By ZIK GBEMRE
With several urban centers that are rapidly growing into metropolis with increasing population and socio-economic activities seems to be grappling with inappropriate town planning issues that are daily making modern life very difficult for Deltans. From Asaba the Delta State Capital, through Agbor, Sapele, Ughelli, Kwale, and most importantly Warri and its environs like Ekpan, Effurun, Ugboroke, Ugborikoko, etc., all of which are daily becoming sore sight of cities in dire need of redemption of re-engineering and reconstruction of their entire existence, so as to make them look like urban cities that they truly are.
Most of the areas of Warri and its environs for instance, have over the years been like ‘glorified ghettos’ that depicts pictures of haphazard town planning, disorganized waste management process, and improper drainage systems. Despite the established ‘oil wealth’ that goes into government circles of Delta State over the years, especially into its Ministry of Lands, Survey and Urban Development, and the Waste Management Board, and even private property developers; these stated urban centers do not have anything to suggest they are metropolitan cities of the State. A drive through the nooks and crannies of the oil city of Warri and its environs, will present a scenario of deprived areas’ that are more like “decorated slums” characterized by near or complete absence of good accessible roads; blockage of natural waterways; overcrowding of certain areas; complete absence of efficient drainage systems and reliable waste management activities; absence of public car parks; destroyed natural habitat and water ways and so many other things that makes the stated areas not to be seen as urban centers. This has been the deplorable situation in Warri and environs for decades.
It was only some few months back that the Delta State Special Sanitation Team went on rampage in urban cities of the State and destroyed what it described as “illegal structures” (which mostly affected traders), aimed at giving urban cities like Warri and environs appealing looks. The exercise, which was described by the government as a process of cleaning up the “filth in Uvwie, Udu, Warri and environs, involved the removal of all illegal structures, granite sites, dump sites, clearing of vehicles unlawfully parked along the road, clearing of containers etc.” all aimed at restoring environmental order in these areas.
While we appreciate the efforts of the Delta State Government and the said Special Sanitation Team in this regard, however, it appears the stated removal of illegal structures has brought with it and made worse; an already established problem within the state, which is the erection of improper structures. One would have expected the Delta State Government and its relevant authorities to put measures in place, like contracting modern shopping malls and stores/markets with necessary parking space, for business owners, whose supposed illegal structures were destroyed, to fall back on and re-start their business. We refer to the destroyed illegal structures as “supposed” illegal structures because most of them were constructed/erected/mounted by business owners having been approved by the same government authorities.
Though, a rampant problem in Warri, Effurun, Ugboroke, Ugborikoko, Ekpan, Ovwian, e.t.c, the erection of improper structures and conversion of residential areas to business premises have been made worse by the stated illegal structures destruction exercise in urban areas of Delta State. Having had their supposed illegal structures destroyed; most traders and business owners in Warri and environs were left with no choice but to look for every available store to re-start their businesses. This has made landlords/house owners to see this as an opportunity. And today, there is hardly a residential building, recently constructed in Warri and environs for instance, that the frontal section is not converted to stores/shops for all manner of businesses.
To the extent that some people are converting their buildings fences into extended stores/shops for rent. And some of these stores/shops are constructed quite close to very busy roads, which makes parking space, not only a problematic experience for customers who patronize such shops/stores, but also, the indiscriminately parked vehicles constitute obstructions for other road users/motorists. This is the exact situation we find in places like Ugboroke Layout, Izapka road, in Effurun, Delta State etc. We can see how a singular neglect of required action-in terms of city planning, can create a circle of problems for all. It is only in this part of the world that things are haphazardly done without adequately putting into consideration the present and future repercussions of such actions.
Let us recall that some time last year, the Delta State government, through the Ministry of Environment, was reported to have marked houses (allegedly obstructing water channels), it wanted to demolish in the cities of Warri and Effurun, to avert flood disaster in the State. It was said then that the said marked houses were blocking water channels and causing flood whenever there was heavy downpour. The government was said to be acting in this direction based on a report it got some time ago that indicated that there would be torrential rain and flooding in Warri, Effurun and to avoid the ugly situation in Lagos State, it had to demolish houses built on water channels, than allow them to dislocate the entire citizenry. But the big question we have often asked: was it not the Delta State government officials that approved and signed these buildings to be constructed on water channels in the first place? What about the regulatory and supervisory agencies of government that is responsible for guiding private developers on doing the right thing as pertains to the type of structures to build and where to do so?
For us, we believe all these removal and destruction of supposed illegal structures in Delta State is like taking medicine after death or putting the cart before the horse. The fire-brigade approach of doing things has always been synonymous with the Nigerian governments at large. They usually wait for things to terribly go bad or near disaster before they tend to react and respond. But why wait for serious issues pertaining to the environment to get complicated before the steps are taken to ‘amend’ what could have been prevented, in the first place. The situation painted above concerning marked houses to be demolished in Warri and Effurun points to gross negligence of duty by the regulatory and supervisory agency/ministry.
Cases abound where government officials of the town planning division approve plans for the development of certain property in areas/places that are unthinkable to the ordinary mind. Town Planning officials are known to have collected kick-backs to approve property development in places/areas that are not meant to have structures on them. Sometimes such approvals are made for some government big wigs and politicians to the detriment of the overall good of the cities. At the end of the day, strategic waterways are blocked by these structures. It is wrong for such approvals to be given to property developers (no matter who they are) to build house on places like access roads, link roads, natural water ways etc. There is hardly any building or property developed in these cities of Delta State that have not been certified/approved by the town planning office. It is repletion of the fact that these government officials concerned are driven by parochial interests, greed and personal aggrandizement than the need to render people-oriented services to the state and to the nation at large.
