Yenagoa City Masterplan: Rough Road To Skyscraper City

To develop a state entails a lot of planning. A popular saying goes that those who fail to plan, plans to fail. Planning entails establishing a direction and tenaciously following it to the end. Bayelsa State, created out of the old Rivers State on October 1, 1996 has evolved the vision of attaining sustainable development leading to prosperity. Subsequently, the State adopted a strategy to achieve her goal; the development of abundant tourist potentials as the best and most cost effective pathway to development. To implement this strategy entails the provision of an enabling environment for rapid economic growth. To make Bayelsa State a preferred tourist destination considering her circumstances of geography became a challenge facing subsequent governments. There was need to develop a befitting capital city which led to the long process of adopting the 2007 Yenagoa City Master plan Strategy document prepared out of the Harcourt Aduke's 2004 plan by the German firm Albert Speers Developing a model Capital city for Bayelsa State has been a core ambition of State governments since inception of the State in 1996. However there was a renewed zeal traceable to the commitment of the Present Vice President of Nigeria Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who briefly as Governor of Bayelsa State in 2006 decided to expedite action on the Master plan process with a view to building a befitting city that could ameliorate the dire infrastructural situation in Yenagoa for all time. Hi successor, Governor Timipre Sylva made a firm pledge to continue the good work of his predecessor. Now that the first phase of the Masterplan is expected to end on December 2009, the big question in the mind of Stakeholders is to know how far the journey has taken Bayelsa to the Promised Land. What will the record books say? This article is will attempt to review the progress made so far in implementing the 2007 Yenagoa city Master plan as the second phase commences January 2010. The Yenagoa City Master plan has the mission "to transform Yenagoa City into a globally recognized city with modern infrastructure and appreciable aesthetic beauty comparable to other model cities in the world. The keywords are modern infrastructure. To create wealth has been the direction of Governor Timipre Sylva's administration as encompassed in the Bayelsa State Sustainable Development Strategy document [BSSDS] : United, Secure and Prosperous Bayelsa State, his mantra. This is perfectly aligned with goals of the Master plan strategy except that business growth and development seem to supersede tourism in priority perhaps realizing from experience that the enabling environment to attract investors must be put in place to attract them and in consequence higher inflow of Direct Foreign Investments [FDI] So how far has the state fared in this self appointed direction will form the crux of our assessment of performance here. First of all let us trace the steps taken so far before a detailed examination of outcomes. This Writer can vividly recall proceedings during the first extended Executive council meeting on the Yenagoa City Master plan when out going Governor Goodluck Jonathan extracted from the incoming Governor Timipre Sylva a firm commitment to implementing the 2007 Yenagoa Master Plan Strategy in the Government house Banquet hall. In attendance were outgoing commissioners, newly inaugurated members of the Capital City Development authority headed by Chief A.J. Turner, included local and foreign Consultants on the Master plan Strategy in 2007.In this meeting the vice president made it clear that the incoming Governor would use his discretion in this process. And that was what the new governor did in his first meeting with the consultants later on when he fully participated in proposing changes in the Strategy document which has inbuilt flexibility. He wanted the plan to incorporate exiting developments to make it more realistic since an urban renewal strategy option was most feasible at the moment. With the capital City Development Authority entrenched as a legal independent Authority with offices, staff and budget, the stage was set to commence the long awaited process of implementation of the first phase of implementation of the Master plan comprising of development of critical infrastructures to support the take off of the Central Business District. First of all the Authority needed to train its staff so study tours of similar cities were organized. To ground her on Land use and development control, Abuja Capital city Development Authority played a gracious host while the Calabar, Cross River State's visit handled Urban management, Sanitation etc. would liaise with all Stakeholders and Land owners with a view to acquiring land and soliciting their understanding for the demolitions it would entail. The Yenagoa city Master plan 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. The Authority has begun demolitions and road expansion schemes cumulating in the commencement of work on the Central Business District with the first clearing of the area. Residents within this perimeter are already being sensitized about the implication and the penalty awaiting indiscriminate developers. Already major oil firms and others have been invited commence development of allocated plots here. Despite initial internal misgivings and duplication of functions from collaborating Ministries, with an initial budget of about N22billion made out to the Authority, the government to the world the extent of its commitment to the realization of the project. Among the infrastructural projects critical to the success of the first phase plan include the Musa Yar' Adua International Cargo Airport, Glory Drive East-West Igbogene Road, Oxbow Lake Resort's four Star Hotel, Ekoli Bridge, Swali ,Theme Park, The Galleria, Tower Hotel and International Conference Centre, Central business District[CBD], Glory land Castle-Government House, Melford Okilo Memorial Hospital, Kolo Creek Gas Turbine, the Yenagoa Zoo and Conservatory. Some of these projects have been completed especially the Theme park, Okilo Memorial Hospital and a few others; some remain at critical stages of completion like the Tower Hotel and international conference Centre, Ekoli Bridge, Gloryland Castle, etc while others like the international cargo Airport, Galleria, Central business District, are still at inception. However, other projects have not left the drawing board. It is clear that less than 50% of the projects are due completed by December 2009 against 100% earmarked for the phase. Reasons have been adduces for slowing down of work ranging from Militancy activities to declining revenue receipts. Monthly revenues declined from N15 billion to only N4 billion and Capital projects like the Master plan implementation suffered greatly. With the exit of Chief Turner as Head of Bayelsa State Capital City Development Authority, and his replacement the Authority has struggled with declining budget allocation. To reverse this trend stakeholders have suggested the issuance of a N50 billion, 7 year maturity bond at 4% interest tied to these projects to ensure that the Master plan implementation remains on track. Despite setbacks the Master plan implementation will be back on schedule with the commencement of the Bond issue process which also serves as the real test to the present government's direction so far. Indications emerging from local and foreign stakeholders indicate that the Bond when issued will be oversubscribed because of the rising confidence in the rare transparent approach of the government to fiscal matters. Mr Nworisara was part of the consulting team of BCCDA, 2007-2008