‘We Want To Regulate Housing Development In Rivers’

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How would you want people to know you?

My names are Mr. Marshal Stanley Uwom. I am Honourable Commissioner, Ministry of Housing Rivers State. I was born in 1965, and I attended several Schools. One of such is Okrika Grammar School., Okrika.

I did my Cambridge in O and A levels in England.

I came back and attended, then School of Basic Studies, Port Harcourt, I did my IJMB there, before I proceeded to the University of Ibadan initially to study Language Art, but I had to truncate it when I lost my father. I registered for law in the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Nkpolu, and currently, I’m a Post Graduate student of external programme of the University of London. I have served government in several capacities. I was a Special Assistant to His Excellency, Dr Peter Odili, Special Assistant on General Duties in the year 2004, I became Commissioner for Housing and Urban Development under the Dr. Odili Administration, I had been a Commissioner for Agriculture under Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi and I came back as Commissioner for Housing and after the dissolution. I was now reinstated as Commissioner for Housing.

Are you married?

I am happily married with two kids. One girl and one boy.

What was growing up like, what was your position in your family?

First son, family of five children. We actually moved around Nigeria a lot. I was in Calabar before the war, I was in Uzuakoli with my grand mother. I came back, Warri was afterward and Lagos, before I found myself back in Port Harcourt.

My father used to be Controller of Customs in 1979 and I found myself in Okrika Grammar School.

He chose Okrika Grammar School because of the discipline.

How will you view Gov Amaechi’s Administration even as an insider?

I will say there is something unique about it. I speak now as a Riversman. Let me try to extricate myself from my position in government. It is dynamic, one that has a focus to achieve certain goals and objectives within the shortest possible time.

Revolutionary I must say, the way we find ourselves in government, and one that is bottom up, trying to see how to respond to the rural dwellers. You see, a government that is daring, government that invests substantially in projects that can be vividly seen not just in the state capital. It takes a lot of courage for you to say you want to build roads, primary schools and health centres all over the state simultaneously, it takes a lot of courage because the challenge of ensuring that they are completed on time is there.

Some others would prefer to concentrate on the urban areas because majority of the people reside there and so want people to see those projects. In the process, they neglect rural areas.

If I am to talk about the poor people, the poor people said money is not circulating at all.

Yes, money is not circulating in the sense that most people expect, the usual extravagance that is associated with political system in our part of the world, where monies are liberally released to cronies and political allies perhaps to that dimension. I won’t say the poor people. I must say, the generality of the public because you will notice now that you have a situation where Commissioners are not adding so much weight and those appendages of office, a lot of Commissioners cannot afford that, because we are frugal and so perhaps that is where people may say, oh the government is not throwing money around. This administration is not into wastage. Let me use that word, throwing money here and there, praise singers will be singing the praises of government to the roof tops even when that government is not performing and they will get some amount of money. That is not happening now because this government does not encourage praise singing. This government is tackling the challenges we have faced over the years, by laying the foundation for the future. His Excellency, Governor Amaechi, is injecting a lot tremendously in education, in infrastructure, but the fact that you see some parts of the country being more developed is because of a deliberate effort of visionary leaders. Let me be specific. The Western region now seems to have an advantage in terms of employment in all sectors.

In the bank industry, there is a preponderance of people from that region, in the oil sector you see a large majority of people from that area but we have been disadvantaged, I think we are trying to fill up the gap for the future and so perhaps the flow and direction of funding is not being appreciated, in the short term, but in the long term they will understand.

Let us come back to your Ministry now, how will you want to be remembered after now?

One fundamental challenge with government is sustainability, of ensuring continuity. What we did was perhaps, that may be the reason for which I am always brought back to the Ministry. It is the fact that, we believe that strengthening institutions, the Civil Service is a sector that has not been given the attention it deserves. I believe that, that’s my opinion and I am convinced about that, in-service training has been relegated to the back burners. For so long and we have a pool of professionals in the civil service that we are not utilising.  We work to ensure that there is proper synergy between the civil servants and political office holders to build structures of governance that are sustainable. I want to be remembered as one that created or released the building code which we are working on. We want to address the building code that will regulate housing development in Rivers State, so that, proper standards are maintained and the one that will ensure that, there is orderliness. And one that will permit also professionals from the building community, architects, the engineers and quantity surveyors to be integrated into what government is doing by making them more relevant.

Evolving a housing policy now may be a challenge. To get a housing policy, there must be a foundation and that’s what we are working on. We believe that there is need to build a housing data bank. It will not be one that will cover the entire state, may be one that is confined to 10 km radius. But if you work at the demographic trend, if you, look at the house style, you look at the issues of Land Use and household, that means government is going to the point that says look, we observed that may be in ten years from now we are going to have a certain amount of people and they will live within our city, how do you address the issue of housing need, and that is something that we believe from this year we should work on. We set up a committee last year on the low cost houses; we gave it that nomenclature but it’s not exactly confined to low cost housing. We have about five hundred housing units. How are they? These are housing units that will impact directly on civil servants as well as other Rivers people. We need to ascertain the proper allotees, because they have been occupied by criminals and hooligans. We need to bring to the fore the importance of completing the projects, like the Igbo-Etche estate, we have low cost houses built by the administration of Dr. Peter Odili, commenced and constructed. They are at various levels of completion. There are over 3,700 of such houses in all the 23 Local Government Areas of the state.

A committee is taking a compendium of the allotees, who are the contractors, how much have they been paid. It also extends to what you have at Sangana Street which we call Orojie housing estate, and Oromenike housing estate, the one you have on Wogu Street. We are not even ending there, Creek Road, Bonny Street, Aggrey Road estates as well, so I believe that the legacy I can leave behind is getting these issues sorted out so that the real owners of such houses can take possession, so that the state can recoup its expenses. We believe and we hope that before I leave, we can fast-track this.

To come up with that report we also set up an Eviction Committee. We have asked the Ministry of Urban Development to head it. Because they have the personalities in their system, