4 August 2012

Nigeria: The Search for Playgrounds


For commuters in Lagos, the restricted use of the Third Mainland Bridge due to repair works is an agonizing experience. But with the bridge devoid of its characteristic traffic, it's a rare gift for many youths desperate to find a playing ground, writes Bennett Oghifo

The partial closure of the Third Mainland Bridge has presented children in its neigbourhood a rare playground while the repair work on the bridge lasts. They set their goal posts and play within the barriers erected on the Lagos Island-bound lane at Oworonshoki and at Adekunle/Herbert Macaulay axis. Adults do not play and they miss their childhood playgrounds that are now built-up.

People who played football on the field between Obahor and Erejuwa roads in Warri, Delta State, wonder why the government sold that playground. Like the Warri playground that disappeared, others in Lagos communities such as in Gbagada and Sanya, among others, no longer exist. The Gbagada playground transcended from being a ram market to being a residential development. Sanya playground just after Ijesha bus stop on the Oshodi-Apapa expressway served a dual purpose of being a playground and learning ground for potential drivers

Over the years, there has been a steady disappearance of playgrounds even in communities like Festac and Satellite Towns where areas were zoned as playgrounds. All the estates built in Lagos during former Governor Lateef Jakande's administration had designated playgrounds, but these have been built up with permission of successive governments in the state.

The space-planning abuse is worse outside these purpose-built communities since the plan is determined by appointed or unofficial members of landowning families, who performed un-schooled partitioning of land, leaving barely enough space for streets. Houses are built wall-to-wall, making parking within the premises extremely tasking and, causing needless friction among the users of the building.

The absence of playground in these communities, results in children sprinting within their homes' confined space that sometimes result in domestic accidents. "There is this compulsion for them to burn their energy and since their parents forbid them from playing outdoors for fear of being knocked down by vehicles, they do the play at home in little spaces," said Mrs. Adejoke Bunmi, a mother of four children, living in Yaba.

Defective planning laws...

Building professionals are concerned that the various building laws in the country are being neglected in the development of towns and cities. Besides, they said these laws are defective. According to the National Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Institute of Building (NIoB), Mr. Kunle Awobudu, "there are fundamental errors in our building laws and regulations. There are a lot of things that were not considered in planning our towns and cities. In Lagos, landowning family omoniles simply cut and sell land arbitrarily without consideration for zoning of areas for recreation. In fact, even when zoning of areas for recreation was done, in time, such land will be sold to building developers. Nigeria is one place where zoning requirements are not respected or even incorporated in planning of our towns and cities."

Awobudu said greed and the warped desire for quick money was responsible for the sale of every available space, adding that parking spaces were becoming difficult to find. "It is so bad that you will hardly find parking space in government offices. The government has not seen the need for providing special parking lot for people. This is affecting business and causing avoidable stress."

He said at this stage in the nation's development, the government ought to encourage the private sector to build parking lots in strategic areas as it is done in developed countries. "They could build multi-storey parking and, it will be a boost to the economy. People will not worry about their vehicles being impounded such projects will employ a number of people."

He said in Festac Town where proper physical planning was done, the strategically placed recreation sites are being redeveloped into permanent structures. "The drive to make profit makes people to neglect planning laws. In places like Somolu, Bariga, Gbagada and even Surulere, it is difficult to find recreation ground. Also, other areas in Lagos have been converted into solid development. Government should attach importance to recreation. People are being forced to exercise on the road side. Children and youth play in the streets and the elderly, who can manage it, go to far places to exercise. There should be recreation ground in every area. Agege and Ikotun are like slums because these areas are unplanned. The government should not allow Omoniles to distort the zoning law. The law is there but government should ensure that zoning arrangement is enforced in physical planning."

Outdoor school...

Playgrounds are essential to children's development and, thus should be purpose-built. City streets are unsatisfactory playgrounds for children because of the danger. For instance, playing football in the streets is illegal but children are oblivious of this since most of them live in crowded sections of the city that have built-up structures. They neither have small back yards nor ornamental grass plots to meet the needs of adults nor the children. "Older children who would play vigorous games must have places especially set aside for them and, since play is a fundamental need, playgrounds should be provided for every child as much as schools. This means that they must be distributed over the cities in such a way as to be within walking distance of every boy and girl, as most children cannot afford to pay for taxis or buses."

Professionals recognise that the social skills that children develop on the playground become lifelong skill sets that are carried forward into their adulthood. "Independent research concludes that playgrounds are among the most important environments for children outside the home. Most forms of play are essential for healthy development, but free, spontaneous play-the kind that occurs on playgrounds-is the most beneficial type of play."

Playground is a place with a specific design for children to be able to play there. It may be indoors but is typically outdoors. Modern playgrounds often have recreational equipment such as the seesaw, merry-go-round, swingset, slide, jungle gym, chin-up bars, sandbox, spring rider, monkey bars, overhead ladder, trapeze rings, playhouses, and mazes, many of which help children develop physical coordination, strength, and flexibility, as well as providing recreation and enjoyment. Common in modern playgrounds are play structures that link many different pieces of equipment.

"Playgrounds often also have facilities for playing informal games of adult sports, such as a baseball diamond, a skating arena, a basketball court, or a tether ball. Public playground equipment refers to equipment intended for use in the play areas of parks, schools, child care facilities, institutions, multiple family dwellings, restaurants, resorts, and recreational developments, and other areas of public use."

Experts see it as a type of outdoor school. Yinka Ajayi-Dopemu said, "Nigerian schools have an abundance of outdoor space that can be made into exciting playgrounds where children learn through play. This concept is inherent in the open-classroom concept but rarely is it applied to the playground."

Dopemu said the work-play playground should be made inspiring for children's play by incorporating an abundance of cheap materials that can be built onto, torn down and changed at the whim of students and teachers alike. They should have specific materials that would include ropes, logs, tires, gardens and animal projects.

"Through the playground children can learn to take responsibility for themselves and others and the environment. Goals of the green revolution can be achieved by the awareness of this responsibility."

Also, Dopemu said children learn spontaneously through their interaction with other children, adults and the materials and situations of life. The playground is a place where this can occur within the framework of the school provided that the guidance of the teacher and the initiative of the children is utilised.

Other experts said, "in play children move towards adulthood by mimicking the activities they see around them. They listed some of these activities as: design and building of structures - playhouses, sandcastles, among others; moving people and their goods - driving make-believe vehicles, toy trucks, transportation systems; rearranging the earth-digging, tunneling, mounding; preparing food and taking care of the family-dolls, playhouse, mud pies; war and fighting-playground reproduction of violence, soldiers, fashioning weapons; adult play-sports; organise sports and games music; preference for popular and visual styles. Theatre; dressing up, role play as adults.

Dopemu said in traditional cultures growth towards adulthood was a threefold process namely observation, imitation, that is, play, and participation in adult activities marked by the initiation rites of adolescence. "Society today is increasingly divorced from traditional society as we become more urbanized. The present situation demands recreating some of this spontaneous learning on the playground."

Lagos sees the gap...

In 2008, Lagos State Government said it was set to provide 12 ultra-modern playgrounds consisting football fields, with floodlight, generating sets, tennis courts and basketball courts towards developing the innate potentials of youths in the state.

Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola has built some of these projects but they are hardly used. Work started almost immediately on the Agege Stadium while the ones at Campos on Lagos Island and four others have been completed. There are two others at Adeniji Adele, and at the intersection between Apongbon and Leventis areas. Regrettably, these playgrounds are not being used.

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