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“Physical planning must anticipate increase in population’

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Nigerians crowd population<br />PHOTO: LUCY LADIDI ELUKPO


PROF. LEKE ODUWAYE is the former Dean, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, University of Lagos. He is a town planner, architect with speciality in urban land use. He spoke to VICTOR GBONEGUN on the necessity to develop cities that anticipate, care for huge population inflow and setting up of local government planning permit authority, to mitigate delays in getting planning approvals from government and other issues.

Population growth rate in most of the city centres in Nigeria often outstretch available infrastructure following high rate of urban migration. What should authorities do to create a symmetry balance between the two?
The challenge we have is that authorities don’t plan especially when it comes to public affairs. There is need to prioritise physical planning that anticipates increase in population inflow and making provisions to accommodate new settlers in the city. Planning is like a commitment.

If you have a master plan for a city, after approval by the state executive council, it is supposed to be taken to the state’s House of Assembly to legislate on it. That will now form the basis for land use. However, because politicians want to use their own discretion for land use, they are always reluctant to plan due to the fact that from the initial presentation of master plan to them, they know where the plan will end. Because of the nature of Nigeria, we have very few cities where there are economic opportunities that could lead to real prosperity.

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We did a research recently for National University Commission (NUC) on Nigerian megacities in the next 25 years, at the end we ended up with three, Lagos, Kano and Abuja. To draw balance, we picked Port Harcourt, Enugu and Ibadan in their various regions where we have economic prosperity. In megacities, it is not the population of about 10 million people that matters but the quality of the cities in terms of its affluence, good infrastructure, high quality security, good and decent houses not slums and good health care that are not too expensive, those are the big issues.

Where you have economic prosperity, people migrate naturally. It is just like sugar and ants. In good cities where you see that some people are genuinely homeless, authorities make provisions for them, to rehabilitate them somewhere and find a means to make them key into the economic structure.

For example, if you anticipate that the people coming into Lagos are likely to be jobless, and then we should think of what to do, to make them have something doing when they come in, even if it is in the informal sector. Through such thinking, government will turn them into an asset and at the same time, you must think of where they would live. Master plan takes care of all these because data are collected on migration, areas where people are under-utilised and what could bring better economic returns to the city. City is not a Casino where you do ‘Try your luck’ because if you don’t have what it takes, you will burn your fingers and turn a criminal and the law will catch up with you. For you to migrate into a city, make sure you have all it takes to fit into it. Is either you are bringing your capital to set up an investment or you have an uncle that would accommodate you and have a plan of what to do overtime.

Cities that want to prosper can’t give everything for free or else, it will run down. Cities can subsidise some things, for example, transportation especially a city like Lagos. To solve the problems of megacities, planning must go beyond the boundary of the state. If you want to solve the problem of Lagos Megacity, you must think of Mowe, up to Redeemed Camp because solutions to the problems are beyond the territorial boundary of Lagos State.

There have been concerns on plan-less state of majority of Nigerian cities and lack of efficient spatial land use planning amid the existence of experts in town planning. Why is this so?
It is a reflection of lack of good understanding of how cities should develop physically or refusal of government to understand it. Aside from Abuja, the power to plan cities lies on state government but as at today you can count the number of state capitals with masters plan.

Some state capitals don’t even have at all, those that have, theirs could be expired master plans and there is no point trying to implement an expired master plan. An average master plan supposed to last for 20 years but because of the dynamics of urbanisation, you have to review it every five years because there could be a major shift from what was envisaged. There could be a political decision from somewhere, which could be negative or positive and could distort the master plan. The review will give room for reappraisal to see if there is a distortion in any part and how to re-align it so that the city could still be balance. Once there is no balance in the city structure, there will be problem in its configuration. It takes an average of six to twelve months to prepare city master plan because you have to collect large volume of data, process it and visit everywhere, apply technology and other things.

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Most buildings in the city centre are converted to other uses due to economic factor. The owners realise that they can make more money if they give out those buildings. We need a situation whereby each senatorial district will have a master plan for more prosperity. The more you configure your cities through planning, the more prosperity that will come into it because there would be better interaction, people will know where lands are available for a particular use and buy into it, government will be able to construct road in advance and prioritise which road is important.

I would rather blame the professional groups, which are more of pressure group because they are not doing enough to press hard on government on the need for master plans. If the Nigerian urban and regional planning law is implemented, we will be looking for town planners from outside the country to come and work with us.

We realised recently that town planners and consultants don’t even have jobs. Governments don’t see the need to spend huge money on developing master plan. They would rather spend such money on what people could see. We can begin to use the model of estate developers to get more master plan. If you call a dredging company to come and sand-fill an area, you won’t pay but after the sand-fill, the area can be divided and shared. The company will now decide either to sell or develop it. Is not that we don’t have planners, but is just that the opportunities are not there because of the nature of governance.

As the lead in the African urbanization dynamics hub of University of Lagos, what does this position imply and how has it impacted urban designs in Lagos and Nigeria at large?
What we have been able to do in University of Lagos through the sustainable cities and African urbanisation research clusters is that we have been able to form a group of specialists. We realised that some fields in urbanisation have professional settings and they begin to think that they can solve problems alone but the nature of urbanisation is so wide that you can call it, ’A no-man Knows it all field’. I can tell you that it is the entertainers; musicians and artiste that actually run the cities.

So how to solve urbanization problems belong to so many fields and that is why academics comes into play. That is why in this clusters we have variables, which are actually shaping the cities, and that are what we are researching on. The centre research into how significant is the contributions of the variables to shaping the city. It is a little bit beyond professionalism.

