Prof. Chidi Ugwu, is former Vice Chancellor of the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT). He is also a consultant to United Nations Development Programme, (UNDP) on development of sustainable cities. In this interview with Emenike Ubani, he calls on President Muhammadu Buhari, to address housing problems in Nigeria, among other issues. Excerpts
What is your working experience in Nigeria?
I wanted more of Nigerian’s urban and regional planners to be educated on the dos and don’ts of the profession so I joined the Enugu State University of Science and Technology and have served as head of department, dean of the faculty, dean of postgraduate school, and director of school planning and the Vice Chancellor of the university. Currently, I am a contract staff of the university, a consultant to UNDP on developing sustainable cities, a consultant to the Enugu State Government on master planning, and also a consultant to the Ebonyi State government.
What has been your role in the UNDP in building sustainable cities in Nigeria?
As it is in Nigeria, our cities are not sustainable because the rural areas are underdeveloped with little presence of social amenities thereby resulting in the mass exodus of rural dwellers to urban areas which on their own have become overcrowded. In UNDP, our focus is building cities where such problems highlighted above are minimized. Take for instance at the university were I was in charge of physical development, I would tell the management of the institution what plot of land was suitable for a particular project. This tells you that there are lands suitable for building roads while there are those meant for agriculture but it seems to me that Nigeria has no knowledge of these facts hence projects are sited indiscriminately and this act, as harmless as it seems in the eyes of the average man, portends so much danger to the economy of the nation. According to the dictates of my profession, which is also the practice in notable countries of the world, urban and regional planning begins by planning and developing the rural communities, taking government closer to the people. This is what previous governments neglected that President Muhammadu Buhari, should look into. As it is in Nigeria, our rural communities have become associated with the dwelling places of witches and wizards, people have refused to go back to the villages because there are no electricity supply, no clean water, no motorable roads, and so on. Sustainable cities are cities that are planned with indices such as the population growth in mind
How has the lack of sustainable cities in Nigeria affected her growth and development?
When the number of people in our cities exceed what that city could take, we start seeing the cost of living becoming very high and near unattainable, this leads to the indiscriminate siting of houses on drainages, and places that are mapped out as roads. Also because of the overcrowded nature of the town, employment opportunities become lesser than the people in search of them. This brings in corruption such as employment scams and other social vices. Now when people especially university graduates remain unemployed for a protracted period, crime becomes very alluring. Take for instance, why would a 3-bedroom apartment rent for about N2 million in Abuja metropolis when there are rural communities, which still sell a plot of land for less than N200,000? Unfortunately, even in the rural communities, there are several taboos going on unchecked as regards the use of land but these are areas I believe Mr. President will address. Under President Buhari, I am optimistic that small-scale industries will move towards the rural dwellers so that small trades could commence and thereby open up the way for the change that APC have foreseen even in the area of rural to urban migration, which needs to be checked.
What do you think should be done to check the housing deficit in Nigeria
To solve the housing deficit in Nigeria, we have to revert back to due process in the area of urban planning. For instance,when you take a look at our estates, you will discover that all the houses look alike, this shouldn’t be so rather our estates ought to accommodate all classes of people beginning from families that would want a duplex, a bungalow, a 3 bedroom apartment and even a single room space. Take a look at several estates built by government for civil servants all over the country; most of them are unoccupied because the houses weren’t built according to their specific needs. Come to think of it, government is not supposed to invest in housing, banks, insurance and individuals ought to be the ones investing in the housing sector. At this time of our nation, we should have realized that land is not an infinite commodity; we should start looking upwards like other nations. By looking upwards, I mean conserving the little land available by erecting skyscrapers that could contain more offices, homes and banks.
How should president Buhari intervene to remedy the situation?
As a country, we need to flush out corruption from the housing sector, we need to clear up all those houses built on drainages and ensure all our drainage systems are unblocked otherwise we will keep seeing intense flooding like the ones that took place under the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan, which saw billions of properties and agriculture lost. We need to review our land use act; state governments and individuals have acquired lands for personal gains under the guise that it was meant for commercial purposes. Very importantly, we need to take a look at the inheritance of land as practiced in most traditions in our country; I think it needs to be erased, it has given birth to a whole lot of bloodletting between families and communities.
You seem to repose so much confidence in the administration of President Buhari, why?
All these years Buhari has been in the race for the presidency, I have never voted for him but when in 2015 he contested again, I decided that voting for him against the incumbent was the appropriate thing to do and my reason was that for a man of his age to tirelessly seek for the lofty seat of Nigeria’s President and spend enormous resources in the process, starting all over again after being rigged out, such a person must be motivated by a good purpose. So I voted for him at the last general elections. Now, I have faith in him because I see him as a much disciplined Nigerian. I wish to congratulate him therefore and urge him to take heed to the dictates of urban and regional planning in other to bring change to the entirety of Nigeria’s housing sector. The corruption that has infested the housing sector needs someone like Buhari to tackle. The selling off of government lands by government officials needs to stop. Nigerians need to know that houses shouldn’t be built on drainages, they need to know that we could build our own Dubai right here and to do so, we have to become law abiding citizens. Once again, I wish to reiterate that lands are not infinite and the boundaries of cities cannot expand indefinitely hence we have to adopt the Michelangelo solution of bringing in the high rise buildings to our country.