“We Plan New Cities At Waterfronts”

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This is part IV of The Tide Roundtable encounter with Hon Osima Ginah, Commissioner for Urban Development, Rivers State, first published last Monday. Read on, very refreshing. The most important demolition is the Aborigine type, and Okrika people have been saying we are aborigines in this place. What are you going to do there? As I said first, what is the definition of Aborigine? Now, I want one Okrika man who will tell me that he is not part of Kunuji or Tugbunuji, Ibaka, Ogboko. I know Okrika very well and for those who came to tell me I’m from these and that, they have their traditional homes and like I tell you, we are moving on. Nobody can coarse us. Nobody can force government out of its decision to do what it wants to do and once government moves in you cannot intimidate especially this present government. You cannot intimidate us. That we have not reached does not mean that we will not go. As I told you, we are not carrying out indiscriminate demolition of waterfronts, we are carrying out planned demolition and when we demolish it, obviously, government has plans to develop that area. And I want to put it on record that we will demolish all the waterfronts in Port Harcourt. One after the other. But if we reach any water front and where the people can, with facts prove that that area is an aborigine and that the people have no where to go and they can show us as Rivers people, their ancestral artifacts, the things that they worship. Go to Angulama for those who know Angulama, you know that in those days even up till now you don’t need to mention certain things because they are in the criminal code. Those are the things we use to deceive ourselves that once you mention, you will die because those were the things that our forefathers worshipped. It is there, that is our ancestral home. So when we find ancestral home, then we will relocate the people. Take for instance the Finima people, they have ancestral home and when government wanted to take their home, they relocated them. When we reach an ancestral home of the people we will relocate them. But let me also tell you, the Okrika people are not against the demolition of the waterfronts. They are not against the development of the waterfronts. Now because of the word “Demolition”. This is also synonymous with the forceful removal of illegal structures that people are afraid. No what we are doing is development and I want you to put it on record that it is development of waterfronts. What is urban renewal in itself? Urban renewal is the removing of an old thing or what is not supposed to be there and replacing it with new one. Do you like the way the waterfronts are? The answer is no. We want to get the water fronts to modern city status. Do we build in the way it is? No. We want to sandfill the waterfront. Do we pump sands on the people the way it is and upgrade it to the level needed? The answer is no. So what do we do? We have to remove those shanties and the structures there so that we can pump in the sand, construct roads, install water, put on light, build up recreational facilities and then you have a modern state status. That’s what we mean by urban renewal. The Okrika people welcome urban renewal. I put it on record that Okrika people welcome the development of the waterfronts. But what is their fear? Their fear is that the governor is an Ikwerre man. “So maybe if the place is developed, it will be given to Ikwerre people. That is their fear. I want any Okrika man to challenge me. And I say it and the governor has said it several times that it is open to all Rivers people. Now what the government is doing is not an Ikwerre agenda afterall the governor has said it that Ikwerre people who have taken over government land, take for instance, ‘Eagle Island’. We will demolish all the structures there and return to those whose land were not yet built on their own land. The governor has said it that we will move into Elekohia Stadium. Now the land that was acquired by the government and where Ikwerre people have taken and sold to people, we will demolish all the structures there and take over the land. The same way the governor has also stated that the sandfill that were planned and allocated to the people that the Okrika people have taken over. We will demolish all the structures and return it back. Government must be respected. Government is meant for all of us. Government for the people, by the people and of the people. My answer is that it is not Ikwerre agenda. So the fear of Okrika people is whether there is Ikwerre agenda where once the waterfronts are developed, the Ikwerre people will now move over from Diobu to go and live in town. That is their fear. Just make your statistics, how many Ikwerre people do you find that have property in the town? So there should be unity in diversity. Rivers State is a multilingual state. But I want to assure the Okrika people and the Rivers people that there is no hidden agenda. Take for instance, if they say it is Okrika or Ikwerre agenda, I am not from Okrika, I am not from Ikwerre? I’m a Kalabari man and we are talking about the development of Rivers State and Rivers State belongs to all of us. Rivers State is not Ikwerre. Rivers State is not Okrika. Rivers State is Ikwerre, Okrika, Kalabari, Etche, Ogoni and others. So Rivers State belongs to all of us. What gives you the boldness? I have over the time developed that boldness and I believe that anything that is worth doing is worth doing well. I’m one man who believes that anything any human being can do, I can do it. If I want to be a militant I would have been a militant but I choose to be a lawyer. Those who practised with me will tell you I move in to do my practice with boldness. Secondly what also gives me the boldness is that when I took over the responsibility of the Ministry of Urban Development I looked at it, it is a very sensitive job but I said someone must do it someday and so when? Now is the time. Who?, I’m the person. So it is an opportunity for me to contribute my own quota in the development of Rivers State. And I believe that my being in public service is divine because from Action Congress, coming to be a commissioner. If I were in PDP probably, I wouldn’t have been a commissioner. So God moved me out of PDP and pushed me to Action Congress and brought me back to PDP government and said serve. And that give me the boldness. Before I do anything, firstly I commit it to God. I say God, take over me, give me the courage to do my work and direct me well. And God gave me a spirit and I moved ahead and when I move, I move like Suname. You are a product of the Unity Government. Can you reconcile PDP government and AC vision for the government? No, No, No, there is no AC vision in government. Like I said the visioner is the Governor. Who is the governor? Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi is the visioner. There can never be two visioners. There cannot be the vision of Amaechi and the vision of Tonye Princewill who is my governorship candidate. But you see in Amaechi vision, is Akin to Tonye’s vision so Tonye will say, Oh, Amaechi this is your vision, I also see the vision. Let me ensure that I put it into your government and we move ahead and it became friends to friends. They say show me your friend and I will tell you who you are. They have similar things. This, will also have done if I am the governor of Rivers State so let us move together and that’s how we came in to it. And when we came into it he said I saw this vision also, Okay His Excellency, you saw this vision”. We can partner with you to achieve that vision and they gave us responsibility and I will tell you that I pray that even after this government Rivers State should have a governor like Amaechi because one, there is no sycophancy. I don’t go to Government House to say His Excellency I come to say good morning to you, no. Amaechi doesn’t even like it. I’m loyal! What is your loyalty? Your loyalty is your service delivery. Now if you are performing your duties, then you are the one that is loyal. He is not the one that is just a PDP person, or the one that is Action Congress or the one that says good morning governor or the one that calls the governor. It may interest you to know that I don’t have the phone number of the governor and I never called him on phone. So there is no reason for that. If the governor wants me then it means that he has seen a vision. If the governor wants to direct me, then he has to call me. When he gave me an assignment, he expected me to go and deliver. He expected me to go and perform a duty. He expected me to sit down in my office and l am in charge. He expected me to go out and perform any duties. I’m incharge of the Ministry of Urban Development, I am the boss. My over lord is the governor who is in charge of all the activities of the state. What I do is when he sees the vision he calls me to go and deliver and I sit down and do my work. I am very comfortable. If I want to do a thing and it costs me one Naira, I say, His Excellency, this is the assignment you give me, it costs one Naira and the governor looks at it and says this one Naira, can you use it to do it and I say yes. He gives me the one Naira, and he monitors me, how I would spend the one Naira and I achieve the result, I give him the report, I have implemented it. He sees another vision and says oh from this vision, you also need to do this or atimes I go back to him and say His Excellency, this we have done, we have not done this, it takes Forty Naira, give it to me and he will give it to me. I go back and I spend the money and do the job. Every money released from the government is for a purpose. If that is not achieved, you loose the confidence of the governor. You don’t need to be the governor’s brother; you don’t need to be the governor’s friend. If you look at it, in our cabinet reshuffle what did the governor do? The governor reshuffled the cabinet and to some of his friends that were in government, he tries to distinguish himself from Amaechi as a Governor and Amaechi as a friend. What do we have? We have the government of Rivers State and I am serving in the government of Rivers State where PDP as a party brought the governor. But AC in Rivers State and people who are AC members in Rivers State are Rivers people. And what did the government do, government of Rivers State. We are also having a new orientation in politics. An orientation where irrespective of your political party or your political inclination what is paramount is your contribution and service delivery to your people, not to your party. It is not party inclination. Any feeling of regret in the course of carrying out your duties? No, there is no regret but not that I don’t have challenges; I have challenges but not regret. I had threats to my life. Even before I became commissioner I had threats to my life. Although, I have received several calls and text messages of threats to my life but I believe that service to humanity is a sacrifice and it is something that must be done. Like I said when I took over the mantle of leadership as the commissioner for Urban Development, the first thing that came to my mind was this job is quite sensitive because you are given the armour to go and destroy. But I quickly remembered in the Bible, God said go, destroy and build and I said God, be with me. That as I am going, I am going to war and you are the head of the war. We are going to destroy and build a new city and so direct me. I have an excess confidence in me. And the confidence is such that when I see the Governor’s house and it is an illegal structure, I will demolish it. I marked Government House personally. But what is holding it? Yes, you know that structure is built by Julius Begger and it’s so strong that we don’t have the equipment to even demolish it. So, the governor had directed the Chief of Staff (COS) Government House to ensure that Julius Begger corrects that place. But you see, we are also expanding the road, the Azikiwe road which also affected the parts that we want to correct and we believe that collectively, we