Lafia — Three pillars stand at the end of Nyanya, along Abuja-Keffi Road, on the gate way into Nasarawa State - all bearing an inscription: "Welcome to Nasarawa." But the beautifully designed pillars only welcome the visitor into the world of large slums where every available space is dotted with makeshift or unplanned development, sandwiched by garbage; all typifying a state where government has completely failed to provide a healthy human habitat.
If it is possible for the visitor to place one leg in Nasarawa, and the other in Abuja, they will be standing on two different worlds: one where the growth of slums is almost unimaginable; and the other where there is planned development, guided by a blueprint.
Dormitory is what much of Nasarawa sharing boundary with Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), looks like. This apt description of Mararaba, Ado, Masaka, New Nyanya, One-Man Village and all of the slum settlements with proximity to the FCT, vividly captures the physical outlook of that part of the state carved out some years ago as Greater Karu Area for the purpose of giving it a development equal to that of Abuja.
But about 16 years after creation of the state from the old Plateau State - in 1996 - the government of previous administrations there all failed to implement the blueprint of Greater Karu, which entails development control, and the running of big infrastructure in the area commensurate with the growing influx of residents, developers, businesses and all forms of investors there.
The first two military administrations government in the state were the designers of the blueprint; and they envisaged the influx of people into the area, from Abuja, either for business which will target Abuja market, or for residential property development, also targeting Abuja. But the vision was dead on arrival because the two civilian administrations which succeeded them did not share same view.
The two civilian administrations of Abdullahi Adamu, and Aliyu Akwe Doma, respectively; all looked away while arbitrary developers had a field day running all manner of buildings on every available space, to provide a place for the swelling population of workers and business people in Abuja, who are daily looking for affordable accommodation. The outcome, 16 years later, is what turned that part of Nasarawa, in the western zone, into a dormitory for an exploding population.
Sunday Trust reports that in much of Karu, just by Abuja, streets exist, but they exist only to provide access in and out for residents and businesses. There are hardly planned streets, as much of what is provided there was run by residents themselves, with no survey by government. Government comes around, but it does so only to collect taxes from property owners and businesses; and nothing more.
There are no drainages; and where a few exist, they have all silted up, and instead of channel storm waters out of the slums, these silted drainage system collects water which then backflows into homes, causing severe floods there. Other forms of infrastructure are completely absent; where a few exist, they have completely broken down because of years they have been abandoned to suffer the simulate of previous administrations.
That is the story of Nasarawa, a state whose landmass is interwoven with Abuja, but whose outlook depicts the proverbial picture of a poor cousin.
But that is not the complete story of this poor cousin. It has an update; showing efforts by government - now in the hands of a new administration, by Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura - who has introduced reforms in the land use, to neglect a new Abuja from of the FCT's neighbor.
The reforms which are guided by the Land Use Act, target in the first phase, the recovery of the urban centres of Karu, Keffi and Lafia, from the grip of a fast expanding slummy outlook, through the application of necessary policies and actions that will bring development control, engender an aggressive provision of infrastructure, and create cadastral districts with similar scenery like its neighbor - Abuja.
The man in charge of this reform is Sonny Agassi, a dual citizen of Nigeria and Canada, who resigned as a senior municipal officer in Ontario, to return to his home state to serve in the cabinet as Commissioner for Lands, Survey and Town Planning. Agassi has sat as head of the governor's reforms in the subsector for only months now, but he has a big dream: to replicate in his native Nassarawa state much of the functional society of Canada and the US where he has lived from his teenage days.
Implementations into the reforms have so far begun, seeing the birth of a project called Nasarawa Geographic Information System (NAGIS). It is an ongoing project of urbanization which seeks to put the state's land in use on the computer through Digital Aerial Mapping (DAM), as well as the creation of Cadastral Districts for development control, handled by a consortium of firms led by Siraj Consultancy Engineering at the cost of N2.7 billion.
NAGIS will make for habitats planning in terms of good networks, water supply, drainage systems, grazing routes and general development provisions to give Nasarawa same outloot as Abuja, or even better. The commissioner said the government is not just looking at income to fetch into the government coffers - from the outcome of the big dream - but will have to first, build confidence in property owners through the provision of a habitat with all social infrastructures to compete with Abuja.
There are success stories to tell, from the project, so far, part of which is the ongoing issuance of land titles, hitherto sat on by previous administrations and the review of land charges to meet international standards. By May of 2011 when the new administration came on board, there were not more than 600 little deeds issued to property owners, most of whom were politicians. But by last month, no less than 1,500 property owners have received their titles from the ministry under Agassi.
