Hello Vibrant Africans!
Its a lovely Tuesday morning and am glad to share this insightful interview i had with a PHD researcher in University of Salford, Manchester,United Kingdom with over 14 years of experience in Urban and Regional Planning/ Town Planning.
Before proceeding to his interview , Lets understand what Town Planning is all about….
Town planning according to The Town planners Registration of Nigeria TOPREC is “concerned with spatial ordering of land use both in the urban and rural settings for the purpose of creating functionally efficient and aesthetically pleasing physical environment for living, working, circulation and recreation”. Town planners are professionals who work in the town planning sector.
The Gap (reason for the interview):
From the conclusion drawn out of the questionnaires distributed to randomly selected fresh secondary school leavers on the top ten courses they would love to study in the university, town planning had 1% from the data gotten, which pointed out the need to create awareness of the profession to the present generation.
Secondly, from my observations, many of the commercial cities and rural areas across the four regions in Nigeria, were established based on faulty planning of infrastructures, streets, and zoning before they were created, which led to frequent congestion and bad infrastructures in the regions
The above points led to the need for an in-depth interview with an expert, in the town planning field who can stress the importance of town planning,and the reason why more students should aspire to become town planners rather than study it because they were offered alternative admission in the field as against their initial choice.
A conversation with Mr Razak Yinka Sherif presents a treat any day. You will sure feel intensity of discussing with an intellectual; one that truly knows his onions and believes in the beauty of his dreams and those of his country.
Razak Yinka Sherif is a force to reckon with in the Nigerian urban and regional planning sector. He is on a mission to create amazing solutions and redefine the sector in Nigeria and indeed Africa. Despite his enormous achievements, he has no reason to go slow just yet. His sight is set on the laurel on the hills.
Razak Yinka Sherif’s Profile
Ph.D Researcher at the University of Salford, Manchester, United Kingdom, with specialization in the field of Spatial Planning and Sustainable Low Carbon Transportation. A Chartered Town Planner with over 14 years of professional Town Planning practice in Public Service with the National Government. Records of professional practice include successful supervision of planning and design of Housing schemes, Sustainable Integrated Transportation, Infrastructure Planning and Stakeholder Consultations. These are backed by proven credentials of scheduled completion and efficient project methodology for achieving sustainable urban development.
His career goal is to grow professional Town Planning practice experience from the Public Service and make impacts in the areas of Planning and Design of Spatial Plans, Sustainable Transport and Integrated Land Use Planning. To continually conduct extensive research in these fields, and disseminate experiences from professional practice in Public Service and findings of researches within research and academic communities.
His areas of expertise include; Integrated Land Use Planning, Sustainable Low Carbon Transport, Transit Oriented Development, Project Evaluation & Finance, Planning & Design of Housing Schemes, Urban Regeneration, Strategic Environmental Assessment & Planning, Stakeholder Consultation, Wide range of computer software including AutoCAD, MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint among others…
In this exclusive interview, he talked briefly on his biography and career history but shared in-depth knowledge on the town planning field in order to enlighten the youth on the benefits of the profession to Nigeria, the future of the profession , and of course success tips for the African youth who are likely to be interested in the profession after reading this piece.
Just the perfect way to start a Tuesday! Read on and share your thoughts in the comment section;
1. Good day Professor Razak Sherif, as i wish to call you…. My first question goes thus, as an expert in the town planning field, kindly give an in-depth meaning of what town planning is to you and its importance to a country?
Good day Madam. I start by saying your keen interest about the Town Planning profession in Nigeria is commendable. In this clime, the general perception by the public of a Town Planners is that government officials who put “X”mark with red paint on physical development indicating that it’s a contravention that has to be removed.
Hence, town planners are perceived as enemies of the public, because these officials don’t permit the people to indiscriminately erect physical development around the city. This hitherto provides the premise to understand people’s perception of who a Town Planner is. However, from a professional point of view, Town Planning is the systematic arrangement of human activities in space in order to achieve an aesthetically pleasing and functionally efficient environment for living, working and recreating.
These human activities refer to housing (Residential areas), schools (Education), streets, roads, highways (Transport), market and shopping (Commercial), church, mosque, community centre (Public use), parks, garden, playground (Recreation).
