10 February 2014

Nigeria: Sustaining Lagos' Urban Renewal

For many years, Oshodi, a commercial hub in Lagos was an eyesore, but that changed a little over three years ago. Taking a cue from the transformation that has taken place in the once dreaded neighbourhood, the Lagos State Government has promised to sustain the gains of its urban renewal and regeneration programme.

Just five years ago, Oshodi, a commercial hub in Lagos State was once an entrenched seat of miscreants and touts. Pilfering was a daily routine that went on unchallenged, not even the security agents could muster enough courage to confront the menace. Also, youth violence had become the order of the day. Of course, trading of illicit drugs, especially marijuana and cannabis was rampant among deviants who had turned every part of Oshodi - both rail lines and roadsides among others - to their permanent homes.

Almost all its residents had their bitter share of nightmare, which prompted the intervention of the Lagos State Government on January 2, 2009 to rid the nieghbourhood of its miscreants and restore it to a normal environment fit for people to live in.

Indeed, not just the residents, but the traders, even the passers-by too had different stories to tell about the old Oshodi. Some were hoodwinked into the haven of touts and were dispossessed of cash and personal effects. Many walked into their dens unknowingly and were harassed and beaten.

Likewise, a good number of residents and visitors had, at different times, suffered varying degrees of abuse and harassment. Among such people is Mr. Amos Forkhai, who told THISDAY last week that he did not just lose N5, 000.00, but the miscreants also made away with his bags containing some personal belongings. Forkhai said it was an incident he never prayed to experience again explaining the pains he went through in the hands of the miscreants

Yes, Oshodi was not only known for the reign of notoriety. It was constantly an arena of traffic congestion, which had its root causes in the prevalence of unregulated trading activities and explosive human population. By implication, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Compliance, Hon. Moruf Akinderu-Fatai said, Oshodi was before January 2009 a no-go area for many residents and visitors.

Now, the lawmaker noted that the story has changed for the better. He said that any person can attest to the fact that trading on kerbs and walkway is no more an issue.

Aside, the lawmaker cited drastic reduction in the case of youth violence, which he said the entire area was once known for. True, like other urban centres in Lagos, Oshodi is now one of the safest centres of commercial activities.

Akinderu-Fatai, currently representing Oshodi Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives explained that the rail line at Oshodi used to be a danger zone as traders converted the entire stretch of the facility to trading. "There have been cases where train ran over some people as a result of illegal trading on the rail line. That has ended, and a new era has come. Oshodi is gradually emerging a place every tourist will like to visit," he said.

Oshodi's transformation did not start until the eve of January 2, 2009. However, its growing ugly profile had much earlier attracted the attention of the administration of Governor Babatunde Fashola to it. Mindful of his administration's cardinal objective of making Lagos Africa's model megacity, Fashola approved recommendations of a committee, which suggested the urgent need to tackle diverse menace that Oshodi represented.

Consequently, the governor ordered the Lagos State Taskforce on Environmental and Special Offences (Enforcement) Unit under the leadership of Mr. Bayo Suleiman to embark on an operation, which many said marked the dawn of a new beginning in Oshodi. The state agents were deployed, bulldozers rolled out massively, shanties and structures demolished, illegal traders displaced and criminal hideouts were dismantled.

Since the state's intervention, Akinderu-Fatai acknowledged that Oshodi has become more secured with peace now pervading its ambience. "Residents hardly live under trepidation and traders go about their business without fear of harassment. The street urchins have been driven far away and our roads have become less congested with roadside trading gone," he said.

An Oshodi resident, Mr. Ernest Kehinde Olowoopejo pointed at different a development that has now made Oshodi a hub of recreation and hospitality. He cited the massive Oshodi Heritage Garden, a place that was once under the control of miscreants in the area. "The garden has been established at one of the loops behind the bridge. This place had hitherto been a haven for hoodlums and criminals," he said.

And despite all that the state government has been able to do so far in Oshodi, new challenges are coming up by the day. The taskforce's chairman said the new challenges largely take the form of 'child hoodlums' in Oko Mala and Mosafejo communities in the state.

