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Mr Lookman Oshodi on Lagos flooding

Lagos flooding: “we must understand the DNA of Lagos”- Mr Oshodi

Nigeria Real Estate Hub’ correspondent, Esther Adeniyi, interviewed Mr Lookman Oshodi, Project Director of Arctic Infrastructure (AI) based in Lagos on the most recent Lagos flooding, the probable causes and suggested methods to avoid its recurrence.

Mr Lookman Oshodi is an astute infrastructure, urban and international development expert. His background on policy, planning, operations and management has influenced his contributing to the success of strategic infrastructure and development projects in both developed and developing countries.

Read the interview below:

NREH: What do you think are the causes of this recurrent Lagos flooding?

Mr Oshodi: Thank you. Flooding is not a new situation or a new occurrence in Lagos. It has been something that is expected, so to say. It is something of a bit significance because it affects one of the major economic bases of the state so this becomes quite a major issue and the fact that flood could affect even just one person in any serious society should be a major concern to anyone but in understanding the issue of flooding, we need to understand the global dynamics of environmental change from time to time especially when we talk about climate change. With the increasing climate change in global community, it is expected that cities or different countries will be affected. It is quite unfortunate that the United States had to withdraw from the Climate Change Agreement but I am delighted that significant number of countries are still holding on to Paris agreement which signifies that there is hope for the global community in terms of earth warming, in terms of global warming and all of that in the nearest and distant future.

When we look at what is happening globally, I want to say that Lagos couldn’t have been immune to the flooding problem. But we need to look beyond what the global dynamics is saying and begin to look at our own peculiar situation in Nigeria and most especially in Lagos. Now, to understand the flooding issues, there are quite a number of stages and issues to put into consideration. In the case of Lagos:

The first part is to understand the DNA of Lagos, that is: where exactly is Lagos, where is Lagos coming from? If you look at Lagos today, Lagos is all about water because statistics say that 22% of Lagos is made up of water and that is quite huge. Some have said that about 80% of Lagos is wetland, some statistics mention that and if we have that, it means that are dealing with water so that means that everything about Lagos is water. This is one key factor that we need to understand in flooding.

This means that in the consciousness of policy makers and residents of the state, we need to have it at the back of our minds that we are living with water and at any point in time, we cannot rule out the water issue in the development of Lagos. What that means is that any development that will take place, any law, any policy that will be enacted by the people in the authority, there must be a consciousness that it must reflect the DNA of the city as a water based city, there must be a consciousness that we are dealing with water, and how do we cope? That is where different plans, different policies and different programs come in on how to develop Lagos but what I have observed is that unfortunately, that consciousness is lost in many of the policies and the plans in the state. I will say that that consciousness is lost to profit making in the development of the city.

For example, if we look at some other nations with coastal cities like Lagos, it has been in the consciousness that whatever they are doing should be majorly about water. If you go to a city like Rotterdam in Netherland, you see water everywhere in the city whether as water fountain, whether under their stair cases, they play with water a lot. Even if water is coming at all, it feels at home. It won’t lead to flooding because water has free flow of moving within the city.

This is unfortunately not the case here. In the areas of planning, a lot of plans have been destroyed, not only for Lekki but in Lagos, the model city plan that look at different development indices and of course, how to develop infrastructure to deal with flooding and other issues.

Now, Lekki itself has an infrastructure master plan but these plans are not implemented well. If you get to Lekki today, a lot of haphazard development is occurring; the little drainage system that is provided is being compromised in terms of building across them etc.

Also, different mega developments have been taking place in Lekki. From what I have seen so far, the developments are not about the holistic approach on how to manage and deal with water, it is more of how to prevent water and when you choose to prevent water it will result to a catastrophe. We should work and flow with water. That is what the city, Rotterdam, I mentioned earlier is doing. They are not attempting to block the water here and there.

The development to protect the ocean surge is a good one but that has changed the tidal wave of the Atlantic ocean and gradually, from Bar Beach down to different places, the effect of water is felt in those communities as we speak today because the course and orientation of the water has been diverted. The rain that fell last week which in turn led to the flood is an accumulation of what we are doing but we have to be thankful that it wasn’t more than that because if it was, it might have been a scenario where the entire Lekki axis would have been submerged. I look forward to a situation whereby the relevant authorities will look into it. This is a chain of events.

Also, people are doing things in their own way. If I choose to buy a plot of land in Lagos, how to have a drainage channel in the front of my house is only what I am concerned with. I do it the way I like. So what happens to my neighbour is none of my business, my own concern is that the water that is passing through, how can I protect myself from it. No one develops a city like that. Even our consciousness as residents is not okay, it is about doing things our own way.

NREH: What suggestions do you have for the governed and the government on how to stop or avoid the occurrence of this in the nearest future?

Mr Oshodi: The total stoppage may be difficult to achieve because a lot of things have been compromised in this part of the world and the signs are there for all of us to see. We should take into consideration that a dam is opened in Ogun state and that leads to water flowing everywhere and I am sure that the problem leading to that water release has not been resolved till date and we can’t be sure that it won’t happen again.

The issue of Eko Atlantic too in terms of water diversion is yet to be resolved and of course, water will always try to find its way. What we can do now is a long term process. We may need to rethink a strategy of developing the city of Lagos so that some of these policies and plans will involve how to deal with water.

There is also a quick fix, something we can do to prevent flooding. Those drainages that we claim not to be adequate need to be opened up.

Secondly, as part of the quick fix, development in this Eko Atlantic city need to be urgently reviewed and see where there are gaps and how things can be done to remedy the situation.

Also, there is need to reform our solid waste management system because our inadequacy in this respect is bad. If we have a functional and effective waste management system, it will go a long way from preventing people from dumping their wastes anyhow.

In the long term, there are quite a number of solutions that have been suggested in the past. There is need to bring all these solutions together as it is today and begin to look at implementation and deliberate on those that we think will work.

There is also what we call early warning signals. In this part of the world we are yet to get to that stage but I think this is part of what the government can look into. Early warning system will perhaps work in conjunction with Nigerian meteorological agency because they can warn us on how much of rainfall to expect. The information can be acted on and used to sensitize people. They may be told that based on the level of preparedness, we might not be able to contain the water and they can possibly go to a higher ground. This early warning system can be put in place, it is a mechanism, it is not the alarm itself but a chain of actions put in place as warning.

Also, in many countries of the world, when flooding occurs, the level of response to avoid extensive damage and provide succour to those affected is usually in place.

In Lagos state, we don’t have transition housing and how to perform serious rescue operation. You will agree with me that during that rainfall and flooding episode, in some countries, while some people were busy taking pictures in Lagos, in these countries, you will see helicopters hovering and trying to pick people up so that they will not be submerged. Canoes will be mobilized by the government to pick people up. In this most recent case, this was completely absent. Our rescue operation is still low in this part of the world and we must look into that.

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