By Ladi Patrick & Echeburu Oby
Mr Lekwa Ezutah, the National President of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP) spoke with Viewpoint Housing News at the close of the Nigerian Green Cities Submit held recently in Abuja, urging the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola to implement the Urban Development Policy if Nigerian settlements are to be better managed. The town planners president acknowledged that Nigerians suffer disasters because enforcement agencies, whether town planners or the government fail to do their work as they should. He however strongly feels that indiscipline on the part of developers make them to build under high tension cables, on flood plains and on oil pipeline Right of Way, placing users of such buildings under danger. Furthermore, he lamented that many people including policymakers don’t appreciate physical planning. Town planners, he said are now working toward educating Nigerians on how to properly relate with their environment as they develop physical structures.
Viewpoint: What was the just concluded summit about?
Ezutah: The Nigerian green cities submit came up like a dream, like all these international programs and the current one is the new urban agenda that talks about sustainability, inclusiveness of cities.
To be able to achieve that, you need a collaborative effort. That was what made us come up with this idea of the submit whereby we got all the key stakeholders to come and talk about various aspects in our environment and come up with resolutions which we would pass over to the policymakers, government and general public, because it affects all of us. So that’s how the Nigerian green cities submit came up and we think it would be a biannual event.
Viewpoint: We have had loss of property and lives in the past years due to floods. Yet people still build on waterways. And it is the duty of town planners to plan cities. Why have town planners failed in this regard?
Ezutah: That’s part of the reason for this submit, to bring about discipline on the part of the government and on the masses. We already know the cause of the flooding. We have the climate change that is leading to heavier rainfall.
These are flood plains which in any of our plans, nothing is to be built along. They are meant to be green areas but people go to build there.
I can say that planners don’t approve of such structures but anytime you go out to demolish, they will say that planners had not been “settled” that’s why they are demolishing. Some of the buildings we demolish are because, for one reason or the other such buildings are not meant to be where they are, like flood plains.
You find people building on green lands that are close to river banks and when flood happens everyone starts calling town planners. So you see why I said everyone needs to be disciplined, the government has to be disciplined, to keep its word.
Another issue is the fact that people dump refuge in drainage. When people build across these channels or by dumping refuge into them, they are bound to be blocked and that leads to this havoc.
Viewpoint: Is there any sensitization that the institute is doing to educate Nigerians and the government on this?
Ezutah: Over the years, we have had our conferences. We have always made resolutions and passed them onto the government. But nothing happens. This year, when I was taking over, I did say that our policymakers and the general public don’t seem to appreciate the work of town planners so the best bet is to get across to the people and this is what we have been trying to do. Wherever we go, we have what we call Town Hall Meeting where we gather people and educate them on what town planning is all about.
As of now, we have been going from one state to another doing this. Overtime, we would expect our chapters to now go down to the local government areas to replicate this. We have been able to have town hall meetings in, like eight states.
Viewpoint: We have observed that people build under high tension wires and close to pipelines which results in disasters. As a town planner, does this trouble you?
Ezutah: Firstly, I will say it’s lack of knowledge.Then two indiscipline. If all of us have a good knowledge of why we have to plan, it will be easy. Most of our people don’t seem to appreciate what planning is all about, I mean physical planning. The environment is something that houses all of us, it is something that we should jointly protect.
The town planner is a professional and based on his professional knowledge, knows better than other individuals; and he says this is the way we are supposed to go. It was even accepted in Abuja but administrations would come and wouldn’t want to comply with the provisions of the master plan because they don’t appreciate the need of a master plan. Lack of discipline!
The pipelines you are talking about, I can boldly say that there is no pipeline that has been laid without compensation paid for the Right of Way and this compensation is usually paid to the owners of the land so why should anyone go there to build? Same thing with the high tension wire Right of Way. That is a distance within which nobody is supposed to build and it all boils down to indiscipline that makes people to build on where they didn’t acquire.
Viewpoint: Who is blame in this situation — the government or the masses?
Ezutah: Well, the enforcement agencies whether town planners or the government could be blamed but I still feel that it’s indiscipline on everyone’s part.
Viewpoint: People believe that there has been a rivalry between architects and town planners on who approves building plans?
Ezutah: The town planner plans the city and he determines what happens in the town. That’s basically what town planner does so there is no rivalry between architects and town planners. In planning the city, every area has a specific standard and that standard has to be met.
The planner sees the building as a black box of what is going in and what is coming out. The use of the land is my first consideration as a planner, then I look at the height of the building and the coverage.
For instance, have you taken a look at Abuja — there are buildings facing major roads. That’s the duty of the planner to caution the traffic so you don’t just…from your house to the speed lane. The architect just deals with the particular building he is working on but the planner is looking at the city. We don’t talk about granting approval for the building but we are the ones that give development permit and planning permit.
Viewpoint: Would you say this has been really followed looking at cities in Nigeria?
Ezutah: Yes, it has been followed so far but what you might say is that there are places where these standards haven’t been fully developed. For instance, in Abuja the standards aren’t the same. We have the central area and it’s for business purpose. I might tell you the coverage in the central area for you to build has to be 25 percent because you are talking of commercial building.
And I might come to the residential area like Asokoro and you can have up to 50 percent. These things are standards. For a shopping mall, in every square meter, you must reserve a number for parking space because of the number of vehicles that come in and go out of a shopping mall. The standard will not be applied to a residential building. So this is what the planner does.
Even the road network you are talking about, the engineer does the construction but the planner gives the width of the road, we determine the road alignment.
Viewpoint: What is your advice to the Minister of Works and Housing?
Ezutah: I would advise that he gives some time to physical planning because for me, we focus so much on housing. In other words, we are just talking of the buildings which are basically called shelter when housing is more than shelter.
When you are talking about housing, it should be shelter and the environment and we all know that environment is very important. We should really take a holistic approach to the entire two which are shelter and environment to give us housing. The minister needs to implement the urban development policy which we had and it will really help us to manage our settlements better.
Viewpoint: What has been your greatest challenge so far?
Ezutah: The policymakers don’t seem to appreciate what physical planning is and we are now trying to see how we can educate every individual.