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‘Quackery in practices cut across all professions’




Non -implementation of existing planning policies has been identified as the bane of town planning practice in Nigeria. In this interview with BERTRAM NWANNEKANMA, President of the Association of Town Planning Consultants of Nigeria (ATOPCON), and fellow, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, AFOLABI OLAIDE ADEYEMI gives insight on the association’s effort to reverse the trend.

Like any other profession, quacks have infiltrated town-planning profession. What new strategy has ATOPCON adopted to standardize the services of professionals and edge out quacks?
Quackery in practices cut across all professions in the built environment; engineering, medicine, law and others.  At ATOPCON, we have committees that standardize our practices, that is Practice Committee, Education/Research Committee, Membership Committee among others.

We have registered list of member firms, which we update periodically and published as at when due especially, when new member firms are inducted. This we circulate among stakeholders particularly and agencies of government.

In most states, movement of documents through multiple offices have not allowed quick approval of building plans, how can the states’ planning authorities fast- track their approval processes and ensure its completed within 30 working days?
Though bureaucracies in government hampers quick approval of developmental projects, it is however necessary that due diligences be exercised in some instances, especially in developmental projects that are likely to have wide ranging impacts on the sustainability of the environment.

The same cannot be said of other projects with less or no negative impacts on the environment. Project initiators or developers too, also have faults ranging from inadequate documentation and delays in providing officials with same. When these challenges are sorted when the issue arises, the process of securing building plans is easier and quicker.

In most suburbs, illegal structures emanate daily and bring the activities of town planners to question. What role can ATOPCON members play in building control in Nigerian cities?
People build or develop property for different uses out of social, economic, psychological and physical needs. When the regulatory agencies of government fail to do the needful before people starts building, what you have is creating slums in new areas, which ordinarily ought to have been properly planned.

There are master plans/model city plans for different areas and the approval order within these plans guide the direction and mode of development within the areas for which the master plan was created.

Principally, aside Lagos and Abuja, and few other states, Urban and Regional Planning Laws have not been fully implemented. Some states government have not shown the commitment and drive that is needed to propel planning to its pride of place in the country. There are many provisions in the planning law, which the government itself contravenes.

How then will the citizens abide by the law, if the government itself does not abide by it? At ATOPCON ours is advisory role to government and also to sensitize and educate the general public on the need to have a planned and sustainable environment.

The incidents of building collapse continue to stare us in the face, and signal that quality is being sacrificed. What is the place of ATOPCON in fostering quality during consultancy services?
First, I think the roles of professionals in the built environment need be understand by the general public and put in context with the issue of building collapse. Secondly, there is the need for the general public to engage professionals’ in developmental activities and not quacks.

As regards the place of ATOPCON in fostering quality consultancy services, that’s really our watchword and guiding principle in changing the face of planning practice for sustainable development.

A major challenge of urban and regional planning practice in Nigeria is that the general public is yet to fully appreciate the key roles and importance of town planning as a profession in the built environment.

At best they see Town Planners as development officers that marks X on building for demolition.  Another challenge we face is the high influx of other professions into the town planning profession. For instance, most land surveyors engage in the design of layout plans even when the law categorically vests the power to prepare a layout plan to the registered town planner. Also, some architects, draftsmen and numerous quacks interfere with our practice.

ATOPCON recently raised fundamental issues on the activities of foreign consultants in your field. Have such practices by the tiers of government changed? If not, how are you addressing the issue and what are the challenges?
There has been incursion of foreign firms in the practice of not only urban and regional planning in Nigeria but also in other professions in the built environment.

There are hurdles or requirements that such firms need to meet in line with laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It’s only when laws are waived for them by people that are suppose to know better and juicy projects are given to them. When the capacity to do such job exists locally that makes people to cry foul.

At ATOPCON, we continually engage government and agencies of government on the need to engage “Nigerian consultants” in jobs where we have capacity to do and also collaborate with foreign consultants when such is required.
My advice to Nigeria government is that they should use our Nigerian consultants in carrying out town planning projects in the country. It is quite worrisome that we have capable professionals in the country; still the government will bring in foreign planners to plan our environment for our people. This leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, as a foreigner would never plan for our country and our people better than we are able to do.

How will you assess Urban and Regional Planning Laws in Nigeria?
The profession of urban and regional planning is anchored on enabling laws particularly, Urban and Regional Planning Decree No 88 of 1992, which are domesticated in all states of the Federation. These laws provide the framework with which we practice. When a law is passed, the public is well enlightened and enforcement of the law is carried out, that law would thrive. On the other hand, if there were no proper enlightenment and enforcement of a law, the law would never achieve the purpose for which it was enacted. Planning laws in Nigeria have played their roles and will keep keeping playing those roles if the enforcement agencies, departments and stakeholders live up to the onus placed on them for better enforcement.

Urban and regional planning laws are basically provided in order to guide and control the excesses of people concerning the use of land and the general environment, so I would say that some sections of the laws need to be reviewed because planning is dynamic and changes over time. These changes have to be incorporated so as to meet the planning needs of the people and also be at par with contemporary developments in planning.

Will you say that Nigeria has good planning policies?
Yes. The major problem lies with the implementation of planning policies. No matter how beautiful policies are, whether emanating from the public or private practitioners or from the government, its acceptance and implementation is always at the discretion of the decision makers. On the other hand also, there are building codes relating to setbacks/airspaces of buildings; height of buildings; permissible use(s); parking requirement in a building, a huge proportion of our housing stock and other developments contravene these standards.

What prospects of urban and regional planning in the country?
With our population and its attendant pressure on land and its resources for various developments, the prospects of urban and regional planning in Nigeria are huge. There are prospects in the area of smart cities; advocacy planning; green cities; equitable cities and parking. These prospects are can only blossom with the right environment and policies. Also, with the commitment of various state governments on the ideals of physical planning and sustainable development, the profession would thrive better, living up to its reputation in other climes as a value adding profession.

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