BISI ADEDIRE is the Chairman Lagos state chapter, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP). In this interview, he spoke to VICTOR GBONEGUN on the critical challenges inhibiting the implementation of development plan in Nigeria and other issues in the built sector.
There have been concerns lately on over centralisation of town planning system and process, which built environment experts believe are not the right way to go. What do you think should be the ideal procedure?
Well, looking at the planning administration and process in Lagos State for instance, we can infer that planning is controlled from the state level with little or no recourse to the local level. The ideal procedure is planning administration should be a bottom up approach. Planning process such as granting of development permit should start and possibly end at the local level while formulation of policies, preparation of model city plan, approval of layout plan can be carried out at the state level. With this, the impacts of physical planning will be more pronounced. When we look at developed countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, town planning is operated from the grass root. It should be the same for Nigeria, if we want to have rapid growth. So I call for decentralisation and a reinstatement of Local Planning Offices in Lagos State.
The standard of planning is very low in Nigeria, how can the nation develop national minimum planning standards and localize the new urban agenda?
Well, I won’t say that the standard of planning in Nigeria is very low. Maybe I can agree that it is inadequate but not very low. The truth is you can’t tell me that there are no impacts of physical planning in some cities in the country.
Yes, we still have a long way to go, however I think when we harmonise the planning standards obtainable in the states, we would move faster. So I am in support of the creation of national minimum planning standards. When I was the chairman of NITP Practice Committee, my team raised this particular issue but it wasn’t looked into by the executive council of the Institute. For us to develop this, the national body of NITP must decide to make this work. We can create a committee that would consider the planning standards applicable in the states. A review and workability of these standards can be looked into. After which the committee can decide on a unified standard that can be used. I believe if there is a minimum planning standard, development can be uniform and holistic.
For the localisation of the new urban agenda, the responsibilities lie with the executive and legislative arms of government with the town planners serving an advisory role. The new urban agenda basically looks at the creation of a just, safe, healthy, accessible, affordable, resilient and sustainable cites and human settlements. While town planners are committed to the realisation of this, we can only advice and hope that the government follow suits. Government should localise new urban agenda for sustainable cities.
What are the challenges in implementing the Nigeria Urban and Regional Planning Law decree no. 88 of 1992 and the review of the Land Use Act 1978?
We need to know that the urban and regional planning law 1992 has several sections but generally, the law stipulated that planning activities should be carried out at the three levels of governments (Federal, State and Local government). It also specifies the responsibilities of the commission, board and authority that should be established. The law to some extents has been implemented by the states. However I think it is important we know that what drives a law is the regulation. If a law is in place but no planning regulation, it may be difficult to see the operation of the law. So the challenge to the full implementation of the law is the preparation of planning regulations for each state. Apart from this, inadequate personnel and equipment in town planning office, lack of funding are some other challenges.
For the review of the Land Use Act, I think the challenge is traceable to the authority (governors) that has been given the vested right to land. We have been clamouring for the review of the Act but these people are not forth coming. The question is, are the governors willing to let go of the vested authority that they have? As long as the governors are not ready for this, the review can’t be done. Today, many state governments are many huge financial gains from the sales of land, processing of certificate of occupancy, land regularisation and other land documents. This actually negates the provision of the Act, which stipulates that land should be made available at any given time for citizens at an affordable rate.
The impact of technology to practice of town planning is key, how are the practitioners leveraging on the innovations?
As it stands today, town planners both in the public and private sector are using the available technological innovations in the practice of the profession. We now make use of drones for land use survey and mapping, GIS is also used for most of our planning activities. It helps us in generating accurate data needed. Also, town planners in Nigeria are in tune with the global call for smart cities. These are cities designed to function through technological means. We believe in this and we are ready to make use of all available ICT to achieve a livable and sustainable city.
With your emergence as the Lagos State Chapter Chairman of NITP, how do you plan to contribute to the evolvement of policies and programmes that could enhance physical planning practice, education and research development?
One of the major aspirations of our administration is to see the signing into law and implementation of the new urban and regional planning regulation of Lagos State. This regulation had been at the State Assembly for some years with no head way. My team believed we could do something to ensure it is revisited. With serious dedication and hard work, we have made a lot progress. The final reading for the regulation has been carried out at the Assembly and from the last update I got from members of the State House of Assembly; the regulation would be out for immediate implementation any time soon.
The reason we want this regulation in use is because it would enhance the practice of town planning in the state. I can’t tell you about the contents of the regulation yet until it is released but I can assure town planners that through this regulation, there would be improved standard of living for us. So we are contributing and we will continue to contribute to the progress of the profession.
We have plans and programmes in respect to physical planning and urban development already outlined for the state. As soon as the new Commissioner for the ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development is appointed, we would visit him and make them known to him. Sometimes this week, the chapter would be paying a courtesy visit to the new Permanent Secretary. We are fully aware that when policies and programmes are viable, sustainable and financially inclined, the profession would be enhanced.
Nigeria still has huge deficit in the housing industry, how do you think critical stakeholders could really address this pervading challenge in the sector?
There are basically two critical stakeholders in the housing sector. These are the government and the private developers. The government through its Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) is expected to create enabling environment for the private investors. From the record, the housing deficit in Nigeria is between 17-20 million. The truth is, there is nowhere in the world that the government solely takes care of the housing needs of her citizen. They do their bit and then provide a conducive procedure, which makes investors or developer carry out their businesses easily. This should be applicable in the country. The difficulty in accessing land for usage should be solved by the government, the bottleneck experienced when processing for the landed documents, planning permit for development should be addressed, and reduction in the cost of construction materials should be considered. With these, the private developers would be encouraged to get involved in the sector.
Following recent upsurge in collapse of buildings across the country, there were concerns for quality and safety in housing sector. How best can the problem be tackled?
Well, I think it is quite simple. Developers should engage qualified professionals when constructing. Standard and certified materials should also be used for construction. In addition, there must be continuous monitoring and feedbacks during the construction process. Importantly, I think developer should be informed on the need for them to build in line with the planning permit received. We have discovered that some of the developers don’t comply with this. Imagine a developer who received planning permit for three floors going to the site to construct four or five floors building. This is very wrong. Finally, there should be post construction audit carried out on the building by a certified professional.
How is your association impacting the young members, especially those in secondary schools?
In the profession we have elders who have taken interest in the younger members. They are presently mentoring and encouraging them. Some of the young members are attached to the firms of the senior town planners; they are putting them through the various avenues available in the profession. For the students in secondary school, some of us visit the schools for career talk to intimate them about the profession. Few years ago, I was in Air force secondary school in Ikeja for sensitisation. Some of my colleagues are also doing same all over the country. In some cases, we have the privilege to speak during church programmes where little children are available, planning firms also sponsor Inter house sport of schools. These are means of public enlightenment.