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‘Government should establish structures to direct Nigerian cities’ growth’

By Victor Gbonoegun
14 October 2019   |   3:24 am
Mr. Niyi Odetoye is the President, Association of Town Planning Consultants of Nigeria (ATOPCON). He spoke to VICTOR GBONEGUN on steps to improve physical development plans and infrastructure as well as enhance the living conditions of Nigerians.


Mr. Niyi Odetoye is the President, Association of Town Planning Consultants of Nigeria (ATOPCON). He spoke to VICTOR GBONEGUN on steps to improve physical development plans and infrastructure as well as enhance the living conditions of Nigerians.

Nigerian cities are still burdened by non-responsiveness to the highest standard of the physical planning system. What are the issues and how do we improve the situation?
The very first major challenge we have is that over the years, Nigerian cities have grown haphazardly without planning. In actual fact, planning supposed to come before development but in our case, it is after you have a development that authorities think of putting in place a plan. From that point, it becomes a great task to get the expected result.

Asides, the government has not been funding planning activities and once you don’t put in place the needed structures and platforms to direct the growth of our cities, it would be difficult to have the growth controlled and as such, there is no way to meet up with the expected standard. We also have a situation, where we have even done the planning and is not implemented and so how do we move forward? To achieve proper infrastructure, there is a need for physical planning, the government must do the needful.

The government should wake up to its responsibilities and budget for planning. Unfortunately, every government finds it difficult to put money into planning, rather than do that, authorities prefer to build classrooms, hospitals everybody would see and praise them. But have we planned where the classrooms should be built? That is why you see that in most of our communities that we lacked basic facilities needed to service the residents.

Let the government put a lot of physical plans in place and when that is done, we would have a basis to implement them and ensure enforcement of developments in the context of the plans that have been prepared. In those days, the understanding of planning is for every community, you plan what facilities are required to service the areas in terms of housing, road infrastructure, open parks, schools, and others. With that, identity was created for each areas. What we have right now is that there are no identities for our communities and no city centres.

The growth that has not been articulated is a major challenge and to deal with this, the government must do its part and then there would be a basis to enforce and control every development that would emerge. Whoever that violate it, should be dealt with appropriately.

In developing countries, town planning practice seems to be endangered following the introduction of technological innovations for cities’ design and adoption of a new business model for consultancy practice. What is your advice for practitioners and new entrants?
Well, town planning is not endangered by technology but what we should see is the advantages of various technological developments. Physical planning has gone beyond the ‘paper and pen’ and so practitioners should be innovative enough to key into this. Rather than seeing the disadvantages that it could bring, it is better to look inward and see the advantages. Town planning is a profession that if you really understand it and get through it, it gives fulfillment, especially when you put up a plan and you are seeing it being developed. One of the technological innovations is now is the Geographic Information System (GIS) where you could easily locate your development. So if as a planner, you are getting carried away or scared that some techs are coming on board, that is unfortunate.

Practitioners should rather key into such to boost the practice. How do you think when you have a parcel of land to be developed and you put in your data, which brings out everything that relates to that parcel of land. The only thing needed is the postcode or number; you will have the information on the uses an area that has been earmarked, approvals that have been granted and developments that are expected. Technologies are things that could be used to enhance the practice and so experts have to build their capacity through constant training. The new entrants must have a passion for the profession before going into it. They mustn’t be driven by the quest to get quick wealth but through passion and diligence is required. They shouldn’t expect to leave school today and become a multi-billionaire tomorrow. They have to be dedicated, integrity is key because it is a referral system and must adhere to the highest ethics of the profession. They must be driven by the zeal to provide solutions to environmental and urban challenges and once that is done, there would be financial returns.

There has been the low implementation of the Nigerian Urban and Regional Planning Law of 1992, why is it so. How can that be resolved?
Implementing the law would entail setting up various agencies and authorities that could drive the planning of our urban space but there is a need to go beyond that to prepare the plans because it is not enough to set up the agency if you don’t prepare the plans. Unfortunately, we have found ourselves in a situation where the government is largely driven by putting in place what people would readily point to. You could hardly see the government that believes in putting so much money in a plan that would dedicate what happens in the next 20 years, especially with the issue of paucity of funds in the country.

