The above acronym stands for Nigerian Institute of Town Planners. It is a professional association that was established in Nigeria in 1966 as an umbrella organisation for those who have attained the requisite academic qualification and certification in the study of Urban Planning (or Town Planning). Urban Planning is a specialised field of study about how a town or city or any hierarchy of human settlement is planned, improved, managed and sustained.
The NITP registers its qualified members and provides a set of rules and regulations of professional conduct, which all members must comply to. Erring members of the Institute can be sanctioned for proven cases professional misconduct. An essential part of its many other functions is the advisory role it plays in terms of policy formulation governing urban and regional planning in Nigeria. It gives both solicited and unsolicited advice on planning to Government as and when the need arises.
Its regulatory arm is the Town Planners’ Registration Council (TOPREC), which was established under Decree No.3 of January 16, 1988. TOPREC as a Regulatory Council is statutorily empowered to determine who the town planner is and what standards of knowledge and skill he/she must acquire before the individual is registered to practice town planning in Nigeria. Part of the requirement for registration is the passing of a written examination to determine the competence of the prospective member.
The available statistics on the membership strength of the NITP and TOPREC as at 2014 are 4,070 and 3,370 respectively.
The above is a preface. The focus of this piece is related to the topic urging the NITP to change its tactics of rebranding.
This writer made a foray into the portal of the Institute online recently and read about a Colloquium held on January 14, 2016 at the prompting of one of its former National Presidents, a cerebral planner, who felt deeply concerned about “government attitude and low appreciation of urban and regional planning especially when decisions are taken, budgets are proposed and locational decisions are taken without considerations of urban and regional planning implications.” As further reported in the news item, “the forum wanted to debunk the argument that town planning activities have been socially repressive, benefitting the land and property owners and the educated and articulate middle class rather than the community.”
These are valid observations about the foibles of town planning practice in Nigeria. It is an indisputable fact that government regards planning as inconsequential in the decision making process, underfunds planning and hardly consults with professional planners for advice. Similarly, public dissatisfaction with government in general and with bureaucrats in particular extends to planners. The perception of planning and planners by the public domain is that of suspicion and antagonism. Planning and planners are two words the citizens “love and loathe” in Nigeria. The citizens yearn for livable cities, but they do not totally agree with the planning methods town planners adopt in an attempt to making Nigerian cities livable, functional and inviting. The citizenry see planners as usurpers wielding too much controlling power over the use of their property and setting too high a standard for physical development alien to the people’s culture.
Colloquium is good, but it is not a panacea to the problem at hand. It is just a brainstorming session where “planners talk to planners” repeating to themselves issues and problems of planning, which they already know and over-flogged. A typical example is this colloquium under reference. Except for the joggling of the words of all the topics discussed based on the various papers presented, which of these topics had not been exhaustively treated in the past or covered in a recent book titled “The State of Urban and Regional Planning in Nigeria” published by the NITP in 2014 during the tenure of the immediate past National President, Tpl. Steve Onu. The book was an excellent anthology. It covered every aspects of urban and regional planning in Nigeria from its history, practice, problems, education, collaboration, and ICT application to planning. The book ended with a long list of brilliant recommendations on “how to move planning forward” in order to overcome its various challenges. One wonders what has happened to these recommendations. Was there a follow-up by NITP to ensure the implementation of those forthright recommendations? Lack of continuity is always the bane.
Who is to blame for this seeming discord and lack of visibility?
It is an age-long internal problem. The approach chosen by the Institute in the past and now, to up the visibility of the profession in government circle and to earn respect/acceptability from the citizens is not working because the Institute has not devised a “creative way to tell planning story” to the government and the governed. Except in the case of Abuja, the nation’s seat of government, which was developed from scratch as a new capital city, there is not enough documentation about what planning has been able to achieve in terms of intervention and solution to planning problems plaguing most Nigerian cities and towns. It is still chaos all over the cities’ landscape. Where there is no written documentation, there won’t be dissemination of information. Town Planning is not abstract. It is better appreciated in practice than in theory. It is what people see and feel most especially when a planning decision affects or impacts their lives that they appreciate.
The NITP will be doing a lot of good to its reputation if it has a medium or reporting format for best practice in any area(s) where an action as a result of planning decision/intervention turns things around for the benefit of the people no matter how minute. An example that comes to mind is the introduction of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in 2008 by the Lagos State Government (LASG) as a strategy to improve public transportation in the Mega City; and to discourage the constant use of private automobile in a city of notorious traffic congestion. The BRT buses run on dedicated lanes, which enable the buses to move faster without being held up in the gridlock, a luxury that could not be enjoyed by car owners or other private-owned public transport danfo or molue buses. Since the BRT appeared on the streets of the mega city, ridership has been on the increase exponentially, while residents living in areas where there is no BRT service are demanding for it. The planning intervention caused a change of attitude among the residents to patronise the BRT as a means of public transportation because it is comfortable and faster. The LASG has received more than its fair share of public accolade for this planning initiative, which Lagosians can physically see and feel its impact.
