By Abdullberqy U Ebbo
Confronting a multiplicity of seemingly intractable and insurmountable development challenges in the state, centering specifically around paucity of finances to drive growth initiatives, Niger State and it’s 25 councils reeled under and rocked by the plague of over-reliance on monthly fiscal handouts from the almighty Federation Account.
Local economic development potentials were worst hit, with grossly inadequate efforts at harnessing abundant natural resources of the state available within the local governments and achieving internal resource mobilisation potential. The LGs depended entirely on and were at the mercy of state government, regarding implementation of developmental initiatives.
Given such a structure, management of the affairs of the two tiers of government remained top-down rather than bottom-up, leaving residents and other stakeholders substantially excluded from decisions regarding what gets to be done in terms of projects, and their when and how.
This top-down governance model, in the opinion of Governor Abubakar, was an anomaly which had to be normalised, if governance must be relevant and policies and programmes would be meaningful to the people, especially at the grassroots. He consequently came to the conclusion that the effectiveness and sustainability of our cities and towns were hinged on their level of participation in governance.
This community networking and bottom up administration model, according to the governor, would equally up the games, especially in local administration, particularly in terms of transparency and accountability to residents; and the ability of the hardships of the councils to operate on a self-sustaining basis.
This larger mindset about inclusive, grassroots focused governance heralded and justified the governor’s invitation to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), Nairobi, Kenya, in which he participated in a High-level Panel of Ministers at the Second International Conference on National Urban Policy, on 15-18 May, 2017, in Paris, France.
It was at the France Conference he espoused his vision of creating a state whose cities and towns are compact, connected in diverse ways, socially inclusive, resilient and self-sustaining.
His Excellency specifically sought the assistance of UN-Habitat to (1.) Prepare Niger State Urban Policy (SUP), based on the National Urban Development Policy, 2012; (2.) Prepare Integrated Development Plans for Minna and Suleja; (3.) Plan and develop a pilot Smart City near Suleja; and (4. Strengthen and build the capacity of the state institutions in charge of the development and management of the towns and cities.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was consequently signed between Niger State Government and UN-Habitat on 29th November, 2017 in Nairobi, Kenya.
Towards developing a template for the Smart City Project, various steps were taken, including (A) PREPARATION OF STATE URBAN DEVELOPMENT POLICY through which the South Korean Government graciously agreed to finance the preparation of Niger State Urban Policy under its “Pilot phase of the National Urban Policy Programme: Developing National Urban Policy and Smart City Strategies in Nigeria (Niger State), Iran and Myanmar”, with a grant of USD $ 2.61million.
Accordingly, the state government adopted a bottom-up and stakeholder-driven approach to prepare the State Urban Policy and in the implementation of the other projects. This is to ensure full participation and ownership by all Nigerlites.
Specifically, the objectives of the State Urban Policy are to facilitate (1.) Building a consensus among Nigerlites on present and future sustainable development path for the state; (2.) Building socially inclusive, equitable and resilient communities in the state; (3.) Instilling in Nigerlites the willingness to pay their equitable share of the cost of service provision; and (4.) Developing in Nigerlites proprietary pride in the state.
Another step is (2) PREPARATION OF INTEGRATED DEVELOPMENT PLAN (IDP) FOR MINNA AND SULEJA which recognised The IDP as a strategic tool that would guide all implementation activities of the city and the local governments within, in consultation with its residents and stakeholders. IDP’s focus is on developmentS within and across sectors; and it is a structured plan that informs budget priorities, decision making and the allocation of resources within the city.
IDP’S objectives included (1) developing bottom-up and stakeholder-driven planning and development system in the towns and cities of Niger State; (2.) identifying key development priorities of the cities and the state; (3.) identifying and developing local economic potentials of the cities; and (4.) creating a framework for attracting investment from within and outside the country, including Foreign Direct Investment for the development of major infrastructure and related projects in the cities; and (5.) establishing a modern, sustainable and data-driven urban management system.
In the IDP of Suleja, a multipurpose Recreational Park be developed to among other shore up both sides of River Iku to prevent it from flooding. The Park will be to Suleja what the Hyde and Central Parks are to London and New York respectively.
The expected outcomes of the IDPs in Minna and Suleja include, but are not limited to Social inclusion, equitable, engaging and financially self-sustaining cities; Well-managed and democratically governed cities; Safe, healthy and walkable cities; Inclusive prosperity and opportunities for all in the cities; and Replication of the IDP in Bida, Kontagora and New Bussa.
The 3rd strategy is the PLANNING & DEVELOPMENT OF PILOT SMART CITY NEAR SULEJA in which it is projected that within the next twenty years, the world will be using a brand new technology, different from that which we have now, driven substantially by renewable energy systems and components.
Given Suleja’s centrality to the smart city project, His Excellency established a pilot Smart City near Suleja, the basic components of which include Smart Meter Infrastructure; Smart Street Lights; Smart Buildings; Open Data; and laying a solid foundation for Electric and Autonomous vehicles of the future.
Further objectives of the governor is to lay solid foundation for the state to become (1) A National Technology and Innovation Hub; (2) Manufacturer of Renewable Energy Systems and Components for export; (3) Create a Knowledge based economy with a vibrant mix of e-businesses; (4) Create Green Jobs and Green livelihood; and (5) Establish Niger State Institute of Technology for training in Information and Communication Technology.
The fourth strategy was to DEVELOP CAPACITIES FOR THE MINISTRIES, DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES (MDAS) OF NIGER STATE GOVERNMENT, a move which involves structured capacity development programme for the MDAs on sustainable urban management practices, involving (1) development and institutionalization of coordination among the MDAs; (2) Modernisation of the operation of the MDAs; (3) Organizing Benchmarking missions to related institutions; (4) Targeted training sessions for Community Based Organizations Civil Society Organizations to enable them to operate symbiotically with the MDAs; (5) Self-reliance empowerment for both urban and rural areas of the state; and (6) Effective urban-rural linkages to ensure food security and enhanced safety and wellbeing in the towns and cities of the state.
Governor Abubakar is equally in the process of establishing partnership with South Korean Government for its Public Corporations and private sector to develop and manage projects including (1.) Preparing a Municipal Solid Waste Management Policy; and establishment of a Commercial Waste Recycling Industry in the State; (2.) Developing a Niger State Water Resources Master Plan; and establishing a modern management system in the Cities to ensure efficiency and financial self-sustainability of the Niger State Water Board; and (3.) Developing a modern and efficient Land Administration System to create a data-driven cities and towns in the state; (4.) Establishing Solar Farms in the 25 Local Governments of the State to generate at least 500MW of electricity daily.
others are (5.) Rehabilitation and concession of Strategic Road Network in the State; (6.) Benchmarking Visits for the Officials of the Town Planning Department of the Ministry of Lands and Housing and Niger State Urban Development Board to the Korean Ministry of Land and Korea Land and Housing Corporation; and (7.) Development of Smart and Affordable Housing in the Cities of Niger state.