are going to correct it. That shows that we have a governor who is not biased. Before now, no government can albow you even go close to a commissioner’s house talkless of Government House. And I went in, I did it by myself, marked it by myself being supervised and monitored by the security in the Government House. Hon Commissioner Sir, you said the word is development and not demolition. Can we know when to expect structures in the demolished water fronts? Yes, you know like I said in the next two, three years, you will expect it? Now why in the next two, three years? It takes time to pump in the sand; you allow the sand to settle before you build. In the next two, three years, you expect very beautiful sight. Infact I’m even planning to live in the water front. You know I’m a water front product, 11 years as a fisherman. People have the fear that some government officials will hijack the place? No, I will explain to you that some government officials who used their positions as opportunity to hijack lands and build where they are not supposed to build, we demolished them. Not the money, you see the payment of compensation not withstanding. Even if you have the money, it will take your time to build. Now let me also tell you, we are not building alone as a government, we are partnering with private investors and we are also putting in statutory provisions (laws) to guide the development and management of those things. We have what is called the Infrastructural Development Laws before the House of Assembly. The law is put in place in such a way that even Amaechi himself cannot allocate anything to himself. So those of us in government can never use our privilege positions to get what we are not supposed to get. Infact this is one government that as a commissioner, you are not a demi god. We have demystified our offices in such a way that you can just come into my office; you knock at my door and see me. We want the Honourable Commissioner to tell us, where the job of the Ministry of Urban Development ends and where that of the Greater Port Harcourt Development Authority begins? I think this is not what you can just describe with words of description. If you look at the plan, you have about eight local government areas covered by Greater Port Harcourt. It is a conscious determined effort of Amaechi to ensure that we don’t live in one-city state anymore. Because Port Harcourt is already congested. Now parts of Obio/Akpor, the entire Port Harcourt is not part of greater Port Harcourt. Now Greater Port Harcourt will extend the city of Port Harcourt. That is how we came up with the name Greater Port Harcourt. Already Port Harcourt has been extended because Obio/Akpor which ordinary is not Port Harcourt, the main city of Port Harcourt is from UTC down here but development has already moved in. Now parts of Obio/Akpor will be taken by Greater Port Harcourt down to Ikwerre axis, you have part of Etche, Oyigbo, Eleme, Ogu/Bolo, Okrika. These are areas that are covered by the Greater Port Harcourt. But I think very soon, we will decimate the area and publish it for people to know this is the exact area. But you see the Greater Port Harcourt master plan covers the old city and the new city. What do we mean? While we are building a new brand city, we are also upgrading the old city. If we don’t upgrade the old city, by the time we finished the new city; people will run away from the old city. How many illegal structures have you demolished since you started? Over one thousand. It can be much more than that if you consider the Njemanze waterfront? No Njemanze, we don’t call it illegal structure because if they are illegal structures, we wont pay them compensation. We term it development urban renewal agenda. Now they were affected by the urban renewal policy of the state even though there were security issues and that informed government to say let it be. Of a truth, the structures in the waterfronts are all illegal structure except those ones that have approval to build. But even though before now, like I said these were carved approvals, if we had treated it as illegal structures, we would have demolished them. Infact, by now we would had finished between ten to twenty waterfronts. Because I have the capacity to finish the whole waterfronts for five days. Taking one waterfront five days, how many water fronts we would demolish in a month? You see that I may have finished a lot of waterfronts by now. But we said no, this is a government that handles this exercise of renewal with a human face. And human in human face we moved on not only the payment of compensation but payment of replacement value. The replacement value is higher than what the law said should be paid. And that is why we carryout our assignment with human face. Commissioner, as a matter of fact, we know you as an action man. How do you relax? Or do you have time to relax? Very well, I’m a man of the people. You know I practised law and in law you can’t survive if you don’t have good Public Relations. I came from a grassroot. Infact from the downtrodden. You know somebody who lived in the waterfront for eleven years cannot claim to be a big man. Even now I ask people what class, urban class, no middle class, no lower class. My class now is the privileged class. What I do is once I finished my official assignment in the official time, though my work is twenty four hours everyday. You can call me on Sunday, 5 O’clock, 10 O’clock, I will come. I don’t mind if it is a weekend, I will come. I will drive myself to that place. You won’t see the siren of the security and police. No, they are not really part of me. So a times I follow my friends, I attend parties, I sit out with friends and enjoy the things I know best to do. Do you still go fishing? No, what time do I have to go fishing when I am demolishing. There is no time to go fishing. But I visit friends. Not my friends as commissioners but my friends as my classmates and those who lived in waterfronts with me. I do go to visit them in the waterfronts. Before I demolish, I visit them, and I tell them I am coming. END