Historical development of urban and regional planning in nigeria

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Spatial planning in a general sense was part of local indigenous administration in Nigeria, long before the colonial administration. By the middle of 1800s, many indigenous cities though not urbanized in the real sense of 20,000 people had a form of arrangement of land uses in their domain. For instance, the Sokoto Caliphate and much part of Oyo Kingdom seats of governments had one form of deliberate spatial arrangement of land uses around the palaces. Therefore, the Nigeria landscape to some extent had some rudimentary element of planning. However, modern planning as understood in line with Western culture and tradition may be described as a recent phenomenon that emerged in the early 1900s. Since then various legislations and programmes have provided the framework for planning starting from 1904 to 1946 Ordinances and the latest at the national level in 1992 planning law. However, regions and later the states also have some legal framework for guiding physical planning practice and after the promulgation of the Urban and Regional Planning Decree No.88 of 1992 most states in the federation have had their own established planning administration laws. The extent to which these legal framework and other planning approaches affect planning activities is an objective of this chapter.

The Nigerian political and economic scene have had varied experience and consequences on urban and regional planning development in the country. In the first instance, the country experienced almost over 100 years of colonial administration. The country also has a relatively shorter democratically elected post-independent political administration period than the military rule. With specific reference to the period under review (pre-independence to post independence till 1999) the country experienced only 10 years of civilian administration (1960 to 1966 and 1979-1983), while the military administration lasted about 28 years (1966-1979 and 1984-1999). Besides, under the military administration of almost three decades, there were seven regimes some lasting about six months (i.e. Murtala Mohammed regime) while another lasted nine years. Undoubtedly therefore the variation in the regimes, policies orientation and objective also affected urban and regional planning development significantly.

A review of history of urban and regional planning in Nigeria, must be well positioned not only within planning legislations and politico-economic scene alone but also in the context of the people been planned for in terms of population growth over time. Urbanization and the process of people living in urban centres in Nigeria, predates the colonial adventure in the country. As at 1921 when the first Nigeria’s population was estimated to be 18.6 million and about 1.5 million were already living in 29 cities whose population was 20,000 and above. When the actual census first took place in the country in 1952, the population was 30.4 million with about 10.6% of the population, i.e. 3.3 million people living in 56 cities across the country. More importantly, there were 329 urban centres with population exceeding 5,000 people as at 1952. By 1963, when the second actual headcount took place the total population of the country was 55.6million and this increased to 88.5million in 1991, indicating that the population almost doubled within a period of about 40 years. The 2006 census put the figure at 150 million which by 2011 must have risen to 180million with about half of the population living in cities and about 130 cities whose population exceed 20,000 Nigerians (Oyesiku, 2010).

The import of the urbanization in Nigeria is that the country has a pattern that is unique in Africa, the rate at which it was intensified during and after colonial period. The factors that accentuate urbanization and which attract the attention of physical planning are those of transportation development, particularly rail and road during and after colonial period, economic development strategies after 1960 till the late 1970s that were based on import substitution strategy, which in turn led to the emergence of economic islands that was favoured by rail and road transportation as well as port and marine transportation development. Further, population growth and urban development were stepped- up through national political decentralization that led to creation of states from the regions in 1967 and subsequent states creation in 1976, 1991, 1992 and 1996. These processes created administrative capitals, rapidly increasing urban population due to both high rates of natural increase in population and rural urban migration. The physical planning and development response to the pattern of development in the country along with a review of various planning legislatures since the colonial time would elucidate on what urban and regional planning development has been in Nigeria till 1999.

This chapter focuses on history of Urban and Regional Planning in Nigeria through pre-colonial, colonial and post independent periods. Well discussed is the legal framework of planning practice in the country till 1999. The challenges of planning during these periods are highlighted.

