Ogbonnaya Ikokwu, Aba.
The need for an urgent development and acquisition of a metropolitan physical development master plan for Aba the commercial nerve centre of Abia State dominated the discussion segment during a just concluded 2015 annual luncheon organized by the Abia State chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP) in Aba. The august invent which featured two erudite town planners as key note speakers centred its theme on “ improving the quality of life of Abians, through physical planning”. The first speakers TPL( Dr.) Moses Olubunmi Ajayi who spoke on Improving the quality of life through physical planning maintained that cities no matter their size are constantly changing, therefore there arises the need to rebuild and transform those cities for benefit of different groups people who occupy the cities and enhance the different functions of cities too. He further emphasised that as cities go through the process of rebuilding they continue to be drivers of the National economy, creating wealth, enhancing social development, providing employment, technological innovation and generally, improve on the quality of life of its inhabitants. Ajayi pointed out that without proper physical, justice and fair play, political will, competent and accountable good urban governance, much of the cities’ potential contributions to the economic, social and physical development will be lost. Thus the quality of life will be invariably affected. He noted that parts of a city that are characterized by serve deprivation of inadequate housing deficient services none/poor recreational and cultural facilities, urban decay and scarce capital investment will obviously have direct impact on the quality of life, hence the necessity of measures to be employed through physical planning for improvement of quality of life. The speaker who is also a fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners(FNITP) insisted that physical planning are normally carried out by state or local government organizations for the general good of the community, adding that the essence of government involvement is to take more nearly holistic or overall view of the development of an area than individuals can do. He revealed that physical planning has two main functions which includes developing a rational use of land with accompanying infrastructure and restraining the excesses of individuals in the interest of the community as whole. Dr. Ajayi who is a former National President of the institute further stated that physical planning provides conducive physical environment for big and small enterprise investments which in turn generates higher level of employment and income both of which has the capacity to lead to higher quality of life. According to him “ physical planning provides the frame work for the functionality, locational harmony and stability of towns and cities, through the provision of adequate space of the right sizes and location and at the right time for key land uses(industrial, commercial residential)”.
“Through the Land use plan physical planning ensures the adequate provision of spaces of the right sizes and locations for various infrastructural facilities like roads, public water supply, electric power supply drains and sewage and services such as schools Health institutions Faith institutions and recreational areas which are essential for the quality of life, to be provided in the right numbers”.
Another area the town planner of note hinted that physical planning will boost is the security of planned cities. He said “studies have shown that slums provide conducive environment for crime while orderly environment is useful to the law enforcement agencies in the identification of locations prone to crimes and enhances fire protection services”. Again he disclosed that physical planning makes for environmental quality which is essential for the enjoyment of life in cities and town where they are available, “environmental quality entails effective solid and liquid waste disposal, aesthetics and suitable adaptation to environmental conditions, provision of adequate soft and hard landscapes”he hinted. Equity and discipline are benefits which the speaker pointed out that physical planning would also make available to residents of planned cities, adding that physical planning ensures equitable distribution of physical and social infrastructural services “ without planning market forces will create inequality and that will adversely affect the quality of life of the majority of the population”. In his words “Physical planning also imposes its own discipline on both the government and the people in the use of the very important resources “land”, when armed with physical plan, the use of land ceases to be arbitrary, resulting in orderliness which contributes to the quality of life in planned cities. Relating the afore mentioned benefits of town planning to the case of Aba the second speaker TPL. chijioke L. Odimuko aptly noted that the city still has a long way to go in the application of physical development in impacting positively on the quality of life of its residents. He revealed that the only tangible attempt made towards the physical development of Aba dates back to the year 1948, when the colonial administration prepared the Aba Township Plan, which served as the basis for the development of the main Presidential area for non- Europeans, the Government Reserved Area (GRA) for the Europeans and in between this areas where the industrial-Commercial Areas. Odimuko added that another attempt by the Military era (1966- 76) midwife the preparation of the new industrial layout, Ogbor Hill which eventually failed to be realized, while the second Republic (1979-83) under the administration of Late Chief Sam Mbakwe administration of the Old Imo State made a bold attempt to move the physical development plan of Aba forward together with 14 other Urban areas and 13 areas selected as growth points in the present day Abia state. But he lamented that the second Military intervention in government (1984-1999) became a period of drought in physical development planning of the city, consequently the initiatives of the Mbakwe administration were not fellowed up in Aba. The speaker maintained that challenges abounds which inhibit the quality of life in Aba as result of poor physical planning. In his opinion “since Aba has joined the league of the million-city and has oviously outgrown the situation where its physical planning services are provided by five different planning authorities each operating in isolation, it is now necessary to begin to lay the foundation for the effective management of the emerging mega city”. He insisted that Aba is clearly overdue for physical development master plan that will be in the mould of the Owerri capital development authority which will be charged with the responsibility of implementing an Aba Metropolitan Physical Development Master Plan. According to him” it will have a city plan component and Regional plan component. The latter will cover the territory within a radius of about 20 kilometers of the city and relate the city to its satellite towns and growth points.( Mgboko, Owerrinta, Obehie/Obuaku, Azumini). In his speech the Abia State Governor Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu stated that the implementation of the Aba master plan is top most among the priorities of his administration, adding that his government has got the political will to implement the Master plan. The governor who was represented by the deputy governor Rt.Hon. Ude Oko chukwu insisted that the five points agenda of his administration which covers industry, Commerce, Education, Oil and Gas, Health and Agriculture cannot be actualised without first of all creating an enabling environment for those programs to thrive through a proper town planning program. Gov. Ikpeazu disclosed that the bane of Abia State development problems is caused by lack of physical development planning pointing that impunity on the part of wealthy individuals has contributed a lot to that. In his words “ we cannot do without an effective urban planning since half of our 17 local government areas are already in the urban centres, we call on NITP to assist our government to restore the Aba Master plan to make life better for our people”. In their separate address the State chairman of NITP Deacon Chibueze Nwaogwuwgwu and the chairman of the local organizing committee Elder Nelson Nwaosu lauded the Gov. Ikpeazu for giving approval for preparation of the Aba Master plan by the UN- Habitat, adding that the step taken by governor will certainly improve the life of Abians, while urging Aba residents to cooperate with the consultants by giving them necessary information to facilitate the timely realization of the Aba master plan.