Flooding and the implementation of the Yenagoa Masterplan

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By: Nwokedi Nworisara
The Yenagoa Master plan was drawn in 1984 by the team of town planners Aduke and Associates. IT was reviewed in 2007 with the participation of the original planners by the German firm, Albert Spears. This latest review included an implementation strategy which was adopted by the State governments of then outgoing Governor Goodluck Jonathan and the incoming Governor Timipre Sylva in 2007.

The Yenagoa Development Master Plan 2007 which covers an area of covers 15 kilometers radius from the city centre bothering on Ogobiri in the West, Oloibiri in the North, Otuogiri in the South, and Otuasega in the East is expected to help the state manage the growth of population of approximately 50,000 people over the next 20 years to 650,000 and more. The rapid population growth has culminated in the indiscriminate construction in marshy terrain that is prone to flood. Whereas, the reviewed Master plan defines the essentials of urban design elements and structures as well the distribution of different land uses in the City, compliance challenges are herculean.

The Masterplan development has always been a massive project requiring the cooperation of many Agencies of government and business, including civil society as well as International bodies. Experiences of such planning and development in Nigeria has shown the need for broad based cooperation undertaken by a coordinating body whose powers must be so all embracing or it would soon become redundant while the plan suffers. In Abuja the FCT body undertook international relations in issues concerning the development of the city. In Cross River State the State Government even obtained legal wavers from the Federal Government to declare Tinapa Resort a Free Zone to encourage international investors.

It is for the above reasons that the Bayelsa State government headed by then Governor Gooduck Jonathan [Now President of Nigeria] established the Yenagoa Capital City Development Authority (CCDA). The policy thrust of the Capital City Development Authority is derived from the Yenagoa City Development Strategy 2007 otherwise referred to as the New Yenagoa Master Plan. Section 5 of the law establishing the Authority empowers it to prepare and adopt a Master Plan for the Capital City and provide infrastructure development services for the city in line with the Master Plan.

The principal goal of Capital City Development Authority is to establish a strategic and long term vision for Yenagoa, as the State capital city which provides a robust foundation for future developments, with flexibility to accommodate unforeseen demands and changing priorities in line with the provisions of the New Yenagoa Master Plan. The idea is to transform Yenagoa into a globally recognized city with modern infrastructural facilities and appreciable aesthetic conditions to become a model for other states in Nigeria.

With this lofty ideal facing it the CCDA, was ushered into the turf of Bayelsa Politics unprepared to say the least. There were initial internal misgivings and duplication of functions from collaborating Ministries not understanding why the CCDA would have to be invested with such powers over other Ministries. With an initial budget of about N22 billion made out to the Authority, the government stood by CCDA to prove to the world the extent of its commitment to the realization of the project. CCDA was like an orphan hence it depended on Ministries. While it undertook study tours to train staff it could barely take off fully with international tour and training when a new Government came on board. Governor Timipre Sylva assumed office at a difficult time of financial downturn and so part of what prioritization affected was the momentum of work by CCDA. The following budget stripped the agency of needed funding autonomy. Attention was turned to some vital aspects of the Master plan such as the Central Business District. Essentially the tourism focus was watered down while urban renewal came to the fore. With these forced changes the Ministries triumphed over the CCDA because they handled most of the project leaving the Authority to second fiddle.

The result was that development became rather disorganized and CCDA did not have the muscle to intervene. After the first phase of development in 2009, the next phase focused on bond financed capital projects like the international cargo Airport, Galleria, Central business District, Theme Park Ekoli Bridge, Okilo Memorial, the Koki Specialist Hospital at Opolo, amongst others sorely needed by the increasing population. Neglected were the green zones ,the tourist input into the plan like the Oxbow lake resort and the consequences of increasing population tied to business district was the danger of flooding now manifesting in Yenagoa city. Unknown to the CCDA many buildings had arisen covering these green areas and floodplains as well as sewage points. When the Rivers could take no more there was nowhere to drain the excess flood except back to residential areas.