The dangers of having improper and inappropriately planned or distortion of the master plans of cities are unimaginable. The nefarious act of approving and certification of inappropriate structural plans of cities creates a whole lot of problems for all. Such problems range from flooding, which is occasioned by blocked natural waterways, and complicated by inadequate and disorganized network of drainage systems. Not to mention heavy traffic on major roads caused by indiscriminately parked vehicles that are doing business with stores that were built from converted fences of residential buildings. Even when contracts are given by the government to address the issues of good access roads and drainage systems, the problem of corruption complicates everything.
Looking around us, the poser we cannot help but raise is: are there no city developers/planners, Supervisory and Regulatory Government Agencies to pioneer and check these excesses and the near neglect of supposed urban-development of cities across the country? It is only in most parts of Abuja and some high-class areas in Lagos that we see some degree of well-planned urban centres. There is no state across the country that does not have a town planning division that is most times, under the State’s Ministry of Lands, Survey and Urban Development, just like we have in Delta State. However, it appears those in this section of government circles seems to have lost focus, and have succeeded over the years, to creating more problems for all stakeholders with their misguided practices and policies.
We believe every urban city should be well-planned in such a way that they will become “tourist attraction” centres for visitors, both foreign and domestic. We believe urban cities should have residential areas as different from business areas/districts, so that it will be easier to ‘manage’ all other attributes associated with modern-living like the different kinds of wastes generated in these areas and their management and recycling; location of car parks and relaxation parks; management of traffic and even the sort of engineered-drainage systems and mechanisms that are required in these different parts of a city.
In cities and towns of England for instance, you can easily differentiate business areas from residential areas. In fact, most streets are planned in such a way that they have parks (with flowers and trees) that have chairs for both children and adults to relax. They also have an established system where wastes are ‘daily’ taken care of appropriately, both residential areas and public places. Even before day light, streets are swept and washed neatly. Also, gathered wastes are managed appropriately through proper ‘recycling’. There are places such as Murphy’s Waste Management & Recycling Centres, where all manners of gathered wastes are sorted out and recycled for Re-use, ranging from plastics, glass, metal scraps, papers etc. In other words, wastes have been converted to wealth in these advanced countries, simply because the appropriate ‘system’ and ‘policies’ are been pioneered by those in relevant authorities of urban development.
You do not see houses built under high tension lines in England and advanced countries like you see in Nigeria. Most of their power lines, electricity cables, domestic gas supply lines and pipe born water supply, are all neatly constructed and passed underground, especially in the advanced nations; all of which contributes to the attractiveness of their urban cities. Unlike what we find in Nigeria, particularly in Warri and environs of Delta State, where Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) electric lines are dangerously hanging over residential and business premises. Potential disasters waiting to happen, nothing seems to be done according to spelt out ‘plan’. But in England for instance, nothing is allowed to be done, regarding developmental structures, without having a plan that should be followed. You do not even alter the plan of a residential house without first applying to relevant city councils to notify those concerned before approval is granted.
In Nigeria, even some of the well-planned parks that were existing during the colonial era have all been taken over by government officials and private individuals for their self-use. The ones designed by the colonial masters, for instance, in Obahor street, Warri, Delta State, have been converted to government offices and some parts sold to individuals use. In our younger days, when Gowon was Head of State and Ejoor/Ogbemudia were the Military administrators of the then Bendel State (now consisting of Delta and Edo States), we had a big Public Park with leisure and relaxation facilities like flowers, sitting areas and light stands to lit the place at night hours in Obahor street, Warri. But today, they have all been converted to offices and residential houses, one of which belongs to the Delta State Fire Service. The bottom line is that everybody is doing whatever pleases him or her and building structures at any place they like in Delta State, simply because the government, over the years, is not obeying or following any established Town-planning policy.
Some have argued that Warri and environs for instance, did not grow or develop as model cities; rather they grew and are still growing as ‘make shift’ settlements. But the fact is that there is need to revisit the master plan of the cities in Delta State (and if there is none, one should be drawn), and start getting things straight. Recently, it was reported that the Delta State Government, through the Ministry of Environment, will demolish houses in the cities of Warri and Effurun, allegedly obstructing water channels to avert flood disaster in the State.
In Delta State, the usual monthly sanitation across the entire state is nothing but a share waste of precious time, man hours and economic gains. Sand and dirts for instance, often gathered from gutters and drainage systems, are left by the road side. Once the rains come in, the whole thing are washed back into the gutters/drainage systems. As a result of the absence of a systematic well-engineered waste management mechanisms in cities of Delta State, refuse and all manner of wastes are usually left to pile-up to unimaginable heaps. Making them constitute public-health-hazards. A civilized modern society that is developing should have a “daily” system in place for the management of both public and domestic wastes, just like we see in advanced countries.
Town planners and well-intentioned stakeholders in government and public private circles should advocate the ‘right attitude’ on what should be done, and understand the inherent dangers in by-passing and mutilating city ‘master plans’ and modern waste management practices. The ‘re-engineering’ of our cities is a responsibility for all. But those in government circles concerned must load the way. If not, we all will not only have ‘mega slums’ as cities, we will also expose ourselves to (natural) environmental disasters unimaginable. We ask that the right thing should be done in all the areas mentioned above.