Wednesday, September 9, 2020 10:38 pm
-Facts on the town and its decay
The city was built as a benchmark to how urban dwellings should be. Over the years, however, decay set in so much that Festac Town became a shadow of its old self. However, there is a silver lining in the cloud as the Federal and Lagos State Governments have found a common ground to address degeneration of infrastructure in that federal housing estate situated in Amuwo-Odofin area of the State.
The resolve by the two parties to jointly confront the inordinate property development and facility deficit in the housing estate was the outcome of a meeting, held on Wednesday, between Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and the Managing Director of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), Senator Gbenga Ashafa, signaling an end to the lingering disagreement between the State and the Federal Government over the matter.
Ashafa led top officials of FHA – a department in the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing – on a courtesy visit to the Governor at the State House in Alausa. FHA’s Executive Director for Business Development, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin, was in attendance.
The FHA team presented four partnership requests to the Lagos Government, among which include knowledge sharing and technology transfer, cooperation on infrastructure delivery and quick resolution of development crisis in Festac Town.
Sanwo-Olu said the State Government took land administration and property development as critical, stressing that his administration’s urban renewal project was being implemented with the objective to open up remote communities for healthy living and investment drive.
The Governor described development crisis in Festac Town as “unpleasant”, pointing out that the population growth and influx of people led to the degeneration of the neighbourhood. He also said failure of oversight on activities of property developers in Festac Town distorted the original master plan of the area.
He said: “Festac Town as it is today is not what it looked like from 1970s to 1990s, given the degeneration of infrastructure and the unpleasant development observed in the community. The original master plan did not consider population growth, which reflected in the calibre of allotees that got the property then. As a result of lack of monitoring and enforcement, people took advantage of this weakness to build indiscriminately on every available space.
“I think we can still correct this irregularity and regenerate the entire area for healthy living and business, now that the Federal Housing Authority is headed by a highly knowledgeable indigene of Lagos. Once the Federal Government is ready, Lagos State will cooperate fully and work through our Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development on agreed plan. We are ready to give waiver on statutory issues that may aid the progress of this move. Lagos is not the owner of the estate but we have a sense of duty to prevent the depreciation of the asset on that corridor.”
The Governor also conceded to FHA’s request to collaborate in the area of technology transfer, pledging to work with the federal housing agency to raise its capability by creating electronic solution that would further ease allocation of property, land administration and approval of survey plan.
He added that the State would be willing to work with the federal housing agency on estate property development in the Lagos East and West senatorial districts.
Sanwo-Olu praised President Muhammadu Buhari and Minister for Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, SAN, for the choice of Sen. Ashafa as the head of the federal housing agency, noting that the FHA boss’ tenure as Executive Secretary on Land Matters in Lagos boosted the value of land and property in the State.
The Governor said: “We want you to succeed in this new assignment you have taken up, because we believe that you have vast knowledge in land administration matters. Development is critical to us in Lagos, and we will be willing to cooperate with you for more development. We are convinced that your tenure will bring about solution to challenges the nation faces in land administration.”
Ashafa, a former Senator representing Lagos East, said FHA was ready to resolve all lingering crises delaying the re-modelling and regeneration of Festac Town, expressing confidence that the mid-way approach adopted by the agency would yield positive outcome for the both Governments and residents of the estate.
He described his meeting with the Governor as “productive and fruitful”, pledging to take the discussion further.
He said: “ All the four issues we presented were taken in by the Governor positively. With some of the relevant cabinet members in attendance at the meeting, we will be engaging in further discussions on how to go about our plan for urban regeneration in Lagos.”
Facts on FESTAC Town and History of Its Infrastructural Decay
It was originally called “Festival Town” or “Festac Village”. Now known as Festac town, it is a residential estate designed to house the participants of the Second World Festival of Black Arts and Culture of 1977 (Festac77). The first one took place in Dakar, Senegal in 1966. The town has 5,000 contemporary dwelling units and seven major avenues. The town, according to “Life in the Village,” Festival News, was designed in an efficient grid in order to accommodate upwards of 45,000 visitors as well as any Nigerian employees and officers working at the Festival. “The Nigerian government invested substantial sums of money and resources into building Festac Town, which sported state of the art electrical generators, police and fire stations, access to public transportation, supermarkets, banks, health centres, public restrooms, and postal services.”
The village, as Andrew Apter wrote in The Pan-African Nation: Oil and the Spectacle of Culture in Nigeria (Chicago: University of Chicago), was therefore “intended to evoke the modern age and the promise of state-sponsored economic development fuelled by oil revenues. After the Festival, the Federal Government of Nigeria allocated the housing and landed properties to eventual winners who participated in a ballot. Initial regulations forbade such winners from renting and disposing-of the properties to third parties.
Festac town is, as civil engineers explained, built in a grid network consisting of seven major roads/boulevards or avenues from which minor roads extend. These avenues are identified by their numbers: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Avenues respectively. The 1st, 2nd, 4th and 7th Avenues surround a portion of the town in what seems like an almost rectangular road network which are connected and accessible through each other. The 3rd and 5th avenues run parallel within the town. The 6th avenue is found in a portion of the town accessible through a bridge from the 1st Avenue. The town consists of cul-de-sacs or closes which are named in an alphabetical format.
Festac town is accessible from the Lagos-Badagry Expressway through three main gates that open into the 1st, 2nd and 7th avenues and are called the First, Second and Third gates respectively. The town is also accessible through the Festac Link Bridge
However, over the years experts as well as residents of the sprawling FESTAC Town have, according to a Thisday report, helplessly watched one of Nigeria’s housing estates decay in infrastructure and beauty. The situation was so bad that it attracted The Washington Post to do a story on it, entitled, “A Nigerian neighborhood symbolizes nation’s tumble toward crisis”
It wrote: “It was once a place so full of middle-class promise that locals called it Paradise Village or Little London, for its orderly grid of streets, palmy boulevards, parks, and new apartment buildings painted in pastel greens and blues. Lion statues marked one entrance to the suburban enclave on the bushy edges of Lagos, and an iron gate marked another.
“But the fragility of Africa’s most populous democracy is also evident in the daily grind of life in neighborhoods such as Festac, where residents have watched corrupt officials sell off public parks and buildings, basic services vanish and life otherwise erode into the sort of every-man-for-himself hustle that Nigerians fear will be their country’s undoing.”