Also, the reforms have begun to tidy up the land use record at the ministry, through the 24-month-period of NAGIS project. The Digital Aerial Mapping (DAM) component of the project, handled by a team from Aeropresica Limited, partners in the Siraj contract, have so far picked mutilated land use documents including Intelligence Sheet (the land use data base) and other sensitive materials, to be recreated and computerized with backups for use in centuries to come. Aeropresica director, Roland Klaus, who studied the stockpile of documents handed to him by Agassi, said: "the data base is completely eroded, damaged such that it cannot be read." Roland Klaus told Sunday Trust that in recreating the data base, the team will assemble all land files, and meticulously locate the plots on the map to be provided by the NAGIS project.
"It's going to be a tedious job, but once we complete it, and computerize it, a situation of damaged records such as we have on our hands now, will not be there. The data base will now have several computer backups."
The data base was created in 1953 by the British Colonial masters who traversed round Nigeria to capture the land use, and create the data base. Nasarawa, the fifth generation state, at creation in 1996, copied its portion of the 1953 data, and created its Intelligence Sheet, which is now being recreated.
The NAGIS project has, as part of the larger success story of the reforms programme, brought in digital images taken from the sky by Aeropresica.
"The aircrafts are giving us aerial view of Nasarawa, capturing all property on ground. We are flying as low enough as to capture detailed images. The photos, so far, are impressive; they make for easy counting of the properties on ground. We will assign these properties numbers, and reach the owners easily. The owners of these properties can be reached easily, for them to come and regularize their ownership", Agassi had told Sunday Trust.
He said NAGIS is not only for property regularization alone, but also to make for habitat planning. "What we are going to have here is a completely computerized system where every datum can be easily reached by just pushing the button on the computer. The days of missing files, or hiding same is over", Agassi had added.
There is also the story of demolitions to come soon; and it is a success one. The properties so far marked for demolition have been found to have violated the blueprints, specifically, of Government Residential Areas (GRAs) of the urban centres in the state.
Al-Makura said recently, that owners of such illegal properties can go ahead and test the resolve of his administration to correct the GRAs, by defying the markings; and he will teach them lessons they have never learnt before.
The overall results of the reforms are yet to turn into success stories, but Agassi is confident that they will. "We have just begun; we will move on and on until we hit our target, which is to push and see how we can bring Nasarawa closer to 21st Century", he said.
Between June 29, and July 7, Governor Al-Makura was in Singapore to present this success story before world leaders including mayors of leading cities of the world, as well as stakeholders in the world habitat project. The event was the 2012 edition of World Cities Summit (WCS), otherwise called World Mayors' Forum.
The forum is a premier event that brings together practitioners and policy makers with leading experts in their field to identify innovative solutions to the most pressing challenges facing cities today, according to Wikipedia. "It is an international conference series on public governance and the sustainable development of cities."
Jointly organized by the Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) and the Singapore Civil Service College (CSC), this year's Summit expects over 1,000 delegates, up from 800 delegates in the 2008 event, comprising ministers, governors, mayors, senior government officials and business leaders. Event highlights include the World Mayors Forum, the World Cities Summit Expo, several Expert Panel Sessions, and various learning trips.
Speakers representing diverse cities in the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, led discussions to address issues on the practical aspects of city governance and integrated approaches to urban development under the summit's theme of 'Liveable and Sustainable Cities for the Future'. Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, Haruhiko Kuroda, President of the Asian Development Bank and Mr James Adams, Vice President of the East Asia and Pacific Region, World Bank, were there.
Al-Makura led a delegation comprising the head of the reform programme, Agassi, and the state Attorney General, Mohammed Abdullahi - and participated in the various sessions of the summit which drew over 1,500 participants from across the world, according to the official website of WCS.
The summit took place at the Sands Expo & Convention Centre at the Marina Bay Sand, a city "envisioned as a vibrant 24/7, environmentally-friendly mixed-use precinct where people live, work and play", according to the official site.
Agassi told Sunday Trust that "in Singapore, we told our story; the story of a government committed to taking Nasarawa close to 21st Century city with liveable features; the story of a state's nasty experience in development; a story of new agenda to make things happen like in Abuja, our big neighbor. Our governor made a big appearance there, and relayed to the whole world, our efforts, which attracted interests and partnerships, by extension."
Barrister Abdullahi, the Attorney General, was there to vet an agreements for the awaited partnership in nthe big reforms to create a new Abuja in Nasarawa State. He told Sunday Trust on return that "we presented our story as it is today; and have attracted interests from development partners who are willing to do business with us."
He said the delegation invited the partners to visit Nasarawa and lend their hands in the reforms which aim at creation of a new Abuja in Nasarawa. "We had quite a number of interests, and we have invited quite a number to visit Nasarawa. We are still at the stage of discussions with the intended foreign partners across the world, but specifically we have had far reaching discussions with two investors."
He named them as DOT Ventures Vietnam Limited, and Singapore International Transport, the first to partner in the structural development, and the second to lend a hand in the transport system to go with the dream city. "This is the roadmap that will eventually lead us to our dream city - a liveable and sustainable city to be called Nasarawa", Barrister Abdullahi said.