Determined to accelerate the development of Nigeria’s largest state in terms of land area, the Niger State government has embarked on a landmark new initiative that will deploy the potentials of its rapidly growing urban centres and their proximity to the nation’s capital, as a platform to boost the economic, social and general wellbeing of its citizens.
The four-pronged initiative, anchored on a comprehensive development programme to be undertaken with technical assistance from the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), will involve the following primary activities:
1. Preparation of a Niger State Urban Development Policy (SUP), based on the National Urban Development Policy, 2012;
2. Preparation of Integrated Development Plans for Minna, the state capital; and the city of Suleja which lies on the state’s border with Abuja, the Federal Capital;
3. Preparation of Physical Plans for the development of a new ‘Smart City’ near Suleja, on the proposed bypass between Minna-Suleja oad and Zuba, along Kaduna–Lokoja highway; and,
4. Strengthening and building the capacity of the state’s physical planning institutions for effective development and management of the cities.
According to the Niger State Governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, the initiative is founded on the conviction that the attainment of economic transformation in the state would require a profound paradigm shift, which would involve the development of viable synergies between the government and its people and, between the institutions saddled with the responsibility for development and management of the state’s towns and cities.
Already, a team from UN-Habitat headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, has visited the state on a Scoping Mission, with a view to acquainting the agency on the situation in the state toward the drawing up of the work plan for the exercise.
Unveiling the state government’s plans while speaking at a high-level panel of Ministers at the Second International Conference on National Urban Policy held at the OECD Headquarters in Paris, France, the Governor said: “Since I assumed duty as the Executive Governor of Niger State in May 2015, I have come to the conclusion that the effectiveness and sustainability of our towns and cities are hinged on their level of good governance, especially transparency and accountability to their residents; and their ability to operate on a self-sustaining basis.”
Following the adoption of Governor Bello’s vision by the state executive council, UN-Habitat, the Nairobi-based United Nations agency with the mandate to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities as well as adequate housing for all, was invited to provide technical assistance to the state under the programme, which will effectively commence next month with the signing of cooperation agreements.
Niger State, like most others in the country, is grappling to free itself from the current over-reliance of the states and local governments on the monthly Federal Allocation, which according to Governor Bello, has resulted in a situation whereby their local economic potentials have remained undeveloped with inadequate efforts at achieving internal resource mobilization. In his words, fiscal transfers from the Federation account have tended to make the management of the affairs of the two tiers of sub-national government top-down, substantially excluding the residents and other stakeholders in key decisions.
According to Governor Bello, “It is against this background that my government is eager at developing the human settlements sector in a holistic, comprehensive and integrated manner through the formulation of the State Urban Development Policy. Our aim is to ensure that the resources of the state especially land for urban development is used efficiently and effectively for the present and future generations without unnecessarily depleting good agricultural land.”
It is expected that following the conclusion of the Scoping Mission, the terms of the collaboration between the Niger State Government, the UN-Habitat and the Government of South Korea would be firmed up in coming weeks, paving the way for a formal endorsement of the five-year cooperation agreement by end of August at the UN-Habitat headquarters in Nairobi.
Under the proposed programme, Niger State will become the first to adopt a State Urban Development policy in lines with guidelines prescribed in the revised National Urban Development Policy adopted in 2012. The proposed document will set out a frame work for the development and management of urban centres in the state, thereby setting a basis for improved local economic development and environmental sustainability. Already, as a fallout from the Governor’s participation at the International Conference on National Urban Policy Government in Paris, the UN-Habitat has facilitated the support of the Government of South Korea, which will assist the state with funding drawn from its commitment of USD$2.6million towards the development of National Urban Policies in Nigeria, Iran and Myanmar.
The development of Integrated Development Plans for Minna, the state capital, and Suleja is considered critical, given the rapid growth of the two cities and the need to curb the spread of informal settlements within and around the peri-urban areas of both cities. In Suleja, the proximity to the Federal Capital has endeared it to many, while its geographical characteristics have posed unique problems that limit its expansion, despite severe overcrowding in many neighbourhoods. The integrated Plan will also seek to adopt a harmonised approach to urban planning, in which all relevant agencies of government will work in concert rather than at cross-purposes with each other.