The NITP needs to change tactics.
What is the ideal medium of information dissemination on the success stories of impactful planning intervention(s), policies, programmes, projects or planning best practices? Proper documentation is the answer. The NITP needs soft-sell periodicals in the form of magazines and ICT-based information focusing on different planning issues that could be of interest to the reading public, government officials, elected officials (politicians of different hues), students who are aspiring to be planners, civil organisations and of late, faith organisations whose activities along major highways are anti-planning.
APA as a golden best practice. The American Planning Association (APA) is a master in the game of planning advocacy, citizen engagement, and politics of planning, community outreach, peer mentoring and public law.
The Association has robust machinery for public relations in various forms. APA uses different kinds of publications to advance planning as a subject of public interest, to arrest the attention of all tiers of American governments (Federal, State and Local) on planning issues and to show its success stories in many a community in America, which it amply documents in print and aptly code named, Great Places in America and Great Communities in America.
Its flagship publication, Journal of American Planning Association (JAPA), focuses on applied research and technical planning issues. It is a journal strictly for professional planners as the targeted readership.
The other soft-read magazines which APA publishes are Planning, The Commissioner, Planning Advisory Service (PAS), Interact an e-newsletter, Zoning Practice and a host of online services where non-planners can source information on planning. APA also has multimedia services used in dissemination of vital information and telling illuminating stories by way of online planning tutorial, video, downloadable and still photographs. In addition to the afore-mentioned publications, APA has a well-stocked library where books on any subject matters of planning can be found…..principles/theories of planning, planning for tourism, transportation, green planning, smart growth, smart cities, sustainable cities, urban form, urban financing, management, zoning, comprehensive plan, planning laws and more allied topics. There is another library named Image Library which is stocked with visual images and pictures that could be used to communicate planning messages in graphic form for ease of comprehension by laymen and during plan presentation to elected Planning Commissioners who are not necessarily trained planners, despite their title appellation.
The Journal of Nigerian Institute of Town Planners remains what it is: An academic journal with its lingo used in disseminating intellectual message to professional town planners. It does little or nothing to arrest the attention of the reading public who are non-planners. Its outreach is therefore very limited and cannot serve public interest in planning.
Planning and politics. The practice of planning can be characterised in two ways. Intellectually, it is a process of problem-solving with rationality, following a set of basic steps in a planning process. Socially, it is a process of advice-giving. Any advice given or recommendation made by planners to solve a manifest planning problem is still to be considered by decision-makers who are usually elected public officials: politicians!! A recommendation good before the planner may not be so before the decision-makers because of vested interest and political expediency. This has been an age-long modus operandi and it is unlikely to change. The foreseeable future scenario is that, public policy will be in the purview of elected political leaders. If the NITP wants to be effective and have a voice in the corridor of power at all levels of government, the Institute must of necessity interact with the political process through lobbyists; and to embark on a road show of mobilizing the support of political actors at the grassroots (i.e. local council chairmen and the councilors). This same approach must also be in pari pasu with politicians in the National Assembly and the Houses of Assembly at the federal and state levels respectively.
Local planning hero as a story teller of what good planning can achieve. Nigeria is not bereft of adept, prolific and cerebral planners. They featured prominently in academics, in practice and in government and in scholarly paper writing, yet the country lacks a planning hero credited with an earth-shaking brain child project similar to what Jaime Lerner did to planning in the city of Curitiba, Brazil. Jaime Lerner, a planner/architect was the father of BRT concept. It was started in 1974 in Curitiba. Today, over 400 cities around the world (including Lagos mega city) have caught the bug of using the innovative transport system which originated from Lerner’s seminal mind. Though he was a planner of a small city in the Amazon jungle, he left a global planning legacy. Matt Tomasulo was an obscure urban designer/activist who in 2012 single-handedly launched the Walk (Your City) movement to showcase and boost community walkability in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. It is a civic platform of getting more people walking the street instead of driving the car. Like the BRT concept, many cities around the globe have emulated the idea in practice. We need a local planning hero or company who will be credited for a dramatic planning initiative or innovative, of national impact and importance!
Tactical urbanism as an option to change government attitude towards planning in Nigeria. The new terminology in the planning lexicon “tactical urbanism” is adroit in planning or maneuvering to accomplish a purpose. It is a way of forcing government to act. Those who indulge in the tactical planning approach saw the need to do certain thing that would benefit their communities, but due to government bureaucracy, such thing gets delayed or never gets done. The tacticians could be individuals or associations, who would take immediate action for public good without waiting endlessly for government intervention. Best practices of tactical urbanism in many areas of planning (policy change, city beautification, project implementation, law amendment, park creation, adaptive use, street reconditioning and legislative advocacy are abound in contemporary planning literature. The NITP as a planning association just has to be contemporary in its approach for seeking relevance in governance and public acceptability. As the saying goes, so many roads lead to Rome. Using any form of tactics that will achieve result is normal and acceptable.
By Tpl. Yacoob Abiodun (former Secretary, National Housing Policy Council; Urban Planner; Planning Advocate)