ATOPCON Is Set To Boost Professional Practice – Salako

Idris Salako is a fellow, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, and President, Association of Town Planners of Nigeria (ATOPCON). He bared his mind to EMMANUEL BADEJO on sundry issues affecting his profession. Excerpts:

What did you set out to do when you vied for the presidency of this association?

I came on board with a view to build on what my predecessors have done; to enhance the practice as well as encourage the younger ones to embrace this profession as career. Basically, our interest has always been to take the practice to the next level. We also set out to boost ATOPCON membership, which has increased to 140 as at today. Presently we have our branches in about five states including Lagos, Oyo, Abia, Enugu and Delta. We are working to open another branch in Abeokuta, Ogun state. Hopefully, that should be done at the end of this year. Somehow, we do not have a branch of ATOPCON in Abuja and we have been talking to Abuja NITP towards soon realisation of this goal. We are hopeful that before our next AGM that should be settled.

We also met with Town Planners Registration Council of Nigeria (TOPREC), the body that regulates our practice. We had to assure TOPREC that ATOPCON is not set up to regulate the profession but just to enhance the way we practice. And we will still continue to engage TOPREC so that it will understand from our point of view.

Isn’t 140 ATOPCON membership too low to serve the nation?

Yes, I agree with you that the number may be too small, but when you compare with about 260 firms registered by TOPREC, then, we can’t say our membership is so small. However, you need to understand that ATOPCON is an association and not a regulatory body, and as such, people are at liberty to either associate with it or not.

We want to do things in such a way that the people will be eager to freely and willingly join us. We are also talking to practitioners on impact ATOPCON can make on their practice. So far, I can tell you that we are moving and very soon, we will get there. Take for instance, in one or two states in Nigeria today, ATOPCON membership is considered for award of projects. We are still trying to meet people that matter in the industry both at the federal and state levels to contribute their quota towards the development of our profession. We also monitor our members vis a vis their relationship with NITP and TOPREC. We also try to mediate in some cases involving ATOPCON members and NITP members. We have visited Oyo several times to see how planning can deliver its full benefits to the recipients and the government.

What impact does your association have to correct ill or haphazard planning?

Let us not use the word ill. Whatever happens in planning, I want to believe it is a reflection of what is happening in the larger society of Nigeria as a country. Although, the planning regulators say you should not build without the necessary planning approval, it should also be noted that governments on their part have tried to make this process more seamless. However, there are one or two planning issues that make this process challenging. If you took a loan with interest and your planning approvals are delayed, that will be more challenging. Nonetheless, I am aware that in Lagos, the state government has evolved several measures to ease this process.

All the same, ATOPCON as an association has been doing so many things to ensure the approval process becomes friendlier. In fact, this development has made some of our people to shy away from planning approval process. And despite this confronting situation, we are working round the clock to overcome this challenge. On our part, as members of ATOPCON, we have always told our clients to do their planning approvals before commencing the actual building. This will give you the leeway to do what is right while constructing.

What are the roles ATOPCON is playing to encourage the younger town planners to embrace town planning as a career?

As an association, we don’t have the power of cohesion to force anybody to join ATOPCON.In the last eight to 10 years, I can tell you that ATOPCON has been the largest employers of town planners. Regrettably, we discovered that many students don’t know about ATOPCON. But we have succeeded in changing this orientation. Now, we have about three to four I.T students in each office of ATOPCON member. Although, some of our students still complain of not getting job after school, in as much as the government cannot employ everybody, ATOPCON cannot employ everybody too. But we are trying our best to absorb as many as we can. Interestingly, some of those we have engaged have grown to be registered town planners while some others have grown to have their firms.

In what specific terms does ATOPCON empower upcoming generation of town planners?

ATOPCON normally organises annual workshop and we encourage younger town planners to attend. NITP does that too. Though it is not an ATOPCON till, we have in Lagos Young Planners Forum, which is an offshoot of Lagos NITP. NITP in turn through our members with this forum encourages the younger ones; make them see reasons why they should stay in the profession. I have just returned from Yaba College of Technology where I engaged the students and exposed them to the prospects of town planning.

Rural-urban migration has been one major reason why the cities are over populated. What do you think is the way out of this?

The issue of rural-urban migration is what we should accept as a norm. Notwithstanding, I think both planners and the government should make conscious efforts to develop the rural areas. We don’t have rural plans. We don’t have conscious efforts to stem migration from the rural to the urban centres. All we can do is to provide basic infrastructure facilities in the rural settlements. Even with that, I doubt if there is any plan, be it economic or infrastructural that can totally stop this trend.

Recently, NIMET warned that about 34 states in Nigeria would experience flood this year. From the town planner’s perspective, how can this be averted?

In this country, we have so many laws and regulations, especially on environmental issues, but the challenge is that many people are failing to keep these laws. Why do we want government to do everything for us when many citizens fail to fulfil their own part of the deal? Many times, we litter the ground and consequently those waste block our drains, and we want the government to clear that for us? To address this, we need to start from the homes; we need to maintain high level of hygiene. But if we do not do the needful, how can we be calling the government to do its part?

What role do your members play in addressing building collapse?

Building collapse is not a problem of town planners. In Lagos state for instance, we have building control agency and we also have the planning permit. The planning permit gives approval for building plans, while the building control agency monitors stages of construction until completion. We approve the paper drawings and not the construction on site. Where do town planner come in.Town planners don’t either build or set the bricks; we don’t monitor the construction on site.

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