The new ‘Smart City’ project will be located near Suleja along the proposed bypass between Minna-Suleja Road and Zuba, on Kaduna – Lokoja Road, will essentially ease the development pressure on the city, while also exploiting its proximity to Abuja to promote the manufacture of complimentary renewable energy systems and components, such as solar water heaters, fans, refrigerators, LED lights etc., in partnership with Korean companies which would be sold within Nigeria and in other African countries.
In order to ensure that Ministries, Departments and Agencies involved in the programme are adequately empowered, a key component of the programme seeks to strengthen and build the capacity of the state institutions and personnel involved in the development and management of its cities, including the exposure of key staff to best practices and contemporary developments in urban planning and management.
Indeed, the Deputy Governor, Alhaji Ahmed Ketso, while welcoming the UN-Habitat team which embarked on a Scoping Mission in the state last week, described the projects as “transformative,” stating that: “His Excellency has instructed his officials to initiate discussion with the Korean Embassy in Nigeria on the possibility of attracting the expertise and experience of the Korean public and private sectors in planning and implementing the Smart new town proposed by the state government.” It is envisaged that a government technical team would be attending a training programme in Seoul, South Korea early in August.
The Scoping Mission was hosted by the Honourable Commissioner for Lands and Housing, Alhaji Aliyu Abdullahi on behalf of the state government, who expressed delight that the framework for actualising the vision of the state was finally about coming to fruition.
“This is for us a dream come true. As a government, we are seriously concerned by the state of our towns and cities. We believe that development should be holistic with developments spread evenly in an equitable manner,” he said.
The commissioner assured the visiting team of the cooperation of all stakeholders relevant to the project, and pledged the commitment of the state authorities to ensure the success of the collaboration.
Leader of the UN-Habitat Scoping Mission, Dr Remy Sietchiping, who is who is Head of the Regional and Metropolitan Planning Unit at the agency’s head office in Nairobi, commended the state government for taking the initiative to conceive the programme, which he said would set a sound basis for the future development of the state.
His words: “We are grateful for the invitation extended to UN-Habitat to support the state in this very important exercise. We consider this mission to be a very important step towards actualising the terms of our collaboration on this project, which we have been discussing for some time now. We are very open to the demands of the state and pledge our maximum commitment to the success of this initiative. We hope that by the end of this mission, we will be able to jointly draw up a Road Map that would guide our joint efforts.”
The UN agency will also support efforts by the state to secure support from external partners.
The Scoping Mission availed the team an opportunity to visit Minna and Suleja, where they were warmly received by their Royal Highnesses the Emir of Minna, Alhaji (Dr) Umar Farouk Bahago and the Emir of Suleja, Mallam Muhammadu Awwal Ibrahim, the Sarkin Zauzau Suleja. The team also held extensive deliberations with the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Lands and Housing, Quantity Surveyor Danladi Musa and other top government functionaries, as well as key development and planning institutions and officials in the state. Among these were the Niger State Geographic Information System Agency (NIGIS), led by the General Manager, Dr. Abdul Husaini; the Niger State Urban Development Board, led by the General Manager, Tpl Habiba L. Ahmed; the Niger State Housing Corporation, led by Esv. Ahmed Abdullahi; the Niger State Water Board, led by Eng. Hassan Chado; the Niger State Public-Private-Partnership Agency, led by the Director General, Isah Abdulkadir as well as civil society organisations, the media and other non-state actors. The Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing was represented during the mission by Tpl Dauda Usman, the Zonal Town Planning Officer for Niger State.
The UN-Habitat team also included Mr. Seongho Kim, Senior Advisor, Regional and Metropolitan Planning Unit; Ms Mutinta Munyati, Oversight Officer for Nigeria at the UN-Habitat Regional Office for Nigeria in Nairobi; John Omwamba, Regional and Metropolitan Planning Officer; as well as Mallam Kabir Yari, the Habitat Programme Manager for Nigeria and Mr. Paul Okunlola, National Programme Officer, both based in Abuja. The mission was facilitated by the Special Adviser to the State on the collaboration and Director, Centre for Humans Settlements and Urban Development at the Federal University of Technology Minna, Professor Mustapha Zubairu.
By Muyiwa Collins