Increasingly, the scope and scale of town planning has been argued to be beyond mere simplification of landuse zoning (spatial arrangement of activities) and, rejection or granting of permit for physical development to encompass building partnership amongst sectors relevant to spatial development, national and regional economic development, competiveness of cities, public health, disaster risk management, climate change, sustainable development etc. Even though this new defined scope and scale of Town Planning is yet to be fully recognized institutionalized in Nigeria.
The importance of Town Planning in National development cannot be overemphasized because it serves to provide the blueprint that guide physical development with socio-economic and environmental implications. Like you remarked in your prologue, city development without such blueprint provided by the Town Planner is a recipe for the inefficiencies evident in such symptoms as congestion, unplanned development that can exacerbate fire incidents and poor environmental condition that can spur epidemics.
2. You’ve being into the professional practice of town planning for over 14 years now, from experience, kindly enlighten the readers the role past Nigerian government played in the effectiveness of town planning sector in the country, tell us if the present government see the need to make plans on how town planning can be more functional?
The trajectory of the development of town planning in Nigeria best explains the role of government in the development and effectiveness of town planning. This dates back to the colonial administration in the late 19th century and early parts of the 20th century. The 1st institutionalization of Town Planning is traceable to the Lagos Executive Development Board (LEDB) as a response to the outbreak of the Bubonic plague in the Lagos area and the need to harmonize physical development.
I won’t bore you with too much history. The 1946 Town and Country Planning Ordinance became the 1st Town Planning Legislation with a National outlook, with this, most major cities in Nigeria had schemes and plans prepared to guide physical development. This legislation shaped town planning practice until the passage of the 1992 Urban and Regional Planning Law.
In sum, while Town Planning practice appear to have remain in the domain of the government, restrictive bureaucratic practice and low level of priority of government to plan making and implementation may have inhibited the effectiveness of town planning in most Nigerian cities. In terms of the present government’s disposition to plan making and implementation to create functional cities, it may be too early to assess the present government. However, we could make this evaluation in terms of the democratic regime starting from 1999. By this, it may suffice to say that with the exception of some few states (e.g. Lagos, Plateau, Nassarawa), attention to plan making and implementation has been more of rhetoric’s than action, and in most instance where the plans are made, they have remained on the shelve awaiting implementation.
Majorly, this is due to lack of priority on the part of government to implement, or importantly, that the plans “were made for the people” and not “with the people”. As such, the plan receive less or no support of the people, the implementation of such plans remains a quagmire awaiting resolution and rarely see the light of the day.
3. Thanks for that insightful reply, how will you describe professional town planners’ typical day at work, taking a clue from yours?
Like we have seen from the definition of town planning, it is indeed a multi-faceted profession involving Transport, Housing, City Management, and Tourism etc. Minor nuances exist in the typical day of a professional town planner depending on if she works in the private sector or public sector. In general and in actual practice, the roles are similar. As a chartered professional town planner in public service, my typical day at the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) which is an establishment charged with planning and development of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja is challenging but interesting.
As a staff of Satellite Town Development Department (STDD), my duties include identification, appraisal, planning and design of affordable housing schemes within the designated satellite towns of the FCT-Abuja. In certain instances, the preparation of some of these schemes is outsourced to consultants, and my duties focus on supervising and evaluating the submissions of the consultants in line with pre-defined Terms of Reference. Upon completion of the planning and design of the schemes, memos are made to the Honourabe Minister of Federal Capital Territory for approval, so the scheme can become legalized and operational.
The primary goal of these schemes is to leverage the housing stock in Abuja, with strong emphasis on creating access to housing for the low income spectrum that cannot access the market competitively-driven housing stock. My duties also include facilitating collaboration and partnerships with international agencies as UN-Habitat, African Development Bank, and Nigeria Infrastructure Advisory Facility (NIAF) in order to facilitate schemes/intervention such as slum upgrade and urban regeneration in blighted settlements of designated satellite towns of Abuja.
Further, I also facilitate consultation and stakeholder engagement with indigenous community in project sites in order to ensure smooth and efficient implementation of projects. These are some, amongst other activities within my typical day at work.
4. Let’s talk about the importance of town planning, from your professional experience and research, what are the added importance of town planning you’ve discovered?
Thank you for your question. For me, I have always viewed the benefits and importance of town planning from a prism that shows the benefit to the people, to the government and to the environment. In terms of the benefits to the people, when a settlement is planned every facet of such settlement function efficiently like a system which have interrelated part working harmoniously to achieve a goal, in this case, the goal is achieving a settlement that is orderly, functional and aesthetically pleasing, because activities are located in their optimum location and negative impacts are avoided.
