In this report, CHIKA OKEKE examines the implications of town planning changes in the cities and the need for government to enforce planning laws to avert environmental disasters.
One of the target of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 6 on clean water and sanitation by 2030 is to improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimising release of hazardous chemicals and materials as well as drastically cutting down the proportion of untreated wastewater.
Also, SGD 11 on sustainable cities and communities placed much emphasis on the need to reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities by paying special attention to air quality likewise in the management of municipal and other waste products.
Nigeria being admitted as one of the 193 UN member states on 7th October 1960, is a signatory to the SDGs after the botched Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target of 25 years.
The SDGs captured social and economic development issues such as poverty, hunger, health, education, global warming, gender equality, water, sanitation, energy, urbanisation, environment and social justice.
Added to this is the fact that access to liveable, safe and secured shelter is a fundamental human right as enshrined in the Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Recall that the 1946 town and country ordinance, modeled after 1932 British town and country planning law was enacted for Nigeria by the then British government.
Thereafter, different regions and states enacted their planning laws in line with the British model, though there have been skirmishes over poor compliance with the laws.
The flagrant neglect of town planning laws in Nigeria has led to urbanisation with its attendant consequences such as insecure land tenure, poor and inadequate infrastructure, pollution, health challenges, poverty and lack of basic urban services.
Also, urban environmental problems especially in solid waste management and high cost of funds, substandard building materials and among others as captured in the 2017- 2021 UN habitat country programme document for Nigeria.
According to UN environment, frequent air pollution and toxic effluents threaten the communities and their environment even as the hazards are heightened by drought, erosion, land degradation, rainstorms, windstorms, fires, pipeline vandalism, floods, and pest invasion.
It is worthy to note that the 2012 flooding led to the death of 363 people, displaced over 2.1 million people while properties worth N2.6 trillion were lost during the incident.
The rural areas were worst hit by the flooding, considered then as the worst environmental disaster due to near absence of drainages on the overcrowded slum settlements.
According to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), an estimated total of seven million people in 30 out of 36 states were affected by the flood termed as the worst in 40 years.
To this end, town planners have enjoined stakeholders at various levels of government, including policy makers, implementing organs and agencies, professionals, and the general public to embrace town planning principles and practices.
This is coming on the heels of the World town planning day celebrated annually on 8th November, meant to raise awareness on the challenges facing the cities and how to make them liveable for residents.
The chairman, NITP FCT chapter, Tpl Mukhtar Galadima emphasised that the essence of the celebration is to highlight the challenges in the towns and cities particularly the issue of urbanisation and to proffer solution on way forward to liveable settlements.
He stated that Abuja chapter visited schools and sensitised the general public on the importance of town planning profession in the country.
On the issue of flooding, he said, “When you look at our towns particularly those that were planned by the colonial masters, they made provisions for areas that can contain flooding but unfortunately, people failed to obey the provisions of town planning principles”.
He lamented that negligence to town planning laws led to the construction of houses on sacred areas prone to environmental disasters, which led to loss of lives and properties.
Galadima further regretted the failure of governments to comply with the guidelines and standards provided by the planning practitioners for the mode and operations of mass transportation in the states.
He said though 95 percent of Abuja was planned that due to dynamism of planning that massive changes have taken place in the city.
Galadima added that professionals have advised government on the need to study the changes critically and make ammendment where necessary.
Lending his voice, the vice chairman, NITP FCT chapter, Tpl Garba Jibrin harped on the need for all levels of government to adopt the principles and practices that promote sustainable settlements which is the focus of SDG 11.
This he said is in view of the rise in environmental disasters such as flooding, air and water pollution, tremors, soots, and among others that have devastated the country for decades, thereby depleting the collective resources.
He assured that Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP) would continue to emphasize the need for physical planning as the only way to organised living, aimed at creating liveable communities.
Jibrin pleaded with the federal, state and local governments to emulate world’s best practices in creating environments where citizens would live, work and play to avoid chaos.
In her contribution, the past chairman of NITP FCT chapter, Tpl Morenike Babalola was irked that urban centres, cities and settlements are growing without up to date planning programmes especially development plans.
She stated that the near-absence of planning programmes led to increased illegal and unplanned settlement that has affected the quality, functionality and efficient growth of the cities.
Babalola described most cities as sprouts, with escalating number of slum settlements, adding that the implication is that many people would live in unacceptable housing conditions.
She suggested that it’s the duty of town planners to reduce the gory site in the cities, with the assistance of Nigerians and government, stressing the need for planning activities to be funded by both government and non-governmental organisations
Babalola wondered why Nigerians build houses without obtaining planning approval, noting that development without planning approval would create chaos and make the city chaotic.
She asserted that Nigerian cities lack effective and efficient system of transportation system, just as she lamented the menace of tricycle operators called Keke Napep in urban areas.
While appreciating the efforts of federal government in providing railway system, she challenged them to provide more mass bus transport system.
The past chairman called on FCT administration to enforce the use of pedestrian bridges to avert deaths recorded on the roads.
In the same vein, the incoming national secretary of NITP FCT chapter, Tpl Patrick Nyam maintained that any government that embraced partnership with town planners would benefit either economically and socially for its people.
He reiterated the need for citizens and government to embrace town planning in order to bring development and good living conditions to the people, thereby opening up opportunities for employment, security and improved lifestyles.
Nyam said, “Without town planning, you can only have chaos and anarchy but with town planning, we will have orderly and clean environment that will create opportunities for developing places of employment, recreation, places of worship and all kind of things that make living enjoyable”.
Also speaking, the former secretary of NITP FCT chapter, Tpl Jesse Nor said that beyond flooding that one of the major problems is the mass flow of people coming into the city due to flooding and violent conflict through boko haram, farmers/herdsmen clashes.
He said presently, that there are huge number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps in Abuja and other cities in Nigeria.
Nor revealed that one of the core interest of planners is to engage the mass flow of people and seek ways of integrating them in the society.
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