Looking closely to the justifications for why Abuja was created, it is clearly meant to be an exceptional example of an organised and regulated urban development in Nigeria, which every citizen can be proud of. This background is what makes the present challenges faced by Abuja especially with regards to the proliferation of unplanned settlements over the last two decades.
With the help of remote sensing and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), we are able to trace the root of how unplanned settlements started, the pace of its expansion, and the time period of its fastest expansion. The root of the challenge posed by unplanned settlements can be traced to 1980 when actual construction of Abuja started. This is so because the Master Plan seems to have underestimated the number of people and settlements living in and around the Federal Capital City (FCC) area. By 1986, the plan was to resettle all the settlements in the FCC or at the very least, in phase 1 of the city. This was not achieved because based on a remote sensing and GIS analysis we carried out, we were able to see that as at 1986, there is about 1900 hectares of unplanned built-up land in and around the FCC. The area of unplanned built-up land remained relatively the same up until 1999 where a significant jump was observed on a yearly basis.
The area of unplanned settlements has almost tripled from the levels of 1999. This makes it the biggest challenge that threaten the vision of Abuja’s founding fathers since its creation. Like I said in the first part of this write up few weeks ago “Abuja’s past, present and future, using Remote Sensing and GIS (I))”, the policy makers and the planners are not giving this issue the attention it deserves. There is no mechanism in place to detect, measure and monitor unplanned settlements in the city. This makes it hard to effectively plan, budget and maintain key infrastructure and social amenities in the city. Without taking the necessary measures in the form of strategy and geospatial technology, in 10 to 20 years Abuja will become unrecognizable, and the vision and aspirations of Nigerians will die with it.
It is still not too late to tackle these challenges posed by unplanned settlements. But if they are not addressed, we will soon reach a tipping point that things cannot be reversed. Among other things, I will recommend the following:
One, Abuja Geographic Information Systems (AGIS) need to be transformed, restructured and repositioned into a true GIS agency capable of handling all the geospatial needs of a 21st century planned city. Currently, AGIS is simply a Land Information System (LIS) agency. Even as LIS, it is not up to the standard needed at to move the city forward. The website of AGIS currently is not any different from a personal blog. It doesn’t have any interactive feature or links to relevant resources needed by residents or people around the country. To be a functional GIS agency, AGIS needs to be a geospatial data and resource centre, where all kinds of geospatial data and resources can be accessed by the public. For example, having an interactive web mapping facility where spatial data in a variety of formats can be viewed and downloaded where possible. Data such as land cover, land use, soil types and interpretation, digital elevation grid, water bodies, streams, parks and recreation areas, road network, building footprints, schools, police stations, hospitals, polling stations etc, can be viewed and interacted with. The agency should be able to showcase all the projects (ongoing and completed) been carried out by the FCT administration. It should also have a public feedback channel where complains can be lodged or infrastructure breakdown can be reported.
Two, skilled personnel in geospatial technology should be employed and or trained (current staff) with the practical skills needed to run a 21st century GIS agency befitting a planned capital like Abuja. The manpower required to turn things around is needed across the whole organisational spectrum. From skilled GIS technicians, to Geospatial analysts, to Managers and to a Chief executive with a geospatial background. All these are needed in order to reposition and bring new ideas on how best to tackle myriad of challenges faced by Abuja.
Three, with skilled personnel, and the right leadership, new methodologies can be harnessed, and adopted with regards to how unplanned settlements can be detected, analysed and monitored using geospatial technology. For example, leveraging on advances in Deep Learning to apply in remote sensing Very High Resolution (VHR) imagery scene recognition, feature extraction and classification of unplanned settlements. There is also the need to have an internal initiative to regularly update land cover and land use maps at a maximum of 5 years interval. This is very important in keeping track on the changes happening on the ground and will also help identify deviations from the Master Plan before they become widespread.
In conclusion, we can see that with an effective up-to-date geodatabase and competent managers and skilled workforce, the role of AGIS can be significantly upgraded from a simple Land Information agency, to a functional GIS agency where it can serve as the primary mechanism where the challenges faced by Abuja as a result of fast paced urbanization can be monitored and tackled effectively.
Mallam Ibrahim Gumel, an Urban Development Specialist in Remote Sensing and GIS, writes from St. Louis, Missouri, USA firstname.lastname@example.org