New Telegraph

Government Officials As Killjoys

They are all over the place – at local, state and federal government levels – they are the ubiquitous officials that no administration can function without them. They are civil servants, also known as public servants, and are persons employed in the public sector by a government department or agency for public sector undertakings. Civil servants should be answerable to the government and not a political party. Like the blood in the human body, they serve as the lifeblood, which ensures that governments at all levels are able to function properly. Unfortunately, just as we have good and bad blood, so do we have an abundance of good and bad civil servants here in Nigeria.

While everyone knows that good blood ensures the healthy well-being of an individual, and bad blood leads to numerous health challenges and even possible death, so is it with these government officials. I have in a previous article mentioned how in many advanced nations of the world most of those who occupy top positions both in government, and in the civil service, more often than not attended elite universities like Oxford and Cambridge in the United Kingdom, and Johns Hopkins and Yale in the United States, which reflects in the quality of their governance, the same cannot be said of the so-called ‘Giant of Africa.’

But while more often than not it is the politicians that take the flak for failings of governance, however, it is the omnipresent civil servants that are the real reasons for many of these lapses. Often out of the glare of the public these individuals on their own, and often without any prompting from their political leaders, frequently get away with proverbial blue murder because of their actions. A number of incidents abound to buttress this point, the latest being what happened at Ajao Estate in Lagos, in which a number of houses were pulled down.

Sadly due to what transpired especially in the build-up to the March 18 governorship poll in Lagos, in which the ethnic card was played, anything that now happens is often viewed through this prism. Thus, the first videos posted had an Igbo person lamenting that they were destroying only houses belonging to people from the eastern part of the country. Playing massively on sentiment, the person narrating the commentary also claimed that they were not given any notice before the demolition team came and took down very palatial buildings with all their belongings still trapped inside.

While I must say I feel for those affected, the truth is that the narration was clearly twisted in order to elicit sympathy. Trying to put the records straight, the government agency in charge of the demolition, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), insisted that it took the action because the structures were sitting on illegally acquired land belonging to the authority. The agency claimed that the recent demolition of 13 houses posed grave dangers to the operations of the nearby Murtala Mohammed International Airport.

A spokeswoman for the agency, Mrs Faithful Hope-Ivbaze, stated that the area of land presently housing the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, was acquired for public use by the Federal Government through the Lands Acquisition Ordinance by FGN Official Gazettes in 1944, 1972, and 1975 respectively. According to her, sometime in 2000, the authority noticed some encroachments within its acquired land in Lagos, and a committee was set up to investigate and compel those encroaching to cease and desist from such actions.

She stated that the committee put up “Caveat Emptors” and positioned them strategically within the areas under encroachment, adding that they are still in place. Mrs Hope-Ivbaze further explained that in 2008, some residents of the Ajao axis of the encroached land, under the aegis of “Runview Cooperative” approached the authority for regularisation of their stay on the land. She further stated that the FAAN directorates of Airport Operations and Aviation security commenced stakeholders’ engagements and met severally with the residents of the Ajao axis, stressing that all meetings were recorded and filed, bring- ing to their knowledge the dangers of erecting houses on pipelines, waterways, and the airport’s perimeter fence, leading to blocking access for security patrols.

According to her, “Most of the residents cooperated, except for the few who ignored and continued erecting their struc- tures in the ‘Red Zones.’ In the committee’s report submitted in 2022, out of 254 buildings evaluated, 220 buildings were recommended for regularisation, as they pose no direct/critical security and safety challenges to the airport. They have been duly regularised. “The 34 others that were built within FAAN’s perimeter fence and mostly erected above the aviation fuel pipeline and waterways, clearly posing direct safety and security challenges to the airport as well as to their owners/occupants themselves were marked for demolition.”

The occupants of these buildings, she said, were duly notified of the impending demolitions, and intensive awareness campaigns through “stop work” markings and planting of notice boards within the Red Zone. She added that in September 2022, FAAN wrote to the Lagos State Government for their cooperation in conducting this exercise in the interest of aviation and communal safety and security, adding that the removal of illegal structures was also scheduled to be carried out at all other airports that have similar challenges.

While the FAAN’s position is well articulated, one cannot also totally blame those that put up structures in the ‘Red Zone’ because the proverbial ‘Naija factor’ cannot be ruled out, and it is very possible that attempts were made to confirm if buildings could be put up in the area with government officials giving them the green light to do so. I have been personally affected by the antics of these killjoys when my mother lost the land she purchased around the Lagos-Badagry Expressway in the 70s. According to her, she had attempted to do due diligence concerning the land and was assured by officials that it would not be acquired by the Federal Government.

Despite the assurance, she lost the piece of land when work commenced on the Mile 2 – Badagry Highway. In the past two years, two high-profile buildings collapsed in Lagos – the 21-storey structure which went down in Ikoyi in November 2021 claiming 22 lives, and last month’s collapse of a seven-storey structure in Banana Island – and yet no civil servant has been brought to book for their roles in the incidents. Across the country, it is the same scenario playing out; buildings are given approvals by the relevant government agencies and when they collapse no civil servant is brought to book in order to serve as a deterrent for others not to allow unscrupulous contractors to cut corners and endanger the lives of innocent people.

Yet, we have people employed to ensure that buildings meet all the safety requirements before they are put up and given out to people or businesses to occupy. The antics of civil servants are not only limited to the construction industry, they cut across all facets of our society, and until we have those in government willing to take a sterner stand against such bad civil servants, the nation will not only continue to underachieve, but also witness all sorts of avoidable man-made calamities happening because of the selfish activities of these killjoys.

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