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Lagos Flooding: Bulldozers May Rumble In Lekki, Magodo-Isheri-Tunji Bello


Tunji Bello: What We Are Doing To Avert Tragedy In Lagos


By Shola Oshunkeye

Rain, from the beginning of age, is regarded as the facilitator of life. It oils the cycle of life-for humans, animals and plants. But whenever the clouds cry and refuse to stop, and the earth surpasses its capacity to absorb their waters, either due to human activities or forces of nature, rain could become merciless- destroying houses, obliterating people before their prime. Just like it has been happening in parts of the world where heavy rains have been causing severe flooding and deaths, threatening to wipe out communities.

With most of its parts lying below sea level, Lagos is one of the megacities across the world that the United Nations projected may be submerged by year 2050. No thanks to climate change which has dangerously increased water level, and destructive human activities that trigger flooding with catastrophic consequences.

Since January, 2020, the Lagos State Ministry of Environment and its dynamic Commissioner, Mr. Tunji Bello, have been screaming themselves hoarse, alerting Lagosians that this year’s rains would be unprecedented. Like some Old Testament prophets, or an army smelling imminent danger, the Commissioner and his team have been crisscrossing Lagos, banging the shofar as it were, warning citizens about the impending rains; advising them to desist from untoward practices that could trigger flooding and cause disaster.

In fact, on the day Bello granted The Crest this exclusive interview, he meet the press for the umpteenth time, urging journalists to join in sensitizing Lagosians on the impending rains and what they must do to prevent disaster. Nollywood is not left out.

In this encounter, the Commissioner highlighted the diverse measures the state government has taken to keep the city afloat, control flooding, stop defective buildings from falling off like over-ripe pawpaw, and keep Lagosians generally safe as the rains enter the stormy season.

Bello also spoke on the perennial floods that ravage the Lekki peninsular every rainy season, blaming the problem majorly on lawless landlords who hurriedly build on sand-filled land, waterways and wetlands; as well as people who block drainages with refuse and sundry garbage.

Such landlords, Bello stressed, may have more than the surging rains to deal with this season as the government may be compelled to demolish structures that contravene the state’s development control laws as well as expert advice on building.

Bello also spoke on the tragedy in Magodo-Isheri where a falling building killed four children and their mother last October.  While he sympathized with the bereaved family, he hinted that the government was working hard to prevent a re-occurrence of the monumental tragedy. Landlords who contravened government regulations in the area, which he described as “preserved area”, will not find Bello’s remedy palatable. Houses built on such preserved land, the Commissioner said emphatically, will be demolished.

Below are excerpts from the hour-long interview:


Lagos (Photo credit: The Africa Report)

Honorable Commissioner, what are the major constraints confronting your office in actualizing this government’s assurance to keep Lagosians safe against the terrifying experts’ forecast on this year’s rains? As the man at the top, do you have any secret fear?

I don’t have any fear at all because what is currently happening is not unusual; and it is not peculiar to Nigeria. There has been climate change all over the world, giving rise to flooding, among other things. For instance, we are now having flooding where we never had it before. As we speak, many states and cities are flooded in the United States. See what is happening in the State of California. The story is the same if you go to the United Kingdom, South Korea, Poland, even Russia. China never had flooding before but now, many of their cities are under water. This is not to mention Malaysia, and Indonesia. Many African countries are also suffering from flooding.

Because of climate change, ice is melting at the North Pole and it is increasing the volume of water in the seas and oceans, and so on. Apart from Lagos, other parts of Nigeria have flooding. Now, there are three types of flooding in Lagos, namely: urban flooding, river flooding and ocean flooding.  Rivers and Bayelsa have the same types of flooding like Lagos. Other parts like Ogun, Oyo and Osun States have urban and city flooding.

All the water coming from the upland must enter the Atlantic Ocean through Lagos. That is why we have ocean flooding, rivers flooding, and urban flooding. Unlike many other states in the country, Lagos combats these three types of flooding.

