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‘Implement national urban development policy’


Past PresidentcNigerian Institute of Town Planners, Dr. Olubunmi Ajayi

Dr. Olubunmi is a past president of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners. In this interview with VICTOR GBONEGUN, he spoke on the impact of the government’s inability to implement physical development policy and why the profession remains endangered.

In some of your advocacies, you raised concerns that more than 75 percent of Nigerian cities have no development plans. Why is it difficult for state governments to design a workable physical plan for their cities?
It is because of who they are. I have traveled around this country and talked to governors. There is this governor I met in Plateau state in 2001, he was very bold and asked me why do you want me to spend N30 million to do a master plan for Jos while I could use the N30 million to build five kilometers of road. He spoke the minds and attitudes of almost every governor. But I told him, I believed that you have built a house, he said yes, and I asked him before you built the house what was the first thing you did He said I acquired a land. I asked him, what was given to you; he said a piece of paper.


Again, I asked him, when the government allocated the land to you and gave you a certificate of occupancy, they gave you another piece of paper. I told him when the government gave your survey plan; it was another piece of paper. Also, I said when he was about to build; the architect gave him a piece of paper. The same thing goes for engineers and quantity surveyors. I told him, you wouldn’t have gotten the house if you hadn’t pay for those pieces of papers.
I then said the physical development plan is a piece of paper that you have to pay for before you could have a master plan.

The average policymakers in power looks at the report of the physical development plan as a piece of paper and don’t look at the benefit that would come from those pieces of papers. Those in power dramatize rather than really act and that is why we don’t realise that we have to plan.

The professionals to have their fault; they have become too technical to the detriment of the government. If the professionals understood clearly their urban economics, they should be able to tell the policymakers that by doing a particular plan, they would make sure that traffic in a particular location would disappear because the land uses would be changed.

They could educate the government on what the time wasted in traffic would cost the government. When town planners are making their case, they should justify it in an economic blueprint on the benefits government would derive in naira and kobo and not in descriptive terms. Town planners must tell the government the financial implication of not doing development plans. That is one of the areas that are deficient in the training of town planners is urban economics.

A report by the National Population Commission (NPC) Nigerian says city growth is expected to reach 58.3 per cent by 2020, yet urbanisation is demographically driven without commensurate socio-economic dividends. What is the way forward?
We are pretending that urbanisation would go away whereas urbanisation is real and growing. The politicians have all neglected the rural development of rural areas. Every person in rural areas has all come back to town. The rate, at which every city in the country is growing, is alarming and we are sitting on a time bomb. Abuja, for example, was designed for three million people now we have from seven million to nine million living in that city. That’s why the infrastructure is failing and authorities couldn’t manage the city. The government shouldn’t pay lip service to the issue of urbanisation but address it frontally. If not addressed, the revolution would start from urban centres.


The national urban development policy should be implemented to address urbanisation issues. It shouldn’t remain a document like it has been for years, because no single step has been taken to implement that document. There should be central coordination of all plans rather than everyone doing their things in silos. The Federal Government should look at the land surface area of Nigeria, identify the land that is available for mining, agriculture among others and determine where to divert people. We are not lacking in the pieces of paper, what we are lacking is the strength of character to implement our plans.

Town planning seems to be endangered. What are the problems and your advice for new entrants into the profession on how to grow?
It is historical, how planning started in this country was as a result of the bubonic plague. The colonial master came to this country to react to the situation and that is why we have various laws such as swamp clearance, street lighting law, sanitation, and others. Many of them are one ‘subject law’ without a provision for town-wide planning. The nearest that came close to planning is the one that created the government reserved area.

Right from the beginning, there was an interest in the administration of the cities rather than the planning. The colonial master didn’t direct our minds to planning the cities but to collect taxes and for another administration purpose.

Another thing is that we didn’t have any school for teaching town planning at the beginning. It came as a technical education, where the students were trained on how to do planning schemes and not citywide planning. However, it was the United Nations that came to Lagos, saw the rate at which the city was growing and came up with the issue of the master plan for Lagos, fully financed by them.

Additionally, right from day one, the negative image that the town planners got is that they are seen as people that come to demolish buildings in the society.


The town planners have to understand the whole area of financial issues to rectify the deficiency in the education of town planning.

