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By Itoro BASSEY

A bill to largely address issues contained in the Akwa Ibom State Urban and Regional Planning Law is being processed by the state house of assembly.

Issues surrounding the bill were discussed, yesterday, at a stakeholders meeting organised by the joint house committees on Land, Housing and Urban Renewal; and Environment at the conference hall of the assembly complex.

The bill was titled: “Draft bill for a law for the Control of Physical/Urban and Regional Planning Activities, the Establishment of Urban and Regional Planning Agency and Area Planning Authorities in Akwa Ibom State and for all other purposes connected therewith 2020″.

The bill addresses issues such as establishment and membership of the agency, functions and powers of the agency, powers and functions of the development control department, enforcement, acquisition of land and compensation.

Others include improvement areas for rehabilitation, renewal and upgrading, financial provisions, state urban and regional planning tribunal and appeals; together with miscellaneous provision, amongst others.

Sponsor of the bill and House Leader, Sir Udo Kierian Akpan (Oruk Anam state constituency) said, in his opening address, that the need to deal with issues surrounding lands, housing and property development in the state had become something of concern to the government and the legislature.

He said that that the bill was erroneously not presented before Governor Udom Emmanuel for accent within the stipulated time after it was passed into law by the immediate past Sixth Assembly, hence its reconsideration for passage by the House.

“The incident was both fortunate and unfortunate. Fortunate in the sense that there were some clauses in the law that, if the governor accented, would have run parallel with other laws in existence, he said.

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In his presentation, the Chairman of Uyo Capital City Development Authority (UCCDA), Mr Enobong Uwah, observed that the provision for revenue generation to be used for pensions, gratuities, and other monetary commitments in the bill might not be possible, as it would imply pushing the burden to the masses who, at the moment, are financially weak following the current economic realities in the country.

Uwah said, “If you ask somebody, for instance, to pay N150,000 for a building, it may take him almost for ever because he does not have it.

“So, by the time you increase these fees so that you have something to pay for your overhead, I’m not sure it will work.

“The ones that would have struggled to pay won’t pay again. That’s when you’ll start having all sorts of construction going on without approvals”.

He suggested that fines should be scaled down wherever they are applicable in the bill, adding that the law should be made to holistically benefit the common man and that all the professional roles involved in the land, housing and property development matters be clearly spelt out to avoid conflict of interests.

Also speaking, Abimbola Oke, Chairman of the Nigerian Institute of Architects in the state, suggested for capturing in the bill the inclusion of local content professionals to address situations where projects are brought into the state for execution.

Oke said this would help in the transfer of technology, protect the state’s economy and local content rights as well as prevent capital flight.

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Mrs. Mfon Edemekong, the Director of Legal Draftings in the state Ministry of Justice who represented Uwemedimoh Nwoko, Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, called for clarification on Section 106 which concerns the abrogation of existing law exempting any federal, state or local government agencies involved in development of land in the state, and called for more clarifications on the specific law so referred to.

“Section 3 says the position of an Executive Secretary is going to be a pensionable service. It is not stated whether it is going to be a political appointee or a public servant drawn from the civil service.

“If it is a political appointee, it can’t be a pensionable service. But if it is drawn from the civil service, it will be a pensionable service. That should be clearly stated”, she said.

In his submission, the chairman of the Committee on Lands, Housing and Urban Renewal, Sir Udo Kierian Akpan, stated that issues concerning the bogus membership of the agency, conflict of interest with existing agencies of government, and leadership of the agency raised during the meeting would be adequately addressed.

He stressed, among other things, that the law would provide a clause to ensure the retention and improvement of the functions of Uyo Capital City Development Authority, and that whatever the Control Department of the agency is supposed to do would be transferred to UCCDA to avoid duplication or conflict of roles.

“We want to create those area planning authorities in such a way that they will know their functions, not only the ones given to them through ministerial responsibilities.

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“So, where they fail to do it, they know that they are not failing the governor but they are failing the state, and they can be held accountable.

“We will define all that and make sure that the law covers all those areas, while we strengthen the job of various practitioners, the town planners, surveyors, or engineers in such a way that they know what they are supposed to do.

“Particularly nowadays that buildings are collapsing everywhere; we need to make them to account in such a way that if something happens by way of collapsed building, the law will spell out what that person who did the job will pay”, he said.

Other stakeholders who made presentations at the meeting include the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, Nigeria Institute of Town Planners, Nigerian Society of Engineers, Nigerian Environmental Society, Nigerian Institute of Building, Ministry of Lands and Water Resources, among others.

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