There is urgent need to review urban, regional planning law, says Atebije
Mr. Nathaniel Atebije is the president, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP). He spoke to CHINEDUM UWAEGBULAM on the need by government and policy makers to consider more compact land use distribution to reduce travel times, as well as engage town planners to organise physical environment.
NITP members use planning to revitalise physical facilities in towns, cities, and metropolitan areas. Can you assess your contributions in the management of the physical planning and environment in the country?
Physical planning is the articulation of thoughts and ideas to create orderly development of human settlements. It attempts to balance the competing demands for the use of land by various social and economic needs of members of a community (which may span from a rural community to urban spaces). Physical planning is preventive, prescriptive and curative. It can address issues of poor and conflicting land uses manifested in slums, environmental chaos and anarchy or by its futuristic tendency to prevent incompatible uses. It is also a basic social service that government owes citizens. It is, therefore, the responsibility of government to engage town planners, who are trained and have requisite competences to plan and manage physical development of settlements.
The competences of town planners have not been fully exploited because most people at the policy-making level do not understand the purpose of planning. Town planners have not been adequately involved in the management of physical planning and environment in Nigeria.
The first activity needed to manage physical development is planning. But how many towns and rural settlements have masterplans? Very few indeed. Where plans do not exist, response to management of physical spaces would be spontaneous, reactionary and impulsive. On the whole, except for Abuja and a few other urban areas, the impacts of town planners have not been sufficiently felt in the development of settlements and communities. Much needs to be done by government and policy-makers to engage town planners to organise the physical environment of this country.
The Nigerian Urban and Regional Law of 2004 (as amended) has attained a near zero implementation. What has been the problem? Do you think or subscribe to opinion that it should be reviewed? Why is such step necessary?
The major problem, which has frustrated the implementation of the Nigerian Urban and Regional Planning Law, is the lack of political will on the side of government. The Federal Government, which would have blazed the trail in the implementation, has done virtually nothing to enforce the provisions of the law.
The basic institutions and structures, which would have been created at the federal level such as the National Urban and Regional Planning Commission is yet to be established. This agency of government would have been responsible for preparing the National Physical Development Plan from which lower order levels of physical plans would have been derived.
Thirty years after the law was enacted, nothing has been done about creating this agency. Meanwhile, the Urban and Regional Development Department of the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing has been battling to perform the tasks meant for this agency; and has not been able to make any reasonable progress. This plan has been on the drawing table for the past 12 years.
Further to the failure of government at the federal level to create relevant institutions, most state governments have not domesticated the law. The few that made efforts made laws, which were corrupted by interests and intrigues, which are inimical to effective implementation. To make matters worse, some state governments, which domesticated the law, are now being beguiled to abandon it for another instrument. A serious case of this is Kwara State, where the Urban and Regional Planning Law was repealed to give way to geographic information system (GIS) law. It is a grand demonstration of deceit and ignorance, which needs urgent redress, if only the government would give listening ear to the voice of reason and professionalism.
Other reasons related to the non-implementation of the law are poor funding and insufficient professional personnel. It must also be noted that the law was created with deficiencies from the outset. For example, a good proportion of the law was dedicated to the least function of planning. Development control (which is the last function of planning activities) has over 70 per cent of the provisions of the clauses, while other activities (core planning assignments such as regional and sub-regional planning, urban and rural master planning, sector, district, subject, action area and neighbourhood planning) that should precede development control account for less than 30per cent. There is an urgent need to review the law to meet contemporary needs of physical and environmental planning in Nigeria.
Currently, some state governments are appointing non-planners to be in charge of Ministries of Physical Planning and Urban Development, how does your Institute view this? Does it conflict with the Nigerian Urban and Regional Law?
There has been a disastrous level of impunity being carried out by policy makers and the political class. There is a general injunction of not putting square pegs in round holes because they will mis-match and be unfit for effective performance. But unfortunately, this is the general practice when it comes to appointment of persons to offices in planning agencies.
It is usually under the deceit that at the top level of appointments, decisions are taken through the advice of professionals at lower cadres. The law provides that at the state level, an urban and regional planning Board shall be established to cater for planning services. It further states in Section 8 that the Board shall comprise of a Chairman, Secretary and a representative of some relevant professions such as town planning, architecture, civil engineering, land surveying, etc.
It specifically states that “…the Chairman referred to in subsection 8 (1) (a) of this section shall have been in professional practice for a minimum of five years and shall have been registered with the Town Planners Registration Council. (3) The Secretary referred to in subsection 8 (1) (f) of this section shall be a registered town planner with a minimum of five years professional practice…”
Unfortunately, most state governments have abused it. For example, in Benue State, the position of the Chief Executive of the Urban Development Board was given to a journalist until recently when an architect was appointed, which is still a violation; and even to head the planning department of the Board in Benue State, a non-registered planner was appointed.
