Steve Onu is the out-going President of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP).In this interview with Senior Correspondent, Dada Jackson, he bares his mind on a number of issues. Excerpts:
How has the journey been so far?
So far so good as they say.
Sir, it is a known fact that quackery is present in all professional bodies: how did you address the endemic issue of quackery in your institute?
Well, we set up practice and disciplinary committee in the institute. If we discover any of our members that are involved or are getting involved in quackery, by either cutting corners or being dishonest, we take him to the disciplinary committee which will take the appropriate action to sanction such a fellow. And again, If you go round, you will see people putting up sign boards, architects, planners, this and that, and when you don't have a planner in that organiswation and somebody is putting up a billboard that is a firm of architects, planners and what hafe yoyu, we have to investigate if there are actually planners in such organization or not. We would ensure that such billboards are removed because that is where quackery starts. If you don't have an architect in an organization, there is no point saying that you have an architect on board, same thing for a planner.
I'm aware that the Nigerian Institute of Architects and other professional bodies in the built environment have seals that they attach to documents to authenticate any action taken by their members, do we have same thing in NITP?
Yes, every member of the NITP who is registered with TOPREC has a seal that carries such a person's registration number. So, for instance, my registration number is 131, so, I have a seal and if I carry out any assignment or any job, I have to place my seal on the job in order to authenticate it. So, anybody who is flouting that is accountable. The TOPREC must see to it. Such a person is investigated and if found guilty, is sanctioned.
How do you check the abuse of this seal since you know that some unscrupulous people are always bent on circumventing genuine initiatives?
Let me tell you that our seals have encrypted numbers, and those numbers cannot be easily faked or forged. Like I told you, my number is 131. So, if I put a seal on any job that I do, my name and my number would appear on the document. So, if that is applicable and any seal that does not have somebody's number and name on it, then it is fake. Even if you lose the seal, we will report to TOPREC that so, so and so has happened and it is expected that TOPREC would act.
With due respect sir, of all the seven professional bodies in the built environemtn, NITP is the least heard of what could be responsible for this development?
Well, you know, before now or the early years, it is architects, engineers, docutros and so on, that people know about but NITP was establish in 1966 and since then, we have gradually, been making impact in the society. We have our state chapters and through our organization, the Town Planners Registration Council (TOPREC) was set up and we have been uilding on the efforts of our past presidents and we have gotten to a point where we now say, we want to be seen, we want to be heard and by the Grace of God, that is what will happen. NITP has been sponsoring people to international conferences. In 2011, the institute sponsored well over 60 town planners to undertake a study of Singapore and that very trip, was quite an eye opener to all of us who are town planners. It is not enough to read, sometimes, like in our profession, you read and see where these things have been carried out and then it gives you confidence that what you are doing is right. For instance, when we talk about vehicular, pedestrian traffic separation, some people who have not see it before will begin to imagine what it is but when you see that vehicular pedestrian separation means providing a side walk to make sure that pedestrians are safe on the highway, then you begin to appreciate this vehicular pedestrian traffic separation.
But if you have not see it, you will continue to read or cite it from the books, but you would appreciate it, the dynamics of it when you experience it. Let me tell you something, a country like Singapore is an island. Adjoining countries like Indonesia, Malaysia exprence flooding, but Singapore cannot experience flooding because they saw that as a problem and built, 7,000 kilometres of canals and drainages to entrap even rain water. They built about 17 reservoirs where they cannel this water and from these reservoirs, the rain is being processed, treated, recycled and used again. So, water in Singapore is not wasted.
If it rains as it rains in Nigeria, every drop that falls on the ground is collected through the canals and drains. That is ingenuity. You can only talk about this if only you have expeirneced it. If you have experienced it, you can now come to your country and say why don't we try this? So, they saw that as a problem, conducted a research and then developed the technology to combat it.
Those of us, who have been to Singapore, saw it and concluded that if was something, that could be replicated in Nigeria. And if I have access to any government official, like the Lagos State Government is building some canals and drainages, that is fine but the question is where you are taking it to at the end of the day. You are not channeling it into a river, no.
I am aware, sir, that you know that presently, Nigeria has 17 million housing deficit which is quite alarming, in your own estimation, how do you think this problem could be addressed?
Housing problem has to be addressed holistically. When people talk about 17 million housing deficit, I ask myself, how did we arrive at this? I went to South Africa, they are talking about one million housing deficit. Now, first of all, I think the first thing we should do it carry out an inventory, know how many houses we have in this country, how many houses are in very bad state, what do we do to regenerate those houses that are in very bad state? It is not enough to continue building new houses.
Go to Abuja, there are so many estates there developed by the private sector that are still vacant and each time I go to Abuja, I begin to laugh, if you look at one side of the road, you see magnificent houses, you look at the left, you see slum, those are people that are building organically, who are trying to provide housing for themselves because the government has not had the courage to address this housing problem.
Now, we have what they call urban renewal, urban nenewal does not mean clearance. If you embark on urban renewal, is it saying urban renewal on paper? How do you sustain it if it is a programme to assist those whose houses are in very bad state? Then there should be budgetary provision for it annually. So, those houses are in very bad state, whose locations have been identified, first there must be a redevelopment plan, town planners in the government, or outside government could be engaged to prepare a redevelopment plan for those areas.
Housing is not comlete if there is no water, no electricity, if there is no good road. And these are services that must be provided before people start building houses. Where these are not present, and you want to provide them, it may lead to disruptions and dislocations of some people. But if you have a development plan for that ara, you can identify the properties that may go as a result of redevelopment, you compensate the owners, and you also identify the houses that are sub-standard that little assistance could go to the owners to rehabilitate their buildings, make them live able and sustainable. Now, you embark on massive housing or mass housing that must be targeted to a particular group, low-income Nigerians who are paying taxes and who must not be allowed to live in sub-standard houses, then you now come up with a programme to finance it.
You don't talk about housing by saying this year; we are building about 2,000 units of housing, for who? You have to identify the target group that are in need of these houses and find a solution to their problem. If somebody is living in a sub-standard house, no toilet, no water, no electricity but the building is still in good state; grant can be made available to him to upgrade his huse by putting toilet facilities and by also putting electricity.
You have solved that person's problem. And then, you have to find out how many people living within your community are living in sub-standard houses or are landless and then you initiate a programme to provide for those people. We cannot continue to address housing by saying we have 17 million housing deficit and we go to Abuja and start building house for those who can afford houses for themselves.
That is what is happening today. It appears the government has put itself away from the needs of the people and allowing the private sector to drive housing supply and what that has led to in Abuja. I can say, is surplus houses that are not affordable by those in need and the people who are buying these houses up cannot live in all of them, they will rent them out at a very high price. So, we have to sit down, the government has to sit down, have a discussion on how to solve these problems by coming up with programmes geared towards meeting the needs of those in need and not the needs of those in want.