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

Daily Trust - - PROPERTY - Austin Ike By Ben Atonko

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

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