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NITP: A case for action-oriented agenda in 2017 (2)

“You teach me, I forget. You show me, I remember. You involved me, I understand.”…Edward O. Wilson, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer prize for Non-fiction(NITP:Healthy and pollution-free environment ).

NITP:Healthy and pollution-free environment
Lekwa Ezutah, First National Vice-President of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP)

Readers are reminded that the first part of this article was published in the Monday, January 2, 2017, edition of EnviroNews an online platform for news on the environment, human settlement, climate change, renewable energy, sustainable development, science and technology, water and sanitation etc.

In that article, the central focus was on law and constitutional matters as they affect the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP). We argued then that although there is a subsisting law known as the Nigerian Urban and Regional Planning Law of 1992, that law is in obscurity. It has suffered a serious setback due to the Supreme Court judgment of 2006, which rendered some of the law’s provisions nugatory. As a result, the law was not effectively implemented, as it should be. The three tiers of government in Nigeria (Federal, State, and Local governments) have been lackadaisical about the roles they are expected to play in matters of urban and regional planning at their respective levels.

We expatiated on the way forward to resolve the legal knotty issue, most especially the roles the NITP must play to change the tide. The pivotal role we suggested was that the NITP must, through extensive lobbying, enlist the support of both the House of Representatives and the Senate so that the required amendment to the law is effected with minimal delay. The central and most important provision of the extant Nigerian Urban and Regional Planning Law of 1992 which the lawmakers ought to consider for an accelerated review or amendment is to make matters of planning a “tripartite participation” by all tiers of government in Nigeria for the good of the country. Such move will be in line with global best practice.

Therefore, the leadership of the NITP should get up, reach out, and get the nation’s lawmakers involved and informed. “If the Institute teaches the lawmakers, they may forget. If it shows them, they may remember. If you really engage and directly involve the lawmakers, they will understand the necessity for the amendment of the imperfect law.” (apologies to Edward O. Wilson whose famous quote at the beginning of this article is adapted). By having more people involved in the cause of the NITP makes the Institute stronger and more visible than hitherto.

The second and concluding part of the article will focus on Information, Communications, and Technology (ICT). How does the NITP use such media to the benefit of its member? How effectively does it reach out to over 3000-stronghold members and the reading public? The ICT issue should be a concern to members who try to access the NITP website for planning information or knowledge acquisition. This writer has severally accessed the NITP website online in search of information, which ordinarily was taken for granted that it should be found on that website; but, surprisingly, it was not found at the online portal.

I will give an illustrative example of such personal experience. My visit to the NITP website late December 2016 in search for a copy of the Nigerian Urban and Regional Planning Law of 1992 in order to download the content of the law, met with a brick wall. Two, I also looked frantically without success on the website for a link that could take me to the knowledge/resource centre to acquaint myself with the available information on the Institute’s library, books, specialty publications, planning magazine/newsletter, applied research and other relevant documents essential for planning development for all categories of membership such as student, corporate, fellow and planning practitioners. The missing was beyond comprehension. It is being brought to the notice of those in charge of ICT at the Institute national secretariat to know about it and contemplate the consequence in advancing planning education in Nigeria.

The creation of a knowledge/resource centre on the portal of NITP should be paramount among the sundry information that the Institute incorporates on its website. It will serve as an avenue where visitors to the site can explore the most comprehensive knowledge in the planning profession either to arouse their interest in the subject matter as beginners or as practitioners who want to keep abreast, informed and strive for innovation. As the saying goes…..knowledge is power.

The NITP needs to sharpen its communication skill. It will facilitate in getting its message about “liveable and sustainable cities in Nigeria” effectively across to the larger audience of the reading public. Firstly, its website must be information prolific and user-friendly such that those seeking any minute information about planning in Nigeria can easily access it. Such accessibility must be open to all end-users either town planning professionals, allied professionals, non-professionals corporate entities.

Secondly, in this age of the internet-of-things, the NITP cannot be passive but active. It must be responsive to the needs of its numerous members in Nigeria and in the Diaspora. Planning career development, job oppourtunities, mentoring, emerging issues, planner profiles, cross-country collaboration, public policy advocacy, planners’ communication guide, consultants online, international planning, specialty divisions are many of the suggested topics that the NITP should curate materials and create portals on its website in order to provide useful information on planning for planners and internet users. There must be accountability and transparency about how the Institute is administered and managed. For example, the details of its annual budget are information that should not be kept in secrecy.

The Institute is also enjoined to be data conscious on the annual dues paid by members, the annual breakdown of the membership strength aggregated into gender and a list of academic institutions that offer diplomas/certificates/degrees in urban planning in Nigeria are all desirable statistics the Institute should have in its repertoire of information. There are other useful data that the Institute should endeavor to generate regularly because, in the planning profession, data is the sine qua non. The NITP which blames others for lack of data for planning must not be caught in the web of its own criticism. It must practice what it preaches and religiously imbibe a culture of data generation. As they say….little things matter.

Thirdly, the NITP should start to expand the horizon of its outreach to the public and showcase what planning has been able to achieve in solving any of the problems plaguing Nigerian cities. The notorious among the problems are traffic congestion, environmental pollution, housing shortage and other inter-related problems caused by unmanaged urbanisation.

What is the possible avenue that can be exploited to achieve this end goal? Let ingenuity come on board by establishing the NITP’s version of National Community Planning Month (NCPM) and National Planning Awards (NPA). For the NCPM, a particular month will be chosen in the year for the celebration by sharing. During the celebration, the planner’s work or programme intervention that makes a town, city or region better will be a showcase to the nation.

The NPA will be used to scout for excellent efforts by individuals or corporate bodies in planning, purposely for recognition and token reward as an incentive. This way, other colleagues/practitioners will be inspired, energised and aspired to be nationally recognised.

The ad hoc approach being currently adopted by the NITP does not make such National Award a yearly diary event. It must be on the annual calendar of events of the Institute, which every member should eagerly look forward to witness or participate as an awardee. When a professional body propagates what it does and rewards excellence in the process, it must have made 360-degree accomplishment in terms of publicity, enlightenment, and public relation.

Conclusively, we advocate that the NITP needs to have a modern looking and informative website.

It is no secret that having a professionally upgraded website is a magnet to drawing contemporary readers. Effort must be made to have the website well designed, user-friendly and properly maintained to contain a lot of data in order to draw the most traffic. This would require the expertise of a highly rated website developer, not an amateur.

Additionally, in this digital information age, the Institute must take advantage of what is known in ICT parlance as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Modern SEO as a device is the best way the Institute can better promote its website online. Even if the website is information-studded but if it has limited traffic, its purpose will be defeated and useless. It is the application of the SEO that could make a huge difference. SEO utilises “embedded links and keywords to get higher ratings on search engines.” By getting higher in the rankings on search engines the Institute will be more visible to the relevant readers or online information seekers.

A few of the thought-provoking ideas suggested here are suitable and practicable agenda for the NITP in 2017 fiscal year. They are relevant and important in the scale of priority. The Institute should be “evangelical” in its approach to public enlightenment, civic engagement, collaboration with the lawmakers and government officials and to whoever cares to listen. Concluded.

By Tpl.Yacoob Abiodun (Planning Advocate, wrote from Parkview Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos)

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