Discussing Town Planning, Abuse of The Abuja Master Plan

by Naija.Com

Editor’s note: The columnist, Japheth Omojuwa, was invited to host the Town Planners’ Week event in Abuja. In this write-up, he focuses on what has been said about city and state planning in general, and also on how the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government could deal with the challenges in Abuja for us to see our capital thrive.

Town planners gathered in Abuja for the “Town Planners’ Week” organized by the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, FCT chapter. One was the MC and moderator of the panel sessions. Listening to the papers presented, the panelists and the contributions from the audience, one could easily see why Nigeria, and specifically the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, is in the mess it is.

Town planners actually do exist in Nigeria, they create value by working out solid effective urban plans across the country. But with politicians often about doing things their way, these town planners have now come to see that getting their job done is a lot more about playing the politics right as it is about drawing out the right plan for Nigeria’s troubled urban areas.

Nigeria in the “Era of Change”

As expected, the Abuja master plan came up for discussion a lot. One of the most telling ideas offered by the town planners was the one on the need for the authorities to make copies of the master plan available to all citizens while also mounting a billboard with a map of each district’s master plan; that way, whenever the master plan gets abused by anyone (private citizens, public servants or even the government itself), it would be clear to all and sundry that an abuse was taking place. It remains to be seen whether the authorities will take up the challenge of truly instituting change in the Federal Capital Territory administration process.

“Urban and Regional Planning In The Era of Change” as the theme of the 2016 Town Planners’ Week certainly resonates with the need to refocus attention on Abuja’s fast-fading state of order. The Abuja master plan has suffered several setbacks since the end of the Obasanjo administration in 2007 when the current governor of Kaduna state, Nasir El-Rufai, was minister. Though only about eight years ago, the FCT’s master plan has been set back the sort of determination seen when politicians are about their own end, whether or not if such ends are in the interest of the general public.

One of the obvious challenges town planners and indeed town planning itself faces is the political challenge. It would help, without a doubt, to have a minister of the FCT who understands the essence of town planning and commits to righting the wrongs and the abuses suffered by the Abuja master plan over the years.

Real people talk about real opportunities

Garba Kwamkur is a seasoned town planner who is also the chairman of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners FCT Chapter. Speaking
on the theme of the Town Planners’ Week sessions, Mr. Kwamkur said the papers and panels focused on the need for attitudinal change on issues, the need for town planning to step into the plate of Nigeria’s development and a chance to highlight the challenges faced by town planners across the country. Mr. Kwamkur said that the sessions were organized to better engage government at all levels, but that wasn’t very much on the cards as the government’s presence was minimal.

Dr. Kingsley Ogboi, the incorruptible Yahaya Yusuf who just retired from FCT’s development Control, town planner Umar Shuaibu all presented papers. Dr. Ogboi of the Center for Environmental Management and Control, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, presented a paper titled: “Urban and regional planning as a veritable tool for delivering democratic dividends.” He told the audience Nigeria’s cities were changing at a fast pace. He said that in the absence of planning, these cities were bound to be chaotic and unsustainable.

According to Dr. Ogboi: “This has serious political consequences. With the promulgation of the Urban and Regional Planning (URP) Law of 1992 (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1992), planning institutions of Nigeria have gradually been strengthened but the mounting urban problems have become more obvious.”

Though planning has partially gained professional legitimacy at the traditional master plan and other regulatory tools at the lower levels. Furthermore, in some states the planning system remains surprisingly centralised with the grassroots partially edged out.

Other presenters spoke around issues like the urbanization of poverty, a reflection of growing slums in the cities and the continued reality of rural-urban migration which has now left the country more populated in urban areas, with all its attendant social challenges.

Town planner Umar Shuaibu particular dwelled on the need for advocacy. He stressed the imperatives of advocacy planning in the acquisition and development of lands in the FCT. Advocacy would of course not count for much as long as the political end is not sorted. One thing is clear, planners need politicians to ensure the sanctity of their ideas and commitment to planned cities. Whether that cooperation would happen, especially with respect to the FCT, remains to be seen.

Buhari and the future of town planning

President Buhari will name his ministers in a matter of days. One of the portfolios to be announced is the minister of the FCT. There are fewer people who would be interested in that particular office as much as the town planners who met in Abuja and are scheduled to meet in Ilorin soon for the national Town Planners’ Week.

Nigeria’s urban and regional planning challenges were highlighted this past week. One hopes that the public servants who were conspicuously absent at the sessions will look out for the papers and the communiqué presented at the end of the deliberations. They’d prove useful as we define new rules of engagement for our cities and indeed the country at large.

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