Tpl Gbolabo Osunsanmi FNITP is the national secretary of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners. In this interview with MAKINDE OLUWAROTIMI, he speaks on the importance of having a long-term national development plan among other things.
What impact has the NITP made in the society in the last two years?
In the last two years we have had formidable publicity and I want to say we have commented on every planning related issue of national importance, and this has assisted so much in raising the awareness. So, in the last two years we’ve tried to engage government critically that we need to take planning as a priority in the country, the institute constituted a national council on land and housing, and we we’re able to make the minister aware that planning should be given top priority for us to develop. In that particular discussion, we were able to bring to the knowledge of the honourable minister that establishing the the urban and regional planning commission at the federal level is critical and key to development in Nigeria. This is because that commission is saddled with the task of overseeing the law called Operating National Development Plan.
We were able to push and put on the table for the honourable minister and the entire national council the fact that we need to put in place professionals, town planners as honourable commissioners for physical planning in different states.
We were able to put on the table the need for all institutions in Nigeria to put in place measures to ensure that town planners are directors of physical planning or that departments of urban and physical planning are headed by town planners. These are things we have put forward. As I earlier said, the most important thing we have achieved in the past two years is to raise awareness and make members of the public aware that we need to do more, to plan our environment, to ensure safety, to ensure sanitation and so on.
Can you tell us more about the Operating National Development plan?
The operating national development plan by law dictates that there must be preparation by the commission, which is the national planning commission at the federal level and an operative national development plan. The operating national development plan according to that law will be reviewed every five years. The operative national development plan is to give us broad outlook of how we want Nigeria to be in the next 10, 15, 30 years. It is not short term so it will out live different governments. Unfortunately, this is not available, recollect that between 1975 and 1980 we had a development plan for this country; between 1980 and 1985, we also had a development plan. Between 1985 and now, 2018, there has not been any coordinated development plan for the country. This is a very serious issue. So plans have been very haphazard and isolated.
We have MDGs, Millennium Development Goals, isolated. We have the coastal area development plan, also isolated. Things cannot work that way. There must be a broad plan of the country to connect Lagos, Kano and Abuja by rail. What is the plan for inland waterways; what is the plan to develop ports? You can see that all these issues are important. What is the plan for health care; what is the balance of doctors in the country and their projections on a periodic basis? What is the plan for housing; what are our current housing needs? How many buildings do we need? How many buildings do we need to produce? Forget whether it is public or private.
How many do we need to produce annually to meet up with the housing challenge? What plans do we need to put in place to accommodate and integrate the informal sector, the physical area of our economy? There is no state in Nigeria that plans for commercial motorcycle riders. There is no state that has a designated area for motorcycles to park. We have Motor Parks, isn’t it? But there is no space created for commercial motorcycles. By extension, there is no space designed or created for tricycles but we all know that 70 per cent of Nigerians move using motorcycles. These are ethical issues. Agriculture on the other hand, development should be in tandem with the overall goal. In mining, the ministry of mines and solid minerals must be working in tandem to achieve the overall goal. That is why we say we need a plan for Nigeria that unifies all of us from which we can now bring out these smaller plans.
This brings us to the role of town planners in nation building; can you tell us more about this?
It is sad that the different governments in Nigeria, at the federal, state and the local levels, don’t recognise the importance of town planners and this is what has been affecting the members of the public. You see people asking what do you do. They think that it is only when you see a red map that you see a town planner. That is not correct. The entire management of a particular state or political party should be rested on a development plan designed by a town planner. By training you know that if you introduce a road in a particular new area that the place will become open but that is not so. You have to guide development to a particular vision. If we want Nigeria to become a choice destination in Africa, then there are series of plans we have to go into to achieve that. To make a place a tourist destination, security would have to be addressed and we must advertise security in ways that are friendly enough to attract tourism and not the way we are presently going about it. If you travel to Kigali, you will find it very neat and clean. Even Johannesburg in South Africa, these are people that have deliberately sat down and designed plans to attract tourism. All this must come into place, for us town planners, we wish that government would put in place a system whereby plans are developed for all aspects of human endeavour in Nigeria, plans for school, health, for security. It is all encompassing.
How do you ensure that they comply?
We call on the federal government to do the needful and ensure that we have master plans. A development plan prepared for Nigeria. We encourage all state governments to follow suit and pick from that. Produce a national development plan and develop master plans for the cities in Nigeria.
A lot of state governments have not been paying salaries but they still have good measure of resources at their disposal, how do town planners come in?
Lagos is an example; Lagos is making tremendous and steady progress. The question we need to ask ourselves is why is Lagos not affected by the situation? It is not because Lagos was the former capital of Nigeria, many years ago people were also running away from Lagos but since the advent of the civilian administration, things have changed. Lagos decided to have development plan, they have master plans for different sections of Lagos and that is what they are implementing and the output is very clear because the economy of Lagos is now such that it is self sufficient. So all these things are coming from the plan, and not isolated government policies.
They have a plan to make Lagos the center of commerce and industry. So, they’re deliberately implementing plans. We need to ask ourselves, if Lagos is making progress, why are some states having problems? Those states need to itemise and identify those things that can help them jump-start their economy. Ondo State for example, it is one of the most peaceful states in Nigeria. So, you have the advantage as a state government to develop your tourism sites, there are so many landmarks in the area. So, you can take advantage of that. This is how you jump-start an economy. Also in Ondo State, there is bitumen, which can be utilised to tar the roads. In Ekiti State for example, they have large mineral deposits, so you need to start thinking about what your strength is as a state. How do I leverage on this and maximise the advantage? All states have their strength and they must go back and deliberately (plan) to develop them if not, they will continue to have this problem of depending on money from the federal government.
The institute wants the government at the federal, state and local levels to use town planners, how is the government responding?
In fairness to the minister of works, power and housing, he immediately established a committee at the ministry level to look into these requests but since then, we have not heard from them. We want to plead that the minister expedites the action of the committee and establishes the urban planning commission and a master plan for the country. It is a starting point for us as a nation if we want to grow sustainably.
With the impending 2019 elections, if we have a government that is interested in development and master plan, don’t you think it would be easier to respond to the request of the institute? What do you have to say concerning the up coming elections?
The 2019 elections should be anchored on issues and development; it should be the politics of people and development for us as town planners all over the country. We would mobilise and support any government that is able to put in place a development plan of how they want Nigeria to be in 20 years because that would gladly reflect their vision. As professionals, we want a government that can tell us this is where we are and where we’re going. In advanced countries, when development plans are developed, they are sent to the institutions. If there is a document showing what they want to achieve in a specific time frame, it becomes easier to challenge government and ask questions. In Nigeria, we don’t have basis for asking questions from many of our leaders because there are no plans.