Urban renewal programme as solution to urban slums

A section of Gwarimpa Estate in Abuja

Most Nigerian cities are not ideal for human habitation especially in modern times. ELEOJO IDACHABA writes on the need to embark on urban renewal programmes in the country.

Most modern urban cities all over the world were once said to be uninhabitable. This is because investigation shows that over time, such cities became deficient of modern facilities no longer befitting human habitation. No wonder in many African nations like South Africa, Ghana, Egypt, Nigeria and others, their capital cities were deliberately moved to a newly planned city while attention were focussed on upgrading the existing facilities in the former capital city. This, according to analysts, is what is today commonly referred to as urban renewal programmes.In Nigeria, the story is the same for many towns and cities. For instance, in places like Port Harcourt, Kaduna, Kano, Enugu, Calabar and Benin City, to mention a few, the respective state governments have taken deliberate steps to modernise those cities in line with modern infrastructure befitting a 21st century city despite without neccesarily throwing the residents out into the streets.However, while many states are embarking on a deliberate plan of action to upgrade their cities, there are still some states in the country that are yet take steps towards building a new urban centres for their citizens. In many of such states like Kogi, Nasarawa, Zamfara, Ekiti, Osun, Jigawa, Taraba, Kebbi, Yobe, Niger and Katsina, to mention a few, investigation reveals that many nationals of those states find pleasure in mass emigration into other states in search of refuge. A good number of them live in cities like Abuja, Kano, Enugu, Jos and Port Harcourt. Painfully, there is no deliberate attempt to change the narrative even in the present times.A good example is Lokoja town, the capital city of Kogi state. Any first time visitor to this city would be convinced that Lokoja can best compare to a local government headquarter in some states owing to the dearth if infrastructure and decayed existing facilities. While existing infrastructure in that town have fast deteriorated, there are no plan by the current administration in the state to embark on urban renewal drive towards giving the town a sense of modernity. No wonder, at the peak of every rainy season, Lokoja township roads are covered in floods, residential buildings are taken over by water while residents and travellers who pass through the town to other parts of the country go through harrowing experiences. Investigation by Blueprint Weekend shows that the only planned neighbourhood of the town is the adjoining streets to Lugard House where the seat of government is located. Some residents who spoke to Blueprint Weekend in the wake of the last flooding in Lokoja lamented the sheer neglect of the city by both the state and federal government.A resident, Omachonu Akor said annually Lokoja residents go through the same experience and there seems to be no end in sight.”This has been happening for more than 20 years that I can remember, yet no administration has deemed it neccesary to see it as a priority. Apart from the late Prince Abubakar Audu whose efforts are still evident everywhere years after he left office, no other administration has realised the need to upgrade the town. It’s even worse under the present administration,” he said.
Planning as anecdote against slums
Writing on ‘Slum Prevalence in Nigeria and the Role for Architects, Sunday Bobadoye and Alexander Fakere both of the Federal University of Technology in Akure noted that urban decay in Nigeria is essentially caused by rapid urbanisation and the mismatch in the provision and maintenance of housing and infrastructure. According to them, “Most of the housing-quality related problems in Nigeria result largely from inadequately planned land use and non-secure land tenure, poverty, poor construction and weak development control. The outcomes are the proliferation of slums which are characterised by overcrowding, flooding, dilapidated structures, existence of stagnant waste water in generally dirty and unhygienic living environments. These overwhelming negativities, they however benoted notwithstanding, there are some positive aspects to slums. As according to them in recent years, some environmentalists and organisations such as the United Nations Population Fund suggested that despite the poor living conditions, slums are positive both environmentally and socially. This is because in their findings, slums are characterised by very high density of housing, therefore its environmental impact is smaller than that of dispersed rural communities. Furthermore, they said the fertility rate of new slum dwellers is below the replacement rate; this mitigates dangers associated with overpopulation that results from manpower-intensive subsistence agriculture and frees up arable land for the nature, or more efficient industrialised agriculture. Slum dwellers they said also appear to have vastly better opportunities for getting jobs, start small businesses and climb out of poverty than rural inhabitants. Nigeria is ranked as one of the countries with high slum prevalence. The proliferation of shanty dwellings, squatter settlements and slums in most of our cities in Nigeria and other less-developed nations of the world is attributed to a chain of factors closely associated with the low level of socio-economic and cultural lifestyles of the inhabitants. 
Environmental dilapidation as a major concern
