At Last, Lokoja Set To Get Face-Lift as Gov Wada moves to implement Lokoja Master Plan

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•Kogi Govt partners UN-Habitat, DFID in massive structural plan
•Seeks stakeholders cooperation on enforcement of 1991 Land Use Act
•Demolition of illegal structures imminent

Kogi State Government is set to restructure the state capital, Lokoja. Determined to rewrite the history of the “confluence city”, from its shanty and stop-over status to an enviable standard, Governor Idris Wada has listed bold measures that will leave nothing to chance in the ongoing efforts to give the capital a face lift.

Kogi Deputy Governor Yomi Awoniyi and Governor Idris Wada
Kogi Deputy Governor Yomi Awoniyi and Governor Idris Wada

Government, according to Wada is reverting to the starting point-the Land Use (Designation of Lokoja Metropolitan Area) Act 1991. The act, signed by the pioneer Military Administrator, Col Danladi Zakari, which is set for enforcement, forbids individuals and private organisations from building structures within 16 kilometers radius of the Post Office circumference. Created on August 27, 1991, it is the first time government is opening the books to the designation of Lokoja metropolitan area act, in the 23 years existence of Kogi State.

The governor bemoans the dirtiness of the state capital, which has made it a laughing stock among visitors and passers-by. If Wada had his way, Lokoja, the first unofficial capital of Nigeria will soon take its place in the comity of leading cities in Nigeria as a hub of business activities, investors friendly and a tourist destination. The governor read the riot act during a meeting with Lokoja stakeholders in his office. The meeting followed the setting up of the Lokoja Metropolitan Forum to among other things act as bridge between government and residents towards extensive sensitization of the residents to government’s intentions; preparatory to what he described as a full blown implementation of the city’s master plan. The governor emphasized that infrastructure development remains the pillar of his government’s transformation agenda, pointing out that since Lokoja structural plan is infrastructure-based, no stone will be left un turned to transform the city.

He however maintained that the task of making Lokoja attractive cannot be carried out effectively without the cooperation of the stakeholders. Kogi state, he said is partnering UN-Habitat and the Department For International Development (DFID) towards a massive clean up of the environment.

“I am pleased to inform you that Lokoja has been selected among 10 cities in the world by the United Nations, under the UN-Habitat Programme to be provided with massive structural plan”.

Capt Wada further disclosed to the stakeholders among them traditional rulers, chiefs, Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa community leaders, that among the cities under UN-Habitat rader which are expected to be structured to meet modern development standard, Lokoja is the only non-country-capital city while the remaining nine were capitals of countries in the world.

Within the last thirty months, a sustained efforts has been made, aimed at urban development as well as improving the long-term social and ecological health of cities and towns in Kogi State. To start with, the place of Lokoja, the Kogi State Capital in Nigeria’s history cannot be under emphasized. It is a state where urban development ought to take the centre stage in terms of priority.

After all, Portharcourt, Calabar,Kaduna and Lagos to mention but a few are cities that have some important history like Lokoja.

Their pattern of development and urbanisation when compared to Lokoja no doubt leaves one wondering why Lokoja still lags behind in development planning.

The partnership between Kogi State Government and UN-Habitat that was recently strengthened with the signing of USD 1.3 million agreement of cooperation geared towards focusing on structural plan and urban renewal scheme is a commendable development that has ignited the government’s new stand. The agreement which was signed by Prof. Oyebanji Oyeyinka on behalf of UN-Habitat and the Deputy Governor, Mr. Yomi Awoniyi for the Kogi State Government, is expected to transform the city capital.

The governor at the meeting frowned at the poor habitat behaviours of most residents of the ancient city, vowing that government will do everything humanly possible to ensure that the state continues to attract foreign attention and investors. He also announced the intention of the Federal government to establish railway terminus in Lokoja to ease movement of goods and services from south to the northern parts of the country. He warned the traditional rulers as well as community land owners to desist from allocating land indiscriminately to prospective builders so as to avoid the distortion of government development plan.

He recalled with regrets that the rich history of Lokoja as the first administrative capital of Nigeria has failed over the years to bequeath derivative respect for the city due to her unattractive physical outlook. “The way we look now, people don’t respect us, visitors see Lokoja as dirty and unplanned”, he said.

Governor Wada attributed the environmental problems afflicting Lokoja to “indiscriminate appropriation of lands by individuals and massive land speculations” among others, resulting in obstruction of government plan. He cited the Otokiti-Ganaja by-pass project recently flagged off by him and the shock discovery of houses illegally built across the path of the road.

Expressing deep concern over the disgusting state of the Felele-Kabawa entry-point, a visibly disturbed Capt Wada remarked: “anytime I pass through Kabawa, I feel sad… we will try to keep the place in better environment to give a good impression to visitors. Furthermore, we will stop development of slums.

We must develop Lokoja to an enviable standard as a capital”. Wada who noted that houses built on the right side of the road from Kabawa to Felele are illegal, lamented that, over the years, people flagrantly violated existing laws guiding building of structures in the Lokoja metropolis due mainly to lack of enforcement of the laws by the successive governments. He therefore directed the Waste Management and Sanitation Board to commence the enforcement of the Land Use (Designation of Lokoja Metropolitan Area) Act 1991.

