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Nigeria: Residents Stranded As Lagos Agency Seals Up Buildings

One of the occupants and a lawyer, Mr Alabi, said there is a presumption of law that the state government “is in the custody of approved building plans of the properties that have been constructed in the 80s.”

The Lagos State Physical Planning Permit Authority (LASPPPA) on Wednesday placed a “seal order” on buildings occupied by businesses along Oba Akran Avenue, Ikeja for alleged contravention of building laws.

Some of the buildings sealed up include that of the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) and a five-story Poatson Building accommodating many offices and law firms.

The agency sealed the buildings Wednesday upon the expiration of its 48-hour ultimatum for demolition of the buildings, for not providing requested documents.

In a contravention notice referenced 025834 and issued on 25 October, the agency said the occupants should provide the building plan approval obtained from LASPPPA, including the planning permit.

LASPPPA had noted in the order that the building shall be sealed off under the provisions of the LASPPA regulation 2019, adding that any unauthorised entry shall attract appropriate sanctions as prescribed by the Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law, 2015.

However, the residents criticised the actions of the government for sealing the properties on such short notice, insisting that the concerned buildings had been built for more than forty years.

Occupants kick

One of the affected occupants, Lekan Alabi, who is the principal partner of Lekan Alabi Chambers, and also doubles as the counsel to the owner of Poatson Building, raised concern over the actions of LASPPPA.

Mr Alabi said the whole Plot 1 on Oba Akran Avenue has been padlocked since Wednesday and that the tenants in the five-storey building have their working tools, vehicles, and other items locked up by the government.

Mr Alabi said; “The first notice they gave was that the landlord should produce an approved building plan within 48 hours. Let me just tell you that this building was constructed in the 1980s.

“They didn’t allow us to remove our vehicles, and private employees have been prevented from working. They have a business with the landlord, not the tenants and it is not right to lock their belongings in the compound.

“Yesterday, they moved from the building occupied by Vitafoam company to those occupied by the Industrial Training Fund, locking up everywhere, and disturbing businesses.”

The human rights lawyer said there is a presumption of law that the state government “is in the custody of approved building plans of the properties that have been constructed in the 80s.”

Mr Alabi further noted that the agency was “reckless” by padlocking the gates with vehicles inside, “punishing tenants despite pleas for people to take their cars.”

He said: “Nigeria is not a police state, Lagos is neither. Lagos is not projecting the smart city the government want the people to believe it is building. What if someone has an emergency and needs a vehicle?

“They shouldn’t run the state in a dictatorial manner, I don’t believe that Governor Sanwo-Olu has given that kind of instruction for houses that were constructed in the 80s when the building plan is in their custody. Padlocking vehicles in the compound is a punishment, and the Ministry of Physical Planning is exercising the power of the court.

“It is only the court that is constitutionally empowered to award damages and to award costs against individuals or corporate bodies that have violated the law. And you don’t punish people without being heard.”

He added that “the reason they are doing this is because our court is congested. They know if you take them to court, it will take time. If I had filed an action and it got served and the court awarded damages, they won’t do that again but they know that the court is congested.”

Another resident

On his part, Moruf Arowosaye of Moragoff Arrow, another occupant in the facility, said this is the first time he has experienced what he described as a “Kangaroo action.”

Mr Arowosaye said they are asking for building permits for constructions that have been in existence for over 40 years overnight.

“They are giving hardship to the residents and this is not what they promised when they were soliciting for votes; sealing off our properties like that is very embarrassing and I have never seen such,” he said.

Ministry reacts

In reaction to the development, the Public Relations Officer at the Ministry of Physical Planning, Mukaila Sanusi, said the major reason for the seal order was the failure of occupants to provide building permits.

Mr Sanusi noted that no matter the age of the building, no construction is expected to commence without building plans.

“Before building, you apply for approval and if granted you also wait for a letter of authorisation from LASPPPA to commence construction. So it’s not about maltreatment, it’s about being on the right side of the law,” Mr Sanusi said.

“If people build anyhow they will contravene the planning of the state.”

He also clarified that the documents are not with the government as claimed by Mr Alabi, insisting that the documents should be in the custody of the owners of the properties.

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