By: Nwokedi Nworisara
One of the promises made by Governor Henry Seriake Dickson during the electioneering campaigns was the full implementation of the Yenagoa City Master Plan. In this article, Nwokedi Nworisara – went down memory lane to provide a roadmap for the implementation of the Master Plan.
In the words of Edward McMahon ‘Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how’. Plato the Athenian philosopher posited that whatever physical structure that exists, there is a finer prototype of that structure in the infinite. Therefore, to develop a State requires robust visioning, planning, implementing such plans and monitoring to ensure that targeted goals are achieved. This is why the aphorism ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail’ becomes an eternal truth. Planning also entails establishing a direction and tenaciously following it to the end.
Bayelsa State was created out of the old Rivers State on October 1, 1996. The State has evolved the vision of attaining sustainable development leading to prosperity. Accordingly, the State adopted a strategy to achieve her developmental aspirations. The Master Plan implementation was predicated on the availability of abundant tourist potentials as the best and most cost-effective road map to development. The capacity to implement this strategy of necessity requires the provision of an enabling environment for rapid economic growth. To make Bayelsa State a preferred tourist destination considering her circumstances of geography became a challenge facing subsequent governments. At the embryonic stage there was need to develop a befitting capital city, which led to the long process of adopting the 2007 Yenagoa City Master plan Strategy document prepared and coordinated by Harcourt Aduke and Associates in 2004 and with the expertise of the German firm Albert Speers.
Developing a model Capital city for Bayelsa State has been a core ambition of State governments since inception of the State in 1996. However there was a renewed zeal traceable to the commitment of the Present Vice-President of Nigeria Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who briefly as Governor of Bayelsa State in 2006 decided to expedite action on the Master plan process with a view to building a befitting city that could ameliorate the dire infrastructural situation in Yenagoa for all time. His successor, Governor Henry Seriake Dickson made a firm pledge to continue the good work of his predecessor. Now that the first phase of the Master plan is expected to end on December 2009, the big question in the mind of Stakeholders is to know how far has the implementation of the Master Plan gone; what successes have been achieved and challenges that lie ahead. What will the record books say? This writer seeks to review the progress made so far in implementing the 2007 Yenagoa City Master plan as the second phase commences January 2010.
The Yenagoa City Master plan has the mission “to transform Yenagoa City into a globally recognized City with modern infrastructure and appreciable aesthetic beauty comparable to other model cities in the world”. The keywords are modern infrastructure. Thus when Governor Henry Seriake Dickson took the mantle of leadership, the thrust of his administration has been to create wealth and this is encapsulated in the Bayelsa State Sustainable Development Strategy document (BSSDS), which seeks to build a united, secure and prosperous Bayelsa State, his long term vision. This is perfectly aligned with goals of the Master Plan strategy except that business growth and development seem to supersede tourism in priority. Realizing that when an enabling environment is created, naturally, investment would be attracted and eco-tourism would flourish. While indigenous entrepreneurship would flourish, it would promote inflow of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI).
Since the Master Plan was crafted, several steps have been taken to pursue its actualization. First of all let us trace the steps taken so far before a detailed examination of outcomes. This writer can vividly recall proceedings during the first extended Executive Council meeting on the Yenagoa City Master Plan. Now, Governor Henry Seriake Dickson is ready to demonstrate a firm commitment to implementing the 2007 Yenagoa City Master Plan Strategy in the Government House Banquet hall. In attendance were outgoing commissioners, newly inaugurated members of the Capital City Development authority headed by King A.J. Turner, including local and foreign Consultants on the Master plan Strategy in 2007. In that meeting the President made it clear that the incoming Governor would use his discretion in this process. Further, the new Governor in his first meeting with the consultants was made to fully appreciate the nitty-gritty of the Strategy document which has inbuilt flexibility and hence amenable to changes. He wanted the plan to incorporate existing developments to make it more realistic since an urban renewal strategy option was most feasible at the moment.