He said: "Oko-Mala has emerged as a notorious haven for the breeding of hoodlums. Despite several raids, the area has continued to create area boys who terrorise innocent Lagosians. In 2013 alone for instance, more than 1,000 hoodlums were arrested by the taskforce in the area.

"Aside, more worrisome is the underage hoodlums being bred at Oko-Mala. Security reports revealed that boys and girls whose ages range from 13 to 17 have found solace in the notorious abode. In the last one year, over 200 underage hoodlums have been arrested by the taskforce officials. These children have become thorns in the flesh of Lagosians. They are violent pick-pockets, using toy guns and beating up hapless victims."

So at the instance of these unresolved challenges, Governor Fashola seemed to have rolled up his sleeve for yet another battle for the sustenance of the urban renewal programme of the state. That suggests another phase of reclaiming Oshodi is already in sight. The governor said it had become necessary if the gains of the first reclamation project must be sustained.

The next phase of Oshodi regeneration explained Fashola's recent visit to Mosafejo and Oko-Mala in Oshodi area, where he briefed residents of the area on his new plans to help save the environment.

At a meeting with the residents of Mosafejo and Oko-Mala, the governor quickly provided useful background to how the present Oshodi emerged. He explained that Oshodi used to be bad spot for the nation. But now, he said, Oshodi is in the international news for the right reason. "It is our commercial nerve centre. More roads and street lightings will be done in this area," he said.

Fashola, therefore, unveiled the state government's grand plan to redevelop the area in order to completely dislodge criminals and hoodlums. He also announced a package for the two communities. He said two blocks of flats would be donated to the communities provided they could come up with the land for the proposed housing scheme. He urged the community leaders to arrange meetings and create space for the amenities his administration is set to provide for the densely populated community.

"We are concerned about the condition of Mosafejo and how we can improve the quality of life and how we can make you happy. We are standing on a tarred road here. All of these things are possible here if we reorganise it, you have to choose it. If you want us to reorganise this place, there would be some discomfort.

"We would leave the residents and their leaders to meet and create the land with which the state government could start a housing development project for them. The communities must decide to hand over the donated land to the Chairman of the Lagos State Taskforce on Environmental and Special Offences (Enforcement) Unit. The chairman will bring it to the notice of the state government for necessary actions to be taken.

"We would look at it. Of course, we cannot build all of your houses. But if you give us land, what we can help you do is to help you develop a new layout that protects everybody with one property or the other here. It preserves your land. Then if you want to build blocks of flats, you come for approval. We give you and you build by yourself. If you want to build shops, then we will set aside a place for shop; a place for office; a place for schools, a place for mosques and a place for self supporting community on its own," he said.

Sulaiman said the taskforce was determined to sustain the sanity in Oshodi and ensure the free flow of traffic and movement of people in the area without being harassed by hoodlums.

The chairman explained that the taskforce carried out raids on the miscreants on regular basis, adding that more than 1,000 miscreants were arrested from January to July 2013 alone, but lamented the menace of underage hoodlums.

He told a tale of how children between the age of 12 and 13 have been left alone to cater for themselves at that little age. "What future do we expect of such a child? It is unfortunate that the family values are diminishing in our society today. Parents no longer take care of their children. Some men, because they marry second wife, abandoned their first wife and their children. That is why majority of them are from broken homes."

He, therefore, explained that arrested underage hoodlums were normally sent to the rehabilitation homes until the contact of their parents were established while the adult among them were constantly being charged to court. When you ask them, they will tell you they have no relations and cannot trace their homes again.

"The only place they know is Oko-mala. In the night, they try to snatch peoples' bags, necklace and hand chain and sometimes their phones."

Suleiman said to permanently put a halt to the menace of hoodlums at Oko-Mala, the entire area had to be demolished so that the hoodlums will have no place to hide or live to carry out their nefarious activities. "We have sent the proposal to the State Executive Council for consideration," he revealed.

Quote: Oko-Mala has emerged as a notorious haven for the breeding of hoodlums. Despite several raids, the area has continued to create area boys who terrorise innocent Lagosians. In 2013 alone for instance, more than 1,000 hoodlums were arrested by the taskforce in the area

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