On demolition of Ijebu Ode plaza and rule of law – By Kayode Akinmade
The Guardian Newspaper is a flagship whose editorials are noted for excellence, and perhaps, a good way to begin this piece is to remark that it does not set out to dispute that well-earned appellation. Rather, this rejoinder serves the purpose of highlighting the problems that could arise when just a few of the factors that ought to be considered are given attention.
The editorial, “Demolition of Ijebu Ode plaza and the rule of law,” published in the Friday, October 6 edition of the paper, needs to be subjected to scrutiny, in part to cast light on issues that need clarification and show why an alternative perspective is called for.
In the editorial, the demolition of Datkem Plaza, a five-storey building located in Ijebu Ode, Ogun State, by the Ogun State Government is presented as an exemplification of executive lawlessness on the strength of the arguments that “the Ogun State government ignored the ongoing legal process,” that the offender had “paid the mandatory surcharge fee of N500,000 imposed by the Ogun State government,” and “that the Plaza was built under the watch of the Ogun State government, and the government didn’t classify the structure as “illegal” at that time.”
Besides, the claim is made that “neither the owner nor the occupants of the Plaza were given a fair hearing, nor were they notified about the impending demolition, nor were they put on any sort of notice requiring them to vacate the building before the demolition or stay away from the building.” We may indeed join The Guardian in asking why, if Plaza was an illegal structure, the Ogun State government overlooked it for so long.
If the arguments canvassed in the editorial are strange, it is in large part because the information previously made available by the Ogun State Government, readily available online, had adequately addressed them. First, it is uncharitable to posit, without any evidence whatsoever, that the Ogun State government violated any court order with respect to demolishing the building. The claim that “the owners and the occupants of the Plaza” were not “put on any sort of notice requiring them to vacate the building before the demolition or stay away from the building” is also categorically false. On the contrary, they were given enough notification and urged to comply with the extant regulations that they had flagrantly violated, but they chose to ignore them.
There is no way a partial demolition that took place after more than 12 months of unheeded warnings can be seen as inadequate simply because those contravening the law are political powers. The fact, quite simply, is that Datkem Plaza is an illegal structure whose developers ignored all the efforts made by the state government to halt further development on the site. Whereas a commercial building of Datkem’s status must have a parking space to accommodate vehicular traffic within and outside the facility for workers and visitors, as well as stage certification, which is usually issued at every stage of construction, the building did not, and the owners were served abatement, contravention, stop work and demolition notices between May and October 2022, which they ignored with relish.
It is true that under the administration of Gbenga Daniel, ‘Datkem Enterprises Limited’ (please note the name) submitted an application for an office building located along Ibadan Road, Ijebu Ode in 2009 with registration number CB/05/299/2009, with a proposal for five floors with airspace of 3 metres at the right, 5m at the left, 5metres at the rear and a setback of 32.5516 metres to the middle of Ijebu Ode/Ibadan road, Ijebu-Ode. However, the construction on site did not conform with the plan granted as there was a deviation from the airspaces and setback. Besides, the building was enlarged with an additional storey building at the back, leading to over density.
Now, when Datkem applied for regularization, he did not approach the ministry that had issued contravention notices; it went to a zonal office, only paid the prescribed fees as a way of arm-twisting the government. Worst still, when the ministry engineers visited the building, it still did not conform with the contents of the proposed regularization.
In any case, since the former Governor was in power when he obtained approval (whose terms were still not complied with) was given, it sounds extremely strange, if not ridiculous, to ask the Abiodun government what it had been doing about the plaza in the last 20 years. That also ignores the fact that there were recent, unapproved additions to the structure which could have claimed lives.
Now, the government gave a contravention notice with serial no. 0106983 on May 24, 2022, and a stop work order with serial no. 000623 on May 24, 2022. Both were ignored, and so it issued another stop work order with serial no. 001065 on July 22, 2022. Again, it issued yet another demolition notice with serial no. 0007549 on October 11, 2022, while a notice to seal with serial no. 000815 was issued on October 4, 2022.
Worst still, the re-sealing of the site on August, 1 2023 did not stop work on the site. The developer wrote an appeal for unsealing, which was considered in order to evacuate the belongings on the premises and thereafter, quit notice with serial no. 0030750 was served on 31st August, 2023. With this plethora of notifications, charging the Ogun State government with unfairness/hasty demolition of Datkem is quite absurd.
Former Governor Gbenga Daniel cannot cite “rule of law” and “due process” only when it suits his whims and caprices. Following the expose on the non-existent company whose name was allegedly used by the owners of Datkem Plaza to apply for building approval in Ogun State, he hurriedly churned out a certificate bearing the name “Datkem Enterprises”. But how do you use “Datkem Enterprises” to prove that “Datkem Enterrpises Ltd” exists? Datkem Enterprises Ltd was the entity used to obtain approval for Datkem Plaza.
An enterprise, as everyone knows, cannot own such a building, which can only be owned by a corporate entity. During his administration, Senator Daniel used Datkem Enterprises Ltd to obtain building approval from the Ogun State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, but today there is no such company registered with the CAC. Thus, had Datkem Plaza collapsed, it would have been impossible to trace its owners.
If, on completion, the structurally defective Datkem Plaza had collapsed and claimed many precious lives, newspaper editorials, including those by The Guardian, would have taken the Ogun State Government to the cleaners, accusing it of condoning lawlessness. Yet, now that the government acted proactively to save lives, the Government is being panned for alleged lawlessness. In dressing the Abiodun Government in the robes of a dictator, The Guardian unwittingly legitimised contravention of the law by highly placed political actors, whereas ordinary citizens whose buildings are demolished in similar circumstances are routinely seen as having fully deserved their fate.
The Abiodun Government will take the unfair allegations in its stride, but it is still a fact that collapsed buildings have wreaked untold havoc in this country. Only in January this year, the Building Collapse Prevention Guild indicated that over 271 buildings collapsed in the last 10 years, while at least 531 persons have died as the menace of crumbling structures continues to plague Nigeria’s building industry.
The incidents were linked with professional ineptitude. The houses collapsed because of excessive loading, the use of substandard materials, faulty design, poor workmanship and weak foundation. The Abiodun Government will not shy away from saving lives by guaranteeing the structural integrity of buildings, even if unfair charges will come its way for doing so.
Akinmade, two-term commissioner of information in Ondo State is Chief Consultant on Media to Governor Dapo Abiodun.