Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Senator Bala Mohammed,
Experts believe there is an urgent need to redesign Abuja’s concept to reflect modern-day cosmopolitan realities that emphasizes human integration rather than exclusivity, writes BENNETT OGHIFO
Last week, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Senator Bala Mohammed, faulted the nation’s planners and administrators for designing and building Abuja as an abode for privileged people and with little room for support-population. Abuja’s inner city, the minister said was conceived to accommodate a million families but that it is now home to over six million people.
Naturally, it is good to have a perfect master plan that shapes the growth of a city. It is better if the plan includes every part of the landscape where it covers but it is best to have a plan B that can regenerate a built-up space instead of total clearance in the event the master plan fails or is not implemented fast enough to match the speed of urbanization, as it is with Abuja and its satellite towns.
The rapid rate of urbanisation of the Federal Capital Territory without a plan to upgrade basic infrastructure could harm the future of the city itself as well as the millions of people living there with potential spillover effect on other parts of the country, according to experts.
Government, they say, still has not embraced the fact that Abuja is a mega city, not just a federal capital territory, and so requires conscious planning and development to cope with it now and in the future. “The city is surrounded by built-up communities, jungles of unplanned settlements stretching in all directions to Niger State or Nasarawa State. In other societies, you leave the capital city and emerge in lush green or even desert landscape,” explained Muyiwa Adams, a town planner resident in Abuja.
“These days you could hardly tell the boundaries between Abuja and Nasarawa State and the Zuba-Gwagwalada stretch is almost built-up and this means that government needs to act fast to make these areas functional communities complete with basic infrastructure such as feeder roads, organized electricity infrastructure, running water, health facilities and schools, among other amenities. House-types can be prescribed to ensure uniformity instead of having an unsightly mix of shanties and solid structures,” he said.
Not everybody in the Federal Capital Territory was attracted there by the bright lights and well paved streets. Most came in search of baseline livelihoods; people who had tried to eke a living elsewhere and needed to seek better options for whatever it is worth.
For the millions who could not afford the high rents charged in the city centre or its hotels, ended up on the fringes of town and in communities like Mpape, Bwari, Gwagwalada, Kubwa, Nyanya, Karmo, Lugbe, Karu Jikwoyi, Masaka and Mabushi, among others, hoping actualize their dreams.
Dutse, for instance, is a sprawling suburb in Bwari Area Council, under the Federal Capital Territory Administration, Abuja. The town grew from the main city centre where most lower cadre civil servants, artisans, construction workers and some traders found cheaper accommodation in that axis of the city. People in this community initially had enough ‘infrastructure’ to keep them going.
In reality, there were no planned structures or access roads, neither were there government facilities like pipe borne water, drainage and road networks. Similarly, Dutse, Kubwa and Maraba-Nyanya became the only available areas to absorb the large population of people displaced after the demolition of satellite towns like Idu-Karmo, Lugbe, and all the other settlements along the airport road.
Today, these satellite towns are largely the abodes of mostly civil servants, traders and other people who service the city’s economy. These days, they travel through congested roads to the metropolis. Most of the roads and other infrastructure in these satellite towns are in deplorable conditions, having been neglected by the area councils.
These satellite towns have been neglected for so long by the relevant authorities that it is now very difficult to use their inner roads, especially during the rains season. These areas do not have proper drains to take storm water that end up flooding the areas. But a good drainage system could save the area from perennial flooding and erosion.
Some residents complained there is only a single lane road passing through Karmo town and that this road also links other settlements like Kado, Gwagwa and Idu. Apart from that, the road is also a very busy. Residents pointed out that they have expressed concern over the conditions of roads but nothing has been done.
As the population increases, the number of satellite towns continues to grow in the FCT and it is almost certain they are here to stay, which is not a bad thing since everybody has a stake in the nation’s capital anyway.
Moreover, living in the satellite towns is a lot cheaper even though it has its drawbacks like lack of basic sanitation in small houses clustered together without approved plans. The owners, if not occupiers, are mainly interested in the rent. As such other facilities like bathrooms and other conveniences are the concern of the tenants.
But the danger is that living conditions have become worse in these satellite towns, especially after the influx of people whose homes were demolished in other communities. “Good accommodation is not easy to come by these days,” said Godwin Apepe, a civil servant in Lugbe. “Rental prices in Lugbe have increased significantly in recent times, compared to a few years ago because of the demolition exercises that affected many satellite communities.”
The status of government facilities in some satellite towns unfortunately does not sway FCDA to provide infrastructure in such communities. For instance, the Bwari-Dutse road is one of the busiest in the territory, as it is home to many federal government institutions like the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board and the Nigerian Law School. The road can be rehabilitated by the FCDA which governs the axis. Some residents of the satellite towns say road construction there has been suspended pending when residents are relocated. There are plans to relocate residents of Karmo to Shere, Wasa or Anagada.
Also, another frightening scenario is not just the lack of infrastructure in Abuja’s suburbs. The metropolis itself has a waste water treatment problem to worry about. The central sewerage system has a temporary plant now in use that has the capacity to serve only 50,000 people that is, 25 percent of its present population, showed a study by UNESCO. It is therefore not able to provide adequate treatment of the wastewater, the report indicated.
Reviewing the Master Plan
The FCT will continue to be a melting pot for Nigerians and foreigners. Accordingly, the people in the satellite towns have a right to be there and should be provided for in planning, experts said. “The critical first step is for policymakers to recognise the rights of poor people to live in cities and share in the benefits of urban life. The next is to plan ahead for their land and housing needs within a constantly updated vision of sustainable land use,” added George Martine, past President of the Brazilian Association of Population Studies and Dr Gordon McGranahan of International Institute for Environment and Development, in a recent study.
These experts observed that Nigeria and other African nations should take a cue from the urban regeneration success of Brazil, whose failure in the past to plan for rapid urban growth, exacerbated poverty and created new environmental problems and long-term costs that could have been avoided.
They advised that policies focused on slum clearance aimed at preventing or retarding urban growth instead of preparing ahead for it will only make matters worse. “Looking ahead, policymakers need to pay special attention to the land and housing needs of the poor. This not only improves the lives of poor people but enables the city to become prosperous and habitable for all. The story of Brazil’s urban growth shows how deep-rooted inequalities have combined with a negative policy stance to generate many of the social and environmental problems that still plague Brazilian society,” said George Martine.
“Urbanisation and massive urban growth in developing countries loom as some of the most critical determinants of the economic, social and ecological well-being in the 21st century,” he stated. Based on this report, Emeka Aduna, a property consultant in Abuja, who resides in one of the city’s new estates, argued that government must address Abuja’s growth as a major challenge instead of trying to employ slash and burn tactics.
“Professionals need to take a second look at the Abuja master plan to undertake a review, particularly in areas such as roads, drainage, water supply and the sewage system,” he posited.