Rallying efforts towards accelerating the development of Nigeria’s largest state in terms of land area, the Niger State government has jump-started a comprehensive programme 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 renewed vigour is part of new initiative undertaken with technical assistance from the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and other partners, which involves the following primary activities:
One, preparation of Niger State Urban Policy (SUP), based on the Nigerian National Urban Development Policy, 2012;
Two, preparation of a pilot integrated development plans for Minna and Suleja. This, among others, will include the development of improved plans, policies and designs for them to become more compact, integrated, connected, resilient and socially inclusive;
Three, preparing a plan for developing a smart city near Suleja. The objectives of the project are to decongest Suleja and provide affordable housing for the residents and commuters to Abuja; and four, strengthening and building the capacity of the state institutions in charge of the development and management of the cities and towns.
The initiative is founded on the conviction of the Niger State Governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello that the effectiveness and sustainability of towns and cities were hinged on their level of good governance, especially transparency and accountability to their residents; and their ability to operate on a self-sustaining basis.
Bello equally emphasised his conviction that the over-reliance of the states and local governments, in Nigeria, on the monthly Federal Allocation had been such that their local economic potentials had remained undeveloped with inadequate efforts at achieving internal resource mobilization.
The governor expressed the eagerness of his administration to develop the human settlements sector in a holistic, comprehensive and integrated manner through the formulation of the SUP.
This was to ensure that the resources of the state, especially land for urban development was used efficiently and effectively for the present as well as future generations without unnecessarily depleting good agricultural land.
Essentially, the state government has received a grant from the South Korean Government to develop its urban policy and smart city strategy, alongside Iran and Myanmar. The support is to offer the three pilot projects a platform to foster synergy, coherence, capacity development and mutual learning and exchange globally on national/sub-national urban policy.
Similarly, World Bank, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Cities Alliance, as International Development Institutions, are participating in the normative planning and for the opportunity of financing related development projects from the policy.
Through this assistance, Project Manager, Niger State Urban Support Programme (NSUSP), Prof. Mustapha Zubairu, explained, the state government and other stakeholders can begin to use urban policy as an instrument for public and political awareness of the gains to be obtained from sustainable urban development.
Specifically, the State Urban Policy is being prepared through a bottom-up and stakeholder-driven process that will assist the government and people build a consensus on the causes and effects of the current development challenges of the towns and cities of the state.
The process will also ensure the rearranging the financing, management and governance of the cities and towns so that they can operate on a self-sustaining basis, instilling in all citizens the willingness to pay their equitable share of the cost of service provision.
Prof. Zubairu told The Guardian that emphasis is being placed on ensuring that those affected by the current urban challenges, and have a stake actively contribute to the whole process. “It will guard against unexpected outcomes that will have adverse consequences to the populations, especially the most vulnerable groups,” he said.
He said that a steering committee and a 33-member technical support team have been established to ensure effective support at the highest political level and participation of critical stakeholder groups in the process of developing the SUP.
The expected outcome of the SUP includes, enhanced capacity of the state and its 25 local governments to develop, implement, and monitor and evaluate the state urban policy (SUP) and develop smart city strategies.
Others are increased centralisation of knowledge and tools on the development, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of urban policy (SUP) and smart city strategies.
According to him, the policy will enhance capacity among the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the state government to shape the urbanization trajectory of the state and allow cities to follow sustainable growth patterns, where densification reduces the city footprint in terms of land, energy consumption, allows for the presentation of green areas and improves ecosystem functionality and landscape connectivity.
It will also ensure that principles that promote compact, socially inclusive, better integrated and connected cities that foster sustainable urban development and are resilient to climate change in order to exploit economies of scale and agglomeration while emphasizing the green economy.
The policy is expected to ensure that a holistic approach to urban growth is adopted and the efforts are oriented for sustainability of patterns adopted both from an environmental point of view and from a social perspective, where segregation and inequalities will be minimized or mitigated through mixed uses.
It will integrate all stakeholders with a particular focus on the needs of women and those who are most vulnerable, including children and youth, older persons, persons with disabilities, the urban poor, the landless, rural to urban migrants, to positively impact on their life.