With the Capital City Development Authority entrenched as a legal autonomous Authority the stage was set to commence the long awaited process of implementation of the first phase of the Master plan comprising of development of critical infrastructures to support the take off of the Central Business District. First of all the Authority needed to train its staff so study tours of similar cities were organized. The keep the personnel abreast of critical issues of land use and development control, the CCDA, embarked on a study tour to Abuja Capital City Development Authority where the principal staff were exposed to the mechanics of land use and development control. They also played a host to the Calabar Urban Development Authority (CUDA) where they had sound tutorials on urban management, land use, the use of green areas and sanitation. These are guided by urban and municipal laws to avoid the unwholesome act of demolition of illegal structures, which is a gargantuan economic loss to society.
The Yenagoa City Master plan covers 15 kilometers radius from the city centre bordering on Ogobiri in the West, Oloibiri in the North, Otuogori in the South, and Otuasega in the East. The Authority has begun demolitions and road expansion schemes cumulating in the commencement of work on the Central Business District with the first clearing of the area. Residents within this perimeter are already being sensitized about the implication and the penalty awaiting indiscriminate developers. Already major oil firms and others have been invited to commence development of allocated plots here.
Among the infrastructural projects critical to the success of the first phase of the Master plan include the Musa Yar’ Adua International Cargo Airport, Glory Drive East-West Igbogene Road, Oxbow Lake Resort’s four Star Hotel, Ekoli Bridge, Swali ,Theme Park, The Galleria, Tower Hotel and International Conference Centre, Central business District (CBD), Glory land Castle-Government House, Melford Okilo Memorial Hospital, Kolo Creek Gas Turbine, the Yenagoa Zoo and Conservatory. Governor HSD has pledged to implement these projects during his first tenure. The immediate past administration lavished the massive opportunities of vigorously pursuing the ideals of the Master Plan. `
Some of these projects have been completed or are nearing completion. Whereas the Theme Park also known as the Millennium Park has been completed and commissioned, the Melford Okilo Memorial Hospital and a few others major projects are nearing completion. The Tower Hotel and international conference Centre, Ekoli Bridge, Glory land Castle. The third category of massive infrastructural projects like the International cargo Airport, Galleria, Central business District, are still at the stage of inception. However, other projects have not left the drawing board. The development of the Central Business District alone would gulp about N100 billion. This underscores the need for Bayelsa State to diversify her sources of revenue because the over-dependency on crude oil would stagger the implementation of the Master Plan. With the advent of the restoration agenda, there is renewed enthusiasm to fast-track the implementation of the Master Plan.
In planning, I passionately hate the historicist who believes that old things are always better than new things. I had rather pitch my tent with the modernist who holds that new things are always better than old things. In a typical African setting, there is always a culture of inertia. Criticism predominates over construction; critics are given more weight than those trying to build and that is why development control is a herculean task.
The reality however is that increasingly, we live in a world where cities compete for people, and businesses follow. This trend has largely been ignored by many cities, which are still focused on business climate change. Yenagoa City would pursue both business and care for the environment. For any given criticism of new urbanization, there exists an equal and corresponding criticism that makes exactly the opposite point.
In spite of the setbacks the implementation has suffered on account of dwindling revenues, there is optimism that the implementation process shall be put on track. There are strong indications that already foreign investors from Israel, the United States of America, Vietnam, Lebanon Germans and others are buying into the Master Plan. With militancy put behind us, and the influx of investors, and the entrenchment of fiscal responsibility, Bayelsa State would indeed become the preferred investment destination in the foreseeable future. With transparency and accountability as the pillars of RESTORATION GOVERNMENT, the economy would be repositioned and things can only get better for Bayelsa State. Governor HSD has promised that he will implement the Master Plan. The consummation of this promise would be the crowning glory of RESTORATION. So let it be written and let it be done!
Mr. Nworisara was part of the consulting team of BCCDA, 2007-2008