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‘We will digitise assets to generate land-based taxes’

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Matane

Alhaji Ahmed Matane is the Chairman, Technical Support Team for the preparation of Niger State Urban Policy and Secretary to the State Government. He spoke to Property & Environment Editor, CHINEDUM UWAEGBULAM on the critical issues surrounding urban development policy and affordable housing.

Niger State Government last year inaugurated a committee saddled with the responsibility of monitoring effectively the process of preparation and validation of the State Urban Development Policy (SUP), what has been the outcome of the process?
I have the privilege of chairing the 32-member Technical Support Team (TST), whose primary function is to guide the stakeholders in all the 25 Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the state towards producing a State Urban Policy (SUP) that sets out an effective and sustainable path for developing and modernizing the state; addressing its development challenges, and generating individual and collective prosperity for all Nigerlites.

The TST has been able to identify and sensitise the stakeholders in all the LGAs and got them involved in the generation of the data/evidence that formed the basis for the SUP. We are targeting the end of April 2020 to produce a draft of the policy. This will be presented to the stakeholders for review and validation in a Niger State Urban Forum. The draft policy will be presented to the Executive Council for approval, and presentation to Niger State House of Assembly for enactment into law.

The bottom-up and stakeholder-driven approach adopted by TST has given many more stakeholders, the opportunity to join the process, at different stages. This had tended to slightly delay the scheduled activities toward the formulation of the policy. Otherwise, the share number of stakeholders involved has helped to ensure that there is a shared understanding among Nigerlites, of the individual and collective responsibilities and benefits for all in effective implementation of the SUP.

You may be interested to know that the motivation to prepare the Niger State Urban Policy came from Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, Governor of Niger State when he articulated his vision for Niger State at an international conference on National Urban Policy in Paris, France in May 2017. When he assumed duty as the Governor of Niger State in May 2015, he came to the conclusion that the effectiveness and sustainability of our towns and cities are hinged on their level of good governance, especially transparency and accountability to their residents; and their ability to operate on a self-sustaining basis.

The current over-reliance of the states and local governments in Nigeria, on the monthly federal allocation has been such that their economic potentials have remained undeveloped with inadequate efforts at achieving internal resource mobilization. Fiscal transfers from the Federation account have tended to make the management of the affairs of the two tiers of sub-national government top-down, substantially excluding the residents and other stakeholders in key decisions.

I am convinced that we need a profound paradigm shift that builds good understanding, mutual respect and a sustainable partnership between the state government and the residents of our towns and cities. This will enable them to demonstrate local ownership and contribute resources to pay their equitable share of the cost of service provision and to instil in them proprietary pride in the communities, town and cities.

How will the SUP ensure that the resources of the state especially, land for urban development is used efficiently and effectively for the present and future generations without unnecessarily depleting good agricultural land?
The key objective of the policy is to enable the state and local governments to operate on a self-sustaining basis such as to run the state and councils as a business with a human face. This is in addition to becoming transparent and accountable to their residents.

You may be aware that Niger State has the largest land mass in the country put at 76,000 square kilometres. The social and economic development of the state is going to be predicated on judicious utilization of its land asset. This will involve partnership with the private sector from within and outside Nigeria for largescale agriculture with complimentary value-addition facilities, that integrates the local farmers into the process. We will, in addition, digitize the land asset of the state to ensure effective and transparent utilisation and generation of land-based taxes at the local government level in particular.

What are the core issues to be addressed by the state urban policy? Do you foresee sustainable partnership between the state government and the residents in towns and cities?
There are ten core issues to be addressed by the policy. These include Integrated and balanced territorial development; inclusive, productive and competitive economy; effective land governance; urban security and safety; strengthening urban-rural linkages; resilient infrastructure and services; sustainable transportation and mobility; urban resilience, climate change mitigation and adaptation; smart cities strategies. The policy is developed through effective bottom-up and stakeholder-driven approach that builds good understanding, mutual respect and sustainable partnership between the state government and the residents of our towns and cities. Accordingly, a sustainable partnership among the stakeholders will be the basis for implementing the policy, ensuring the individual and collective prosperity for all Nigerlites. We already have a very good start with the stakeholders unanimously adopting the following as a motto for the state- “Equity in Development: A State for all Nigerlites”.

How will the state pool private funds to execute some of these projects lined up or recommended under SUP? What support are you expecting from development partners in this programme?
We will develop the capacity of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to be able to prepare bankable projects that can attract grants, concessional funding, investors from Nigeria and beyond. The government will also be able to establish a mutually beneficial partnership with the private sector that will enable us to attract finance, include Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), and expertise from all parts of the world to drive the social and economic development of the state.

Right now we are fortunate to attract grant from the South Korean government, who has also requested the World Bank and Cities Alliance to participate in the process of preparing our policy and to finance bankable projects that will come out of the policy.

The state shares a common boundary with Abuja and several slums are emerging along your side of the divide, what impacts will this new policy have in the urban development of your towns and cities such as Suleja close to the Federal Capital Territory?
There are also emerging slums on the Abuja side of the border. However, the slums on our side of the border have a lot to do with the fact that Abuja has not been able to provide mass affordable housing for the vast majority of its workers. Up to 1.5 million people commute to Abuja daily from Suleja, towns and villages around it. We have embarked on the development of a Smart City in Suleja to provide modern, affordable housing for our people and for Abuja workers. This is in addition to embarking on comprehensive urban renewal projects too, among others, improve the quality of life, wellbeing of the poor and low-income families in the area. Above all, we will be vigorously promoting the establishment of a Metropolitan Development and Management System to cover Niger State-Abuja-Nasarawa State. This will enable Niger and Nasarawa States to partner with Federal Capital Development Authority to develop socioeconomic and infrastructure projects that will enhance the development of the three entities.

Like other states, the development of mass and affordable housing for the teeming population has remained a major challenge. How do plan to use the policy in changing the narrative?
Niger State government will harness the tremendous expertise, experience of the private sector; the seemingly abundant concessional funding from the Development Finance Institutions to develop bankable mass and affordable housing for all Nigerlites. The government will eliminate bottlenecks associated with the other housing components such as land, infrastructure, building materials and labour.

The SUP itself will be the most powerful tool for marketing the state and its commitment to forge a mutually beneficial partnership with the private investors within and outside Nigeria. There is a profound determination and commitment, by the state government, to develop a housing delivery system in the state that will operate on a self-sustaining basis.

Nigeria’s path to sustainable development is through green economy. What part will your state play through the SUP in ensuring green growth and development in public and private investments?
The policy contains a commitment of the state government to pursue a green economic development in the State. This will enable us to reduce environmental risk, ecological scarcity, and institutionalise sustainable development, resilience, social justice, and equity. The target of the state government is to ensure that growth in employment and income is driven by public and private investment into such sectors as infrastructure, value-added agriculture and building assets that allow reduced carbon emissions, pollution, prevent loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

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