Wada hinted that from now, every new areas earmarked for development in Lokoja will be properly planned with the layout in place. “We will compensate old building owners because they were there before the creation of Kogi State but people who have come asking for compensation like those who took it upon themselves to build houses illegally across the Otokiti-Ganaja by-pass will not be compensated”.

Chairman, Waste Management and Sanitation Board, Rear Admiral Ibrahim Idris, who said he grew up in Lokoja corroborated the governor’s observations on the non-compliance with the relevant laws by individual land and house owners, stressing urgent need for prospective builders to learn to be law abiding, forthwith.

Issuing a stern warning to defaulters to be prepared for the consequences of their acts of illegality, the tough-talking Idris declared that bulldozers purchased for the cleansing exercise are on standby and will soon start work. He assured the governor that houses built without proper documentation will be pulled down.

Now that it has become clear that Kogi State Government is more concerned with urbanisation, environmental planning geared towards developing well structured cities in the state becoming increasingly critical, the ultimate goal of this environmental planning and urbanization will no doubt determine how it affects the designs of cities and towns. With the present efforts, urban planning now in the state is strictly going to focus on how communities can achieve sustainable development and use resources in a way that is good for the ecosystem and the general population.

The Journey So Far

The process of beautification of Lokoja did not just start now. Infact it is in continuation of the efforts to clean up, restructure and make the capital attractive and healthy which started some 30 months ago that the need for the enforcement of the relevant law strolled in. “Government is sensitive to the need to study and act within the law backing the designation of specific areas in the metropolis as government reservation area and the need for sensitization of the resident public towards effective enforcement of the law. These are issues that must take precedence over any other activities of government in this massive project of transforming the capital city”, began Mr Ralph Agbana, Media Assistant to the Governor on Research and Documentation.

“The journey started the very moment the Wada Administration gained life with the setting up of the Lokoja Beautification and Sanitation Committee. For the fact the state deputy governor was named as chairman of that committee spoke volume of the importance government attached to the project. Meanwhile the whole idea of transforming Lokoja was part of the larger urban renewal plan which is programmed to be undertaken not only in Lokoja but in other major towns in the state, such as Okene, Kabba, Idah, Dekina, Ankpa and infact all local government headquarters; they are to be provided with standard road network, drainages, playgrounds and ornamental trees”.

The media aide added, “Back to Lokoja; this is the first port of call for visitors, tourists and investors, therefore as part of government efforts to attract them to the state capital, initially the idea was to clean up within the first six months of the Wada Administration and give Lokoja a total face lift within two years. But along the line came the flood that literally submerged nine local governments in Kogi, of which Lokoja was worst hit being the meeting point of River Niger and River Benue. The lessons learned as a result of the floods and the new realities, meant that government had little options but to go back to the drawing boards.

“Before then, you will recall that the government had hectic time relocating artisans and petty traders from the roadsides to the Paparanda Square, as a temporary measure. Unauthorized shops and kiosks haphazardly erected very close to the township roads were also ordered for removal. That exercise breathed some new lease of life into the town. At that same time, it was conceived that the frontage of Lugard House, the seat of government, a colonial relic of immense historical significance, deserved to be beautified and given a form of identity. The beauty of this idea is evident in the edifice sprung at the round about in front of Government House, showcasing a statute in the image of Lord Fredrick Lugard.

Also, to mention just a few, office and residence of the deputy governor, the police command headquarters, premises of the office of the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), which host the ministries of Environment, Land & Urban Development as well as Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs were all given a face lift. These are some of the immediate steps taken as part of the efforts to restore some dignity and orderliness to the state capital to make it worth that name. But we knew we were not near our goal yet. Since then, however, much has been done in the area of infrastructure; the Greater Lokoja Water works started by Governor Wada’s predecessor was completed, so also is the Confluence Beach Hotel, built by another former governor, Prince Abubakar Audu.

It is a known fact that the hotel had lost taste, had become a ghost of its old sight as one of the best in the North Central, with structures there dilapidated beyond what meets the eye. The task of rehabilitating and upgrading Confluence Beach Hotel, fell on the shoulders of Alhaji Ibrahim Idris who succeeded Prince Audu. However, the project was still on when the administration of Alhaji Ibrahim Idris ended. His Excellency, Governor Wada who is a firm believer in continuity in governance in order to avoid waste of public fund, funded and completed projects initiated by his predecessors, including the confluence beach hotel.

Also completed by Wada is the Confluence Stadium, a 20,000 capacity multi-purpose sport complex while the road leading to the stadium was rehabilitated. The same road, which also connects landmark government institutional buildings such as the newly completed State Secretariat Annex, the old state secretariat complex, CBN building, Kogi State House of Assembly, the state High Court and the recently commissioned Federal High Court complexes is a dual carriage way connecting zone 8 round about and links directly the Abuja-Okene federal road.

Another notable face lift to Lokoja by the Wada Administration is the Mount Patti Road. Mount Patti plateau, about 1,500 metres above the sea level, is regarded as the birthplace of Nigeria, the country’s name having been coined on this plateau where the first Governor General, Sir Lord Lugard had his office in the 1900s. The news here is already, the state government is
constructing a new road to the top of the mountain and is in the process of mapping out over one thousand plots for development by investors.

Besides, the commencement of work on the Otokiti-Ganaja road bye pass which will gulp over N2 billion will not only open up the state capital to the eastern flank but will certainly open up the town to more opportunities and development.

– Ralph Agbana and Mike Abu

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