Town Planning is a modern phenomenon, a 19th Century term first formally used by the British in 1906 as a contained in Housing, Town Planning, etc Act of 1909. Expectedly the modern planning activity within the corporate Nigeria is traceable to Lagos, being well known point of early colonial adventure in the country. Therefore, the way planning is perceived in the modern sense was not widely operational in different parts of Nigeria before the colonial period and by the time the nucleus of traditional city ‘Eko’ was established, the city had a distinct urban design pattern that follow traditional styles typical of fishermen village settlers (Aduwo, 1999). The style reflected in the street alignment of the Lagos Island today is a likeness of the socio-economy and political organization of the settlers.
Another trace of planning in Lagos area was in 1886 when Captain Alfred Moloney was appointed Governor of Lagos and established a botanical garden at Ebute-metta. Obviously, means of mobility and circulation before 1895 when the construction of the railways started around Moloney’s Botanical garden was by foot and horse carriages. Expectedly the streets were narrow but wide enough for the horse carriage.
Elsewhere outside Lagos area there were strong local planning of settlements in line with traditional land tenure system that varied from one locality to another, the existing agrarian nature of the economy and foot-path nature of mobility and circulation. Land was mostly vested in the traditional rulers and families and therefore most Nigerian settlements were established around palaces of traditional rulers, which were then the focus of community activities (NITP, 1991). Some of the settlements predating colonial period had the pattern of layout that were as a result of the need for defence or in line with religion as the case of many Northern and South-Western cities. For example, some settlements in the Northern and Western parts are located because of the factors of defense, religion or trade. The Yoruba settlements were noted for their general pattern of having a central area accommodating the king’s palace together with the King’s market and the most important place of worship (Sanni, 2006). The homes of High Chiefs are also located close to the town centre. From the centre, arterial roads that divided the town into wards radiated to the outskirts of the town (Mabogunje, 1968). Similarly, northern settlements like Zaria and Kano have walls around them for the purpose of defense and religion with gates provided in strategic locations to facilitate trade and communication. The city of Kano was a centre of trade and Islamic scholarship and there is a magnificent palace for the Emir who was the religions and political leader of the town. Indeed, as customary laws vary from one locality to another, land use patterns respond accordingly. Sanni (2006) noted that though there were no professional planners as we do at present, physical development and growth even in villages were coordinated and regulated by considering the relationship of any proposed development to the existing structures, and making adequate provision for circulation and other conveniences. In the opinion of Obialo (1999), planning and control of development in the pre-colonial period in Nigeria was effectively done. Interestingly some of the cities (Kano, Zaria, Koton-Karfi, Toro in the North and Abeokuta and Ondo in the South-West) still retain their pre-colonial inner-city settlement structure.


In this period of the planning history of Nigeria the colonial administration was much more concerned about unification of all parts of Nigeria and preparation for independence. Modern physical planning was skeletal and indeed restricted to towns and localities where the colonial administrators and European expatriates were residing.

The harbinger of the legislations was the Lagos 1863 Town Improvement Ordinance which introduced the basis for control of development and urban sanitation in Lagos protectorate. For the country at large, it was the Lord Luggard’s Land Proclamation of 1900 (title to land in Northern Nigeria) that provided for indirect rule in respect of land administration and settlement development. The import is that urban settlements in native areas were to be administered by the native rulers (NITP, 1991). There were series of legislations in place after 1900 that guided physical planning across the country five notable ones may be highlighted.

  1. The Cantonment Proclamation of 1904 ushered in the segregation of expatriate officials and Europeans from the native areas. The 1904 Ordinance was passed to tackle the problem of public health such that the European Reservation Areas in few selected urban centres were segregated from where the local and natives were residing.

  2. Ordinance No. 9 of 1914 enacted for the purpose of Government acquisition of land compulsorily for public use, irrespective of the status of the land method occupied or not.

  3. Township Ordinance No. 29 of 1917 enacted to classify urban settlement into different grades of cities as well as established broad physical layout of towns. Lagos was made a first class township with a Town Council empowered with ranging sets of functions. The Ordinance provided for improvement schemes to be undertaken in the second class categorised cities that were also given prominence such as Port - Harcourt, Enugu, Jos, Minna and Kaduna (Mabogunje, 1968; see Table 1). The 1917 Township Ordinance further advanced the segregation tendency of major Nigeria cities along ethnics and colour lines; European Reservation Areas for the expatriates and Europeans and native areas further subdivided into indigenes and non indigenes (Oyesiku, 2007).

