LEKWA EZUTAH is the president, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP) and Principal Consultant, Nigerplan Integrated Services Limited. He spoke to CHINEDUM UWAEGBULAM on his plan for the institute and other burning issues in the town planning profession.
Recently, the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP) inducted you as President, a terrain you know best. What are you bringing on board?
The institute under my leadership will sufficiently create, employ and deploy various avenues for effective public enlightenment to enhance the knowledge of the publics on the value of town planning in their lives.We will also refocus the secretariat for efficient service delivery; grow membership that appreciates the purpose of the town planning profession and strengthen members’ professional competence for quality service delivery.
I discovered that town planning as a formal activity of government has existed over 150 years, but Nigeria is yet to embrace fully the culture of physical planning despite its long history. Most people still link it to only building plan approval. There is much more to town planning than development control. That’s why in town planning schools, an insignificant amount time is devoted to development control as a course. We’re more than that; town planning transcends the design of layouts and development control. We are concerned with the arrangement of various land uses so as to create a well-ordered, beautiful and functional environment for human habitation and related diverse activities. If a city is not functional, it becomes a disincentive for investors to move into the area. But if a city is functional and attractive, investors move in and generate employment, which leads to increase in people’s income and improved standard of living.
Why is there poor level of regulatory and institutional instruments to support town planning practice in Nigeria?
The problem is that the public including our policymakers know little about town planning to appreciate the imperative of embracing it. Sometimes, they move into well organised environment like the Government Reserved Areas (GRAs) that is attractive. They forget that, it is through town planning that such kind of environment was created for them. If we start appreciating that we need for good environment, and it is town planning that generates this kind of environment. Things will be better and town planning won’t be seen as expensive.
Nigeria population is on the rise, and in most cities, there are no layout guiding settlements, thereby leading to slum areas. What is the solution?
The solution is to prepare physical development plan for cities. If we appreciate the need for it, we will definitely provide resources for the review of the plan after sometime. The masterplan is expected to be reviewed after five years. Some states like Lagos know what to do. For instance, Lagos has been reviewing its development plan of various zones, as it has become imperative, may be because the government has seen the impact they are making when they come up with new plans. It is very necessary. If you prepare a masterplan for 25 years, after five years, we should look at the plan again and see whether there is comparative need for a change.
As you aware, the economy has gone down, and the plans were prepared based on data that reflected the boom period. Now, we’re in a recession, the plans may not work in certain aspects, we need to review them.
What has been the draw back in the implementation of Nigeria’s urban and regional planning law?
It is a federal government law and enacted during the military era. It has that element of unitary system of government; directives are expected to come down through a top-down bottom approach. When it was enacted, it could not be implemented until the Lagos State government went to court and obtained a judgment that ruled that town planning is not a federal government affair.
But that judgment only nullified certain sections of that law. Still, the federal government has not operationalise the aspects it suppose to implement. The federal government should have gone ahead to establish the town planning commission. Somehow, some of the states adopted that law, with modifications here and there while some implemented it partially.
The problem associated with the law is lack of political will to implement the law. That’s why the thrust of my administration would be to educate the public, especially the policymakers on the need for physical planning.
Do you think that there is a need for the review of the urban and regional planning law?
We don’t need that kind of unitary system in the law. Each state should adapt it or prepare a law that looks at its peculiarities. For instance, Lagos State is a one-city state and the law it operates may not necessarily fit into states, like Abia that is not one continuous built up area. We need to detach the role of the federal government, which will need amending the constitution, and removing physical planning from the residual list to the current list. That will empower the federal government to play its role.
A lot of professionals are not getting jobs. Can you blame this on the economy or foreign encroachment in professional practice?
I will rather heap it on lack of appreciation of professionals and the economy.
Firstly, lack of appreciation of the role of professionals. You find that the developer, who wants to build his house, will normally go to the quacks to design his building and employ any mason man. He is not likely to go to the engineer, town planner, architect and builder. For him, the fees will be costly. Because of that, he does not appreciate the need for a professional. He thinks, anybody can do it. That’s the problem professionals are having in the country. The economy compounds the problems. The economy is not very good at the moment, everybody is trying to cut corners and thereby move away from the professionals. Developers, particularly, don’t appreciate the need for the professionals; they don’t even know what we do. They think it is the foreigner who does the magic. But things are changing. For instance, our people now know that local cables are superior to the foreign ones.
A lot has happened since the relocation of the Federal Capital to Abuja, for instance, the population has increased and the infrastructure is now overstretched. Do you think the Abuja masterplan should be reviewed?
The masterplan of Abuja should be reviewed. There is very strong reason in favour of that. The plan was prepared in 1976 during the military era; a lot of things have changed. There are certain things about that plan that the military tampered with. Firstly, we’re now in a civilian era, and secondly, the economic situation has changed drastically. These need to be reflected in the plan. Thirdly, this was a plan prepared with phased development in mind. The insecurity in the north has also led to massive movement of people to Abuja. The city is now housing a population more than anticipated by the masterplan. Then, the development such as road construction has not been matching the influx of people to it. All these combined made it imperative that we should have a second look on the Abuja masterplan. The federal government should start a procurement process and invite a team of town planners to review Abuja master plan, as it is definitely outdated.
Town planners have a new scale of fees guiding the activities of members in private practice. Don’t you think the federal government should harmonise the fees for professionals in the built environment?
The scale of fees is mostly for all professionals. There was a scale of fees prepared and approved by the government. But it is outdated, and there had been this clamour for review of the fees. A lot of efforts have been made; we now have something we are using. If you look at it from the perspective of the last one, which was approved and stamped by the government, we don’t have such document.
The right procedure now is to adopt globally accepted rates, which is based on man-hour. The government uses that now for all projects that have international components. Most professionals are using that for their remunerations. It is better for professional groups in the built environment to meet the government and have acceptable fees.
Most state governments don’t have masterplan. What are the dangers?
Such is like a naval officer in a sea without a compass. Physical planning is saying, this is the most suitable site for this activity. Basic economics always say, there are factors for production. One of it is location. Every activity has a particular location that is best situated for it. In the masterplan, the planner places every activity on the location that best situated for it, at the right time and provides the linkages. For instance, the town planner try to link residential, workplace, recreation to areas meant for it. If you don’t have a masterplan for any settlement, as the town is growing, the tendency is that, there will be a lot of diseconomies. People will move into areas, when it gets congested, it turns into a slum. But if it is a planned area, the cost of providing an infrastructure is reduced. It will also turn the facilities provided as bankable projects.
Currently, the populace tends to assess the government on the immediate structures they see on ground. But the truth is that most states play down on town planning, and want people to see what they have built. But if we appreciate that masterplan is a kind of road map, leading from where we are to where we want to be, it will be easier.