Challenge of poor urban planning, Abia dreaming big in league with UN-Habitat

Posted by Chima Nwafo | 9 December 2019 | 572 times

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•Chima Nwafo

It is not often that environmentally friendly news filter from the concrete walls of Government Houses, including that of Abia - a state infested with multiple gully erosion sites and occasional earth tremors.

Besides, the question of city-planning ranks low in Nigeria’s public discourse, except when disasters occur. And often media houses, except Channel TV, report such disasters superficially without tracing the root cause or holding any party accountable.

So, the news of the endorsement of an agreement between Abia State Government and the UN-Habitat: “For the preparation of structure plans for Aba, Umuahia and Ohafia on November 20, at the agency’s regional office in Kenya, Nairobi”, was a welcome development.

There are two interesting aspects of the pact. First, a Nigerian politician’s expression of a long-term dream for sustainable development is notable, even though it happened in his last term. Second, the agreement fits well into the UN-Habitat’s six-year-plan, which ends this year. Hence the Abia programme begins 2020.  

As the Goals and Strategies of the agency states: “The UN-Habitat envisions well-planned, well-governed, and efficient cities and other human settlements, with adequate housing, infrastructure, and universal access to employment and basic services such as water, energy, and sanitation.

“To achieve these goals, derived from the Habitat Agenda of 1996, UN-Habitat has set itself a medium-term strategy approach for each successive six-year period. …The current strategic plan spans from 2014 to 2019.

“While every new strategic plan is in continuity with the previous one, this approach allows for a better response to emerging urban trends such as new demographic, environmental, economic, spatial, and social developments. It permits necessary readjustments to address change and evolutions and creates opportunities to incorporate lessons learned.”

The agency also listed the following priority areas: “Urban legislation, land, and governance; Urban planning and design; Urban economy; Urban basic services; Housing and slum upgrading; Risk reduction and rehabilitation; and Research and capacity development.”

These, according to the agency, have been neglected in the past in favour of other areas that were then deemed of higher priority. At present, it has become evident that the establishment of adequate urban policies and legal frameworks is principal to achieving the overall development goals. This is against the backdrop of rapid urbanization – with over half of the world’s population now living in cities, and 90 per cent of urban growth taking place in developing countries, coupled with growing poverty.

“One of my key priorities as governor is to lay a solid foundation that will make for the sustainable growth of our state, way beyond my tenure. One notable factor that has slowed down our pace of development has been the near absence of long-term sustainable development plans. Leaders at all levels must look beyond their limited terms of office, see into the future and put in place plans and strategies that successive administrations can build on. We must shift emphasis from temporary applauses and become futuristic in our thinking as a people”, said Dr Okezie Ikpeazu.

According to Enviro Nigeria, Ikpeazu had dispatched a delegation from the Ministry of Lands, Survey and Urban Development to Kenya to sign the agreement on behalf of the state government.

The delegation was led by the Commissioner, Suleman Ukandu; Permanent Secretary, Mrs Joy Ezinwanyi Nwakanma; Special Adviser to the Governor on Urban Development and President of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (Abia State chapter), Lekwa Ezuta; and Director of Town Planning in the Ministry, Dr Lawson Ananaba.

This was quite a professional team of men and woman who command expertise in their respective departments. The choice commendable as one hopes same will be applied in the technical implementation of the project proper. Abia State and Nigeria as a country need planned functional midterm urban areas, even as smart cities are fast emerging in the developed climes.

 “The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry signed on behalf of the state government while the UN-Habitat Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Naison Mutizwa-Mangiza, signed for the UN body.  The signing of the MOU was done at the official residence of the Nigerian High Commission to Kenya and the Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the UN-Habitat, Ambassador Sheidu Omeiza Momoh, who witnessed the signing of the agreement in the company of the Minister of State for Works and Housing, Abubakar Aliyu.

“By the signing of the agreement, the UN-Habitat will collaborate with the Abia State Government in preparing and implementing Structure Plans that will guide the sustainable growth of Aba, Umuahia, Ohafia and other urban centres in the state. The UN organisation will also support the state with technical advisory services to enable the state to plan ahead of development in order to manage rapid urban growth and capacity building of institutions, agencies and officials involved to enable them to discharge their duties more effectively. In particular, the UN-Habitat will aid directly in the urban renewal of Aba, the commercial hub of the state.”

 As captured in the report, it is “a type of spatial planning, Structure Plan: a long-term (10 to 15 years) statutory framework used to guide the development or redevelopment of land.” Such a futuristic long-term urban development project is indeed uncommon in our clime. But the challenge confronting the governor - who recently obtained an AfDB facility for the development of “Enyimba City” in virgin Ukwa territory - is implementation, though he sounds confident. Notwithstanding, it’s quite a Herculean task to undertake the two initial  projects simultaneously within the remaining three years of his second term. But given that both are long-term projects, absence of which the governor regretted as the bane of development in Abia, one hopes that he will walk his talk, leaving the rest to his successor, which is still within the realm of the unknown. To an extent, this raises the question of city governance, which merits detailed analysis in a subsequent edition.

Sad that a common denominator of Nigerian cities is traffic snarl, popularly known as “go slow.” As presently constituted, local government chairs cannot and are not equipped to manage our urban centres, despite the surge of population from the rural areas to the city. The rural-urban flow cannot be reversed. It is a global phenomenon which the United Nations and its agencies are working hard to contain. In our clime, politicians are not usually attuned towards long-term solutions. This is why Lagos continued growing as a former federal capital with port and air facilities, which attracted the bulk of industries and commercial activities. While still struggling to cope with poor social and infrastructural facilities vis-a-vis a growing population, Lagos exceeded the 10 million-population mark. And by UN standards that qualifies it as a mega-city, which some ignorantly celebrate. On the contrary, a smart city is defined by the availability of core ICT gadgets and appliances: all of this depends on electricity. But here, regular supply of power is like searching for water in a desert.

  Therefore, the UN-Habitat appreciates the fact that without enabling structures and strong guidelines, proper urban planning and design will always be hindered, as we can see in cases of poor regulations and unresolved land issues, common in our major cities. And without good planning and design, any housing and slum upgrading programmes will be harder, if not impossible, to implement. Environmental pundits often ask: If Lagos was taken unawares, why is the recently developed Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and younger state capitals repeating the same mistakes? It shows that something is fundamentally wrong. And that explains why our urban areas are grappling with poor planning and traffic congestion. 

Against the foregoing backdrop, one can give kudos to the Abia State Governor for shunning short-time applause and envisioning long-term planning for the development of its major urban areas and rehabilitation of the older commercial city of Aba. Again, the success of the project depends on the understanding of the essence of continuity, commitment to good governance and altruism of his successor.


Nwafo, Consulting Editor, News Express and Environmental Analyst, can be reached on:; +2348029334754.

Source: News Express

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