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Abuja Population Growth Challenge (II)

By Umar Shuaib

The manner authorities around the world tackled the unprecedented expansions of their capital cities provided us hindsight on how to address ours. In general capital cities attract heavy population from all nooks and corners of their countries and even beyond. Just as there are centripetal pull there are also centrifugal propulsion from the cities to their neighbouring towns. Such are the situations with Canberra, Brasilia and Washington. These capital cities were not only studies but visited by the FCDA Board and the Technical Assessment panel prior to the preparation of the Abuja Master Plan.

As the new capital city of Australia after its transfer from Sydney, Canberra has similar background to Abuja than any other new capital city in the modern world. The actual boundary of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) was established by the seat of Government Acceptance Act (SGAA) of 1909 – 1655. Canberra was initially planned to take about 70,000 people. By 1957 it was approximately half that figure, and by 1965 it had well exceeded it and had at least 85,000 people with an annual growth rate of about 10%. This means that the original plan had been out grown even more rapidly than was though or even hoped in 1957.

Subsequently a continuous annual growth rate of 10% resulted to approximately 355,000 people by 1980. For the growth of outer districts the rate at which lands took-up 7 years after 1957 and also the rate of increase of financial return on land and housing development carried out in 1965 and planned to 1970 have both rose faster than anticipated in 1957.

In order to plan the metropolitan environment as an entity, free from the pressures of land speculation and the fragmentation of land ownership, the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) developed a system of towns with centers providing a concentration of employment and services for the surrounding residential areas at the metropolitan scale. The towns were arranged in corridors of urban growth. The centers have strong links with each other and referred to as the Y-Plan. In the case of Abuja we refer to them as the satellite towns.

However despite the above attempt, it had subsequently became apparent that Canberra would require increasingly strong links with towns in the surrounding regions. It thus became necessary to think of metropolitan Canberra as an urban area the impact of which would spill out to adjacent New South Wales Territory as was the case with Quenbeyan.

It had thus been realized that there was an urgent need to establish a firm planning basis with the surrounding shires to provide for orderly complementary growth across the ACT border. The increasing number of practical issues on which there is an inter relationship with state agencies emphasized that need, as does the pressure for semi-rural subdivision and development existing in the surrounding shires.

That was the situation in Canberra, in a country with much higher per capital income, efficient population control and little total population compared to Nigeria. The initial population target had multiplied more than four times before 1980.

With total population much higher than that of Australia, little or no population growth control, greater population below the poverty line and trooping to the urban centers to struggle for livelihood, the 3 million population planned for Abuja at the initial stage could multiply higher and faster than the case with Canberra. Thus the population of Abuja to be well above the mega city of 10 million population by the year 2050 is not inconceivable.

Furthermore from the UN report more than decade before, Africa was projected to more than double its population by 2050 from less than 1 billion to nearly 2 billion, with 88% of that growth occurring in the sub-Saharan Africa. While Africa is still predominately rural, much of the future growth will be in urban areas.

Abuja being the Capital City of the most populated sub Saharan Africa and which presently possess the magnetic force to attract people shall definitely account for most of this projection.

The extent and direction of further developments outside the boundary of the FCT is open to question, but it has become apparent that the direction of the metropolitan growth is largely determined by geographic factors of proximity and accessibility, irrespective of political boundaries.

Following the Canberra’s example, there is the need to establish a firm planning basis with the surrounding states of Niger and Nassarawa to provide for orderly complementary growth across the FCT boarder, considering the enormous burden already borne by these neighbouring states.

The FCT State Joint Planning District arrangement, an aspect of the Master Plan yet to be implemented 30 years after the city’s establishment may not be adequate now due to the dramatic changes.


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