Here, adequate spaces and places are provided to cater for the need of inhabitants. Similarly, accessibility to different activities by inhabitants is ensured by pursuing and implementing transport mode that permit movement and accessibility of the populace. By this, I mean, putting in place efficient transit system such as Light Rail Transit (LRT) or Bus Rapid Transit(BRT) as against proliferation of private car usage which usually lead to traffic congestion and all its associated ills. In sum, people or inhabitant of planned settlement usually have a good quality of life and increased longevity.
With respect to benefit to the government, in planned settlement, activities within such settlements function efficiently and movement between activities by inhabitants is also efficient. The efficiency gain in this instance include increased productivity of the populace (since better living quality is ensured), this translate to increasing economic growth (GDP). Similarly, orderly and efficient arrangement of activities in space ensures reduced level of expenditure on infrastructure and services, this is because, infrastructure and services are provided to the threshold of population that can support the optimization of outcomes.
This efficiency gains elicit sustainability since more is achieved using less resources. Hence, doing more with less.
In terms of benefit of town planning to the environment, by pursuing optimization with doing more with less, in the provision of infrastructure and services, less resources is utilized. The reduced level of usage and consumption of resources contribute to reduced level of ecological footprint. This inherent efficiency translate to savings in environmental resources, the implicit reduced level of air pollution and transport related GHG emission in a planned city has less negative impact on the environment, this therefore contribute to efficiency gain in terms of environmental resources. In sum, we therefore see how town planning benefits the people, government and the environment in a planned settlement.
5. Will you say town planning is more of government activities in Nigeria or private companies are involved too? Who should be responsible on how town planning related issues in Nigeria should be solved?
Town planning practice has opportunities for both private sector and government engagement, however, currently, more number of town planners abound in government establishments. The acceptance or rejection of development permit has remained the exclusive preserve of government town planning establishment, town planning firms in the private sector engage in the preparation of plans, advocacy and other related services.
Indeed, solving the challenges of town planning in Nigeria cities would require the involvement of government town planning establishments and private firms that engage in town planning practice. In order to address the challenges facing town practice in Nigeria, the relevant government town plan establishments (Federal Ministry of Land, Housing and Urban Development), and the regulatory institutions as the Nigeria Institute of Town Planners (NITP) and Town Planners Registration Council of Nigeria (TOPREC) should be responsible for evaluating and addressing these challenges.
This would include initiating the necessary amendments to the enabling legislation, revising and updating town planning curriculum in university and building capacity of town planning practitioners.
6. How best do you think youths can be made to see the importance of studying town planning?
Like I remarked earlier, the awareness about town planning is low, another challenge is the stereotype that a town planner is that “public enemy” that marks “X” on people’s property in order to deter haphazard development in a settlement.
The importance of studying town planning can be explained to the youth through various medium, this include forming Young Planners Club in secondary school, with such agenda of propagating the basic function/duties of town planners. Indeed, more result can be achieved with this club especially in situation where these youth club engage in excursion to well-planned settlements and city like Abuja.
By seeing the manifestation of the work of town planning in actual practice that may provide a clearer meaning of the importance of town planning. This may therefore create the impetus for studying town planning by the youth, this is because, most youth have problem-solving capacities, and may enjoy pursuing a career where the impact of their work has physical manifestation that can be seen and appreciated.
7. Can you share with us some of the things you love about being a Chartered Town Planner? What are the uphill tasks in the profession? Has a town planning adopted ICT in its operation?
Put simply, as a Chartered Town Planner, my practice and research experience gives me the requisite knowledge and skill as a “problem solver”, and I enjoy that feeling a lot. I am able to contribute to solving real-life problem, and I actually see some of these problem solved, and how some of the problems appear to defy solution. It is really a challenging world where one learns from the stream of experiences.
Secondly, like I remarked earlier, lack of adequate priority to plan making and implementation by the government is a challenge, it is hoped that there would be improvement over time. Some of the uphill task or challenge is lack of access to reliable data upon which to make informed decision. Gathering such data is also difficult and expensive. There also exist the challenge of inadequate capacity and part of the practitioners, as such, training and retraining of practitioners is required to make them relevant to trends in town planning practice in the face of 21st century complex changes facing most cities.
And lastly, I would say yes! As several evidences exist of Town Planning practitioners working with several computer-based applications like Autodesk-AutoCAD, and GIS in executing their work. While, this is a new trend, it appears to be gradually replacing the manual plan design using “T-Squares’’ and “Set-Squares”.
