KEYNOTE ADDRESS DELIVERED BY TPL. GODSWILL UNEKWUOJO MUSA, ON THE THEME “LOCALIZING SUSTAINABILITY IN NIGERIAN CITIES”, AT THE ASSOCIATION OF CITY MANAGERS IN NIGERIA ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING AND INDUCTION CEREMONY, HELD ON 4TH DECEMBER, 2021, AT CHESBURY HOTEL, ABUJA, NIGERIA

The President of the Association of City Managers in Nigeria, QS. Aisha Jibril,

The Executive Committee of the Association of City Managers in Nigeria,

The Professors, and Academicians here present,

The Directors of Ministries, Agencies and Departments here present,

Esteemed Members of ACMAN,

Professionals of the Built Environment,

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I consider it a great honor to deliver this keynote address on this auspicious occasion of the hybrid annual general meeting of the Association of City Managers in Nigeria, and I must extend my gratitude to the President and members of the Executive Committee of this Association for the opportunity.

I must also thank everyone present here in-person and online for making out time to attend this event. Indeed, your presence here today is an indication of your unwavering commitment to the call for promoting equitable, liveable and sustainable cities in Nigeria, which is the mission of this great Association.

Incidentally, the theme of this year’s event “Localizing Sustainability in Nigerian Cities”, which would be thoroughly dealt with by the Presenters in the course of the event, is in line with the United Nation’s Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goal 11, which is “to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.

When we talk about sustainability as it relates to cities in Nigeria, we are simply saying that the benefits of urbanization should be harnessed. Urbanization in this parlance is the increase in percentage of the population living in the cities. To not think ‘urban sustainability’ is an open invitation to chaos, economic losses, insecurity, underdevelopment and regression.Why do I say this?

According to the United Nations Report of 2018, about 54% of the world’s population; that is, an estimated number of 3.5 billion people, live in cities, and by 2050 this figure is expected to increase to 68%, with the highest rates of urban population explosion occurring in developing countries such as Nigeria.

The challenging part is that the upsurge in urban population explosion rate often outweighs the Government’s capacity to effectively manage same. Only recently, precisely last month, the punch newspaper of 17th November 2021, reported the FCT Minister saying and I quote “We can’t control Abuja’s population explosion”.

If a city’s population upsurge is not effectively managed, it is bound to struggle with environmental degradation and ultimately, the earth becomes endangered. Even though cities occupy just 3% of the Earth’s land, they account for about 75% of the world’s energy consumption and are responsible for over 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The way cities are planned, built and managed, is key to reducing carbon emissions and keeping global warming within the limits set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change of 1.5°C.

Another fallout of ineffective management of urbanization is the formation, expansion and persistence of slums. About 833 million people live in slums and this number keeps rising. The cost of poorly planned urbanization can be seen in some of the huge slums, tangled traffic, inadequate urban infrastructure, and sprawling suburbs all over the world. Many cities are also more vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters due to their high concentration of people and location.

There is also the issue of high unemployment rate which dovetails into high crime rates and death rates in these cities among others. Indeed, building urban resilience is crucial to mitigating human, social and economic losses. As such, by choosing to act sustainably, we choose to build cities where all citizens live a decent quality of life and form a part of the city’s productive dynamics, creating shared prosperity and social stability without harming the environment.

Sustainable City Development

A sustainable city is a city designed to address the social, environmental and economic impact of its growing population through urban planning and city management without compromising the ability of future generations to experience the same. For a city to be sustainably developed, there are key sectors that must be taken into cognizance and I would like to proceed by listing these sectors in their order of precedence and as aptly represented in the ensuing image.

Key sectors for sustainable city development Source: NCSD-MoE and GGGI-Cambodia (2019).
  • Urban planning

Sustainable solutions for urban planning problems can include promoting green buildings and housing, mixed-use developments, walkability, greenways and open spaces, alternative energy sources such as solar and wind, and transportation options. Good sustainable land use planning helps improve the welfare of people and their communities, shaping their urban areas and neighborhoods into healthier, more efficient spaces.

  • Urban Vulnerability

Impacts from disasters such as floods or storms are often worse in densely populated urban areas and for sustainable solutions in this regard. The role of proper building codes and land-use planning have been recognized as effective in reducing disaster vulnerability, increasing social ties and community networks.

