Nigeria is a country with a population of about 150 million people, and roughly 250 ethnic tribes, all with different languages and ways of doing things. This diversity often makes it rather difficult to get the people of our country to agree on any one thing. However, one thing I am convinced I can get all Nigerians to agree on is that the successive governments of Nigeria have failed its people.
The issues confronting us as a nation are already well documented, so I will not mention the long list again here. Asides from the knowledge of the multiplicity of issues, we are also largely aware where the blame lies. For example, for our bad roads, we can label the Minister of Road, Works and Transport (as nomenclature changes) to be incompetent. For our poor economy the Minister of Finance and the CBN Governor are the usual suspects. When we fume about the poor state of our Electricity supply, PHCN and the Minister of Power take the bashing and for the inadequacies of the Police, the Minister of the Interior can be labeled inept.
However, as I sat here, thinking about some of the things that annoy me the most about this country, it occurred to me that there is a parastatal (or is it a ministry) whose failures are hardly ever mentioned in this country. I refer to Urban and Town Planning!!
I am constantly baffled at how our cities tend to look like shanties. In fact, I recall that one of the United Nation bodies - the United Nations Settlements Programme, otherwise known as UN-HABITAT, recently declared Abuja as the only real city in Nigeria! If this is so, then in what are the millions of people who live in Lagos, Kano, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Aba, Onitsha etc living? I venture to call them "huge slums" for want of a better word.
What I see in our ÔÇścities' is utter lack of planning. Entire neighborhoods spring up with no plan for utilities and drainage. There are no areas set aside for commercial and residential purposes. Markets are not properly situated; banks, eateries and shopping plazas are allowed to spring up without proper parking space. Once a road begins to take on pole position within a city, traders line both sides of the road with shops selling all manner of things usually ranging from electronics, clothing and provisions. The situation in our cities is rather like a case of a flock of sheep without a shepherd, all wandering about aimlessly and in different directions and doing as they please.
The Urban and Town Planning ministry in most States has become so irrelevant in our lives that most people do not even remember that they exist. In fact, in most states when any attempt to correct this anomaly in town planning is made, the arrowhead is usually one task force or the other. What then do the staffs of the town planning authority do? It seems all they do is create the mess by way of rubber-stamping building permits and looking the other way when all manner of incomprehensible buildings are put up.
For example, I cannot understand the culture we now have in construction whereby banks, eateries and other commercial properties design their parking lots in such a way that visitors departing the premises have to back out onto busy streets to leave!! I am not a town planning professional, but simple common sense tells me that such a design is absolutely not a professional one and to keep it simple, makes no sense at all!! I may not be able to put a percentage to it, but I am sure a lot of the traffic we have today is caused by security guards slowing traffic down on our highways for someone to reverse his vehicle out of one bank or eatery or the other unto the main road. This is the case on almost every major road in every city in this country. Unfortunately, this should never have been the case. A functioning town planning authority should never have approved such designs (that is even if such areas are even meant to be commercial areas).
I also find it incomprehensible how churches have taken over all public space. In residential and commercial areas, flats and warehouses, shopping plazas and even roadsides, the churches are taking over every available building and space. One would think that Men of God would be the last of hope for ensuring that things are done the proper way in this country, but this does not appear to be the case. While it is rare to find a Catholic, Anglican or Methodist church situated without sufficient landmass to allow for proper parking, unfortunately, most of our Pentecostal churches are improperly situated. A few are located in commercial and industrial areas, where human traffic is limited on Sunday mornings, but most erect huge church buildings smack in the middle of residential areas, where absolutely no thought is given for human and vehicular traffic, ultimately ending up in huge traffic jams and inconvenience to residents and road users. How on earth have all these building been approved? If the Town Planning authorities have approved all these buildings, then we have a serious problem. But even at that, shouldn't a Pastor know better to do the right thing? What is right is right and what is wrong is wrong!!
In Victoria Island and Ikoyi, both in Lagos, what used to be well-designed residential areas have been lost, probably forever, as almost every building is turned into one commercial property or the other? No wonder then, that the traffic in V.I on a working day and even on some weekends is legendary. Of course the roads were never designed to take such an array of cars!! They were designed to handle the traffic load of regular everyday people returning to their homes, probably from the Federal Secretariat, which was in Ikoyi at the time. Buildings that were designed to occupy a single family of say 5 in the heart of V.I have been knocked down and remodeled to become office blocks, now occupying 30-50 people and to make matter worse, usually with no preemptive thought as to where all these staff would park their cars. The consequence is now that people spend hours driving to places that would ordinarily have taken minutes. The attendant man-hours lost and its value in monetary terms can best be imagined. Not to mention the unnecessary cost of fixing cars that spoil in traffic as well as the artificial demand for petrol that it causes. The losses to the economy are massive!!
Another problem that many highly populated cities in Nigeria are grappling with is flooding. However, what I have observed in many cases is that low lying areas within most cities that have formed natural drainage basins are encroached upon and built up with no thought as to where the displaced water would flow to. As you might expect, water, not aware of our needs and doing its own thing, usually demands to find its own level. The consequence usually ends up being perennially flooded streets and communities. Port Harcourt is a case in point in this regard. What is however comical is that when the flooding now becomes unbearable, as more people build and constrict the flow of water, the landlords then form an association and begin to call on the government to come to their aid. However, cases like this should never have happened if the Urban and Town Planning Authorities had stepped in and restricted such areas as off limits to construction.
As I said earlier, Nigeria has many issues and people are regularly talking about them. However, I find that some of the problems which frustrates our existence as Nigerians on a day to day basis - traffic congestion, human congestion, failure of drainages, flooding in our "cities", refuse lining our streets and gutters, non delineation of residential and commercial areas and its attendant difficulties - can all be said to be caused by the failure of our various Urban and Town Planning ministries, but somehow, they seem to have slipped under the radar of public discourseÔÇŽ no one seems to be talking about them!!