A UN report says Lagos and most megacities in the world have sunk below sea level and may submerge by year 2050…

It is a fact that Lagos is now below the sea level. Formally, the highest points you can think of are around Ogudu and Ojota area. If you are going to Lagos Island and you pass the Third Mainland Bridge, you are going below the sea level. Victoria Island and Lekki are below the sea level. That is why they are always vulnerable to flooding and so on. But that is not the problem. It is a thing we have to deal with and we are dealing with it. But the most important thing is the management of it. The management of it means: how do we keep our drains open? How do we ensure that they are not constricted by refuse dumping, illegal structures and so on? That is the challenge we have been dealing with. If you do regular maintenance of those drainage channels and so on, no matter the amount of rains that comes, after some hours, the flood would go away.

Let me give you an example, when it rained in June, everybody said Lagos was flooded. Few hours after the rain, all the water everywhere became clear; the flood disappeared. It’s because the drainage channels are working. That is what we have to ensure. So, when it is raining heavily for six to eight hours in Lagos, you are bound to have flooding because the ocean will receive more water and rise. The water table will rise and water will discharge to the streets. People would say there is flood everywhere. That is flash flood. But if your drainages are not working, it might take you two or three days  before the waters would disappear. But if the waters disappear few hours after rainfall, that means the drainages are working. So, we will continue to work more on those drainages, especially those areas where we have more constrictions. For instance, in the Oworonsoki and Bariga area, because of the sand-filling, they blocked our drainage channels. We are trying to remove it now to create a pathway for the water to flow easily into the lagoon. These are parts of the problems. Then, there is also the problem of illegal dumping of refuse, which means you have to show proper refuse management. We have always had this but it was stopped for a while before the present administration came to restore it. LAWMA is back fully in its element now. We need to contain wastes, manage refuse and reduce the number of constrictions on our drainage channels.

The problem of Lekki has been recurring over the years. Is Lekki’s problem insurmountable?

It is surmountable and insurmountable. It is insurmountable if you didn’t build properly; if you build below sea level. For instance, there are many areas where people sand-fill, and within one year they start building. That is wrong. That is a recipe for disaster.  When you sand-fill, you must create time for the sand to settle, to solidify. You must allow a minimum of three years for the sand to settle. That is the minimum. It doesn’t stop there. After the sand would have settled properly, you must go and top it, and sand-fill again before you can start anything. That is what they did in those well-built estates in the Lekki area. Lekki is already a flood plain; if you don’t follow expert advice, if you don’t sand-fill properly, you are going to have serious problems. So, for those who built without following proper procedures and have problems, there is nothing anybody can do about that, unless they demolish, then restart.


Yes, you have to demolish. You have no choice but to demolish. Because if you are already submerged, do you want to be living in it? Do you want to wait for the building to collapse or cave on you? If you don’t do the needful, one day, the whole building will collapse on you. Look at those areas where they did or are doing the proper thing, they have no problem. It is just the management of the strong water that you need to do.

Surely, this should offer little lifting to property owners in that category…  

It should offer because they put themselves in that position.

What can be done to alleviate their fears?

It is a private development. You did it, you rectify it. It is not for the government to come and rectify for you. No.

But there are many people involved in this problem.

When you don’t take normal remedial measures you are supposed to take, who do you blame? Me? Government? There are basic things you must do before you start building: look at the place where you want to build, do soil test, do proper survey, do proper foundation, ensure you are not building on waterway or flood plain, etc. For example, there are some places called wetland in Lagos. If you pass the Mile 12 market going towards Ikorodu, there are flood plains there. They are called wetlands. That wetland is a protective area for the city because they help contain water. If the water table in the lagoon or the ocean is very high, they are able to take some of those waters until the level goes down, and so on. That is why you have wetlands across the world. So, the proper thing to do is not to encroach on it’ It’s not to even go and start selling furniture on it. When you go and start building on a place like that, you are injuring yourself.

So, there is little help the government can offer such a person?

