These are not the best of times for town planning practice as most of the State governments have relegated the issues of cities and towns master planning to the background, and abused physical developments.The Nigerian Urban and Regional Planning Law of 1992 stipulated that every State should embark on preparation of physical development plans at regional, urban and local scales to guide the efficient growth of its settlements. But the reverse is the case as most of them have ignored it, leading to rapid manifestation of slum conditions.
Conference of Directors and Heads of Town Planning Organisations in Nigeria recently confirmed the development and decried the generally poor level of regulatory and institutional instruments that are available to support town planning practice in Nigeria, and observed that most settlements do not have physical development plans to guide their growth and where available their life periods have expired.
They had agreed that preparation and implementation of a mutually agreed National Physical Development Plan (NPDP) should be adopted as one of the tools for integrated physical planning and effective delivery of development benefits to the people of Nigeria.Most States are not adhering to the recommendations and have continued with business as usual. Attempts were made by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) to bridge the gap.
UN Habitat has worked with many states to prepare structure plans for major cities. “All the plans were prepared with strong public/ stakeholder participation to ensure that the priorities and needs of the residents are well understood and adequately provided for in the plans,” according to Kabir Yari, Manager, UN Habitat Support Office in Nigeria.
The agency assisted Anambra, Nasarawa, Osun, kogi, Niger States in the development and adoption of structural plans in major cities. For instance, Awka, Onitsha and Nnewi (Anambra); Lafia, Doma, Karu, Keffi (Nasarawa); Osogbo, Ikirun, Ila Orangun, Ilesa, Ile Ife, Ede, Iwo, Ikire and Ejigbo (Osun); Lokoja, Okenne, Kabba and Dekina (Kogi) a as well as integrated development plan for Minna and Suleja (Niger).
Preparation of urban profiles in ten urban centres, provision of three one-stop youth centres and urban upgrading in the old city of Katsina and formulation and adoption of 20-year Structure Plans in the three participating Cities (Umuahia, Aba, Ohafia in Abia State is still in preliminary stages.
Specifically, the town planners are worried that situation has degenerated. Yari who was a past President, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP) told The Guardian, “Lack of development plans for major urban areas means that the cities will grow in a haphazard and inefficient way. “This makes accessibility difficult, cause in efficient use of land resources and conversion of good agricultural development to urban development. In addition the urban form becomes locked, needing alot of resources to upgrade to planned settlement.
“It is always more cost effective and more efficient to plan in advance, ahead of development. This ensures the development of compact, connected and integrated settlements that are efficient and safe and pleasant to live in. It therefore strongly recommended that all urban areas should have physical development plans to guide their growth.”
According to him, the challenges are many. They include lack of appreciation of the importance of planning, dwindling financial resources for states and local governments and lack of implementing most of the plans already prepared.NITP second Vice President, Mr. Olutoyin Ayinde said, “The moment there’s no balance in development as prescribed by the plan, there will be a tilt toward where development is taking place, which explains why migration takes place from rural to urban, from less developed states to more developed state.
He lamented that the policy makers are not paying attention to planning. “Policy makers and administrators often think that planning is about pieces of paper. What they do not realize is that dreams (of beautiful settlements) first start in the mind as a vision, then they are put on paper to test the feasibility. If you win on paper, you are likely to win on ground.
“A people get the kind of settlements that they deserve. It is necessary to underscore the high level of ignorance, even at the policy level, and that’s where the problem is. There is need for more awareness to put planning, especially physical planning in its rightful place. Organized cities are deliberate; they are not coincidences. It is planning that makes them organized.”
Collaborating the views, Abubakar Sani, a past President, Association of Town Planning Consultants of Nigeria (ATOPCON) revealed that only Abuja has and followed master plan for its physical development. “Even where attempts are made to have a master/structure plans, such plans are abused by the governments, only used as a tool to punish the opposition. Master plans are made to guide physical development but here in Nigeria, our leaders only call for master plan when problem arises. Master plans prevent foreseen problems not to cure problems.
“The master plan for Kaduna is obsolete, even though an attempt was made to renew it but it is not completed. Lack of master plan to guide physical development is like physical development through trial and error. Thereby leading to waste of resources, lives and properties. Town planners are trained to forecast challenges of physical development and provide guidelines for mitigating such challenges. However in Nigeria we just want to see physical development without preparing for it.”
Another town planner, and ATOPCON past President, Moses Ogunleye, lamented that the commitment to implement the master plans have not been there. “Even before it expires, less than 30 per cent of the proposals of the plans are not implemented.”
The NITP Public Secretary, Mr. Olugbenga Ashiru stated that the situation always affect physical planning as there is no instrument to control development, “it leads to development of blighted areas and non availability of basic infrastructure facilities and utilities.”
He called for political will among the administrators to produce and implement physical planning policies and plans; synergy between professional bodies like NITP and government agencies as well as public sensitization and stakeholders’ engagement on physical planning issues. Ashiru exonerated the town planners in the public service and link the problem to inadequate manpower, funding and bureaucracy. “They can only suggest to government on what to do and enforce it, they work in line with the government directives,” he added.