We expect that by the time we come out with the research, the professionals, government to pick their own and later turn some of them to policy and later legislation for it to be a law. People say, academics always come with theories but we need some theories to be able to solve society problems. In that group we identified factors shaping the cities and we have grouped it into different areas. We are now talking about the need for cities to be resilient, why is it that we have failures in cities in terms of transportation, flooding, fire hazards and these things happen in developing and developed world.

Cities are having shocks and so we have to make our cities to develop the capacity for resilience and be able to withstand shocks because shocks are things we don’t anticipate. What is important is for the cities to re-bounce back within a short time, maintain the status quo and continue running as if nothing happens. We should build that factor into our city mechanism. There could be economic shock in cities like during elections, people are mopping up money and after elections, things will be very dull because the money are kept somewhere in the hands of people. That is an urban shock.

The centre is also researching into sustainable urban transportation, cities and smart housing, city development policy, land use dynamics in cities/population dynamics of Lagos, nature of governance, level of infrastructures, accessibility to cities, environmental changes in cities, and smart cities, among others.

We have been having interactions with practitioners, key stakeholders meetings in the area of urban dynamics with built environment professionals and representative from the languages with regards to language engineering. We have also been able to make recommendations to government. We have advised the Lagos state government that there is need for a planning museum where people would see the trends of development in Lagos and other comparable cities in other parts of the world which could give those in authority inspiration on what needs to be achieved and we have also made recommendations on the need for a planning summit where unbiased discussion could be engendered for the progress of the city. Policy makers appear to be reluctant in going for planning summit and we are beginning to suspect that summit may lightly bring light to so many things.

We have been organising conferences on smart cities, construction summit at faculty level where will invite policy makers, those in government and as researchers, we disseminate information to them through such avenues. Also our centre for housing of the university is an area too, through which we interact and disseminate information.

Land administration and management in Nigeria is still highly centralized. What kinds of reforms do you think would help the nation to reap huge benefit from this resource?
Including the land use decree as part of the constitution might not really be the problem but the process of changing anything in the constitution has remained the major bottleneck for land administration. Once you know that you are the owner of a property, you can use your discretion to do so many things on it, acquire, set up administration on it and lay down the process of transaction on it.

I am in support of the need for Land Use Act to be part of the constitution because if you look at our history, imagine situations where families own land and determine the use. Urban areas are like products, if you strangulate it, you will not reap the benefits but if you have cities that work either in terms of investment friendliness, entertainment and tourism, people will migrate, government will make money and there will be prosperity. But if you have a situation where people just hold on to land, do anything they like on it, you can imagine what will happen to our cities, if not that government make decision on what should be done on land.However, we have a lot of abuse from government, which use the opportunity of its power to acquire land that they don’t even need. Government should let go some land, which it has acquired.

Essentially, planning permit process in Nigeria is associated with a lot of unnecessary bottlenecks and gaps between the approving/monitoring authorities and the public. How do we establish a balance in this situation? Which areas need to be strengthened?
This is another unfortunate distortion. I think what led to that is our level of development but that notwithstanding; there is the need to find a way out. One of the problems of our construction sector, is the nature of our land tenure which is such that you buy land in piece meal, plot by plot and you just call a bricklayer who might be the engineer and at the same time other professionals rolled into one and before you know, we will start to have building collapse and so government need to regulate approval process.
To strengthen approval process, planning should be taken to the local level because it is actually a local process, you can’t just have an office for planning that is centralised, and there should be synergy between the states’ planning office and local planning authority. Local planning authority should be established and the head should a staff of local government service commission. The official will definitely know the terrain and would be responsible for local development.

Also, that will curb the need to take documents to Alausa, in the state capital before getting approvals done. The major problem is that when you submit a plan for instance at Ikorodu for approval, they will have to bring it to Ikeja for scrutiny, thereafter, they will take it back to Ikorodu. In the process, some files may not be found.We have also being preaching for the computerisation of the process but somehow there have been problems in its use. For example, the problem of electricity and the technology, even if you deploy technology, as long as the human beings are not ready to be efficient, there would be problem even if you deploy technology.

A major cause of the delay is the way planning approval papers move. Also, too many things are linked to planning like the issue of tax, but government also need to generate fund. We are in a society where people don’t fulfil their obligations voluntarily and sometimes short change authorities and so government too, has to just find a way to make them do it.

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Traffic management has become a big issue in cities like Lagos. What should be the role of town planners?
It all depends on planning because planning is too fundamental for the survival of the city. The most chaotic cities with traffic problem are the advanced cities of the New York, Beinji, London and Paris. By nature of cities, there would be traffic. Mechanisms that would not encourage people to bring their cars to the road should also be designed by government to decongest the busy axis. This should be part of ways to manage traffic. We have to really come up with management mechanisms that work in the cities without putting sentiments into it.

More investment could be made on water transportation with enough room for subsidy. People would be able to move through water, transport their goods through water and less congestion on the road.The professionals should encourage citizens to stick to development controls mechanisms, shun undue conversion of properties for commercial use. They are not supposed to give out properties for uses that are not in conformity with the master plan. The major issue in urban dynamics is not the law but the economics. The citizens must also ensure discipline in the way the roads are used in urban centre.

Most of the states governments are not creating new towns to complement existing cities. What should town planners and those in the academics do to bring about the needed change?  
The professional bodies have a lot to do. They need to enlighten government and put pressure on authorities at every level on the need for planning. If we have satellite towns servicing our cities, it’s going to reduce pressure on the main city. They professional bodies have to throw ideas to government on finance mechanisms it could adopt in achieving this. Looking at various ways to finance preparation of master plans will help to address the issue.

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