We Must Clean Up Port Harcourt City


Hon. Osima Ginah




On the 30th of last month, Hon. Osima Ginah, Rivers State Commissioner for Urban Development was the guest of The Tide Roundtable, a weekly personality interview progamme of the Editorial Department, Rivers State Newspaper Corporation. Many know him as Mr. “Demolition” Why?.

He pulls down illegal structures and enforces urban renewal progammes of the state government. According to him, the law has been there since 2003, but what we are doing is to put them into practice.

He fielded questions on what illegal structures are, compensation payments to owners of demolished structures, water front , issues on aborigines amongst others.

Excerpts. Read on.

How would you want people to know you?

My name, Barrister Osima Ginah.  I was born 44 years ago, precisely 1st January 1965.  I attended St Michael’s State School, Angulama where I had my First School Leaving Certificate in 1978.  I then proceeded to Kalabari National College (KNC), Buguma between 1980 and 1985.  I worked briefly in 1986 and later taught in private schools until I got a job in National Population Commission where I worked for about 10 years.  I proceeded to the College of Arts and Science, Port Harcourt where I did my IJMB there in 1993-94 and in 1994-95, I was admitted to read Law in Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST), Port Harcourt where I graduated in 1994 with LLB (Hon.).  I then proceeded to Nigerian Law School, Abuja and finished in 2002

I came and worked briefly with Late Dr Marshall Harry as his personal assistant for some few months.  In a view to practise my profession, I left Dr Harry and worked for about three years with a private chamber.  I started there in 2001 to 2003.  In 2004, I established my own office called Ibinabo Chambers at No. 9 Station Road Port Harcourt where I practised law for some time.

I believe I have an inner call to higher service to serve the public, so I indicated my interest to contest for Rivers State House of Assembly in Constituency II in Asari Toru Local Government Area.  Then I was a pioneer member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) where I indicated my interest to contest for the House of Assembly seat, I really moved well and campaigned, but few weeks to the primaries I got information that my name had been removed from the register.  What would I be doing there?  Obviously it means that I will fail the primaries.  As a man, I took a bold decision and moved out of the party.  I resigned formally as a party member.  I sent my resignation letter to my Ward chairman who  acknowledged it, then I moved out of PDP to Action Congress (AC).  I continued my struggle to capture the seat but unfortunately, I lost the primaries. But as a determined politician I never gave up.  I fought harder.  It came to a stage I realised that politics is like sports.  If you don’t win, then you have to support whoever won the election.  So I supported my party to go into that election.  Unfortunately too we lost the election.  We lost the House of Assembly not only in my constituency but in the entire state and the governorship seat as well to PDP.  But we believe it was a stolen mandate, so we went to court.

At the time of fighting that battle, I became a useful instrument to my party.  My party was not buoyant.  It could not have paid so much millions to lawyers and so the responsibility was given to me to handle all the House of Assembly, National Assembly cases and the governorship petitions which I handled without kobo.

I was not paid.  It was still service to my party.  I enjoyed it.  I fought the battle, had so many challenges, threats to my life and inducement of money and property from the then government which I refused. But it came to a point when the Supreme Court gave the judgement and where Amaechi became a governor.  We looked at our strategy and I advised our governorship candidate that we don’t need to fight God-sent that we will not have a case.  And too we believe that we have so much to contribute and if we have genuine intention for the people of Rivers State then we can join Amaechi to contribute our quota.  And so at that point, we voluntarily withdrew our case from the Appeal Tribunal and that created opportunity for me to serve in government.    And I was called upon after some months to become a commissioner.  And my ministry, the Ministry of Urban Development was created; it was carved out of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development in December 2007.

And on the 4th of April 2008, I was called upon and sworn in as the pioneer commissioner in-charge of the Ministry of Urban Development to drive the urban renewal, planning and development policy of the state vis-a-vis the vision of Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi.

Are you still single and searching?

No, no, no!  Like I said, I’m about 44 years and ten months and in 2001 precisely on 11th August I got married to a pretty lady who happened to be the last child, first daughter, only daughter of her parents, then she was Elijah Tiger, now Mrs. Osima Ginah.  We have two beautiful girls who look like their daddy and mummy.

And during my service as a private practitioner, I was also elected member of Nigerian Bar Association, Port Harcourt branch.  I was the pioneer assistant secretary of the branch.  I also served in various capacities at the bar.  I was a member of Human Rights Committee.  I was a member of Inter-Governmental and Legislative Committee and it actually gave me opportunity to serve.  These offices gave me a lot of experiences on whatever I am doing.

While in secondary school, I was a Prefect.  I was the Assistant House Prefect of the Wilberforce House and that gave me first test of leadership.  At that time, the Deputy Governor was the Senior Prefect of the school so the challenges of managing students particularly in hostels in my own House gave me experience in leadership.