First of all, it is an illegal development. You are not supposed to build on a flood plain. How do you expect government to help somebody who deliberately flouted the law and built where he shouldn’t build?

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu

Conversely, is government planning to punish them in any way?

Yes. If you build on flood plain, your building will be demolished. We preserve wetlands, you can’t go and build there. Where did you get approval? Somebody sold a land to you, and you bought it without any verification and you build on it?

Another problematic area is Isheri.

Yes. Isheri is a flood plain because the river passes beside it.

The property owners there are crying, dying slowly…

We have stopped development around the area and we are re-allocating those people. We said stop development on government’s land around this area, we will allocate land for you in another place. But if you bought land from somebody and you didn’t do the proper things, follow the law providing and so on, how can you.

But people are dying at Isheri as we speak. Houses falling because of the gully erosion?

Government is already working on the eroded parts. We are already planning to do a lot of remedy in the area. We will only do protective remedy for your foundation to sustain living. We will protect those buildings around the area. It is one of the government’s responsibilities to protect the citizens, ensuring that houses there will not collapse. We will do that but we will not come and build your house for you. But if you don’t do the proper things, you don’t consult the proper engineer, you don’t consult the professionals to help know what kind of house will stay there, and you go and give it quacks, what do you get? We will not come and build your house for you. The best the government can do for you is to protect the land area, protect the necessary facilities.

Channel Television has, more than four times, beamed a report on the tragic situation in Isheri where a big building fell on top of a bungalow in a valley, killing a woman and her four children.   Isn’t there something government can do to mitigate the people’s suffering?

What the government would do, and has been doing, is to protect people from such tragedy and to stop potential ones that may likely occur. Our physical planning department in the Ministry of Physical Planning are going around now to see houses that have potentials to fall or collapse with a view to stopping it. We are telling people to leave the houses now. That is what the government has been doing. Government has been proactive in doing that. They have driven them away, but some people will still go and live there illegally. Can you imagine, the people that government is trying to protect by driving them away from danger, and possible calamity, will still return to the same danger zone to live. Government is always on guard to save people. It is our responsibility to save people and government will not slack in its responsibilities on that. The Ministry of Planning has been proactive in checking the different areas where we are likely to have such incidents. Prevention is better than cure.

Tunji Bello
Tunji Bello

Honourable Commissioner, if you are driving from Ibadan entering Lagos, and you look at your right and you see the cow market, how do you feel as the man in charge of environment?

The cow market is not within our jurisdiction. It is within Ogun State boundary. It is not under Lagos. The river is the demarcation line between Lagos and Ogun States.

But many people who work in Lagos live there.

No, you have passed our territory, I can’t go beyond Lagos now. I am the Commissioner for Environment, Lagos state. I can’t move beyond the boundary of Lagos to go and start doing things.

But what do you think should be done? The place is an eyesore.

First of all, they should leave the place. People need to be evacuated from that place. They have to be allocated a new space where they can carry out their business in conformity with best hygienic practices.

Some of them throw refuse, cow dung, even human waste and still drink and bathe with the same river…

(Cuts in…) It is Ogun State government’s responsibility to ensure that those people do not stay there anymore. They have to relocate them. They have to find another place for them where they will be slaughtering their cows and do all the marketing in a conducive and healthy environment. They will have to relocate them totally.

Now, I don’t know whether this is under your purview: when you drive through parts of Lagos at night, are you worried by what you see? People sleeping and apparently living under or on top of bridges, and any open space? Examples: Ojuelegba Bridge, Ijora, Ikeja Bridge by LASUTH, Gowon Estate where people sleep in the open on okadas (commercial motorcycles), in front of shops, etc.

Let me give you an answer to that.  We have seen unrest in different parts of Nigeria, especially in the north. Coming back to Lagos: the population of Lagos now is huge, and growing exponentially. People troop to Lagos because they are driven either because of the Boko Haram, bandits and all sorts of things. So, the pressure is on everybody.  And where do they run to? Lagos!

Many of them are economic refugees.