Table 1: Township Classification of Cities in Nigeria, 1917



First Class


Second Class

Aba, Abeokuta, Calabar, Enugu, Forcados, Ibadan, Ilorin, Itu, Kaduna, Kano, Lokoja, Minna, Onitsha, Opoko, Port-Harcourt, Sapele, Warri, Zaria.

Third class

Abak, Abakaliki, Abiusi, Ado, Afikpo, Agbor, Ahoda, Anka, Arochukwu, Asaba Akwa, Badagry, Baro, Bauchi, Benin, Bida, Bonny, Brass, Burutu, Degema, Eket, Epe, Ife, Ijebu-Ode, Ikom, Ikorodu, Ikot-Ekpene, Ilaro, jebba, Koko, Komntagora, Kwale, Maiduguri, Obubra, Obudu, Offa Ogoja, Ogwashi, Okigwa, Omohia, Ondo, Oron, Owerri, Sokoto, Ubiaja, Uyo, Uzuakoli, Zungeru.

Source: Mabogunje, 1968, p.113.

By 1924 the township improvement schemes were to be undertaken by the Town Council through Town Planning Committee and specifically to initiate planning schemes. In 1926 Apapa was developed in Lagos as a self contained residential community and provided a relief Lagos Island of its original port functions to focus on being the Business District Centre (Aduwo, 1999) which has remained the country’s commercial centre till today. However the Town Planning Committees were dissolved and replaced by Health Boards in 1927.

  1. Lagos Town Planning Ordinance of 1928 was enacted in response to the fundamental drawback of 1917 Township Ordinance with no provisions extended to native towns and consequently no feasible planning ever took place in the native areas. The physical development problems arising from congestion in the native areas that were planless led to the outbreak of bubonic plaque in the later part of 1920s.

Indeed the 1928 Planning Ordinances for the first time made Town Planning a government activity and ensured that LEDB undertook several assignments including reclamation of swampy areas of Oko-Awo in the early 1930s and the resettlement of the displaced people from the area to south of Yaba estate. During this same period Yaba North estate was also established to provide housing to government officials.

  1. Nigerian Town and Country Planning Ordinance No. 4 of 1946 was perhaps the first comprehensive Urban and Regional Planning legislation that covers the entire country and which provided for planning and implementation of schemes by Town Planning Authorities. This planning legislation was modelled after the British 1936 Town and Country Planning law and drew extensively almost in a similar fashion that of British planning activities.

By 1945 it was obvious to the Colonial administration that urban planning was missing from the country’s constitution and this omission calls for urgent attention. Thus in 1946, the Town and Country Planning Law, Cap. 155 (Ordinance No.4 of 1946) was promulgated. The law was made to "make provision for the re-planning, improvement and develop­ment of different parts of Nigeria" by means of planning schemes and planning authorities.

As the first nationwide framework for Urban and Regional Planning in the country under the colonial administration, the Nigerian Town and Country Planning Act of 1946 was widely adopted throughout the country. The 1946 Act was designed to “support political socio-economic mission in Nigeria of producing raw materials for the British industries and bringing back the finished product for distribution” rather than to assist socio economic needs of Nigeria as an emerging nation (Utuama, 1999, p. 183).

The 1946 Planning Act was restricted to the European Reservation Areas to the detriment of those living in native towns and as such it was difficult to see how the Act ever prepared the country for modern planning scheme in all settlements in the country. Most parts of the country, particularly the urban centres, were unplanned and segregated without access to infrastructure and services, general welfare of the people and organized land use planning (Oyesiku, 2007).