They should acknowledge their ignorance if they want to move forward. New entrants have mistaken computer literacy for knowledge. They should be ready to learn and be humble because the industry is knowledge-driven. Acquire the practical knowledge and realise that town planning is a public relations subject and so must develop the skills to deal with various publics.

They should also understand that growth is a gradual process, be ambitious but not be too much in a hurry.

Ultimately, they should develop outspoken and handwritten skills for report writing and presentation and continue participation in professional practice as well as continuous reading.

Various issues have emanated in all fronts such as flooding, waste management, farmers/herdsmen clashes, insecurity, traffic congestion, and degenerating slums. How could the government use planning to resolve such challenges?
All these are not problems but symptoms of a fundamental issue of lack of planning. It is a human being that disorganises nature and once you don’t structure your relationship with nature, there would be a collision and nature would win.

The problem of traffic is a function of land uses. Where you would travel to, is a function of land use available there. If you arrange your land use in such a way that you either reduce the need for travel, then the traffic issues would be reduced.


On waste management, the first thing is to identify the landfill sites using technology. If your town is well laid out, the roads would be accessible to transport wastes to landfills.

Talking about insecurity, more than half of the population in Lagos, for example, doesn’t have a house address and a person that doesn’t have a home address, is already a security risk to you because if he or she commits a crime, nowhere to trace them to. In some places that are even well laid out, there is no proper numbering. When there are no roads, where would the policemen pass to arrest a criminal? Once an area is not well laid out on how people should build, what you would have is slums.

The concept of RUGA is not wrong but the environment in each it is been introduced was suspicious. The government needs to encourage private sector investors with various incentives and ensure that the policy is only implemented where there is land. The southeast is the densest part of Nigeria, no land but they have the population and so to find land for RUGA could be a problem.

Everything is tied to and revolves around adequate physical planning.

If you were to advise the Federal and State authorities on urban governance, what would you recommend as ways to make cities workable and prosperous?
Let each state go and work out its own urban governance that would work for them. The reason for that is because the Yoruba urbanisation is different from Igbo urbanisation and so on. Currently, our cities are abandoned and ignored in terms of physical development, no document to guide them and so they can never be good.

We have waited for too long and almost lost the battle of urban governance in Nigeria. Before the traditional rulers in a typical Yoruba town were in the ones in charge of the cities but politics came and we now have another level of government called the local government. They don’t even know their roles in urbanisation; the document, which they have, didn’t prescribe a particular role for them in urban governance till today. The laws that have been in existence since 1946 talked about them doing ‘planning schemes’ and not master plans for the cities.


The 1992 law was the indigenous one that gave them power for physical planning but unfortunately, it was during the military regime and therefore has a military sense. To make matters worst the state government never allows the local government to function, they took all their powers, making them be helpless.

Land administration and management in Nigeria is still highly centralised. What kinds of reforms do you think would help the nation to reap huge benefits from this resource?
The Land Use Act is one of the greatest dis-services to this country. Some of the provisions are inimical to development. The most inimical part of development is the issue of the governor’s consent before people could transact on their lands. Why it has been difficult to amend the Land Use Act is because the governors are making so much money and holding so much power. So, any attempt to amend the act could be the use of another military fiat. The land is the basis of capital and someone who controls land, controls everything. That provision, in particular, is hindering development.

The New Urban Agenda was unanimously adopted at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) four years ago, serving as a new vision for our cities and municipalities for the next 20 years. What is the best way to implement it for Nigeria to ensure sustainable development?
We are used to going to these international conferences and signing the treaties but what does Nigeria do with their outcomes. I don’t have any hope. The only thing it does is that it creates awareness for urbanisation in cities. If you managed urbanisation very well, urbanization contributes the highest percent to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). If your cities were productive, your GDP would increase.

Nigeria hasn’t done a single master plan ever- since they endorsed it. You can’t tell a white man that your cities haven’t a plan they won’t believe you. Planning goes from the bigger to the smaller. A town planner doesn’t work from the small pieces and hoping that you would merge, you must look at the bigger picture as a professional.

If the Lagos state governor goes any conference in the world today, how many plans does he have to carry along if he wants to talk about metropolitan Lagos? The model city plans in Lagos is a disservice to Lagos state government and an embarrassment to the people. The government would have no other choice than to complete the small plans they have started, merge it and see what the picture would look like.

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