In the 1970s when orderliness reigned supreme in Lagos, churches were built with maximum conformity to planning regulations, societal overall aesthetic appeal and comfort of users and neighbors. Aside the expansive worship area, ample parking spaces were provided to discourage on – street parking and minimized the likely inconvenience to other road users. Within the church precinct, it was conventional to find church house for the leadership and church workers, and small-scale commercial building to generate income in support of church activities. In some churches, complimentary activities such as school and clinic that provide services to the immediate and remote communities could be found.
Between 1975 and 1979, the city’s population rose from about 2 million to 4.13 million and churches development had kept pace with this growth without any adverse effect on the planning system, urban infrastructure and societal psyche. Among the prominent churches then were Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventist and the Apostolic, a visit to any of these churches would reveal high rate of compliance to development specifications.
THE BEGINNING OF CONTRADICTIONS
The downturn of Nigerian economy in the late 1980s and subsequent political crisis of 1993 were the impetus required for substantial number of manufacturing industries to terminate their productions. In the wake of this development, many manufacturing premises and warehouses were left vacant. The inability of the planning department to be pro active on the best alternative uses these abandoned facilities can be put into provided a veritable platform for churches to take over. From the stretch of Oregun Industrial Estate comprising Oregun Road, Ikosi Road and part of Alausa to Ogba Industrial Estate were flags and banners of different churches. Matori Industrial Estate and Amuwo Odofin Industrial Estate were not left out in the scramble.
The conversion of these industrial premises to churches created severe traffic burden for the city since the emerging scenario was not envisaged during the preparation of the State’s master plan. While the occupation continues during this period, Lagos population equally grew from 5.8 million in 1985 to 7.7 million in 1990 and 10.28 million in 1995. With the death of the manufacturing sector and growth in the population figure, poverty rate assumed frightening dimensions and the cry for divine intervention become loudest. Churches continue to respond by expanding on the old denominations and creation of new ones.
THE INCURSION TO RESIDENTIAL ZONES
By the year 1998, the demand for industrial premises and warehouses for church purposes become enormous. Consequently, the price rose to astronomical rate and it was no longer affordable, hence recourse to residential areas. Although the foray is more pronounced in the residential areas, but it is not limited to the zone. Business premises such as quick service restaurants, cinemas and merchandising shops were not left out.
Currently, the presence of church in residential areas has significantly depleted the housing stock available to the populace, in a State grappling with estimated 5 million housing deficit. The situation is alarming as churches are now influencing the building owners to eject their tenants for church to take over the apartments. The occupation ranges from one bedroom apartment, three bedroom apartment to multiple apartment buildings either on long lease or outright purchase from the building owners. No neighborhood in cosmopolitan Lagos is devoid of this phenomenon, except in the emerging high brow residential estates where there is sustainable control on the church development. As at today, the population has climbed to about 18 million and church has continued to grow geometrically.
For example, a visit to Okun Owa Street in Olodi Apapa revealed that there are 13 churches on a street of less than 1 kilometer and 65 mixed types’ houses. The ratio is 5 houses to 1 church. If Okun Owa Street is left with 1 church and the remaining are reverted to residential apartments, 12 families with average size of 6 each would be accommodated, thus resolving the housing problems of 72 people on a particular street.
Ijeshatedo Road junction to Ojuelegba in Surulere is a stretch of about 2 kilometer with 16 meter wide dual carriage collector road, the total number of churches on both sides of the road is 21. The frequency of traffic on the 8 meter wide [2 lanes] single carriage on either side is about 30 vehicles and more than 40 motorcycles in a minute. Of the 8 meter single carriage on either side, 1 lane has been converted to on – street parking for church members. It is appalling to watch how vehicles of different classes and overwhelming number of motorcycles tried to take control of the remaining 1 lane. The confusion in this situation is better imagined.
From the foregoing, the influx of the churches into residential areas is not only depleting the housing stock, the attendant crises include traffic congestion, noise pollution and reduction in the quality of life as evidenced in the movement restriction placed on occupants of multiple apartments where church is equally a tenant.
In all these contradictions, the promoters and members of these churches appear to be insensitive to the consequence of their actions on the environment and other people whom they ought to be protecting with their prayers. The current picture suggests that church had become one of the fundamental problems plaguing the physical, social and economic well-being of people of Lagos.
In correcting this glitch, the Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development [LSMPPUD] should undertake a primary and traditional role while Christian Association of Nigeria [CAN], Lagos State chapter should play a secondary role. LSMPPUD should engage CAN with a view to identifying the number of churches in each residential district. After the identification and enumeration of the churches, a group of contiguous properties could be acquired in a developed district or pool of vacant land in a developing district and converge all denominations within this organized portion of the district. However, adequate resettlement strategies must be put in place for the residents of the acquired properties, reference should be made to the existing regional or local plans and Environmental Impact Analysis of such church agglomeration must first be submitted and discussed with the stakeholders in each district.
Secondly, there is need for CAN to sensitize its members on the negative implications of church incursion to residential areas and encourage them to set up Development Control and Standardization Department within their respective organization framework. They can share experiences with some of the churches mentioned in Paragraph 2 of this article on how their expansion strategies were implemented without infringement on other citizens’ basic rights and the environment.
If all measures to reduce housing shortage in Lagos will be meaningful, it is crucial to reverse the rate of church depletion of housing stock through strict adherence to planning regulations and effective engagement of relevant stakeholders.
It will be of utmost importance to draw the attention of LSMPPUD to the emergence of mega churches at the Epe axis of single carriage Lekki – Epe Expressway. If the trend of church development continues, as it is, in this corridor, Lagos – Ibadan Expressway may not be able to rival this pristine location in terms of traffic imbroglio and other social and economic crisis, in the next five years.