Built environment experts lament deplorable condition of Nigerian cities

—Say over 1000 Nigerian cities are environmentally distressed

Built environment experts have lamented the deplorable conditions of some Nigerian cities, saying over 1,000 of them are environmentally distressed owing to issues such as provision of inadequate infrastructure, lack of planning and disregard for environmental laws.

This is due to many factors ranging from absence of planning to lack of appropriate infrastructural facilities among others.

Lamenting the deplorable situation, the immediate past President, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, NITP, Mr. Steve Onu, said health conditions of some of the urban centres in Nigeria were nothing to write home about.

According to Onu, the distressed nature of these cities is due to absence of planning, lack of sanitation, potable water, proper drainage, power supply and other facilities across the cities, insisting that most of the settlements were supposed to be planned with facilities.

He disclosed that people just built houses without approved layouts, necessary design, building approvals, and others, adding that some locations in the urban centres have no water supply and good drainage system. “Instead of addressing the electricity problem, the government allowed individuals to be importing generators thereby polluting the environment with noise and fumes. In some locations, boreholes are being drilled indiscriminately without any regard for the environment.”

While emphasising the need to improve the quality of living in both rural and urban centres where 100 per cent of Nigerians live, he warned that the nation cannot continue to create slums in the name of development. “Those who travel by road across this country should tell us whether the environmental state of Okene in Kogi State is what it should be if we are serious,” he queried.

He warned that before granting approvals to build residential estates by developers, government must ensure that they will guarantee the provision of these services. “Government should take the bull by the horn and ensure that settlements are planned with facilities. Instead of spending N1.3 trillion per annum to subsidize Premium Motor Spirit (petrol), this amount should be ploughed into housing to improve the quality of lives of residents of the existing urban settlements.

“By this, a lot of jobs would have been created, poverty would have been reduced and welfare of the people would have been enhanced,” he stated. Former President, National Association of Town Planning Consultants, ATOPCON, Mr. Moses Ogunleye, corroborated Onu, saying that the nation’s cities were environmentally sick, pointing out that there was no problem in creating new cities, but that the existing urban centres must be regenerated.

He explained that while it is costly to build new settlements, he said regeneration and renewal of old cities would cost less. “New settlements will cost more because you have to look for new land, build new infrastructure, provide workplaces and other amenities”, Ogunleye said.

In his response, former Managing Director, Lagos State Development and Property Company, LSDPC, Anthonio John-Bede, said there was need to create a minimum of 15 new cities that could accommodate one million people in 10 years, pointing out that the cities should have residential estates, industrial parks, technical parks, Agric parks, primary and secondary schools, post- secondary and university, general hospital green parks, sports centres among others.

“It should be created by the federal and state governments but driven by private sector and international investments,” he said. Vice-Chairman, Council of Registered Builders, CORBON, Samson Opaluwah, stated that a holistic approach should encompass a strategy to slow down the massive rural to urban migration, which has been the root cause of slums.

He pointed out that Nigerians would love to stay in their rural communities if opportunities and quality of infrastructure in the urban centres are extended to them. He said: “While I appreciate the need for urban renewal and reclamation of our city slums, a futuristic solution will be to reorder our priorities and make the rural communities liveable by our teeming population.

He noted that concentration of opportunities in the urban centres was the nectar that keeps attracting huge population to the nation’s cities and daily expansion of slums, adding that the elites were the beneficiaries and proponents of the concept.

Opaluwah corroborated John-Bede, stating that development of cluster-grid of 80-100-kilometre radius was recommended for the rapid development of Nigeria, adding that it should be an independent cluster with housing, local relevant small scale industries, a school and a health centre around farming communities could be crystallised in every 80km radius nationwide.

According to him, these small self-sustaining communities could then be networked and supported by the states and the Federal Government, adding that housing in these communities should be tailored to the locally available building materials and that labour be sourced locally.

He advised that housing as important as it is, must be situated in the context of national development to be given a priority of place, adding that it should be used as an economic enabler which when continuously pursued, would lift Nigeria out of underdevelopment.

Former Managing Director, Federal Housing Authority, FHA, Prof. Mustapha Zubai, said there was necessity to, in practical terms, see housing and urban development as two sides of the same coin.

He said: “We are acting as though it is not our concern and are hardly paying any attention to the unplanned and uncontrolled urbanisation taking place in virtually all our towns and cities, with attendant consequences on the virtual collapse in the provision of urban infrastructure especially water and electricity supply, waste management and urban mobility.”

He noted that Nigerians were sadly building brand new housing estates that are simply adding to the already endemic slums in virtually all our cities. Another equally plausible scenario, he said, was that the cheapest houses the nation could produce might be too expensive for the army of poor people inhabiting the cities, estimating that at least 60 per cent of the estimated Nigerian population of 198 million are poor.

The professor said: “Our governments have, over the years, by omission or commission, managed to turn our cities and towns into breeding ground of the poor. I strongly believe that time has come for our esteemed housing experts to engage our urban development experts in a constructive dialogue with the support and constructive participation of the Federal Government, represented by our Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing.”

The basis for the dialogue, he said, would be the cardinal National Housing and Urban Development Policies, 2012; the New Urban Agenda which Nigeria was a signatory to; and Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs.

Kingsley Adegboye

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