Yenagoa is situated below sea level that makes it vulnerable to flooding. According to Media reports, flooding here is usually in two ways, the yearly over flowing of nearby rivers and its numerous tributaries and the heavy downpour. However because of climate change, the Yenagoa River and the Epie Creek have hardly over flown their banks for the past few years.

Torrential rains had been a nightmare for the residents during the wet season. Most of the natural water channels have been blocked by the numerous buildings springing up. Some estate developers build structures with impunity. Secondly Yenagoa has no central drainage system that could direct water to its normal course. Thirdly the attitude of people towards refuse disposal leaves much to be desired. People have not taken into consideration is the low capacity of the rivers to absorb water from hinterland drain due to absence of much needed periodic dredging of these Rivers.

Recent flood affected areas in Yenagoa include Amarata, with other sub verbs like Biogbolo, Ekeki, Opolo, Ovom, Swali, Yenuzue-gene. And even the town of Agudama-Epie which pride itself as an upland community is not left out. One major problem, the authority of the Capital City Development Authority is yet to comprehend is the official lawlessness in terms of erecting building, in natural water ways. A closer examination of all the internally constructed roads by the present administration will reveal that most of them though have culverts but the culverts led to nowhere, thereby leaving the surrounding buildings vulnerable to flooding. At the Epie Creek all sort of refuse are thrown into if thereby effectively prevent flow of water; the result usually is the flooding of environment.

It is clear that the CCDA must be better funded to tackle the mistakes made by the Ministry of Housing, and Urban development, Transport and Works which for a while were given a free rein. Perhaps this year's flooding can become a constructive tool to reengineer the Yenagoa Master Plan development Strategy into its original direction whatever it would cost. Happily the newly appointed Chairman of CCDA Dr George has shown that government is serious going by his recent efforts to restore the sanctity of the Yenagoa Master plan. I am particularly encouraged by his decision to involve experts in this quest. As part of measures aimed at averting the distortion of Yenagoa Master Plan the CCDA is collaborating with the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP) to fast track the infrastructural, socio-economic developmental programmes of the State.

The move is coming at a time the state is in dire need of cogent and strategic town planning to reduce problems of flood and poor drainage systems which has led to submerging of many homes by flood during heavy downpour. Speaking at the official inauguration of Bayelsa State chapter of NITP in Yenagoa, the chairman CCDA board, Dr. George Allen Fente, noted that the regulatory agency is determined to curb the menace of illegal and unauthorized buildings, indiscriminate and reckless building of houses by public and private estate developers.

The CCDA in conjunction with the state government, he said, would commence the demolition of illegal and authorized buildings and other structures that tend to constitute nuisance and deface the Yenagoa City Master Plan. The CCDA Chairman decried the indiscriminate building of houses across drainages by developers causing non-flow of water from the natural drainage to the creeks and Yenagoa Rivers and accused civil engineers in the state of neglecting professionalism calling on stakeholders in the building industry to partner with the Bayelsa state government in her drive to restore the Yenagoa city master plan.

It is important to understand that CCDA deserves the cooperation of all stakeholders and citizens to achieve the lofty task before it. The Federal Government must help Bayelsa State by dredging all Rivers in the State to encourage better drainage of runoff water but to ensure Rivers do not overflow their banks in future. It also helps River transportation for bigger liners. On the international Scale, the Federal government should declare a free zone to encourage foreign investment inflows. The Government Bayelsa State should subordinate all ministries to the CCDA in terms of the Yenagoa Master Plan implementation. When the CCDA is conferred with the much needed autonomy, the New Yenagoa City will become a model in the Sub-Region. Bayelsans are confident that with the steps the Authority has taken so far, the Dr. George Fente era is poised to tackle the flooding challenge head-on the Yenagoa and take the implementation of the Master Plan to the next level..

Mr. Nworisara, a policy consultant, was part of the consulting team of CCDA, 2007-2008

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Articles by Nwokedi Nworisara