Vice president Yemi Osinbajo

• Buhari: Africa must build cities that offer equal opportunities

By Chineme Okafor in Abuja
The federal government on Thursday said it was hoping that the temporary structures built to accommodate over two million Nigerians who have been displaced from their traditional homes to other parts of the country by terrorism and natural incidents would not remain in the settlements permanently.

It therefore said, in this regards, that it is working hard to ensure that these makeshift settlements do not become permanent homes to the displaced persons as seen in other places.

President Muhammadu Buhari, who was represented by Vice President Yemi Osibanjo, when he declared open the ongoing Africa Regional Meeting of United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Abuja, said such forced urbanisation resulting from terrorist attacks have created secondary towns across Africa.

He noted that these secondary towns were in turn putting enormous pressure on city centres across the continent, adding that Nigeria for instance was working hard to take care of the situation.

Buhari said: “Increasing migration into urban areas at a time of resource constraints has resulted in population explosion and shortage of housing, which has pushed people living in cities to locate and build structures in areas vulnerable to natural disasters, causing significant economic and social risks.

“Closely associated with the challenge of migration is that of forced urbanisation resulting from terrorist attacks.
“Secondary towns, especially in the Sahel zone of Africa, have over the past five years come under tremendous pressure to accommodate citizens who have been forced to flee their villages and homesteads by act of terrorism which has destroyed life and property, exacerbated insecurity and poverty.

“Indeed, millions of people live as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in camps and makeshift shelters scattered around different parts of the continent. The challenge of providing succor and restoring the livelihood of such people is a matter of utmost priority.
“In Nigeria, for instance, the incidence of IDPs has taken a disturbing dimension where up to two million people now live in camps and makeshift shelters and host communities.”

He added that: “The Nigerian government is taking urgent steps accordingly to ensure that temporary relief measures do not become permanent structures as we have seen happen elsewhere.

“We are therefore deploying substantial human, material and financial resources to address the situation.”

Buhari also spoke on the need for African countries to begin to build cities that are resilient and open for all people to live and work equally.

He said Africa must put the days of speaking in discordant and weaker voices on global issues behind it and begin to pursue a common African position on the issue of urbanisation.

According to him, Africa must change the story of cities and settlement from one of chaos and slum to one of positive planning, tranquility and environmental sustainability.

He said even with lessons from other parts of the world, African countries must retain the continent’s commonality and peculiarities in designing its urbanisation agenda.

The president stated that the African Regional Meeting of the UN Habitat III was timely for the continent to pursue a new urban agenda which would address some of its peculiar challenges.

The kind of urbanisation which Africa should pursue, Buhari said, must take place in a manner that simultaneously promotes growth and social inclusion.

The president added that: “This connectedness between city and countryside is an important means of overcoming the vulnerabilities to which African cities are exposed to-not the least of which is climate change.

“Environmental sustainability is important if our cities and human settlements are to be made safe, livable and attractive. This is one way we can stop seeing the heart-rending scenes of our young people trying to flee the continent in make-shift and ramshackle boats.”

Also speaking at the event, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, urged delegates to develop common strategies on how to manage the challenges of urbanisation in the continent.

Fashola said: “We have talked enough. The time to start making decisions has since come upon us. First, we must define what quality and standard of life we want for ourselves. We must set those standards. Nobody can do that for us.”