With an exception of few cities like Lagos, Abuja, Uyo and others, there are absolutely no master plans to guide development processes in many Nigerian cities.
Where they exist, the level of implementation is low. The clear evidence of this inadequacy is reflected in illegal structures and slums in many Nigerian cities.
As at today, the rating of master plan is relatively low in terms of utilizing the good intents of master plan.
Consequently, many cities are witnessing high rate of environmental deterioration due to uncontrolled urbanization, leading to urban sprawl.
This urban sprawl is characterized by haphazard housing development in the urban suburbs, where majority of the structures are without planning permit in uncoordinated layouts.
For instance, in Abuja and Port Harcourt, the non-conformity to master plan has led to the shrinking to the minimal level the quantum of green space in the city as well as inability to meet the relevant targets of SDG 11.
Also, in Lagos, which is one of the cities with master plan, its non-adherence has led to persistence flooding, high rate of city scale disaster, limited space for physical distancing, severe transportation challenge, slum proliferation and high susceptibility to climate crises.
But experts said current efforts by the Lagos State government to revise the existing master plans to address its infrastructural challenges and make the commercial city more sustainable, organised, liveable and investors-friendly is commendable.
For instance, the state is making efforts to produce strategic master plans for the entire state as envisioned in the Lagos State Development Plan (2012-2025).
Already, eight out of the 12 new development plans proposed for the state are operational. They include: Lekki Comprehensive Master Plan, Badagry Master Plan, Ikoyi-Victoria Island Model City Plan, Ikeja Model City Plan, Apapa Model City Plan, Lagos Mainland Model City Plan, Alimosho Model City Plan and Agege Model City Plan.
The other three, which include: Epe, Ikorodu and Oshodi-Isolo Master/Model City Plans, are at different stages of completion.
However, experts said flagrant flouting of master plans by governments and citizens are causing limited urban services as well as regular disagreements between policy makers and residents on which direction development should take among others.
The president, Nigeria Institute of Town Planning (NITP), Lekwa Ezutah, said only Nigeria's few cities currently have master plans, indicating that guidance needed for urban growth is missing. "Out of the few, many are obsolete or are allowed to gather dust on the shelves. Where there are active plans, the framework for implementation is weak or completely lacking.
Unfortunately, any development planning without a high content of physical planning will lead to retrogression rather than progression. We must consider physical planning as a veritable tool for effective economic growth and development as evidenced in many parts of the world.
Ezutah said the process of planning and implementation is not cheap but planning provides a necessary foundation for all success.
It is therefore imperative for the government to be in full support of the process, especially in terms of finance and political will, and for the public to be law-abiding.
He urged governments at all levels to appreciate the imperative need for physical planning and embrace same.
According to him, disregard of master plan is lawlessness and "we know the consequences of lawlessness.
"Contravention of master plan (fragrant or subtle) will result to haphazard development. Incompatible land uses will lie in juxtaposition resulting to environmental degradation (pollution, flooding, congestion, breakdown of infrastructure due to pressure).
"On the flip side , underutilization of infrastructure has costly effect on the budget.
Ezutah regretted that successive governments unfortunately only pay lip service to physical planning, seeing it as a tool for revenue generation and not investment to improve the lives of the people.
He stressed that local government is where physical planning best locates but that's currently the weakest link in the chain; nothing literally happens there .
Providing wider perspective on this, former president, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP), Bunmi Ajayi, said master plan is a legal document that should guide development but alas Nigerians and their governments are lawless.
According to him, even the Europeans did not plan the native areas as planning was restricted to the government-reserved areas (GRAs), there was no really plans across the cities.
He applauded the Lagos State government for its current efforts to revise the existing Ikeja Model City Plan in order to address infrastructural challenges in the capital city and make it more sustainable, organised, liveable and investors-friendly.
According to him, states like Ogun, Osun, Oyo and others should follow suit by adhering strictly to the master plans to solve the numerous environmental problems inherent with its non- adherence.
Providing another perspective, the vice chairman of Lagos branch of NITP, Lookman Oshodi, said master plans prepared are not tied nor connected to the local situation, hence their inability to reflect the dynamics of development in Nigerian communities.
"Where there is connection between the plan and the city, clear interpretation on the part of city operators becomes a major challenge. In the ensuing gab between the plan and the city, development continues to take its own form, orientation and shape. The product is the sprawl informal settlements we have in different Nigerian cities, he noted.
Oshodi, who is also the project director of Artic Infrastructure, Lagos, stressed that governments in different parts of the country are doing their best, but there is huge gap on what is expected of government.
According to him, budgetary provision to drive implementation is limited.
He, further, noted that the inability to meet the housing and urban infrastructure needs of city's residents will continue to motivate informal development in a cyclical manner.
But the Lagos State Government through the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, said there are no lack of master plans in Lagos State as it had already had 11 master plans out of the 13 expected to cover the state.
According to the assistant director, public affairs in the ministry, Mukaila Sanusi, said the remaining two which are Lagos Island and Kosofe are underway.
He also stressed that the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) has been established to address any abuse of the state's master plans through enforcement of their infractions.
On how industry operators could survive the situation, he said, "Now if you are designing shops or offices, there must be other attractions that would make people come. Real estate players in the commercial space must now bring to bear great creativity and diversification to the way of doing the business and utilize more of digital tools and by going digital, it means you require less number of staff to do more jobs.
He, however said, "We have under-supply of real estate in Nigeria and so even if commercial real estate goes down in the short run, in the long run, people will still need spaces in all segments of the real estate.
NIESV past president, Chief Emeka Onuorah, said there might be depression in the property market, be it commercial and all kinds of real estate. However, he expressed doubt about any major shift in letting market in the near future due to remote working because businesses will still continue.
Instead, he said there could be defaults in the payment of rents for commercial lettings as a result of the economic setback caused by COVID-19.
Onuorah said, "The market will never be the same again, the way businesses will be done will involve more use of information technology and marketing of property. Basically technology will assume more serious proportions in the real estate industry and remote working will only be in the short term, it can't last because working at home also requires some technology.
"For those in the private sector, how many people can effectively work from home. It is only few organizations like banks can provide technology for people to work at home. It will take a while before people could adapt to such culture and I don't see it as a trend in the near future.
"It thus appears that the idea of remote working is not going to continue following the speech of President and things will start easing off soon.
The chairman, NIESV chapter, Niger State, Dr Kemiki Olurotimi Adebowale, observed that transactions are still going on, in the commercial space, tenants are still paying rents and operators are in the era of digitalization wherein they could call on phone, collect rents by mobile transfer for high profile buildings. He said, "The only way it might impact heavily on the sector is when the culture of working remotely is extended to about six months.