Although, the 1946 Act was designed for the improvement and control of development by means of planning schemes to be prepared by Planning Authorities that were established by the government, the Act was more elaborative on the scope and content of the schemes and emphasis on development control that will ensure that “adequate provisions are made for roads, buildings and other structures amenities, public utility services, transport communications and other uses to which land is put, harmonized interrelationship among these competing land uses through the principle of zoning” (Oyesiku, 1998a, pp. 46-47).

An important area of significance of the 1946 Act was essentially the institutionalization of Local Planning Authorities to be responsible for all aspects of planning but through approved planning scheme, and for the administration of existing Town and Country Planning laws.

The 1946 Act, to some extent did not allow for participatory decision making process on planning matters and also unfriendly to the extent that it was difficult for an objection to be raised in respect of planning scheme. In this regard, a new planning law was necessary not only for a new planning order but also to address lingering planning operation and administration challenges carried over from the colonial times. Moreover, the 1946 Act being a nationwide legislation applied to every part of the country also remained in existence for close to fifty years and was only replaced by the 1992 Urban and Regional Planning decree No. 88 of 1992.

Apart from these major legislations during this period before independence there are some notable Federal Government involvements in planning related activities that were of importance to this chapter. This was the National Development Plan (NDP), an important instrument of development in Nigeria, particularly for political economy. The NDP focuses on policies, programmes and projects for achieving development in the country. The first of such NDP was the 1946-56 plan, principally based on colonial administration preparedness for the development and welfare of Nigerians and preparation of Nigerians for independence. There was no substantial item of policy and project that were Urban and Regional Planning oriented but simply prepared with programmes that can accelerate transportation and communications for the promotion of agriculture and evacuations of agric products and minerals from the hinterland to the port cities. However, there were some programmes targeted towards the development of agric and mineral production towns in addition to rail and seaport cities (Olomojeye, 1999).
Before the independence in 1960 there was another National Development Plan: 1955-1963, which spelt out the objectives, policies, programmes and projects that were geared towards agriculture, transportation and communication sectors. This plan was not too different from the 1946-1956 NDP that was designed for the preparation of independence and therefore no direct Urban and Regional Planning effect.
The period of pre-independent Nigeria indeed was not considered properly enough to emphasize local development policy planning in the country by the colonial administration. Of course the plans did not recognize any of the basic requirements of local development planning, even when there was scarcely a town in Nigeria that was not in a serious need of re-planning and proper laying out for future extension. More importantly, the 1946-1956 and 1956 – 1962 emphasized sectoral growth of the economy at the expense of urban and regional planning implication of development projects. There was no spatial integration in the efforts since economic growth would be fruitless if not translated in spatial terms for the benefit of the people in terms of social infrastructure and quality environment.
Other related legislations during the Colonial Era having bearing on Town and Country Planning were Mineral Act (1945) which touched on issues like drainage and pollution (air, water and land), Public Health Laws (1957) to control overcrowding, diseases and general urban squalor, Land Development (Roads) Law (1948) on the ownership, acquisition, sale and disbursement of land and Building Lines Regulation (1948) which became chapter 24 of the Laws of Nigeria, 1948 was designed to provide for the positioning of building and other obstructions with reference to roads.

Urban and Regional Planning Under the Regional Government (Pre-military): 1960-1966
At the time of independence the focus of development in the country was simply sectoral and economic planning rather than conscious efforts aimed at resolving physical planning challenges. Therefore it was not surprising that the first two major National Development Plans followed the patterns of the two previous plans before the independence. The 1962-68 NDP, the first to be prepared after political independence was based on the regions (West, East and North) and the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos. The main objectives of the first post independent plan were to accelerate economic growth of the country to the detriment of the structural problems witnessed pre-independence era.

