‘No legal instruments of development control in Delta’
Chief Enoch Ogbo, an executive member and advisor to the Delta State Chapter of the Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria (APBN) is a registered town planner, estate surveyor and valuer. He was an executive chairman of the defunct Bendel State Health Management Board during the administration of late Prof. Ambrose Ali. In this interview with CHIDO OKAFOR, he spoke on several issues in the building sector, especially lack of planning in the country and Delta State in particular.
With several uncontrolled physical developments, are there master plans for the urban centers and towns in Delta State?
The Ibori Administration prepared a Master Plan for Warri-Effurun and its environs in 2000. Unfortunately, there was no public participation during the preparation of the document and so it lacks the “legal requirements” as envisaged in the extant law. Even more importantly there has been no attempt to implement or review the plan, which has become obsolete. The core area of Asaba has a plan but it would appear it has been bastardized and mutilated. Unfortunately in the case of the core areas of Asaba, no sanity has been restored. There is, however, no master plan covering the whole of Asaba, the capital of the state. The ministry officials will tell you that they have prepared Master Plans “in-house” for certain towns but these are not made public, nor subjected to public participation, so we do not know if these claims are true or not. The bottom line is that there are no legal instruments of development control throughout the state. In other words, there is no effective town-planning going on in the state.
Why do we still have building collapses, chaotic and half-hazard developments in spite of existing building laws and regulations?
The issue of building collapse is due to a variety of factors, two of which are lack of encompassing building and planning regulations. The regulations would amongst other details specify for example the processes and procedures for erecting various types of buildings; which professionals should take responsibility for the construction of buildings; and in the event of collapse, the associated penalty, should be heavy to serve as a deterrent. For example, the collapse may be due to negligence by the professional builder or bad structural details designed by the structural engineer. But in the absence of regulations, quacks are also being engaged to erect and construct buildings, which may collapse and they get away with it.
Secondly, very poor quality building materials of all sorts, which are allowed by the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) to flood the Nigerian market coming from both inside and outside the country. It is now virtually impossible to get good quality building materials, ranging from cement, roofing sheets, iron rods, nails, sand and others. A building will collapse if the materials used are of very low quality and substandard no matter the skill/expertise of the professional builder, engineer or architect. There is therefore, urgent need to re-examine the composition, set –up and powers of SON to improve its effectiveness if not replacement at least in the building industry.
The issue of half-hazard development is also extremely disturbing.
In Delta State, for example, there are no prescribed processes and procedures because the urban and regional planning law is being ignored and not implemented. In the absence of a regional physical development plan, master plans for urban areas, cities and towns as well as village plans and layouts, disorderly development is bound to be the order of the day. Development control in all the states is not based on development control instruments and no legal processes or rules are being followed. Hence for example, we have churches approved in densely populated residential areas; poultry and piggery farms, which are non-conforming uses, are allowed within residential neighbourhoods. Petrol filling stations are approved and built to litter everywhere. Factory buildings and warehouses are routinely converted to churches or schools.
In many of our villages, there are no motorable access roads. Our towns and cities are hazardous, unhealthy and unsafe. Thus, without the full implementation of the Urban and Regional Planning Law 2003, coupled with the absence of legal development control instruments, building and planning regulations, the town planners base their decisions on their own “discretion”, in most cases to please the powerful in our society to the disadvantage of the poor. This situation is pathetic, unhealthy and unacceptable.
Regulation is very important in this field. Could you explain how the law protects private and public interest and at the same time creates a balance between the two?
The Law does so in two particular respects: first, the it provides that the agents (Authorities) vested with physical planning functions shall prepare Development Control Instruments such as a regional physical development plan for the state; master plans for the urban centers, and towns as well as village plans and layouts, to the extent that public participation shall be guaranteed. These instruments when approved form the legal basis of economic activity and development control. In other words, all groups as well as individuals in the pluralist society are desirable necessary stakeholders and shall be involved in the preparation of legal instruments of development control. The word “development” in the context of the law has a special meaning in urban and regional planning and is defined as “the carrying out of any building, engineering, mining or other operations in, on, over or under any land or water, or the making of any material or environmentally significant change in the use of land or the demolition of a building, the felling of a tree and the placing of free standing erections for the display of advertisements on the land, and the expression “develop” with its grammatical variations shall be construed accordingly”.
