By Rogers O. Isiokherhe

Metropolitan Benin City is essentially a traditional society with a traditional economy which experienced a long transitional period in response to inevitable influence of growth, modernization and other environmental factors. Consequent on industrial revolution, commercial activities increased tremendously with modernization. The influence of these commercial activities created path way to urbanization.

Due to the unprecedented increase in commercial activities, there was a dearth of commercial properties to match the demand. The result was the conversion of residential properties to commercial use without regards to the existing Town Planning Laws and Regulations.

Conversion of residential properties to commercial use has reduced and is fast reducing the housing stock resulting to steady rise in rent due to increase in demand for available residential accommodation. Rural-Urban drift coupled with the dearth of residential accommodation have occasioned overcrowding creating slum environment in some areas like New Benin, Upper Sakponba, Ogida, Uwelu Quarters etc. Even the Government Reserved Area which hitherto was the pride of the city has been bastardized, defaced, making some areas to have high density look. Commercial properties, temporary structures and caravans have taken over.

Even the government planned housing estates in Benin City are not left out such as Ugbowo, Iguosa, Oregbeni and Iyekogba Housing estates. Some of the units have been converted to hostels, guest houses, schools, restaurants etc. without obtaining the required consents.

In the case of Evboriaria layout as well as Etete layout, the original low density residential schemes are fast eroding or diminishing as commercial buildings are now dotting everywhere in the said layouts.

Conversion of use of properties is the change in the original pattern/plan of a property from one purpose to the other which may or may not necessarily involve structural change or ownership change, renovation, alteration, extension and or improvement. Though Government has tried to fight this contravention with its machinery but it has not been adequately successful due to some factors both human and environment factors.

Some years back demolition exercise was being carried out weekly but what slowed down the tempo would be a matter for research. While commending the Edo State Government for its resolve to create a New Town, it is necessary the land use pattern as designed/zoned should be strictly adhered. Also the sensitization programm being carried out is also commendable.

Sequel to the above and in order to create serene environment and discourage conversion, the following steps are recommended:

Proper enlightenment campaign should be done to educate the citizens on the implication of conversion without following due process.

Equipping the Town Planning Authorities with the necessary resources such as vehicles and man power for implementation.

Professionals in the Property Industry or built environment should be used as communication channel for educating the people.

Review of obsolete laws and regulations.

Proper Government machinery to checkmate the contraveners.

In addition to the above recommendation there are evidences that Town Planning Laws have been in existence, perhaps the problems are in the implementation. It has therefore become expedient that the operational Laws should be strictly enforced to discourage indiscriminate conversion.

ESV Rogers O. Isiokherhe (ANIVS, RSV) writes from Benin City, Edo State.