Akin Mabogunje: Adieu to a legendary urbanist - By: . . | Dailytrust

Akin Mabogunje: Adieu to a legendary urbanist

After exceeding the three scores and 10, it took a century, less ten, to close a chapter. In the wee hours of Thursday, August 4, 2022, the cold hands of death snatched from us the gold brand geographer-cum-urbanist. The indefatigable erudite Professor Akin Mabogunje has marched on. These 90 years were productive and impactful in spreading the gospel of geography, urban planning, development and management across many lands.

Akin Mabogunje, the first Professor of Geography in Nigeria and an Honorary Fellow of the prestigious Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, made his mark by putting the all-time relevant book, Urbanisation in Nigeria, on the shelves of libraries in 1968. As a student of Social Science at the School of Basic Studies, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, I began to use the book in 1975 and acquired a copy in 1978. By the time he came to examine my Master’s degree thesis in Urban and Regional Planning at ABU in 1982, I had read well enough to defend my thesis but not enough to defend my graphic presentation.  My maps and diagrams fell short of the examiner’s standards!

Urbanisation in Nigeria is a global resource book on indigenous and colonial urbanisation in Nigeria as it lucidly traces the history, composition and internal structures of towns and cities, modes of livelihoods organisation, linkages and flows, population dynamics and classes of human settlements in Nigeria.  This treatise has remained a frame for urban planning, policies and development debates and formulation in Nigeria, Africa and beyond.

The writings and advocacies of Prof. Mabogunje have not had the much desired effects in Nigeria. This is simply because the prophet has no honour in his home. Otherwise, how can one explain the fact that a fellow colonial nation like India has well defined functional human settlements system and Nigeria has none? In India, the metropolitan cities stand out clearly against other tiers of cities. Nigeria is far from attaining this. Yet the institutionalisation of urban and regional planning has remained weak, the numerous interventions of the energetic scholar at federal ministerial level notwithstanding.

Certainly, we have lost the hands with which to write his epitaph and the voice to sing the dirge. We can, however, uphold his legacies which include rigorous urban analysis, painstaking planning and regulation of urbanisation, structuring of towns and cities, urban processes and patterns. It is important to leverage on the immortalisation of the legacies of Professor Mabogunje by firming up institutional capacities for the entrenchment of the ideals and practices of urban and regional planning, development and governance in overall development process in Nigeria. A hierarchy of urban system and functionally sustainable cities that attract investments and promote human advancement and welfare are products of application of principles of urban and regional planning by physical planners or town planners. That is the core message left for us.

As it is, our cities and regions are epitome of socioeconomic and spatial disorganisation, human degradation and environmental stress. The degree of poor urban planning and development and the state of physical, social and economic infrastructure is abysmal. Access to land is highly constrained, yet arrangement of activities on urban land only creates large villages with a good chunk of villagers instead of cities and urbanites. Transportation is problematic, water, air, noise and land pollution are issues while housing in terms of quality and quantity is a challenge. Add to these, high unemployment and poor local economy due to low investment attraction.  All were worries of the unquestionable professor of urban geography.  The panacea for all these is strong urban and regional planning system together with highly skilled and dedicated Town Planners.

In the philosophy of the professor, town planners should be allowed to determine and know what land is devoted to what activity through the process of granting use and development permits. So, at all times, anything any one wants to do in the city – building, roads, parks, industrial, markets or offices development, boreholes development among several others, it is mandatory to consult the planning office and talk to a town planner.  This will secure developers’ investments and properties. Developers will also be contributing to aesthetically pleasant and functional cities.

All persons in the cities should have a role in making the cities and towns healthy, functional, clean, beautiful and economically boisterous. It is the official duty of the town planner to drive this. In a nut shell, for improved and sustained security, high inflow of investments to towns or cities, town planners are desirable and must be invited to the table. To protect and grow investments in the cities, planners are necessary. To protect properties from flood, fire or collapse, there is need to strengthen planning and town planners. If you desire a city that works for you and all others, partner a town planner. It is planning and town planners that can create liveable, sustainable and functional human settlements. Surely, the government, corporate agencies, civil society and the citizenry must work with town planners to give cities the desired roles in national economic development and human advancement.

The Federal Ministry of Housing and Works should make the speeches and submissions of this professor emeritus handy as a guide to urban development and governance policy formulation and implementation. Like never before, I expect the tempo of urban and regional planning at city, local council, state and federal levels to increase astronomically as a tribute to Akin Mabogunje.

As for the students, mentees and associates of this great teacher, researcher and advocate, the only tribute to this pacesetter in human geography and urban development is, if the bar can’t be raised, to sustain his academic excellence, professional standards and ideals. I should express my sincere condolences to the government and people of Nigeria and, particularly Oyo State, his students, family members and associates. Professor Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje, good night.

Yunusa is the Executive Director, Socioeconomic and Environment Advocacy Centre,  Zaria

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