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‘70 percent of Lagos residents live in slums’

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RASHEED OSINOWO, Chief Executive Officer, Osinowo& Associates, and Assistant General Secretary, National Institute of Town Planners (NITP), Lagos State Chapter, spoke with BusinessDay’s ISRAEL ODUBOLA on role of town planners in urban planning among others. Excerpts:

Looking at the major cities in Nigeria, especially Lagos, you see that they are cluttered and improperly planned. From your perspective as a town planner, why is this so?

Most of what we have now is inherited. There have been plan from government to make the city a livable place for all and sundry. By and large, the development is far going beyond planning. This is the first reason we have this planlessness. It is like planning is catching up with development.

Population is growing and government does not have enough hands to handle most of these issues. In planning parlance, it is tagged as organic growth. People are growing organically without practical guide. Secondly, the government is not really doing enough. Whenever we talk to government about the way-out, they keep complaining about lack of resources.

Even when we talk about getting more hands from the public sector, we are shocked to hear them say they don’t have enough funds to pay salaries. People have been looking at Lagos as a place to be, like a safe haven. People come to Lagos from all parts of the country to seek survival. Getting to Lagos whichever way, and by so doing, we have lots of buildings coming up organically.

For cities to thrive, there should be new approaches to urban planning by professionals like you. What are the modern tactics urban planners are adopting for better planning of cities like what we see in New York, London, Paris and Chicago?

It is not rocket science of a thing. It is for us to do what we ought to do; to make sure we change the status quo. There is need for orientation. We need to get people involved. We need to plan with people. We need to adopt the bottom-top approach style of planning. We also need to disseminate to people to make them see the reasonthey should have it right in terms of their environment and what they do, how they construct their structures.

Secondly, stakeholders comprising government, urban planners and professionals need to work with people. From the government point of view, they need to refocus their attention to the people. According to the United Nations, about 70 percent of Lagos residents are living in slums. So if this is the case, government should re-engineer priority on slum dwellers. That should be the focus. We should not be looking at the wealthy ones. For example, there are various housing schemes government is proposing, and some are completed. But on the average, it is unaffordable to the common man even though government keeps saying they are affordable.

By affordability, I mean it is not affordable to the middle class, public servants and much more those who don’t have enough.  By and large, government is not actually planning for the people, but it is important for government to plan for the people. The role of urban planners here is advocacy. It takes time. It is not within our purview to say we want to get everything right.

Our own role is just to envision. Planning is futuristic, so we need to come out with suggestions  and recommendations, and where government is not getting it right, we advise them. So at the end of the day, the state gets to the position we want it to be in terms of urban planning and environment at large.

Building Collapse has reached an alarming stage in Nigeria. It is so bad that it occurs somewhere within the country every six months. Some people say town planners have got their share of the blame for poor service delivery. How true is this?

A lot has been said about building collapse from the professional point of view. It is not just the town planners. Everyone has a stake in building collapse one way or  another. We talk about poor supervision. The so called building collapse starts from inception. Every building has a life span. If you go to Lagos Island, a number of structures have been in existence for over 100 years.

From conception stage, there is a life span for those buildings, but people live there as if it will last forever. The nature of the land in those axes is not firm. Building collapse has a lot to do with the conception stage, supervision, building materials, and other aspects that can affect physical structures.

But, by and large, I feel government has a role to play in this. Remember what I said earlier that 70 percent of Lagos residents live in slums. So, slum dwelling is not meritorious, it is not the wish of people to live there. This falls back to the fact that government has a role to play to curb the menace of building collapse, and how? They need to come up with schemes.

Governments of developed nations do not leave housing to the people. They intervene by constructing housing units for people in all social classes. And to get this right, there are lots of modalities where government can partner with individuals, private sector, and to give them incentives to erect sound structures affordable to all.

Apapa, Nigeria’s premier port city is today a failed and dysfunctional part of Lagos. As a planner,  what do you think is wrong with Apapa? If you had the opportunity of re-planning the port city and bring some sanity there, what would you do?

The issue of Apapa has been there for time. I am happy to tell you that the genesis of the problem was those who occupy the ports are like they need to get out finding other places to have their consignment placed. It was from there onwards the Apapa issue started. One cannot proffer solutions to the issue of Apapa without talking about transportation. Transportation and planning go hand-in-hand, and we call this circulation. The circulation of a thing is trying to diversify. We don’t need to focus on just one mode of transportation. Ultra-modern mode of transportation is what the government should look into, such as rail transport.

Looking at Apapa those days, there used to be rail within the corridor of those industries. Instead of everyone plying by road, you go by rail. Rail transport is yet to be explored by the government, and this is an alternative to lessen the burden on road transport. We should also look at pipeline mode of transportation. If there is a well-connected pipe network, the trailers on road won’t be there. I think it is the issue of diversification where we explore other modes of transportation. I will not lie to you, the Apapa port was not planned for the population we have today. This is why other ports need to be developed to de-congest Apapa.

Some people say that given the many development coming up in Lekki area of Lagos including Dangote Refinery, Deep Seaport and other projects, Apapa might be a child’s play when these projects come on stream. What do you think can be done to avert this?

For the fact that we have a deep seaport coming up in the Lekki Free Trade Zone, it is a plus. It will reduce the burden on Apapa. We still need to look at other means of transportation. The pipeline is there for them to utilize. Planning should be hinged on rail transport and other modes. We should explore all avenues of transportation so that we don’t just choke ourselves. Secondly, Diversifying to other means of transportation will help our roads. Our roads don’t last long because of the huge burden. There is another thing coming up which should also add up, that it non-mechanical transportation.

As an executive member of NITP, Lagos State Chapter, what are the institute’s plans for the state in 2019?

We have a lot of programmes for the year. We had a debate around before the elections where we have coalition of organizations championed by our chapter. The debate was an offshoot of our Change The City Project (CCTP). This is what we are looking at to give the state a turnaround across all sectors. It encompasses every aspects of the state including transportation, housing, etc. We have our professionals within the sub-groups to tackle the challenges we have in the state. That’s our plan for 2019.

What is the body doing to have these goals achieved?

We have rapport with the government. Within the chapter, we have elders that have connection with people in government. We know when it comes to policy issues, you cannot do it alone. It is a question of looking at people to champion the course. We are collaborating with relevant stakeholders to ensure our projects are achieved as they will have a long-lasting effect on the state.

 

ISRAEL ODUBOLA

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