Centenary City: ‘Why build a city in a city?’
Dr Austin Ike, proprietor of Austin-Aike and Partners Limited, who was Director, Urban and Regional Planning Department, Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) between 2004 and 2006 says the planned Centenary City may be way of carving out Abuja for
How has life been after leaving service? It’s interesting being a private man. One of the greatest problems we have as civil servants is the fear of the unknown. It’s the best thing that will happen to anybody. One you have your own time to wake up, your own time to go to bed, unlike before - you must be at the meeting by 7:00am which means you must wake up between 5:30am and 6:00am. At times, as you’re closing from office, you hear there’s a meeting in the minister’s office by 11:00pm. That meeting might not close till about 1:00am, 3:00am. These are the pressures in being a civil servant.
What have you been doing since you retired?
I’m a registered engineer and town planner. I’ve been doing work in engineering and planning. I do layout and designs and every other thing that’s involved.
Today, there’s chaos in Abuja. Government left Lagos believing that it’ll build a better capital. Now growth is beyond what the city can cope with. Seeing the crisis in Lagos, why couldn’t town planners foresee that this is the kind of growth that will come to Abuja?
I wish you lay your hands on the master plan document which to me is obsolete now. But then, the simple truth is the city was planned in phases: phase one, phase two, phase three, phase four and the fifth phase. In all these phases, the planning jobs have been completed. So whose fault? The fault is in implementation - it’s 10 percent planning, 80 percent or 90 percent administration. If the money is there, the implementation takes place.
The time I was in service, to build a district would take about N30 billion. And what’s the budget of FCDA that time? That’s to tell you that budgetary allocation will not build the city. There must be a special way to build the city.
That’s why what the minister is doing, to me is an effort. The only place they missed it was they didn’t allow the planners to do designs and handover to developers. Private developers are now asked to do the designs. FCDA should have called planning consultants, lay this thing out then invite private developers. When you invite private developers, you have a tool to negotiate with them - how much are you bringing to build this? This is what government has.
People sit and say planners. No! The documents are there. By the time we were in phase one, a lot of people were coming into phase one. But phase two was there and a lot of people had already got allocations in phase two and you cannot stop them from going to build.
That’s why during our time, we requested that the minister must award the final engineering drawings for phase two. Why? Because we need everybody coming to build to know the road levels to help them place their property in the right level. If you don’t place your foundation on the right level, your foundation might be below or so high and the gradient to enter your plot will be too steep or too deep.
That’s why it’s better for all the infrastructural designs to have been finished before anybody starts building. I’m happy that that was done for at least phase two and some parts of phase three where you have the mass housing.
Planners have an association. This can be a platform for you to mount pressure on government to say hey, this is happening - you can raise alarm.
The pressure is there. We raise alarm every day. The thing is that the implementation of the master plan is not by a technical head. The minister is the one to raise the money. The budgetary allocation is there. He has his deputies to choose whatever they want to do at any particular time.
But the issue is planners have missed it because we’ve failed to play politics also. If you play politics very well and you’re within the political group, you can get your plans executed.
Is that why planners hardly occupy the seat of FCT minister?
I don’t know that. The president will know why he has not appointed a planner as FCT minister. But in the built environment, we have planners, surveyors, engineers, architects, estate surveyors - anybody can be minister. But the most important thing is when you’re there, you should relate with professionals well.
Just like what el-Rufai did. When el-Rufai came on board, he discussed with every professional. You see, he took delight in planning. That’s why he was able to do the type of job he did. If you have a minister who does not have the flare for professional bodies, what do you do?
For example, we have the national conference now. Planners were not invited. For every project you think of, for every economic planning you want to do, everything ends on the ground. We wrote, we told them it was a big oversight. Engineers cannot move if the planners have not laid this thing down on paper; the architects can’t build if the planners haven’t laid plots on paper; surveyors can’t move their equipment if planners haven’t laid something on paper and taken this to site.
Can we say el-Rufai is the best minister FCT has ever got?
It depends on the parameters you look at. There’re some parameters you look at, you’ll say ah el-Rufai did well. There are parameters you look at, some people will condemn him. The minister we have now, his interest is in opening up Abuja by using private developers.
You said the master plan is obsolete.
Yes that master plan document is due for review. If you have a master plan after five, 10 years, you need to review it.
Could you pin point one, two things you feel should be looked at in the master plan?
First, the parameters. When the master plan was drawn, we had a lot of money. The naira was at par with the dollar. But today, what’s the cost of one dollar? It was 3 kobo for one dollar. That parameter alone is obsolete. That money can’t build a district. The master plan document told us to start from the south but we started from the north. The south of the city has a lot of land but in the north, when you move out of the outer northern express and you get to A2 road, you’re already at the boundary. But from here, hit the A2 road, till you get to Abaji, you’re still in FCT.
How can we tackle the chaos in Abuja city?
To me as a planner, that’s one of the headaches I have every day I drive out. I see how vehicles are parked - parked vehicles are more than the moving ones. There’re places that you don’t have to put on street parking because of the volume of traffic. Some of these places they put on street parking are not supposed to be there. If the transit ways are in place, the on-street parking will work in arterial and collector roads because these roads carry only private vehicles.
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But today, we still have the buses, the taxis, everybody still plies the arterial and collector roads. So how will it work when you have such volume of traffic and then you narrow the drive way. A place that should have four or five drive lanes, you pick one to say it’s for on street parking. Yes, it’s there in the design but for it to work you must have transit way that will transfer all the buses to the transit lane. Open up the transit ways so these bus lanes that are supposed to function in the transit ways are open and these buses will ply them and stop struggling with private vehicles on the collector and arterial ways.
Watch our roundabouts. The roundabouts are meant to ease traffic but by the time you get to the roundabout, the traffic is heavy - all the big buses…at times, the traffic law says give way to traffic on your left. The motorist that’s supposed to give way is the one forcing in.
Government has earmarked over 1,200 hectares of land for a centenary city. Do you think we need that kind of development?
Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. If you bring 20 planners here, we’ll have different views about centenary city. We already a have a beautiful city called Abuja. Why build a city in a city? They said the name New York was so beautiful that it was named twice. They named it New York City in a New York State, not New York City in New York City.
To me, the 8,000skm for the territory is big and the 250skm for the city is big. Out of the 250skm, we want to carve out a place called Centenary City. Are we trying to segregate? Are we building a city for the bourgeoisie?
For a city to be a city, you must have high density, medium density and low density [areas]. These three must exist and you must take care of the low income earners, middle income earners and the high income