Town Planners Have Not Made Commensurate Impact On Society – Ajayi | Independent Newspapers Limited
Newsletter subscribe

Property & Environment

Town Planners Have Not Made Commensurate Impact On Society – Ajayi

Posted: Apr 11, 2016 at 3:37 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)


 Dr. Bunmi Ajayi is a highly knowledgeable town planner with about four decades of experience. In this discourse with NKASIOBI OLUIKPE, he speaks on some salient issues revolving around the town planning profession. Excerpts:


Your name has become a recurring decimal in town planning both at the state and federal levels. Give us a little light into how you have imparted this nation via your professional calling?


I am lucky to have served my profession up to the rank of the national president of the Nigeria Institute of Town Planners (NITP), 2000 to 2002; president of all the professional bodies in Nigeria between 2006 and 2008.

I was a member of the presidential committee on housing and urban development during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime. I was part of the team that secured the Nigeria Urban Planning law. I was part of the team that put together the National Building Code.

Currently the Lagos State government has appointed me the chairman of the committee that has been setup to restructure the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) and the Lagos Material Testing Laboratory.

Within these 40 years of service to your fatherland, how would you assess the town planning profession? Have they done well, or are there things still lacking?

There is no doubt that there have been lots of changes, especially pertaining to growth in the number of town planners in the country. I know that as at the time I came back to this country in 1974, those of us with postgraduate qualification in this country then, were not up to 10. But today, there are hundreds of professionals in the field. So, in terms of numbers, they have increased. In terms of impact on the environment, that is where one would have thought the impact would have increased, but unfortunately, it is not commensurate with the increase in the number of planners.

One of the reasons for this is not for lack of knowledge; it is just that by the nature of planning, you are asking people to become imaginative, to become visionaries. But by the nature of planning recommendations, they are long term. But unfortunately, politicians and public office holders are short-term thinkers. Therefore when there are planning recommendations, because it is long term for them, they ignore recommendations of town planners. So, it is not that town planners are not giving recommendations, politicians and policy makers don’t back up these recommendations with money. So, what you now have is that you don’t see anything on ground, not because town planners have not talked about it, but because people you have talked to have decided to be deaf.

So, I will say that the lack of significant impact of the imprint of the town planners on the environment is not because the town planners didn’t know what they are supposed to do, it is just because people in power are short term operators.

Since this has been the case, what has the NITP done to get the authorities understand that they are making a fool of them?

 The institute has strived to engage the government at various levels, state, national and international levels. We are always engaging the government. Then the institute has encouraged a lot of our members to participate in party politics and take party offices. As a result, we have about seven town planners in the National Assembly. In the Lagos House of Assembly, I know we have one, I was told there are two. That is one approach that the institute has preached to its members, not to go and stand aloof and be holier than thou. If the politicians are not with us, then they are against us.

We should therefore endeavour to participate. So, a lot of our members are participating. We are also encouraging ourselves to communicate in less technical languages because one of the things we discovered too, is that some of them do not implement our recommendations because they do not understand the technicality of some of our languages. So, we learnt something from that and decided to make our languages elementary by keeping them simple enough for them to appreciate.

So, are you saying the town planners are completely absolved of blame?

No. There are two things I feel they have not done but which they should do.  The first is that we have not put our benefits in naira and kobo or the implication of lack of implementation of our recommendations in naira.

If we recommend to you to lay out your market properly so that it will reduce delay and negative impact. If you don’t do that, you will have a congested market. When you now estimate the number of hours that people waste and we now value that time per hour, I will now cost the implications of your not doing it, it will be clear to government that not doing it will amount to losing a lot of money. Or if you have a proposal to do a road from one particular point to another, you should be able to say that you are spending N3million to do this route, but these are the implications in terms of increase in property values of the properties that are there; these are the implications for cars that will not break down and the cost of maintenance; plus and minus, you will discover that the benefit of that one kilometer of road in naira and kobo is high. That is the area where the politicians and policy makers don’t really understand. But if you had said, if you implement this thing I gave to you, this is the benefit to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), this is the amount you will be losing if you do it. But we town planners are not doing enough of what is called urban economics, so as to explain our importance in naira and kobo.

The second thing we have not done very well is to really get the populace to plan. We have arrogated the power and right to plan to ourselves. If we had the populace along with us, we will plan together. When somebody wants to disobey, it is the people themselves that will arise. Let me give you an example: A roundabout in Gbagada was literally turned to a football stadium by the youth around that area. Government allocated that place for somebody to do something else. But those young people in the area ganged up and made sure the person did not take possession. And so today, they are still using the place because they believe in it.

If you say this place o, we have marked it out for our children to be playing football and suddenly one person comes up to cut it into pieces and sell, all of us living in that area will gang up and make sure it does not happen, because we understand that that place was earmarked for children’s play ground. It is that area that we have not sufficiently gotten to the psyche of the masses such that they will be the ones fighting our battles, not we doing the fighting.

Why is it that when professionals are picked up for political appointments, when they get there they forget where they are coming from and compromise?

One of the reasons why we say professionals should go into politics is our belief that as a professional, there is a code of conduct, and we believe that they will be able to carry that code of conduct with them into politics. But unfortunately, they lose their own code of conduct when they get there. This is really painful. Rather than their presence rubbing off on the politicians and giving them some level of morality, the politicians succeed in dragging them into the mud of their own code of conducts.