  • Energy

IConsidering that cities are huge contributors to pollution and climate change, owing to the overuse of fossil fuels for energy generation, there has been a recent push for the use of more sustainable forms of energy or ‘green energy,’ such as solar energy, geothermal energy, and the likes to reduce carbon footprint. This is a commendable sustainable solution to the issue of energy.

  • Transport

Sustainable urban transport can include giving priority to walking and cycling over the use of cars. Practical examples include cities like Copenhagen, where a bridge was exclusively constructed for bikes; Johannesburg, where the bus rapid transit (BRT) with dedicated bus routes have been introduced; and cities like Medellin or La Paz, where cable cars have been introduced as part of urban public transport systems to link hilly and often low-income urban communities to the city. When a city has good and affordable public transport, its citizens are more likely to rely on public transport for everyday commute and this in turn reduces the carbon footprints.

  • Built Environment

A sustainable built environment is circular, designed for longevity, flexibility, adaptability, assembly, disassembly, reuse and recoverability, and considers future climate risks. It is powered by renewable energy, prioritizes sustainable and shared mobility, utilizes green spaces, natural biodiversity and nature-based solutions, which fosters increased resilience, wellbeing and social connectivity.

  • Manufacturing

Sustainable manufacturing (SM) or green manufacturing for our purpose can be defined as a method of manufacturing that minimizes waste and reduces adverse environmental impact.

  • Solid Waste

Responsible handling and or creation of solid waste is an important aspect of sustainable development and the 8 Rs is paramount here. The 8Rs represent Rethink, Regift, Recover, Recycle, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Repair. It adds the philosophical question on consumer behavior and is an extended version of the 3R’s waste hierarchy, which represents, reduce, reuse, recycle.

  • Public space and Cultural Heritage

ICultural heritage is an under-recognized resource for sustainable development, which must be leveraged to fully achieve the SDGs. Heritage supports environmental quality, education, inclusive economic development, social cohesion, equity, community well-being and resilience.

So far, some cities in the world have striven to attain sustainability and I think it is appropriate to mention some of them here. There is Zurich in Switzerland which is a city focused on efficient public transport systems, education, waste-reduction and the use of renewable sources of energy.

There is Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, a city reliant on solar energy and other renewable energy sources and is designed to be a hub for cleantech companies.

There is also Copenhagen in Denmark, a city where walking and cycling are prioritized over driving vehicles, which has resulted in only 29% of households owning a car and has helped them reach the goal of becoming the first CO2 neutral city.

Without forgetting Vancouver in Canada, Vancouver is on its way to becoming the greenest city in the world. Asides being home to a multitude of parks, including the largest park in North America, Stanley Park, which is spread over approximately 1,000 acres of land, the city prioritizes biking and has been redesigned to be more bike-friendly.

Finally, there is Singapore in Singapore, also referred to as the Garden City of the World and regarded as the greenest city in Asia. Singapore is working to green 80% of their buildings by 2030, to become one of the world’s most eco-friendly cities in the future.

Conclusion/Call to Action

No doubt, the feat of sustainability achieved in the mentioned cities make them desirable to live in, however, we cannot all run away from our fatherland. It is imperative to point out that these achievements were not the product of merely wishful thoughts but of thoughts that spurred men and women into action, people who I would like to call sustainability champions.

In times like these, when our cities in Nigeria seem to be lagging behind in sustainability, we must rise up to the occasion and begin to ask ourselves the following questions:

  • is the environment safe for your children?
  • Can you walk safely in your neighborhood?
  • Why are the roads constantly congested?
  • Why is public transportation so inconvenient?
  • What are your shared public spaces like?

Remember that the better the conditions you create in your community, the greater the effect on the quality of life for you, your children, your family and the larger society.

In view of the foregoing, I urge you to make a decision today as a sustainability champion in Nigeria, to:

  1. TAKE active interest in the governance and management of your city;
  2. TAKE notice of what works and what doesn’t in your community;
  3. DEVELOP a vision for your building, street, neighborhood, and the kind of city you believe you need;
  4. ACT on your vision; and,
  5. ADVOCATE for your vision

I wish you fruitful deliberations and once again say a warm welcome to you all ‘Sustainability Champions‘.

Thank You.

References:

NCSD., GGGI. (2019). Phnom Penh Sustainable City Plan 2018-2030. Global Green Growth Institute: Seoul, Republic of Korea.

UN (2018). 68% of the world population projected to live in urban areas by 2050, says UN.  United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html