In last week’s edition, we traced the evolution of urbanisation in Nigeria; from the oil boom of the 1970s, the creation of states, and the continued neglect of rural communities. Urbanisation paved the way for modernisation, industrialisation, improvement of roads, better transportation and creation of more jobs opportunities, amongst other benefits. At the same time, it brought with it the challenges of mass homelessness, poverty, hunger, urban sprawl coupled with social exclusion, environmental and infrastructural crises, and unabated pressure on the limited economic and environmental resources.
Although the challenges of urbanisation in Nigeria are capable of threatening the sustainability of its cities, the prospects are the first steps towards fast-tracking national and global development, when all stakeholders – governments, the private sector, international donor agencies, Non-Governmental Organisations, and the civil society actively play a part in mainstreaming sustainable urbanisation.
Since the industrial revolution, Germany has been one of the countries to have successfully maximised its growing urban population for social, economic, and environmental development through sustainable urban planning policies initiated by the government. Indonesia was able to deal with the high rate of poverty that resulted from urbanisation with the financial support of the World Bank whilst engaging the UN-Habitat for enhancing its capacities for urban planning.
In the same vein, private sector collaboration with the city of Chicago contributed to the design of better technologies for the better management of the water, infrastructure, energy, and transportation challenges associated with the growth of the city. Likewise, the active participation of Sydney’s civil society was instrumental to addressing the housing challenges of its increasingly growing population. Sustainable urbanisation can only be attained using a multi-sector approach.
The need for good and innovative governance
According to the United Nations, sustainable, resilient and inclusive cities are often the outcome of good governance that encompasses effective leadership; land-use planning; jurisdictional coordination; inclusive citizen participation; and efficient financing. Good governance is crucial for developing, maintaining, and restoring sustainable and resilient services, social, institutional, and economic activity in cities.
Moreover, the UN-Habitat’s Global Campaign on Urban Governance launched in 2000, postulates good urban governance to be characterized by decentralising responsibilities and resources to local authorities; encouraging the participation of civil society; and using partnerships to achieve common objectives. Therefore, urban governance delivers sustainable development when it is environment-friendly, participatory, accountable, transparent, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive, and abides by the rule of law. As with other developmental issues, governments sit at the helm of urban governance and thus are expected to lead the transition to sustainable urban systems.
Although it was clearly established in the last edition that Nigerian governments have begun commendable investments in enhancing the sustainability of major cities, good and innovative urban governance which incorporates a more holistic, multi-tiered approach is crucial to further fast-track sustainable urbanisation across all Nigerian cities.
The urban agenda of the UN establishes the most effective approach to good urban governance as the decentralisation of the planning and management of cities from the central to the local governments. It commits governments to recognise local authorities as their closest partners, while within the legal framework of each country, promote decentralisation through democratic local authorities that are strengthened financially and institutionally in accordance with the conditions of countries, while ensuring their transparency, accountability and responsiveness to the needs of people. (Istanbul Declaration on Human Settlements, 1996).
Although Nigeria operates a federal system of government, power is centralised. Despite that the country is multi-tiered into federal, state, and local governments based on the 1999 constitution, it operates a strong centre and weak state and local governments with both fiscal and political control at the federal level.
The reality is that Nigeria might continue to grapple with the challenges of urbanisation unless the state and local levels are strengthened to develop the growing urban areas. Truly, the most urban state of Lagos has been able to address some of its urban challenges on its own; especially those related to social and economic development nevertheless, environmental issues still constitute a major setback. Yet, features of a sustainable city include access to clean energy, green infrastructures, electricity, reduced ecological footprint and resilience against the adverse impact of natural disasters. As long as energy issues are mainly controlled at the centre, progress with environmental development may remain slow.
It is also important to stress that decentralisation for urban sustainability should not be limited to states only; local governments who are the closest to the masses should actively participate in the development of their constituencies. Lagos for one, can achieve more with its urban development when the local governments are empowered to develop their various zones and attend to the urban challenges of their constituents.