If the laws are implemented, it means development right from the local level to the city centres would be put in place. Ideally, no infrastructural development should come up, if we don’t have the plans. As a country, if we have these plans, we would be able to articulate development across all sectors of the economy. Of what use is living a hundred kilometres away from infrastructures like hospitals, schools and the rest.

In the situation we have found ourselves, people live in Omole area and attend schools in Surulere, people live in Ikeja and attend secondary school in Surulere and so on. But these shouldn’t be. That wasn’t the intention of urban planning. If you live in Alakuko area, for instance, there will be good schools and hospitals where people in the area could attend. Once we have plans, it must be implemented and as the population grows. We must project, scale-up and anticipated the need for the increase and improve on the infrastructure.

The UN-Habitat has constantly reinforced the need for nations to toe the path of sustainable settlement for the posterity of cities. What is the right perspective to get it right through governance, especially managing urban shocks, gridlocks and huge wastes generated in cities?
There are lots to be done by the government and the citizens. While the government needs to put in place proper policies to drive growth, there has to be lots of enlightenment for the public. The citizens have to key into government policies to achieve success. They have to be educated that there are benefits if they work by the government a programme that has been designed for them. For instance, in the area of programmes on waste management, residents need to be enlightened that there are benefits if wastes generated are properly managed in terms of health, clean environment and possibly financial rewards.

The traffic challenge in Lagos state, for instance, is not purely a case of inadequacy of our road networks but a whole lot has to do with behavioural attitude of road users. Many people park their cars recklessly, how many people observe traffic lights and some people don’t negotiate at critical junctions among others.

Urban shocks like flooding and other natural occurrences could be tackled through planning and putting in place appropriate measures in terms of buildable areas, and checks that ensure that the impact is minimal and controllable. Authorities must be aware of peculiar challenges common to certain areas and plan to address them.

Sustainable development is not just about the government putting in place policies, it also involves the communities and residents been well sensitized.

Experts believe that planning and development take more than government and the private sector to fulfill. What do you think should be the role of the public in physical development?
The public needs to ensure that they abide by existing regulations. If the law says do not erect buildings in a particular location, the public must comply with the stipulated law. If the people support the government in that regard, it then means we would have an aesthetically pleasing environment.

In Lagos for instance, there have been laws over the years that there should be setbacks in buildings but how many developments implement the regulation? If Government hasn’t done the right, has the citizen also done the right thing? There must be a balance to have a livable community.

Delays in the issuance of planning permits by government still mar the process of achieving a vibrant built sector, what solution would you offer government?
It is unfortunate that it’s a major challenge and there are no two ways about it. The government needs to up its game.

Development permits have to be issued promptly. There are still major areas in Lagos for instance that don’t have development plans. The master plan that was done for Lekki, can’t deal with the need of every local community in that axis. So the government must work out ways to ensure that every community has a local development plan. Physical development plans have to be taken to the local level. We can’t be using master plans to address the needs of local communities. Also periodically all physical development plans need to be reviewed as at when due.

Nigeria’s urbanisation rate is around 50 per cent currently, with an overall population estimated at 200 million by 2020 likelihood of having a double growth rate within the next 30 years. What should cities and those in authorities do to cope with the challenge that this growth rate in humans could pose?
Everywhere, be it a village, town, and cities, people must be able to live and have a good life. For instance, if I live in Ede, Osun state and I have access to all that I need, then why do I have to come to a city like Lagos.

If we have our plans and there is development to that level to provide a minimal standard of living that could sustain people living in communities, I am sure a lot of people won’t be trouping to Lagos.

The way to address the situation is that the government needs to go back to the drawing board and make provisions for people in rural areas to reduce the rate of migration to the cities.

What Nigeria leaders should be thinking about is how to harness various opportunities and resources in various localities and regions and letting the regions grow at their own rate.