RESEARCH on urban land use is one of the most diverse and challenging areas of urban planning research. This is due to the fact that urban areas are complex system constantly undergoing permanent evolution and restructuring. Land, in itself, is a unique product occupying critical place in development. It is the bedrock of any meaningful development. Therefore, the ownership, appropriation and use that can take place on land are usually filled with emotions, secrecy, legality and endless multifarious interests all of which are very difficult to capture, yet development and land use appropriation has to continuously take place to fulfill the requirement of the different segments of the society in urban areas.

Most of these studies showed that urban areas are of enormous political, social, economic and cultural importance to the various countries in which they are located. The importance of cities in societal development is due to their unique roles as centres of innovation, adoption, diffusion and growth. Urban areas are where people have access to new ideas and various ways to live together as communities from different backgrounds and cultures. Cities are memory places reinforcing specific values and providing spaces for specific purpose. The physical structure of cities are reflections of specific thoughts and ideologies (Ingram, 1998). Cities provide the environment where man find satisfaction of basic needs and essential public goods (UN-Habitat, 2012).Cities are where additional aspirations and various products can be found and enjoyed. A century ago 20% of human lived in urban areas but today more than 50% of human population is in urban areas. Thus, from the advent of the urban millennium, it is expected that 70% of human being will be living in urban areas by the year 2050 (UN-Habitat, 2013). Cities, therefore, propel the growth of societies and are able to attract to themselves large numbers of people from the hinterlands.

This centripetal nature of the city creates intense pressure on the economic and spatial structure of urban systems such as on land, housing, services and facilities like hospitals, educational institutions, transport, telecommunication systems, and energy supply amongst others. This is because the provisions of these facilities are expanding at rates slower than the rates of growth of the urban population thus creating a wide margin between demand and supply of urban infrastructural facilities and services.

The Concept of an Urban Area and the City

Urban areas are perhaps one of the largest human artifacts lacking in easily identifiable boundaries. There is also lack of consensus on its definition and there is divergent views on how it should be conceptualized and studied. In the early 20th century, the Chicago School of Urban Sociology emerged as a popular approach to urban analysis. In the early 1970, Castells (1972) criticized the Chicago School for its ideology on the nature of capitalism as a framework of social organization. Also during this period the Marxist approach pioneered by Castells (1972) and Harvey (1973) insisted that the concept of an urban area was a theater of class struggle and a domain of political claims on the rights to urban space and resources. Saunder (1981) also stated that the city is not itself a meaningful object of analysis but also an arbitrary geographical space of diverse economic, social and political interaction.

However, the reality is that a new direction of focus has emerged with numerous claims and counter claims about the nature of cities. This came with many contemporary catchwords such as postmodern cities, sustainable city, fragmented city and many other varieties. More interesting is the current thinking of the nature of city frame as an extended urbanization identifiable with its relative web links, depicting the city on an entity without boundaries (Brenner, 2013).

It can be generalized that an urban area is a cluster of productive activities and human population which manifests in a dense, web of interacting land uses, locations of institutional and political arrangements. Some are open and democratic while other are authoritarian in social and political framework. Therefore, urban areas can be structured into economic stages of development, resource allocation mechanism, structure of social stratification including racial and ethnic structure, cultural norms and traditions and the nature of political authority and power. All these influence the definition, the spatial structure and nature of urban land use planning management and governance.

Despite these school of thoughts many countries simply employ size, population density and nature of land use as criteria, various disciplines such as sociology, planning, demography, economics, public administration, geography and urban planning define urban areas from the point of view of their disciplines. For example, the sociologist emphasizes the social organization of urban areas in their definition by focusing attention on ways of life of the people. Demographer emphasize population size while economists focus on the functional characteristics and population density of areas. The geographers deploy the nature of land use and population size as criteria of definition.

Urbanization in Nigeria predates colonization. Historically, it has been favoured by rapid rate of migration from the rural areas to urban areas and natural increase through birth as well as ever changing socio-political and economic structure of the country. The process of urbanization in Nigeria can be classified into three phases based on the factors and complexity of the urban development process. The phases are the pre-colonial, colonial and the post-colonial periods.

The introduction of monetized economy based on the production of cash crops and exploration of mineral resources played important roles in colonial urban development in Nigeria. Cocoa and rubber to the south-western part which became the region’s main cash-crops and in the north the development of hides and skins and groundnut as main export products influenced the economic system. In the east, the discovery of coal in Udi-Hills and Tin in the north, Jos being the main mineral resources promoted the development and growth of these areas. In order to ease the movement of these bulky products for onward exportation to Europe, the British started the construction of rail-lines and roads. Naturally, port cities and other centres of early contact with the European traders such as Lagos and Port Harcourt developed into large and viable commercial centres attracting large number of immigrants from the rural hinterlands.

Cities that emerged during this period included Port Harcourt, Aba, Enugu and Onitsha as well as Jos and Zaria in the north. In the west settlements along the railway line which developed into cities status included Osogbo, Ilorin, and Abeokuta the existence of two sections, namely: old and new land areas with different development requirements, marked with areas exclusively inhabited by Europeans and government officials. Areas with European presence were planned while areas inhabited by natives retained their traditional characters of mud buildings, haphazard lay out, general poor environmental conditions and hardly any infrastructural facilities.

The process of urban growth has also been enhanced with ever increasing number of local governments in the country with their corresponding headquarters becoming major growth centres. The growth of these centres were further enhanced with the continuous upward review of revenue allocation to local government. This affords the local governments to improve on the provision of urban facilities. In addition the present democratic governance is having significantly positive effects on urban centres as more infrastructure and services have witnessed remarkable improvement.