With the adoption of the 1946 Town and Country Planning Law by each of the three regions, the Regional governments began to attract trained town planners in their services and establish more town planning units along with their lands and survey departments (Obialo, 1999). The town planning units later became town planning departments in the regional ministries of lands and survey as more trained town planners joined their service. The planning departments became the policy making organs for the urban and rural planning in the regions preparing master plans for specific towns and regional plans for some areas. The Kaduna master plan (1967 - 2017) was one of such master plans prepared by Max Lock and Partners, UK. The chief town planning officers in the regional government became the chief advisers to the regional governments on all urban and rural matters. Due to the capital intensive nature of physical planning, the regional governments could not adequately give urban and regional planning the priority it demanded in the face of rapid urbanization and attendant problems witnessed after independence. The none-existence of physical planning administration at the national level makes it difficult to initiate planning proposals that cut across regional boundaries.

The progress made in urban and regional planning during this period is not without limitations. At this time, the implementation of the Town and Country Planning Ordinance of 1946 created a situation in which planning and development of an urban area was equated to provision of more physically attractive layout with architecturally well designed housing units. Indeed, planning authorities were not seen to be concerned with all other problems facing the urban centres under their jurisdiction. Another limitation was shortage of manpower as urban and regional planning profession was still very new to the Nigerian society.
Urban and Regional Planning under Military Administrations: 1966-1979
The first Military Administration emerged due in part to rising ethnic tension and political instability within the existing four regions. That administration hardly settled before the civil war that started in 1967. Around that time was the first attempt to decentralize the political administration of the country from four regions to twelve states and the emergence of some urban centre as state capitals. In spite of the spatial redistribution of urban populations as a result of the political crisis in the country between 1964 and 1966, the creation of 12 states from the three regions by the Federal Government in 1967 led to a spatial reordering of urban centres in the country. Several retarded towns and rural towns became state capitals and witnessed an upsurge in their populations and urban infrastructure and services. Such new or rejuvenated towns included Maiduguri, Calabar, Ilorin, etc. The 1946 planning Act was perhaps the only legal framework for urban and regional planning activities and the new states adopted it in one form or the other. However the civil war that lasted almost three years was a huge distraction to the states for any meaningful physical planning. It was after the war that the Federal Government went back on track to plan holistically for the country, again starting with the National Development Plan approach.
The second National Development Plan 1970-1974, was formulated as the first after the Nigeria civil war, designed to reconstruct the Eastern parts of the country most affected by the civil war. In line with reconstruction focus, the plan’s major objective was infrastructural development and rehabilitation of agricultural sector but directly had 7% of the total budget to Town and Country Planning, housing, water and sewage. At the end of the plan period not only that economic problems became national issues others that are physical planning related took a centre stage. Olomojeye (1999) noted among others these national problems include: increasing rate of unemployment especially in cities; economic inequalities pronounced between urban and rural areas, which heighten rate of poverty particularly in the cities; increase in crime rate; and most importantly deterioration of physical infrastructure in urban areas. National development that was becoming chaotic, despite under the military rule was beaconing for a change in approach to national planning and development as the quality of life was degenerating and overall social order in confused state. This was the setting of the third National Development Plan after


The third National Development Plan after independence added certain objective and goals of physical planning to the usual social services and sectoral planning of the previous plans. The 1975-1980 plan therefore brought a great relief to physical planning activities by including certain policies that relate to environment and rural development, the establishment of Federal Ministry of Housing, Urban Development and Environment. In addition, the plan contained strong social services aspects as the Federal Housing Authority was established as a parastatal of Federal Ministry of Works and Housing and to enhance public service delivery of housing ownership the former Nigerian Building Society was transformed to the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria as part of the policy on direct housing construction programme. Furthermore, the Federal Ministry of Social Development and Cooperatives was established to promote welfare across the country.