Secondly, the Law provides that building and planning regulations shall be made pursuant to the provisions of the law. Regulations are detailed specifications of standards, procedures and processes that must be adhered to by applicants for development permits. The regulations are necessary to minimize bureaucratic arbitrariness in development control, policing, enforcement and grant of development permits. Thus, every landowner knows or ought to know his rights, duties and obligations under the law, to the extent that in the event of acquisition, extinguishment or appropriation of his interest in favour of public interest, he is entitled to be paid fair and adequate compensation.
Prior to the enactment of the Urban and Regional Planning Law 2003, there was the Town and Country Planning Law (Cap. 165) inherited from the defunct Bendel State. What are the differences between Cap 165 and the present Law?
There are so many differences. The present law in the words of Prof. Amos Otuama, the immediate past Deputy Governor “is very robust” unlike Cap 165, which defined only a few towns in the state as “Declared Planning Areas” and within which town planning activities /development control was carried out. The present Law has extended the scope of town planning activities including preparation of master pans, development control, enforcement, policing, and monitoring to all parts of the state. In addition, the extant law created not only the Urban and Regional Planning Board for the state but also a Local Planning Authority in each of the 25 Local Government Areas in the State. The law also established the Town Planning Tribunal as a body to resolve any conflicts that may arise between private and public interest in the use of land as well as act as a check on bureaucratic abuses of the powers conferred by the law, particularly at the micro-level.
Why are there no visible signs of planning in many rural areas and villages throughout the state?
There are truly no visible signs of planning. Till date almost all the Local Planning Authorities have not been constituted since 2005 when the Law came into force. The Board, which is charged with the responsibility for development control in state, seems to be also in limbo. Under the Extant Law, the town planners in the Ministry of Lands and Survey have no development control powers anywhere in the state, but they are still doing so in what they call “Declared Planning Areas” under the repealed Cap 165.
What is the role of Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria (APBN) in these matters?
The Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria (APBN) consists of almost 30 professional, independent entities duly recognized by the law of the land. One of the major innovations of the Delta State Urban and Regional Planning Law 2003, is that for the first time in our history the Law gives recognition to professional bodies other than the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP) as key stakeholders in the physical planning processes. Thus the law envisages a multi-disciplinary approach to physical planning, to the extent that almost all the professions of the built-environment have representatives in the Board/Local Planning Authorities. These professional bodies are all member bodies of APBN. Even the professional bodies not specifically mentioned in the Law also have roles in the planning process. Thus all the professional bodies have a common and single voice through APBN to advise and appeal to government on these and other matters, which are critical to the development of the state and our survival as a people.
Can you also explain the specific roles of some of these other professionals in the built environment in development control and physical planning?
To start with the origin of modern physical planning is to be found in the Health Acts of Britain, which sought to create a hygienic/clean physical environment, to combat various types of diseases not architecture, civil/municipal engineering or social engineering per se, hence the multi-disciplinary approach that all human activities must relate to the use of land in one way or the other. Take for example you want to build a house, a factory, a school or a shopping mall, you will need to buy the land and therefore the services of an estate surveyor and valuer who should know the land use zone and the parcels of land that are ripe for such development in the master plan. You will need the services of a lawyer to perfect the title documents; also the plot of land must be defined and demarcated by the land surveyor; thereafter, the architect will design the building to certain standards relating to density, height and spatial requirements as specified by the town planner. When the developer eventually applies for Development permit to the Planning Authority, the town planner who is the leader of the team in the Board/Authority will ensure that approval is given for the development to go ahead only after each of these component details have been certified as adequate. Thereafter, the building surveyor/professional builder with the support of the engineer and architect, will take charge to construct and erect the building at the site at minimum cost on the advice of the quantity surveyor with all the necessary set-backs observed.