But there are professionals who have gone into ministries where they have knowledge and made significant impact. So, it is dangerous to generalize it. It is also painful, that professionals go into politics and come out dirty rather than coming out neat.

How do you think the town planning profession can be strengthened? What do you think can be done for people to really feel their impact?

The press has to help us a lot to sensitise people to environmental issues, planning in particular. You see planning is abstract. There is a bush; you now as a town planner, design a layout for that bush. You want the ordinary person to understand what that bush will look like in 12 years. It is not easy. 98 per cent of human beings do not think. They just say, that is the way it is being done, so let us do it the way it is being done. They just want to copy what somebody else has done. But in terms of originality, 98 per cent of humans don’t think. We need a lot of enlightenment in order to be able to sell an abstract subject like planning. It is not easy, because, lots of things we are going to talk about is abstract. When you are going to say, Lagos State in the year 2020 or Lagos State in the year 2030, a lot of people are not thinking towards that line. What they are thinking about is how to get a bus to their places of work without delay, they are not thinking of Lagos in the year 2030. They are not thinking of the fact that it is being delayed because a lot of people are trying to move out at the same time. The abstract nature of planning is not easy to sell, not easy to explain and that is where a lot of public enlightenment by the press would help us.

The town planners themselves would have to go out of their way to curry the favour and understanding of the public. It is the public that would help them to influence government and their policies.

And I think that the more we bring in educated people into our governance as a nation, we then might have luck to enjoy the benefits of democracy. So, I also advice that the professional bodies themselves must have to go all out to explain their profession, the benefits of it, reduce it to naira and kobo and explain the benefits to the society and the economy.

How are you guys imparting your experiences on the academic institutions, to strengthen their curriculum in a dynamic world?

Planning is particularly dynamic because it has to do with society. It has to do with how people live and what is affecting how they think and live. The simple reason of information technology has changed the way people think, live, work, worship, and every other aspect of their lives. So, town planners must continuously be moving.

When Abuja was being done and I designed one of the districts, one of the guidelines for the designs was that you must leave five hectares of land for telephone exchange. Today telephone exchanges are no longer in use. That is a fantastic example of how technological changes affect land use. So, as a town planner, you must be current with what is going on in the society. You must be in tune with what is going on with technology. Most people today only need small offices, where they will have just their computer and they are in business unlike in the past where they will need a big office with so many people running all manner of errands. People don’t go on errands any longer; everybody sends messages and makes calls. The number of staff required is reduced drastically so, we must continually educate ourselves in technological innovations. You have got to understand what is going on to be able to plan for the people.

There has been a public outcry for the review, some are even saying outright repeal of the Land Use Act.  What can you say to this?

Fortunately, I was a member of the committee on housing and urban development in 2001. And incidentally too, I wrote the section on Land and Land Management. Our position and the position of most professionals in the built industry is that the thing should be reviewed. We would not likely advocate a total removal. But it needs to be reviewed in certain parts. I remember when I was arguing with the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, I put it to him that, sir, when you buy shares, what are you doing? He responded investing. When I buy land, I am making investment. When you want to sell your shares, do you take permission from anybody to sell your shares? He said no.  So why are you saying I should go and take permission from the governor before I can sell my land. And he saw that there was something illogical about that aspect.

He believed that that aspect of it was wrong and promised he was going to do something about it. You know everybody has an ego, it is the military that put that thing there, you cannot imagine them now saying they were wrong to have done that. Soldiers don’t admit they are wrong.

Unfortunately, for us, the governors are enjoying that power, therefore they would not want it changed. You know the process of constitutional amendment, two third of the members of the house of assembly must support. So that is where the real issue is. I don’t see any governor in this country, who will assent to that. Well, maybe one day, we will all just rise up and say yes. It’s a problem, because it is making the governors extraordinarily powerful, more powerful than they are, even in their political party.



How about the National Building Code still awaiting assent by National Assembly?

It was a stupid thing to have done in the first place. Why take it to the National Assembly? Why, to do what there? It’s a building code and like a regulation. It was wrong to have taken it to the National Assembly to say you want to make it a law. The most that was supposed to have been done was to take it to the governors’ forum. That is the highest place they should have taken it.  You know the process of constitutional amendment, you are putting a law before the National Assembly when tomorrow morning, the use of materials can change. About 20 to 30 years ago, people were using asbestos to build houses. Today, is anybody still using asbestos to build? So, do you want us to run back to the National Assembly any time there is a change. It was a very stupid step for it to have been taken to the National Assembly.

So, in your own assessment, what has been the impact of the non-passage by the National Assembly?

I don’t know why it went there in the first place. It is not a law, it is a code. The existence of it is what is important, not the non-passage by the National Assembly. The building code is existing and that is what is being used in the building industry. It has become obvious to us. The Ministry of Works and Housing that took there in the first place, will one of these days bring it back.

If you say it is existing; How, as in a case of a toothless bulldog?

It is not a matter of toothless, it is a code which all professionals in the built industry in all the states agreed will guide Nigeria in its building process. So, what is the business of the National Assembly in that?

At over 60, you are still working, when are you going to retire?


Retire for what?.  The younger ones say you guys are not allowing them to come in?I am not standing in their way. I am living my life while they are living theirs