Through the third NDP the Military Government in power also intensified the provision of infrastructure particularly rural roads and portable water. The River Basin Development Authorities were established across the country, eleven of them as part of the drive for agricultural development and agro-industrial projects. The Regional planning implication of RBDA was overwhelming and considerable challenge to Town and Regional Planners. This was more so that RBDA was likening the USA approach to regional development, the likes of Tennessee Valley Development Authority. However, the enthusiasm was short lived and the RBDA approach stood alone as agricultural and water development strategy, rather than comprehensive regional planning policy

The greatest contribution of the Federal Government to Urban and Regional Planning during post- independence period and through the third National Development Plan (1975 – 1980) was institutionalization of the concept of new towns which led to the emergence of Abuja, Onne, Satellite town and Festac town, (the last two in Lagos. Abuja case is discussed later). In addition to this, the World Bank started making in-roads into the states for urban development programmes with site and services projects in Bauchi and Imo states. Besides, the Federal Government initiated studies on twenty major urban centres in Nigeria and promulgated the Land Use Decree in 1978 as a policy to provide easy access to land for its numerous housing and other social services projects. Thus, the third NDP has the most significant and concrete contribution to Urban and Regional Planning by the Federal Government and which subsequently trickled down to State and Local Governments Area.

The previous sections focused on Federal Government intervention in physical planning matters across the country. However, planning activities also took place initially in various regions and later in states of the federation. For lack of space, cross-country historical development may not be captured in this chapter.

Establishment of Federal Capital Territory and Movement to Abuja

A great leap to urban planning practice by any administration in the country was the idea to establish a new federal capital of Nigeria. The establishment of new capital territory and a new capital city of Nigeria came following the acceptance of Justice Akinola Aguda’s panel report by the Federal Military Government in 1976. The report declared that Lagos was unfit and no longer capable of its dual role of being the capital of Nigeria and that of Lagos State. The major reasons for the establishment of the new Federal Capital Territory were the need to have a capital that will help in galvanizing a new sense of national unity and promote national integration and for even and balance development towards opening up apparently under developed parts of the country (Kalgo and Ayileka, 2001).

Succinctly put, apart from the urban planning practice purposes, there were four other major reasons advanced for the relocation of Nigeria’s federal capital, that: Lagos as a nation capital was located at peripheral location in relation to the country size; Lagos was also small in size and therefore lacked room for expansion needed to met the future development of a growing country’s national capital; Lagos was serving as a dual administrate function as capital of Lagos State and the capital of the country since 1914 amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria; and Lagos is identified with one of the major ethnic group in the country whose culture has a primordial right over land and therefore alienated the rights of other Nigerians to land in their federal capital (Mabogunje, 2001; Oyesiku, 1997; 2010). Consequently, by the enactment of the Federal Capital Territory Act No 6 of 1976 established the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) as the agency for design, construction and administration of the territory.

Development activities started in the territory in 1980 on approval of the master plans for the new capital and its territory. The plan estimated total population as 157,550; 484,500; and 1.6 million people by 1985; 1995; and 2000 respectively and an ultimate population size of 3.2 million. The Federal Capital Territory covers an area of about 8,000 Km2 located geographically at the centre of Nigeria (Fig. 1). The territory lies between latitude 80251 and 90201N and longitude 60451 and 70391E and is bounded by Kogi state in the South, Kaduna State in the North, Niger State in the West and Nassarawa State in the East. The present Federal Capital Territory was carved out of the four (4) states in the central part of the country, consisting then of eight hundred and forty five (845) villages. Niger State contributed about 79% to the territory, the old Plateau state 16% and old Kwara, now Kwara and Kogi States 5%. Similarly, of the 845 villages in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), about 83% belonged to Niger State (Oyesiku, 2010 p.199).

The major planning instrument for development and growth of Abuja is the master plan designed and prepared by International Planning Associates (IPA) lasting 18 months and presented to the government in February 1979. The total area for the development was estimated at about 25,000 hectares of land as shown in Table 3 and the stages of development and growth expected to reach 1.6 million people as shown in Table 4 and Figure 2 the main planning strategy for the cities development was to be in four phases and to start with the smallest unit considered as a neighbourhood and then progress to the district and the city central levels. The capital city itself is designed to be in five residential districts and central area as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 1. Abuja: Peripheral location of Lagos and centrality of Abuja within Nigerian context. The diagram further shows that from any corner of Nigeria, Abuja remains the most central city in the country, a justification for the relocation from Lagos.

Source: Oyesiku, 2010, p. 195.

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