Plans are nothing; planning is everything.
-Dwight Eisenhower, US President (1952-1960)
This expose is to call attention of the government and the governed in Nigeria to our “variant” urban planning practice which, in the main, has caused so much ruination to our urbanism as a way of life. Therefore, there is need for constant advocacy on the ways our cities are planned and managed. Any work of advocacy involves noise-making either verbally or in writing until you can make a difference on whatever your work of advocacy is all about. As an advocate, you must be zealously committed to a cause, tenacious, unrelenting and uncompromising.
Of all areas of specialisation in urban planning, this writer’s primary concern and special interest is Advocacy Planning. The choice is borne out of patriotism and a seeming lacuna of the citizens’ understanding of what is planning, what planners do, the import of plans and the participatory role expected of the citizenry in the planning process.
It may be uncharitable to say that, in this era of Urban Millennium and Globalisation, Nigerian cities are lagging behind mainly because our planning practice is less proactive. The crop of urban planning practitioners in both the public and private sectors that government depends upon to effect a positive change so that Nigerian cities are more livable, sustainable, investment-friendly and attractive to international tourism through solution- based participatory planning, have not rendered acceptable level of professional service.
Garba Shehu, a columnist with the Nigerian Tribune in the July 16, 2014 edition of the newspaper, wrote an article titled Polio won’t go,this is why. He has this to say: “Urban Planning has been abandoned…. That is why every rainy season comes with accompanying tragedies occasioned by floods.” It is an unassailable indictment on the part of government in Nigeria, which pays lip-service to urban planning.
Regrettably too, a few bad eggs in the urban planning profession are found wanting for unethical professional practice. They tarnish the reputation of some scrupulous planning practitioners before members of the public who loathe with passion, the excesses and over-bearing attitude often exhibited by town planners under the guise of enforcing development control regulations, which they grossly abuse.
Everywhere you turn to in our cities, you immediately and clearly notice the handiwork of planners and iron-clad evidence of arbitrariness in change of use, wanton zoning violations and incompatible land uses in all ramifications. Hardly there is a city in Nigeria which is under the full protection of zoning regulations. To the best of this writer’s knowledge as an urban planner and with due respect, I would say none and I stand to be corrected. Even Abuja as a new city has fallen victim of serious zoning violations. The sum total is that we operate a variant urban planning practice because it does not conform to globally acceptable standard. It is open to abuse, man-know-man, impunity, constant interference, manipulation and unhealthy inter-governmental rivalry. It is also less participatory and not exploratory enough to break new grounds in innovative planning practice that could fast-track the regeneration of our older and ailing cities, while creating new communities of lasting value.
Are there solutions to these suffocating problems plaguing our country? I would say yes! All we need to do is for the government and the governed to have the collective will to play by the rules. Government should implement and comply with the provisions of its urban development policy and make it to endure for a reasonable period of time. Where it is necessary, policy review should be the norm. The frequency of our policy somersault in any spheres of governance is a national malady hindering our progress as a country, to the detriment of the citizenry. Government should dwell more on the facilitation and development of people-friendly cities and cut down on the frequency of holding urban planning forum, conferences, summits and similar talk shops, which usually end up with repetitive recommendations and common ideas about how to solve our recurring urban planning problems. We are not short of ideas; but oftentimes, government lacks the political will to implement the provisions of its policy on urban development thereby failing to achieve the nation’s ultimate urban development goal.
Secondly, the regulatory bodies of different hues should enforce their prescribed rules and regulations on environment/urban planning while the citizens should comply with the law, particularly those laws that have direct bearing on our lives and living environment. Public interest should take precedence over any individual interests. Public officials should think of duty first before perks of office. In the spirit of advocacy planning, our planners should make sure that the processes by which plans are created ought to embody the values of transparency, inclusiveness and probity. In the same vain, the citizenry should have the courage to stand up for their rights and cry aloud that: Anything about us, without us, is not for us! Meaning: You cannot plan for us without our input.
Lastly, our effort at planning advocacy and moral rectitude among the citizenry of this country can only succeed when we begin to emulate examples of good governance and best practices around the globe. The sole aim of using best practices from other shores more often in the course of advocacy planning is to “ear-lift” our planners to reinvent planning; and to demonstrate to our compatriots that Nigerian cities could look attractive if we genuinely practice planning without our practitioners being compromised or willfully engage in deliberate violation of set rules.
By Yacoob Abiodun (Urban Planner and former Secretary, Housing Policy Council of Nigeria) in Hayward, California, USA