Violence in Kano City’s Built Environment: Can we really exonerate professionals? Murtala Uba Mohammed
By Murtala Uba Mohammed (PhD)
In my most recent article published by Solacebase.com and Dailyreality.com, I highlighted the issue of environmental crises in Kano- currently and looming environmental catastrophe if the current government actions were left unattended. In the said article I drew the attention of Governor Ganduje on the need to restrain in his government trade-off between environmental health and revenue generation. The article had generated some questions, two of which I considered most fundamental. The first question is why the article was directed to Baba Ganduje and the second is how innocent are our professionals in the facilitation of the environmental crises?
I chose to address the write-up to governor Ganduje and not any of his Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) in charge of land development and administration because the Land Use Act of 1978, which is still the most authoritative land law for the country specifically named the governor as only person responsible for granting land allocation in urban environment, who had to officially endorse (sign in the certificate of occupancy) before one gets the right to use and access any land in urban area.
Also, under the current arrangement in the State, the Bureau for Land Management which is saddled with the responsibility for issuing land certificate is directly under the office of the Governor. Therefore, Baba Ganduje is presumably the commissioner for lands. Additionally, considering his educational qualification (being the only PhD holder that so far governed the state) and the rank he attended in state and federal civil service. Indeed, Ganduje is arguably the most educated, most experience person and a seasoned trained technocrat in public adminstration to rule the commercial centre state and therefore command the highest expectation based on Platonic theory of King Philosopher.
In answering the second question, three issues are very important. The first, which is the most basic is who are the stakeholders/professionals in the built environment. The second is what are the roles and ethical conduct of these professionals and the third is scrutinizing their roles and ethics of the professionals vis-a-vis what happens in the city with a view to exonerating them.
The number of professionals in creating conducive urban environment are numerous. While some have primary role, other’s roles can be described as secondary. The primary professionals are the scientists and engineers who have direct connection either in creating enabling condition for or build-in the environment itself.
At the core of this are the basic environmental scientists (including the land surveyors, geographers, geologist and of recent environmental managers), town planners, architects, estate surveyors and values, land administrators and building (including civil, transport etc) engineers. Also involved are the secondary professionals who play subsidiary roles in the form of helping to maintain interaction in urban environment, these professionals are management scientists, social scientists and humanities. The focus of this article is on the primary professionals whose role is most tangible and vivid, and whose footprints manifest more in city’s landscape.
Basic environmental scientist role is centrally (however not limited to) generating information on environmental variables and state of the city. They generate the baseline data requirement before any development in the environment. The data include that of nature of the terrain, drainage, groundwater status, soil and air quality etc.
The work of these professionals form the foundation for the subsequent design and development. Also, their services extend to the identification of environmental and social impact (ESIA) of any project, as well as effective and regular monitoring of the environmental parameters to check the quality of the environment and for landscaping a city with ornaments such as plants.
Planning which constitutes designing and ensuring compliance is very central in urban development. In fact, only when planning is properly done that a just and people’s dreamed urban environment can be achieved. Failure to do this, amounts to a stunted city growth and unhealthy development in the form of slum and shanty towns, ghettos and informal development.
This development makes the city looks ugly, promotes social vices, makes the provision of infrastructure difficult, triggers social exclusion and public injustice, and above all degrades the quality of urban life. This is why urban planners are very critical in city’s administration, and a reason why a just and functional planning unit is very imperative.
The role of planning unit includes designing a befitting layout for various urban land uses in a way that will promote interaction between uses, ensure optimum compliance to planning codes and guide the city administrators in having aesthetic and all-inclusive urban environment. In discharging their responsibilities, planners need the services of other professionals such land surveyors, quantity surveyors, cartographers, GIS professional and experts in spatial economists.
Urban building structures need to achieve certain standard to accommodate dynamic and comprehensive urban interaction, stand the test of time and compete with other urban settlements at both global and national level. It is here that sound structure and civil engineering is needed to design and built urban structures and infrastructure; professionally done and ethically compliant architecture became imperative to give urban not only its befitting look, but one with people’s access to ecological resources and service needed for descent urban life such as air, water, green areas, parks, open and recreation areas. Also important in city sustainability are the professional estate surveyors and valuers who are not only friends to rich and those in land business as they advise them on where to cite their estates; also, to the middle class, working class and poor by providing them with modern formal estate services.