An environmentalist, Habeeb Shuaeeb while writing on Urban Renewal in Nigeria, the Sustainable Environment Dimension, said Nigerian urban centres are currently experiencing a disconnection between urban infrastructure and the populace. He said, “The majority of urban infrastructure was developed during the military regime as far back as the early 70s. Despite the succession of a democratic governance in the 21st century, there is inadequate maintenance of infrastructure in most urban centres across the country. “The current government of Lagos state made it mandatory to establish regeneration projects within the built-in environment, but other urban centres in the country are less concerned about the increased rate of environmental dilapidation. “This has hindered the growth of many sectors which in return has stagnated the economy over the years. However, over 55% of infrastructures across urban centres in Nigeria have not been fully operational for the past decade. This is associated with poor urban renewal plans, lack of regeneration policies, increased poverty, insecurity, corruption, insufficient environmental regeneration, stakeholders’ differences and inefficiency in incorporating people’s initiatives. Nonetheless, he said sustainable urban renewal in Nigeria is important to mitigate against climate change challenges. “This is because while most urban centres are located on low-lying coastlines, others are located in the arid zones of the country. As such, it is important to integrate a decision-making system to enhance urban renewal intertwined with environmental sustainability. “A careful review of this pragmatic approach will not only promote urban renewal plans but enhance the prospects on how to manage sustainable built environment across urban centres in Nigeria.According to him, “Most urban infrastructure in Nigeria are currently in a decaying state as a result of poor maintenance, increased population growth and the negative impact of climate change. Also, climate change challenges in the 21st century have made it considerable to plan for future sustainable infrastructural systems. This requires an effective integration of urban renewal strategies with the needs to protect the environment for the activities of both present and future generations.
Signs of urban slums
Writing on the implication of unplanned settlements in Ondo state, another environmentalist, Dr Joseph Adeniran said, “The myriads of urban problems that have far-reaching economic implications on the urban populace can be identified in the form of collapsed existing urban infrastructural facilities or complete lack of them in some urban centres. “Increasing rate of street trading, street parking and encroachment on road setbacks by informal activities as a result of lack of organised markets and shopping centres/shopping malls, congestion of transport infrastructure like road and its precincts in particular manifesting in accidents, hold-up and go-slow. “Others include human- induced disasters like fire outbreak, flood and erosion, inefficient urban infrastructure and utilities like power, water, drainage, hospitals, post and telecommunication, unsanitary conditions resulting from poor waste disposal methods and blockage of drains (where they are available), incidence of destitution, homelessness, overcrowding, poverty crime and diseases, landlocked developments resulting from unorganised and unregulated new developments which cause lack of access to some land use activities, lack of adequate data for policy makers, administrators, researchers and urban managers, rural neglect which results from sentimental regional development plans, destruction of urban aesthetics as a result of lack of organised open space and destruction of informal open spaces. He noted that while the national status of the problem has been acknowledged, the magnitude of its presence in Ondo state cannot be overemphasized.According to him, one of the negative effects of the high rate and pace of urbanisation in developing countries is the decay of urban centres. “While this decay has eaten deep into the fabric of these settlements turning them into urban slums and ghettoes with poor infrastructure, the effects of the decay are multifarious. “Despite the fact that economy is the life-wire of urban centres, its untold downturn consequent upon urban decay is unimaginable because of the relationship that exists between environmental quality and economic growth. This calls for a proactive approach called urban renewal towards creation of successful urban places.”Analysts are however of the views that governments at all levels should make urban renewal very holistic. They are of the opinion that a holistic urban renewal exercise is the one that counts the cost on the residents of the communities that are likely to be afected, carry them along, pay necessary compensations or relocate them as the case may be before demolition exercise commences at all. If this is done, cases of ill-health induced by forceful evictions will not arise.
Gov’t is evolving urban renewal strategies
 In the meantime, Blueprint Weekend gathered that the federal government has evolved plans to review the national urban development policy and as well implement urban renewal programme in order to wage war against slum across the country.The minister of works and housing, Babatunde Fashola gave the hint recently during the World Habitat Day and World Cities Day in Abuja.According to him, the programme would be in partnership with United Nations Habitat, saying the new policy would accommodate issues not captured in the old policy. Fashola therefore called for a collective reflection, stocktaking and strengthening partnerships, to accelerate action in the pursuit for sustainable urban development in Nigeria.“We all have the responsibility to shape the future of our cities and build the type of cities we desire for our good health and well-being and for that of our future generations.”He noted that President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has not relented in its commitment to ensuring that citizens have a better life through addressing the problems associated with housing and infrastructure challenges. “There are ones establish by unplanned cities which led to increased slums and shanties. We are working towards creating smart and sustainable cities across the nation,” he emphasised.He listed various programmes already embarked upon by government to include the on-going national housing programme and the launch of the national maintenance framework for a public building.In her contribution at the event, the executive director, UN-HABITAT, Mrs Maimunah Moh Sharif challenged stakeholders to identify ways of overcoming challenges mitigating urbanisation in a way that everyone’s life could be improved. It is expected that all hands should be on deck in order to create an ideal city and environment where everyone would be proud to live in. 

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