We have driven them in many areas. There was a time they were sleeping in the open in Obalende. The second part is Ikeja. We had to drive them. Some have gone back to where they came from. But how many people can you drive? They are Nigerians like us. So, we need to help them, give them assistance. But some of them are not even helping themselves. Why would they stay in the open? Some of them who drive okada, who make little money, instead of them renting a house, may be a room or so, they send their money home. They will say they will be sleeping in the open; they send all the money they make home. They don’t want to even help themselves. You are making a living, you are not paying taxes, you are not paying anything, and you live on your motorcycle. To do your washing in the morning, even defecate, you go to an open place. Why? Yet, if you are driven away from Lagos, you will say Lagos is discriminating. They would say we are driving them away from Lagos.

People can say that because there is the absence of a definitive policy that says ‘You cannot come from somewhere and you are moving round in Lagos, without a place to live, viable means of livelihood, without you living decently.’

That is what I am saying. I said we have driven them; we have been telling them you have no right to sleep in the open, on the road. We have been doing that. But then, there is also the issue of security. How many policemen do we have? The population of Lagos is over 20 million and the total number of policemen we have is 33,000. How will 33,000 policemen police over 20 million people? How do you deal with that? The remedy for that is that we need to begin to look at state police. To be very effective, let Lagos have its own state police. You can’t be that overall effective with the present police system because we don’t have enough men. Nigeria police has been trying his best. But they also have limited capacity. That is part of the remedies that I think we should do to be able to contain most of these things, because the primary responsibility of government is the protection of lives and property.

Finally, what word do you give to Lagosians now that the rains are here?

First, I want to assure Lagosians that we have the capacity, and are ready to manage the situation. We are ensuring that make the clearing of their drainages a priority to ensure free passage of water. But people must help yourselves by stopping dumping (of refuse), stopping building along the path of rain. One day, there was a man driving a Range Rover along Ikorodu road. Then he ate something and threw it on the road. Imagine, a man with Range Rover? Of course, he was arrested. How can you eat and drop everything on the road? Can’t you keep it in your car? And when you get home, you it put in your dustbin? This is part of the problem.

Now, that waste you dumped on the road will be washed it into the drain and block it because it is plastic. It will block the drainage and water will not be able to flow past it. And they will say it is flooding. In Mushin recently, when it was raining, we have photographs of people bringing refuse from their houses and shops and dumping them inside drainages. In fact, it got so bad we had to invite Jide Kosoko and some other top actors in Nollywood, and top artistes, to come and help us do public awareness on the problem.

People would take refuse from their houses dumping them inside gutter when it is raining is like throwing stones in the market place, it may hit one of your own. If you throw stone into the market, it still comes back to you. When you drop refuse in the drain, the water is taken back to your house and flood your home. These are the things we are advising our people on. Number two, we must also be on guard. Government is ready to assist and ensure you live a safe and secure life, but people must also help themselves. They must not obstruct the pathway of water.

Plastic wastes, all over the world, constitute a big problem. It is not biodegradable and they often find their ways into the human ecosystem, causing all kinds of disease, including cancer.

You are right, plastic is not biodegradable. Throw it into a place, and it may be there for another 100 years. Eventually, what we want to do is to get a national consensus, or we simply ban plastic packages and start using other means.

Kenya did it and they are not regretting it.

Yea. That is one. The second aspect is: first of all, how do we collect the wastes that we presently have? We need to start by sorting; which we have started in Lagos. We want to start with the estates. Organized estates, residential estates, will have different bags for wastes. Some people are ready to collect those plastics and convert them to other uses. That is what we are working on now.

What about the ones on the streets?

We are packing those ones as well. We are going to do sorting at the dumpsites…

What about those once dumped in our seas, lagoons, etc.?

The ones in the sea are gone. There is nothing you can do about it, except they are washed back to the shore and then, we collect them as well. But if they are on the sea, they might travel to Europe, or other parts of the world. But the ones that are back along our shorelines can easily be picked.


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