In Kaduna State, a non-planner is the Chief Executive; in Kwara, the planning law was repealed to give way to GIS Law and a non-planner is the Chief Executive; in Bayelsa and Imo States, the job of enforcement in development control has been ceded to task forces, who are not town planners.
Even in the Federal Capital Territory, which should be the image of planning practice in the nation, the Urban and Regional Planning Law has not been domesticated; it relies on the FCDA Law. The Abuja Municipal Management Council, which would have been appropriately constituted to work in this position has severally been headed by administrators (without any knowledge of urban and regional planning) since 2005 when it was created except for when it commenced with Jummai Kwanashie, for only two years and recently by Umar Shuaibu. These infringements on the law abound everywhere across the length and breadth of the country because these appointments are given as rewards for political patronage. Only Lagos State seems to be working in the right direction with the recent steps being taken.
NITP frowns on this violation of the law and has called the attention of the states in question to retract their actions and do the right thing. However, it is painful to observe that the states in violation are not getting the right results and posterity will not hold the governors taking such decisions guiltless.
Urbanisation poses serious challenge to continued existence of cultural heritage sites as physical planning laws and institutions do not give due consideration for their protection and integration to physical plans and development in Nigeria. What’s the solution?
Urbanisation poses serious challenge to the existence of heritage sites where it occurs without a plan and law to guide. Where it occurs in such a manner, I would refer to it as blind urbanisation by which cities grow by impulse and developers invest without considerations to critical elements of the urban fabric such as cultural heritage sites and historic elements.
Another dimension to this problem is the weakness of our traditional systems and institutions. Custodians of tradition and culture through greed have traded with cultural values. They can permit illegalities for monetary gains. But where rational planning is allowed to precede urbanization, such places are preserved.
The Nigerian Urban and Regional Planning Law has made ample provisions from sections 64 to 70 on preservation of places and sites of historic and cultural values. The only way to curtail invasions and destruction of our cultural and heritage sites is to embrace planning, establish laws and institutions to enforce them.
Most Nigerian cities are bedeviled with endemic traffic bottleneck and attendant psychological, social and economic trauma. Can we say this is due to the failure of town planning? Why is there poor level of regulatory and institutions to support town-planning services?
Traffic challenges are common scenes in urban centres where people spend long hours in traffic for commuting. Traffic moves in tides, especially in journey-to-work in the form of morning and evening tides. This is because of the arrangements of landuses. Some places are located as dormitories, while others are work places. When hard separations are made between complementary landuses, transportation and traffic challenges are bound to occur because people will have to travel long distances for their daily activities.
Frustrations occur to many travelers within cities; it has created health problems for some people by increasing blood pressures, even the gaseous emissions from vehicles decrease the quality of the air and the noise from vehicles reduces the ambience and serenity of environments. In many cases, emergency services and rescue operations are defeated for lack of space for such vehicles to pass to attend to emergencies. In the process, lives and properties have been lost.
It is not the failure of planning but the failure to plan. Where there is planning, it is a complete and cyclic process, which gives room for monitoring and evaluation, where considerations are given to trends and appropriate actions are initiated to ensure right results are obtained.
Most administrators believe that widening roads is the solution to traffic bottlenecks in cities. But this is far from the truth. Traffic is a factor of landuse. Where high traffic generating landuses are located without provisions for parking on insufficient road spaces or without functional public transportation in the cities, bottlenecks are to be expected.
It is therefore imperative to begin to consider more compact land use distribution to reduce travel times and for state governments to make provisions for safe and functional public transport systems within cities. The failure to plan lies squarely on policy makers; and that is why our towns and cities are failing and are becoming dreadful to live.
There has been clamour to regulate and standardise the business of real estate development by regulating transactions. Do planners support such move, which would ensure transparency in real estate development? What’s your expectation?
The business of real estate has two major sides such as the title to land and planning regulations on one side and the financial transactions on the other. There are established procedures for acquiring titles to land and there are planning standards and regulations to be met before any legal estate business is contracted. Perhaps, where the problem may be would be on the financial transactions with subscribers.
The proposal of members of estate developers association to constitute themselves into a parallel regulatory body is inconsistent with extant laws and unacceptable to town planners. They cannot re-invent the wheel. In an earlier submission, we made our views known to them on their proposed legislation. They should simply abide by the laws, which are already in place.
What’s your agenda for the Institute? What do you want to do differently to raise awareness about town planning in Nigeria?
Our vision is to create a brighter future for town planners in Nigeria. To widen the horizon of knowledge and practice of urban and regional planning with a view to enhancing sustainable development and improve on the wellbeing of practitioners in all ramifications. We shall build on the successes of the past and our drive is towards achieving Five ‘C’s, which l include but not limited to: continuing on the advocacy project of the Institute; completing the remodeling of NITP/Bawa Bwari House; commencing construction of NITP headquarters project; capacity building for members and staff of the institute and creation of avenues for wealth for the institute and its members.