Frontline Professor of International Law and Deputy Vice Chancellor of Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti (ABUAD), Damilola Olawuyi (SAN) has called on governments and business enterprises to adopt and enforce rights-based standards in urban development and city planning in order to address the escalating menace of building collapse in Nigeria and across Africa.

The Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who is also global vice chair of the International Law Association, made this call at the Oxford Urbanist Africa webinar series where he was the distinguished guest speaker. The webinar series is designed to tackle contemporary urban challenges across Africa with innovative solutions through interdisciplinary and practical insights from leading scholars and industry leaders. The webinar was attended by urban planners, lawyers in government, business, and academia, as well as non-lawyers in construction, financial, engineering, science, and sustainability spheres.

The event was moderated by Dr. Xi (Sisi) Hu, a program fellow at Harvard Law School, United States, who commended and thanked the Distinguished Lecturer, Professor Olawuyi, SAN for his ongoing leadership and commitment to climate and energy justice across the world, especially in Africa.

In the discussion, Olawuyi lamented that Nigeria had become the “building collapse capital” of the continent. According to him, with more than 200 building collapse over the last several years across various Nigerian cities, Nigeria ranks number one in Africa in the frequency and intensity of building collapse. Olawuyi noted that while various factors such as design and construction flaws, use of substandard building material, unqualified and unskilled labour, and weak enforcement of urban development laws are responsible for this recurring problem, one crucial but understudied cause is the impact of climate change on the long-term integrity and resilience of buildings generally.

Professor Damilola S. Olawuyi, SAN noted “Climate change is projected to worsen the frequency and intensity of infrastructure collapse across the world, including Nigeria. There is therefore an urgent need to develop clear and comprehensive national roadmaps on climate resilient infrastructure development in order to better anticipate and address the impacts of climate change on the integrity and resilience of our cities and societies.”

He also noted the urgent need to underpin such national strategies and roadmaps with human rights norms. “A right-based approach to urban development requires the holistic integration of five core human rights principles (the PANEL principles)—Public participation, Accountability, Non-discrimination and equality; Empowerment and Access to Information; Legality and access to justice—in the design, approval, financing and implementation of urban development projects to address adverse environmental, social and governance (ESG) impacts of green gentrification, mass housing and other urban planning schemes”

While commending Oxford Urbanists for their leadership and dedication in raising awareness on the importance of sustainable urban development across Africa, he called on industry associations, construction councils, project financing agencies and law firms to ensure strict adherence to human rights due diligence and assessment across the entire urban development value chain in order to avoid costly litigation and reputational risks relating to modern slavery, child labour and unfair procurement practices in construction projects, as underscored by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

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