The first female professional town planner in Nigeria, Mrs. Catherine Kehinde George in an interview with Maureen Ihua Maduenyi said the government needs to increase funding and monitoring of planning projects in Nigeria so that there will be better organization of the society. According to her, Nigeria still has a long way to go in planning because it is not all about development control and approval of building plans. It is all-encompassing and involves the maintenance of the environment to make it sustainable.
Physical planning involves planning the development and the implementation of the plans, as well as monitoring. So, planning is a cycle, which should not be broken; it is supposed to be continuous and there should be citizen participation, meaning that everyone must be involved in planning. Everyone should be interested in what is going on in the environment and how to make it sustainable.
The major challenges that have created the slow growth and how the government and other stakeholders can make it better
Mrs. Catherine Kehinde George said; the government is appreciating physical planning more because they have seen that in developed countries, planning helps them to grow. So, our government at the local, state and federal levels are giving better priority to planning but more needs to be done, because I think it is very important for every plan to be properly funded.
That is in the case of implementation, because no matter how good a plan is if it is not adequately funded and implemented, it is of no use; and it should be implemented in good time. If you have a plan that you have implemented and it doesn’t take off for the next 20 years, for instance, squatters will settle on the site and then you will have slum development.
Priority should be given more to planning projects, funding and monitoring. The government needs to increase funding and monitoring of projects so that there will be better organization of our spaces and activities. As an observer of the environment, Lagos is doing a good job because it is a heavily populated state, but despite that, there is a need to offer the basic infrastructure for the residents of the state. Other states are coming behind.
Considering the population explosion and many slum developments that are coming up in Lagos State, how successful will the Mega City project be?
The megacity status can be attained by a population of 10 million people and basic infrastructure and facilities that are in that settlement. So, we have already surpassed the population, but the basic facilities to support it is what we don’t have yet. I will say that earlier on, say about 40 years ago, we had a lot of acquisition by the Western Region Government in areas such as Ikeja, Ijeshatedo, Ketu, and Oregun. But for a long time, they were not used for the purpose they were meant for.
So, in Ketu for instance, people started settling down on the land, the area speedily developed. Ijeshatedo was also not developed by the government for a very long time and was later developed by private holdings. What is very important in discouraging the formation of slums is for the government to use its acquired land immediately. That is where implementation and funding come in as very important criteria for successful planning
What should be done about the slum settlements that have already developed as a result of the delayed implementation of the physical planning projects
“It starts with you and me because slums are not just the buildings but the environment. If you visit the streets of Lagos over the weekend or in the evening when the traders are done with trading, you will find them littered. The idea of littering the streets depends on people; if everyone decides not to litter the streets, the city will be cleaner”.
Mrs. Catherine Kehinde George said; “it is important that some habits are dispensed with, such as dropping refuse into drains or potholes, those are slum habits and this can be done by educating the people, having stakeholders’ meetings and programmes on radio and television”.
The experts are of the opinion that slum development is as a result of the rural-urban migration and that the government can curtail this by developing the rural areas. What is your take on this?
That is one of the planning policies, sometimes called decentralization, and is aimed at attracting people from the densely populated parts of the cities to the fringes. It has been an old policy of planning but apart from that, it is important to create road access to these areas. For instance, most of the food-producing communities in the country do not have access to cities to sell their products and when the product gets bad because of storage problems, the prices of foodstuff go up.
She said; “it is very important to have good access roads to link the villages to the cities; if there is enough to do in the villages, the villagers won’t rush to the cities. Another reason is that most people who come from the rural to the urban areas are young people in search of jobs; all they want is a place to lay their heads and because they don’t have money, they pay a pittance. This also contributes to slum development. And when they settle down, they tend to have large numbers of families”.
In 2016, the Lagos State Government began massive evacuation of waterfront settlers. Are there better planning ways such as relocating them instead of outright demolition of the settlements?
Mrs. Catherine Kehinde George; “it is quite possible to have them live in the communities, but as decent and honest citizens. If they live within the communities and there is a problem of crime, misbehavior or insecurity; then, it becomes a problem. There is nowhere they don’t have slums in the world even in well-developed cities. People who live in slums are not happy to be there, they live there because of circumstances”.
There was a programme we had in Lagos in early 2000, I was the Chairman of the Lagos State Urban Forum and the programme was actually for the building of slums and not for total demolition. But to make the settlements better, the government should give water, improve road access, give them drains and make sure that their sanitary system is improved. That is an upgrading system, which is still possible today if the people there do not join a nuisance.
If you have them on the waterfront, they can constitute a nuisance; it depends on how they are relating with other residents. For instance, Makoko has been a slum for a very long time, and I don’t think they are disturbing anybody. A lot of studies have been carried out on Makoko, it is an interesting place
“I have been there several times. It is a community built on steel and the streets are connected through these steels. They are not streets that cars will ride through but that connect its residences and that makes it an interesting settlement. I don’t think anyone will want to destroy it intentionally”.
Mrs. Catherine Kehinde George; “it is always better to make the slums better for the residents to live in and not have a total demolition; but if there is total demolition, there must be a reason. I think there are cogent reasons”.
You just wrote a book, ‘Urbanisation and the Lagos Mega City’, what inspired you to do this?
I first got interested in urbanization when I was a lecturer at the Yaba College of Technology. I wrote my first paper on Lagos metropolis in 1996, it was a book I presented at a conference of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners in Benin City in the same year. I became interested in the rapid development of Lagos State.
Lagos State was not a mega city then, it was just a metropolis and later on, I became the Chairman of the Lagos State urban Forum in the early 2000 and later I wrote a paper on urbanization in Lagos in 2009, and it was later published as a book; and then, this recent publication, which has yet to be launched.
So it has been an interest that has spanned since 1996 till now, and my late boss, Joseph Awogbemi, also encouraged me along the line of urbanization studies, because he was very interested in it. I just thought it very interesting and fascinating the way Lagos is growing. I have lived here for almost 50 years and have seen the city grow; I have seen the changes in the people’s habit and the landscape as well as the cityscape. And so many things have changed over the years.
What effect will you like this book to have on the Lagos society and the Nigerian society at large?
I think this book should be in every family because it is a very good reference book. In my research, I found that data was not easily available in the country. When I was a student in Australia in 1972, at the University of Melbourne, all we needed as students were available. But even now, here in this country, as a consultant if you have a project to work on, the basic data is not available, you have to source for it and this costs a lot of money.
When I was working on this book, I did a lot of research and most of the projects I worked on before featured in the book. So I believe that it is a book that will be useful even for town planning students in the polytechnics and universities as well as allied professions.
It is also good for the foreign mission; anyone coming into the country should have a copy and anyone leaving should have one as a souvenir, because I believe that we should make other countries realize that Nigerians are good people, they can work for a living and are honest. I want to prove a point that it is possible to work and earn a living from the work you do; if you do it conscientiously, it will come out right.
Where do you see the future of Physical Planning in Nigeria?
It is going to get brighter; we just need to have more people on the job. We have a lot of planners who should be employed but are not. I think that it is important to absorb them so that the profession will grow and its completeness will be total. If for every single unit, we have the proper equipment and staff then, the system will work properly. Here, the government is the main employer unlike in other countries where the private sector also employs.
I am a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute of Britain and we have so much private sector employment for planners compared to what we have in Nigeria. There are small and big firms but all of them are busy doing what they do and that is because they are law-abiding. Here, we like to cut corners, people don’t want to follow rules and regulations. So, when the people we are planning for our lawless, then we have a confused and chaotic environment and they still come back to complain but they have contributed to the confusion.