-century technologists to lay optic-fiber all over the state.
The project has started; you will see them digging the road. I think they have connected the link to Babcock and they are going to OOU and all over the state.
By the time we finish the project, every school, hospital in Ogun state will have WiFi Network which is part of Ogun state digital infrastructure expansion program that we have embarked upon.
Contraveners and contravening structures, are there sanctions?
Yes, there are different levels of sanctions. This means that they have to be tried and found guilty by the law, but let me tell you that the tension is not about to contravene breakdown structures.
For example, when somebody has struggled so much, although stupidly you have not done the needful to go and do legal, something must be wrong somewhere, the lack of ignorance.
In 2021, there is nobody that will say he does not know what they are calling town planning, if you have not seen them, you must have heard. So, if somebody wants to build, he must go and get permits, but we don’t go out and demolish, the first thing is we want to see your approval.
After your approval and you do something differently, we will look into it and submit your approval. We will penalize you for that.
But if it cannot be approved, we don’t want to demolish it. We will ask you to go and cut that place. You will cut it yourself. But if you refused to cut it, we will help you to cut it. If you cut it yourself, you won’t have any problem. If we help you to cut it, we will collect the money for cutting it for you and we may cut more than you expect.
Supposed he doesn’t want to pay, the law provides that he is to forfeit that building, that is how serious it is that you must the collect permit.