8. Let’s deviate a bit from the importance of the profession, to your educational background, what precisely motivated you to choose town planning as your career path?
I am sure my answer to this question will astonish you, I did not chose town planning as my career path as an undergrad, I found myself in Urban and Regional Planning. For those who believe in destiny, destiny wanted me here. I applied for Business Administration, the opening was limited, my O’level combination of Geography, Biology, English, Mathematics, Economics and Government at credit level was pre-requisite for Urban and Regional Planning, as such on the admission list, my name didn’t fall under Business Administration but rather Urban and Regional Planning.
You may be right to suggest that I got here by accident, I think it is a very good accident, as I did made the best out of it by coming top of my class. If I have to choose again I will chose town planning, this can be explained by my passion to acquire all requisite professional and academic qualifications to become an authority in the field of Urban and Regional Planning. Crystallizing my practice and research experience has provided me with a very good grounding for a career that makes me immensely satisfied.
9. What are the challenges you faced in your research on ‘Spatial Planning and Sustainable Low Carbon Transportation’ an aspect of town planning?
The challenges faced in my Ph.D. research which focuses on Spatial Planning and Sustainable Low Carbon Transportation was majorly one of the challenges I earlier highlighted, which is lack of access to data, poor attitude of people in responding to questionnaire survey, and the huge cost of collecting data. These summarizes the challenges faced, however, these are challenges common to most developing countries. Aside from these, the Ph.D. research was challenging but an interesting journey.
10. For the benefit of interested youth, what is the present and future employment availability for town planners in Nigeria?
Presently, the government establishments remain the major employment of town planners in Nigeria, while some are also employed in private consulting firm. However, with an increasing trend of the need to achieve efficiency in service delivery, the government establishments are increasingly outsourcing services to town planning firms; this is likely to create an increased opportunity for employment of town planner in the private sector. The international donor agencies as AfDB, World Bank, UNDP etc. are domain where town planners are also employed.
11. Frankly speaking, will you encourage any of your children to choose town planning as a profession?
While I am no fan of compelling children to specific career path, if my child does show flair for town planning, he/she would be encouraged; it would be a thing of joy to see a transition of one’s career. But I sure I won’t compel any child.
12. Your advice to aspiring town planners and those climbing the career ladder of the profession? How can they become a chartered Town Planner like you?
Major advice is to be sure they know what the profession is all about by reading and learning about it, and to pursue the course in institutions with relevant accreditation from relevant bodies/agencies. And upon graduation and requisite practice experience, to pursue the path to becoming a registered/chartered practitioners.
In order to become a Chartered Town Planner, one has to be registered with the Town Planners Registration Council (TOPREC) in Nigeria, or the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) in the United Kingdom. Upon acquiring Bachelor degree from a TOPREC accredited University or Post graduate Diploma for a TOPREC accredited Polytechnic, two year of practice under the tutelage of an experienced practitioner, a town planner becomes elected as full member of the Nigeria Institute of Town Planners (NITP). Further, upon passing TOPREC Examination and Interview, one then becomes a Registered Town Planner.
13. Any role model(s)? Are you available to serve as a mentor to interested youths?
Role model is expressed in terms of Nigerian and International context. In the Nigeria context; Professor Akin L. Mabogunje, and in the international context; Professor Peter Newman, Curtin University; Professor Jeffrey Kenworthy, Curtin University; Todd Litman, Victoria Transport Policy Institute.
This figures stood out because of their immense contribution to both theory and practice of the town planning profession. Yes, I will be glad to provide mentorship to interested persons.
14. Are you into or planning to go into consultancy?
As a public servant, it is against the ethics to engage in private practice. However, in un-official and research capacity, I provide advice where needed. However, at a later time, I am not in doubt that my practice and research experience will be of immense benefit to consult for government and other establishments.
15. A word of wisdom to youths?
Be visionary, set your goal, work hard, be diligent, and persevere, you become successful for sure!
Thanks For taking us on a foundation course of Town Planning….my own way of describing the rich information shared in this interview … I hope Nigerian youths have being able to excerpt the reasons why we need more Town planners in Nigeria from this in-depth article.
You can contact Razak Yinka Sherif;
Email ID: firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter ID: ola070
Blog/Research Collaboration Platform: http://salford.academia.edu/SherifRazak