Sustainable urbanization requires viable urban master plan

25 Oct 2017
Bachir Abba


Featuring Bachir Abba, Ag. COO, Urban Shelter Limited, in Financial Nigeria's "Voice for Sustainable Urbanisation" series.

Bachir Abba

In Financial Nigeria's special series, “Voices for Sustainable Urbanisation,” Bachir Abba, Ag. Chief Operating Officer, Urban Shelter Limited, speaks on the challenges and opportunities of sustainable urbanisation in Nigeria. He also highlights the projects of Urban Shelter, which are designed to contribute to the universal goal of providing housing for all. Mr. Abba holds a dual Master's degree in Structural and Mechanical Engineering from Drexel University, Philadelphia, USA; and has an executive certificate in Real Estate Management & Finance from Harvard University.

Financial Nigeria (FN): How does Urban Shelter view the challenges and opportunities of sustainable urbanisation in Nigeria through housing?

Bachir Abba (BA): The United Nations reported that an additional 2.5 billion people are expected to live in urban areas by 2050. This will require effective urban planning programmes for cities, where nearly 54% of the world population currently resides. The report emphasizes that Africa and Asia "will face numerous challenges in meeting the needs of their growing urban populations, including housing, infrastructure, transportation, energy as well as basic services such as education and healthcare." According to John Wilmoth, director of the UN's population division, new development should prioritize comprehensive smart towns with suitable infrastructure and services for all residents.
Major cities in Nigeria such as Lagos, Kano and Abuja, among others, have seen tremendous influx of people within the past five years. The major reasons for this migration to cities are predominantly poverty and insecurity.  Managing urban areas has since become the most important challenge for government institutions.

I believe partnering with the private sector, by creating investment opportunities, can provide relief to the government in managing our urban expansion. For the past 30 years, Urban Shelter has been developing inclusive housing estates with appropriate infrastructure and services. Developments like ours will not only help in reducing the housing deficit, they will also help organize the expansion of our cities. Innovative partnership agreements like the ones Urban Shelter is involved, including Land Swap, Estate Development Loans, Site and Services, and Affordable Housing Schemes should be encouraged in order for the country to meet the relevant UN Sustainable Development Goals.

FN: What are the key projects of Urban Shelter Limited?

BA: Urban Shelter Limited is a property development company of about 30 years. We are focused on providing housing for all. This means we develop residential estates for the lower income, middle income and the high-end consumers. We have a shelter for everybody that walks in through our doors.
In the low income division, we are currently developing the Brick City Estate, located in Kubwa, Abuja. It is a 1,200-units family estate, selling from N5 million. It has been a highlight in the FCT. The primary material utilised in building the houses is the burnt red bricks. They are aesthetically appealing, made from local materials, cheap, durable, and provide fire protection, thermal and sound insulation, and moisture absorption. I think this is one of the reasons the project has been very successful.
In the middle income, we are developing the Promenade Residences, which is a 600-house estate located in Lokogoma District – about ten minutes' drive from the Central Area. The project was specifically designed for middle income young professionals. It consists of two bedroom semi-detached, three bedroom semi-detached and four bedroom semi-detached units, as well as terraces, starting from N15 million. The Promenade Residences promise to be the epitome in modern contemporary living, blending the outdoors and indoors.
We haven't forgotten about the high-end demand of cities like Abuja and Lagos. We are developing the Bellavue Residences, situated right by the big Life Camp Roundabout, in the heart of Abuja. The 200 units, luxurious development was designed as the ideal setting for a privileged lifestyle.  With prices starting from N50 million, the estate comprises three-bedroom condominiums, four-bedroom Villas & Townhouses, and five-bedroom Villas. It has been an iconic project in this town. Moreover, we are developing the Oniru Condos, located in Victoria Island, Lagos. It is a superb, high-end residential tower by Landmark, off the coast of Lagos. The apartments are designed for direct sale and for long-term leases by companies and institutions.
One cannot talk about Urban Shelter's projects without mentioning the Queen Amina Garden development. Over 190,000 sqm, it will be Abuja's newest destination for family fun. Located on the banks of Jabi Lake, the Queen Amina Garden takes Abuja's unique garden culture to the next level. A selection of exceptional hospitality, premium food vendors, convenient retail outlets, a mini golf course and other sporting facilities, and lush surroundings all come together to create the best leisure experience in the nation's capital.
This is in few words some of the developments Urban Shelter is working on. More details can be found on our website.

FN: Within the context of the global agenda that puts housing at the centre of urban policies, what are your recommendations for policy reform to drive sustainable urbanisation in Nigeria?

BA: First, the process of acquiring land should be made fool-proof and simple. An open bid system should be put in place. In this instance, several lands owned by the government should be advertised to the public. Some criteria should be set for bidders to meet. The highest best bids should win. Land allocations should be eliminated altogether.

Second, the process of registering land titles should be made simpler and less costly. Currently, it costs 4% of land value to register with Abuja Geographic Information Systems. This is exceedingly high – easily among the highest in the world. This cost should be reduced to less than 1%.

Third, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory signs all deeds for perfections. The process takes far too long because of administrative bottlenecks. If the criteria have been met, deeds should be signed in maximum four weeks. (I believe the signing could be delegated.)

Fourth, the cost and time for securing development approvals should be minimized. I am glad that the current Director of the FCT Development Control department is already working towards this. All construction approvals should be given in 10 - 14 days, where the criteria have been met. Also, the fee should be reviewed downward, striking a balance between affordability – ultimately for housing consumers – and needed income for the authorities.

Finally, and this strikes at the core of the topic, sustainable urbanisation requires viable urban master plan, which should be regularly reviewed. This will enable planners to address urban sprawl before it becomes uncontrollable. Sustainable urbanization also requires infrastructural provisions in anticipation of urban growth in order to sanitize the overall development of urban areas over time.