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Why it’s difficult to review Abuja master plan, by town planners

Town planners are demanding for a comprehensive review of the Abuja master plan, 42 years after a consortium of global firms designed it.

They exonerated themselves from the distortion of the Abuja master plan and blamed previous administration of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCDA) for the challenges being encountered in the physical development of the city.

A former president, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP), Mr. Moses Ajayi, told The Guardian that Abuja city master plan right from day one was designed to fail.

According to him, foreigners designed Abuja master plan and now the company does not exist. “Different companies led by Planning Research Corporation of America were put together and formed a company called International Planning Associates (IPA). It was formed primarily to undertake Abuja master plan.”

“When they finished, they dissolved the company. Every time, people talk about the review of the master plan, there is no company to go back to. The individuals exist, but the legal entity does not exist.

“The design was an amalgamation of Washington, Canberra and a few other capital cities in the other parts of the world. The city was designed without provision of bus stops as it was designed for private cars. What is being done now is an afterthought, Ajayi said. He called for a comprehensive assessment of the master plan.

Another past president of the institute, Luka Achi said the implementation of the Abuja master plan had been a major challenge as past administrations had distorted the plan.

He had called for the review of the master plan, pointing out the FCT at conception it was designed to accommodate about 3.5 million people but that the city now has over 6.5 million inhabitants

Achi explained that the areas where military barracks are located are supposed to be buffer zones and central parks that would shield the city from heat.

“The whole areas where you have the barracks were not supposed to be there. Those areas are supposed to be buffer zones. Even the dam that should supply water to the city has been blocked. They have changed the entire concept.

“The area you call Asokoro is not supposed to be there. Everybody wants to live in Maitama or Asokoro.”
A professor of Urban Design and Planning, Benue State University, Makurdi, Timothy Gyuse, said, while some effort has been made to control development within FCT, the same cannot be said of FCDA. There are several developments that have become major problems such as Mpape. Mpape is not alone; developments in Kubwa, Bwari, Gwagwalada and other such settlement are not better planned or regulated.

“These developments defeat one of the stated aims of relocating capital of the country Nigeria from Lagos, which was to have more orderly development. The same laissez-faire approach to planning and development control is in force leading to a response to crises rather than prevention of crises.

“ Many of the major institutional buildings are not located where planned. The most prominent is the Seat of Government, Aso Rock. In the original plan, the seat presidential authority was to be the Presidential Palace located on the Mall near the National Square.

Gyuse stated that the success or failure of Abuja master plan depended on understanding and implementing the residential components. “It is relatively easy to control where institutional structures go. It is more difficult to control residential areas because of the number of individual players and support services needed to support viable communities. The original plan was simple and intuitive.

“In planning terms, it was modeled somewhat on the Radburn model of neighbourhood development. Below the city level, there were sectors; sectors were made up of many districts each with a district centre.

“Each sector was to be conceived as a mini city of between 100,000 and 250,000 inhabitants. By that conception, the sector was to have employment capable of supporting the population served.”

The NITP president, Mr. Olutoyin Ayinde, said the principle requires that plans be reviewed every five years, if you’re monitoring a human settlement system. “Abuja is not in this alone. The reason is that Abuja is the only city in Nigeria planned from scratch, which is supposed to be excellent, but the population has been exceeded and no body is checking all of these.

“The implementation of the plan is not coming at the pace of the population growth, that is the challenge with Abuja master plan. It is a matter of political will to invest; it is more of an investment, than spending. The main factor for investing in plans and implementing them is the value Nigeria places on a Nigerian life. If the life of an ordinary Nigerian means nothing, you won’t care whether there is a planner, water, road and other infrastructure there.

“It is a different thing to plan and another thing to implement. In implementation, there is also the monitoring aspect; all of these require equipment and personnel as well as funding. Even the personnel are thin on the ground. I don’t say governance is easy and it is a complex system. But things are getting difficult and more complex,” he said.

Gyuse said the government trying to force its way back to the original plan in a wholesale manner is neither possible nor sensible, adding “with our limited resources, it seems wasteful to spend such energy on reclaiming the plan.”

“However, there are some practical issues that would necessitate reclaiming some of the lost areas. One such area would be the green areas, which not only beautify, but also serve as water channels, thereby preventing urban flooding in the event of extreme weather. Constructing concrete drains is an expensive solution to what could be accomplished purely through legislation and regulating of the use of low lying area.

He added: “Planners cannot be the visioners because they do not have the political and administrative authority to ensure implementation. Ideally, it needs to be the political class, not as a partisan group but as a collective, such that while personnel, parties, and even governments may change, the vision is sustained through the changes.”

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