Although Lagos has made significant progress largely due to its ability to generate internal revenues, the situation is different in other urban areas within the country due to a high dependence on federal allocations. Clearly, unless state and local governments are able to secure some level of fiscal and political independence, the attainment of sustainable urbanisation might remain difficult in most Nigerian cities.
The private sector alliance
One of the features of the New Urban Agenda of the UN Habitat is the need for a rethink of strategies to building, managing, and living in cities through drawing together cooperation with committed partners, relevant stakeholders and urban actors at all levels of government as well as the civil society and private sector. The private sector can play crucial roles in sustainable urbanisation through cross-sector partnerships with governments, based on sector focus.
In Nigeria for instance, businesses offering building solutions like Lafarge Africa, can partner with various city governments in providing affordable decent housing. Likewise, those in the energy sector like Total Nigeria are expected to lead investments in clean energy whilst providing innovative amenities such solar and technological solutions to improving energy efficiency. Also is collaboration with cities and governments in finding lasting solutions to transportation issues; providing safe and affordable transportation for all as well as resilient infrastructure. Furthermore, the private sector is expected to begin participation through respecting sustainable modes of operation such as respect for human rights, rule of law and the environment.
The support of international donor agencies and non-governmental organisations
Two major obstacles to sustainable urbanisation in most developing nations is the lack of efficient policies and limited funding. Developed nations on the other hand have in general more solid and efficient governments, institutions, coordination and policies across tiers of government. Moreover, national incomes are higher, state and local governments in most cases generate internal revenues whilst there are usually extensive public expenditures for social services and social security in most of these countries. In addition, most of these developed countries have budgetary allocations for international interventions while some are home to many international donor bodies.
In spite of the fact that developing countries like Nigeria have over the years benefitted from developmental funding from developed ones howbeit, more strategic funding support towards urban planning and development is required to deal with urban issues, especially those of overburdened Lagos. Already, 100 Resilient Cities—Pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation (100RC) has included Lagos in the list of cities it has dedicated to help become more resilient to physical, social and economic challenges. However, more actors are needed for phenomenal results to be achieved.
In some developing countries and in the absence of adequate resources, some NGOs step in to support urban development. Beyond funding however, Nigeria can benefit from the experience, intellectual and technological support of developed countries and international donors, especially in the areas of urban policy models.
A developing country like Indonesia was able to reduce its urban poverty levels from 48% in 1990 to 13% in 2010 through collaboration with the World Bank and the Jakarta City Administration by placing strong emphasis on the provision of basic infrastructure of water supply, sanitation systems, footpaths, drainage and public amenities and the prioritization of the development of housing and settlements for households and the integration of housing with social-net support facilities.
Finally, it is the responsibility of non-governmental organisations to lead awareness on sustainable urban practices.
An involved citizenry
Sustainable human settlement development requires the active engagement of civil society organizations, as well as the broad-based participation of all people. Through inclusive citizen participation in the design of infrastructure, urban space and services urban planning processes are legitimized (UN Habitat). Moreover, the expertise of stakeholders is leveraged.
Established that most Nigerian states/cities depend on federal revenue, there is an urgent need for more innovative revenue generation techniques for there to be sufficient funds to develop individual cities. This can only be attained when citizens, together with the government jointly develop and participate in sustainable urban development through analysis, discuss and acts. This can be approached via the local governments, the legislature and daily practices.
Furthermore, Nigerians need to be actively involved in demanding for good urban governance through the instrument of democratic participation. In addition, the attitude of Nigerians to sustainability must positively change, for governmental, private sector and international donor efforts to yield desired results. Through respect for the environment, proper waste disposal practices, sustainable and renewable energy practices, recycling and maintenance of public properties, Nigerians can fast-track sustainable cities whilst managing the growing challenges of urbanisation.
As reflected in the World Cities Report 2016, urbanisation and growth go hand in hand, and no one can deny that urbanisation is essential for socioeconomic transformation, wealth generation, prosperity and development. Nigeria and indeed any country can only be sustainably developed when the development of its cities are jointly approached.