It is important to note that each of the profession listed above is guided by ethics which ensure good conduct in discharging his/her responsibility in a just way. The ethics demand professional to report fact as they are, and where there is need to advice, they should do what is right and question all wrongs. Professionals are not known with sitting on fence, rather they face evil in a civil and most appropriate manner. Advocacy and directing are at the core professionalism, most especially through the professional bodies who engage the leaders on the development path.
It is obvious that things are not well with the development of Kano City. It is on record that the city had no comprehensive planning document for nearly forty years now -since the Trevallion Plan ended in 1983 and with no provision of a new one to date. This had made the development in the city disorganized and haphazardly implemented because the planning authority (KNUPDA) indulged in what it termed a sector plan, where the governor is left at his own discretion to decide where the layout should be cited and of what type. Not only that the creation of new plots for residential development was left at public mercy, who now engage in very ugly looking informal land transaction, sell and retail in plots of land that are below the standard of any conscious society, and therefore many now see land speculation as legitimate trade in the city! These informal layouts problem is what make access to road difficult, water provision impossible and providing healthcare services a challenge.
The output is therefore a sprawl that can be qualified as urban slum except for the fact that the users had letters of grand. While, we cannot with certain accused our professional in ministry of land and KNUPDA as contributing to this, we can certainly blame them for going with tide and dancing to the executive’s musical tune. We never had any issue of professional protesting any development from within. Unless, it is proved otherwise, every development that we see had endorsement of KNUPDA, because if it they don’t, it will not take place. There were also insinuations that some of the major infrastructure in the city were executed without any EIA.
The violence in building environment did not stop in residential area where study indicates that over 47% of the city is informal. It is even worst in the markets where shops are built without provision of adequate road for access. This makes the area vulnerable to fire disaster due to compact development pattern. Also, in case of fire disaster, accessing the area (affected or at risk) become difficult. This situation is common in all our major markets, worst of which is Kofar Wambai Market and Kantin Kwari Market where one finds it difficult now to identify a shop he visited in last five years. Hence, one need amount of evidence to be convinced that professionals were not involved in this kind of development. The question is who designed or approved those projects? One will also ask, what lessons had Kano learned from the previous fire outbreak especially that of Sabon Gari and Kwantin Kwari where property worth billions of naira were destroyed?
It understood, as some will argue that KNUPDA is powerless, the various professionals working there which include all the specialist in built environment cannot do anything under the current civil service arrangement. However, it is difficult to exonerate the professional bodies such as Nigeria Institute of Town Planners (NITP), Nigeria Institute of Architects (NIA), Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE), Association of Nigeria Geographer (ANG), Nigeria Environmental Society (NES), Environmental Managers Association of Nigerian (EMAN) and Association of Professional Bodies in Nigeria (APBN).
How much cry have we made regarding the city’s development; is a question all these professional bodies need to answer? If our contributions are low, then we need to answer other questions like: Is it because most of our members are the owners of companies that execute these projects? Is it because there were connections between ministries and professionals in these bodies which make them stand better chance to win project, and therefore engage in scratch my back, I will scratch yours? Why are these associations reduced to not only a proverbial toothless bull dog, who only bark but can’t bit, but to a deaf and tiny one who cannot even make any audible shout? If we failed advocate as group, I think we shouldn’t fail as individuals.
This is because we care little about the project provided money change hands. It is saddening to note that most of these associations are only concerned with yearly event of individual paper presentations, promotion of individuals, prize giving and membership charges while relegating the philosophy of the disciplines in safeguarding the environment.
From architects to engineers, give any one a land to develop, he will do it regardless whether it will inconvenience others or the environment, whether right or wrong. Standard is not even an issue in profession now, as we keep aside valuing project for money. This is evident in every part of the city where one can see substandard building structures. Even in our markets where the project is meant for money generation, the structures are quite below any construction and management standard. It is common to see structures built on or along water ways and this is contributing to urban flood which becomes a common in the metropolis.
In conclusion, it is evident that Kano Metropolis is currently in quagmire as far as development project is concern. From its streets which lack good landscaping to its poorly arranged houses whose sizes are below the recommended standards, the Metropolis suffers deficits with respect to planning and best environmental practices. The city environment does match its name as the commercial capital of northern Nigeria and the capital of the most populated state in the country. While we blame government for not doing enough, our professionals also need to answer the question raised as regard the supposed complacency in having the current state of the city. Unless our professionals clear the air, the blame will be shared with them.
Murtala, a Geography lecturer writes from Bayero University, Kano and can be reached on email@example.com