In my community, the Angulama Community which I called the ancient town of the Kalabari Kingdom, a community where no one knows how it came to be.  Most of us in that community believed that we came down from heaven.  Our history has it that we just found ourselves there.  You know most communities there in Kalabari came from one point or the other but our community was kept by God and we found ourselves there.  We have no history of where we came from other than that place.  We were the first settlers and every other person came to meet us there.  And the language spoken by the Kalabari people is the original language of the Angulama people.  And I was a member of the Community Development Committee (CDC); once an Assistant Secretary to the CDC, Secretary of the CDC and Secretary of my community.  Up to the time of becoming a commissioner, I was the immediate past secretary of my community.  I also served in other capacities, I was the past president, Kalabari National College, KNC Buguma, 1985 set, now the president emeritus of the Kalabari National College (KNC) Old Boys Association world wide.  That’s a big responsibility on my part.  I was also the immediate past Secretary-General of the Committee of Friends Kalabari, highly responsible intellectuals of the Kalabari Kingdom.  In these various capacities that I served, I think I learnt to fit into the public service as a commissioner.

As pioneer Commissioner of the Rivers State Ministry of Urban Development, can you give us insight of what has happened in the ministry since you came on board?

Well, the Ministry of Urban Development is a ministry created as part of the vision of His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi for a desired change of the face of the city of Port Harcourt and the urban cities in Rivers State.  Before the creation of the ministry and my appointment you find out that Port Harcourt has almost turned to a garbage city.  A city where Rivers people could no longer be proud of and His Excellency saw the vision that there is need for urban renewal, there is need for development control and there is need for physical planning.  And in search for a man who he believes will key into the vision and implement that policy and here I find myself.

Like I said, presently I am a member of Action Congress, we call ourselves “Be Bold Action”, we believe that the responsibility given to us is also akin to our slogan.  When I came in as the pioneer commissioner incharge of that ministry I was the only person that was different from that ministry, there has not been new appointment other than the ministerial structure; the Permanent Secretary, Director, administration Director Finance and Director PRS.  All other departments as far as we are there are inherited.  So we looked at the vision of His Excellency, in order to implement and key into that vision we found that there has already been an existing law which is called Rivers State Physical Planning and Development Law, 2003.  The law was made when the governor was a Speaker at the Rivers State House of Assembly.

The law was designed first, it abrogated all the existing laws on physical planning, development control in Rivers State and gave the responsibility of physical planning and development control to the state government, vis-à-vis the Ministry of Urban Development.

Then as a lawyer, I studied the law and now decided to move into the field.  First, our approach is that we must clean up the city.  We looked at the city and found out that over time, the government’s inability to control development, the city has been developed, a lot of illegal structures have come up and people developed without recourse to government for approval.  The ministry has responsibility to give approval for physical and structural development.  Any form of development on land must as a matter of law be approved by the Ministry of Urban Development.  Before now, it was the Department of Urban Development in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.  Like I said, the ministry was created in December 2007 and you have this law in 2003 so when it was a department, it was that department in the ministry that would give approvals before you put anything on the land.  So we have the responsibility to monitor every development on land, we have the responsibility to plan and implement the physical planning of the state.  We have the responsibility to carry out urban renewal of the state.  Now, before the present government came on board, these responsibilities of the Ministry or the Department of Urban Development, over time showed government inability or government not having the political will to embark upon this exercise which caused the inhabitants of the state to carry out development without control and that gave rise to shanties. That gave rise to congestions, illegal structures and that gave rise to stores coming out and blocking the right of ways.

So we looked at it and said, one of the first things to do is to clean up the city of the illegal structures.  You will agree with me that Port Harcourt is a planned city.  The colonial masters, when they came in the first time, they came in, they planned the city, although Port Harcourt has now extended beyond what we know as Port Harcourt.  Now we have the Port Harcourt City Local Government Council.  We have the Obio/Akpor.  You will all agree with me that all the areas covered by Port Harcourt City Local Government were planned.  Diobu was planned.  Ogbunabali was planned; GRA Phase I and 2 were all planned.  We have up to GRA Phase 8, Amadi Flat, Town and Borikiri were all planned areas.

So we looked at the plan and said okay we have in some areas established fence lines.  If you build outside the fence line, your property becomes illegal structure.  But don’t forget that we also have situations where government because of favouritism has aided some persons to build where they are not supposed to build.  Some areas that are sanitary lanes, government has given Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) for people to build in such areas where they are not supposed to build.  And the law said once a structure is declared illegal structure, you demolish and government will not pay compensation. But where government has aided such person since you have Certificate of Occupancy to build in such areas where you are not supposed to build; equitable principle demands that you have to pay compensation.  So we mapped out our strategies, looked at the plan, looked at the law and moved to the field.  There and then, we started demolishing illegal structures.  You can now stand from one end of the street and see the other end of the street because of the openings.  Depending on the plan you have 3,4,5 metres or 10 metres away from the edge of the road some from the centre spread of the road.  Now all those that protrude outside their fence line were all demolished as illegal structures.  Now some areas of sanitary lanes that were built where they are not supposed to build we also demolished them. But where there are claims and judgment or approval we never hesitated by recommending for payment of compensation because it is His Excellency’s prerogative but not without exercising judicially and judiciously.  What I mean by judicially and judiciously is that it must be in accordance with the provisions of the law.

To be continued