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‘Govt should make infrastructure a priority’




MOSES OGUNLEYE, a fellow and Principal Partner of MOA Town Planners consultant, is the President of Association of Town Planning Consultants of Nigeria (ATOPCON). In this interview with The Guardian’s Emmanuel Badejo, he highlights the need for synergy between infrastructure master plan and physical development plan, including other industry related issues.


ANOTHER Federal Executive Council is expected to be inaugurated on May 29, how should the incoming elected political office holders attend to housing change?

The government should focus more on social housing, targeted at low-income earners because these groups of people constitute the largest proportion of our population.

The challenge has been how do this group of people get decent, functional and comfortable homes?  This could be done through site and services scheme, which is backed by realistic funding.  To get this done, we need to rework our mortgage sector. Also, the housing loan board should be reinvigorated because this is much more easier, to access than the mortgage loan.  To accompany, the government should focus more on infrastructure provision. Having functional estates without corresponding public facilities will not add much value to such homes.

What is the need of building an estate, which lacks access roads?  We should move away from community efforts to building roads, but government should make infrastructure a priority.

But some believe that we cannot be talking about social housing due to the cost, while others disagree.  What is your position?

Social housing is a national housing policy matter.  There must be ways government must support the private developers to make this goal come true.

In Lagos, for instance, there is large chunk of land in Epe, and the government can leverage on that to boost social housing.  I believe mass/social housing is one clear way to solving the nation’s housing debacle.

What is your take on the launch of Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan for Nigeria?

When we say infrastructure, we are looking at the whole gamut of chain – sewage, water supply, road, and transport, among others.

There should be a synergy between infrastructure supply and physical development plan. The entire infrastructure will be put on land. They are land related even when you are looking at water infrastructure like seaport. We cannot run away from having a synergy and, more importantly, whatever happens to the implementation of the plan will be of importance to us. For instance, it is not that another government will come and stop it. As a town planner, do we have a master plan for town? We don’t! What we have is more of development plan. For a few of our cities, many of the master plans have outlived their years.

Many of the cities do not have master plan and that is why they just grow without any direction. This has affected the level of development and the status of these cities. Therefore, if there is no master plan to guide city development, there is no basis for taking decision for land use and infrastructure.

How can you access Nigerian cities in terms of physical planning?

I am not proud of our cities the way they are now.  The question, a first time visitor will ask is how are we surviving? There is no order and vertically, all aspects of the cities are not efficient. Even in the new capital city, Abuja, you see some elements of dysfunction. The transport system is not there and in the area of waste management, you still see the way wastes are being managed, in terms of transportation and disposal. How can I be proud of our cities, where people still sell or hawk on the road? People bring their wares by the roadside and hawk; it is a form of nuisance for a city like Abuja. Most people do not have access to water supply. If there is no water supply, we will likely have poor system of sanitation and when sanitation is poor, you have diseases flying around.  It is my wish that we have more efficient city that can make us proud.

What does it mean for a city to be efficient?

For a city to be efficient, housing, power supply and water supply access must be facilitated. I do not need to travel four or three hours from place of residence to work. There should be alternative mode of transport – efficient public transport system that is very reliable. An efficient city means that when you are at the bus stop, within five minutes a bus will pick you, water runs sufficiently, sanitation is improved and you have a place to recreate.

Although, the number of town planners are increasing but the nation lacks new cities. What is role of ATOPCON in this?

If government does not think we should have new communities/towns, there is little town planners can do in that regard.  It would take any government serious on development to do the needful; though professionals’ any day anywhere have roles to play.

Can’t you push government into thinking in that direction?

There are two ways to it. Even the existing plans, are we funding their development? Are we concerned with the way they are growing? Are we ready to do development planning to integrate development?  Are we ready to plan ahead for this development? How concerned are the political leaders? I am challenging them to ensure development planning is part of the drive for the in-coming government. This could be done by evolving plan proposal development that will bring about the creation of satellite towns or new communities at the terrain of urban area. It is however painful that what we see in most of our cities and their surroundings have been taken over by private developers, who churn out estate developments without any form. For instant, how convenient or easy will it be to create a new town of 50,000 populations around Lagos within 10-kilometre radius? Almost all lands around the city, even within five kilometres, have been built upon because we have failed to do the needful. We now have congestion in our cities. It is good to have new towns, but if they are not able to manage and maintain them, how do we expect the new towns to perform well?

In an attempt to manage the mega city, Lagos State government has come up with Model City Plans. Do you think there are enough infrastructures to support this?

The issue of Victoria Island and Ikoyi Model City Plan and the new proposal, to me, is about implementing the existing plan. I have seen the plan where town planners said we should increase in density probably by going vertical. They also proposed that the road should be widened and that some other infrastructural facilities be provided. If these are done, all will be well. If they say, the buildings should be 30 floors, what will service those buildings are electricity, water supply and road.  And because we are in a highly motorised area, most of us rely on private vehicle that is not efficient. The highest we have is 15. If we take it to 30, I think the city can still cope, but the most important thing in Victoria Island and Ikoyi, apart from road, is that other infrastructure should all be looked into. The value of land in Victoria Island and Ikoyi has gone up. It does not mean that the plan should dance to the tune of the value of land. Other factors should have been considered in determining the height; otherwise the plan will be meaningless if we base all our plans on the land value.

The Lekki-Epe corridor of Lagos State has been described as the fastest growing in terms of real estate development. Do you support the growth?

I agree with you. It is growing rapidly, but the growth seems to be well managed. There is a proposal to do additional road – coastal road. My fear is that the way that corridor is growing, we need to pay more attention so that its development can be more organised. I have seen a lot of people reclaiming their land; there should be more enforcement to checkmate such activities so that the right thing is done.

I have my fear on the likely impact of climate change on the corridor because many supposed conservation areas have been built on. If we don’t want people to do that anymore, there should be alternative place where they can build. I know there are traditional settlements around some villages in Lekki, these villages should be integrated with these new developments, otherwise we are going to have slum development surrounding relatively high-income neighbourhood and the totality of that is that we are going to have inefficient corridor. For some years, the Lagos Housing Fair, has been on.

What impact do you think the forum has made on the housing sector?

Government has not attached the level of seriousness and concern required for housing. This cuts across federal, state and local governments. Most times, we have government that mouth the issue of housing but in terms of implementing those things that would make housing to be accessible and affordable, not much has been done.

I know, there is a new National Housing Policy 2011 and it is good to have a policy, but how well have we implemented those policies? We have not done enough in the area of housing. The critical issue is affordability and cost of these houses. I relate that to the income of the supposed low-income earners, even some people in the private sector cannot afford those houses selling at N15 million.

If a house is N15 million, you are supposed to pay within a short time and don’t forget that the developer has gone to the bank for a short-term loan to fund it, which is usually capital intensive and the return on the investment is usually long-termed.  If you have gone to a commercial bank for loan to build, the interest is double digit, there is no way you will go to that kind of market to get loan as an entrepreneur, and make it affordable, because the developer wants to make profit. That is one of the challenges.

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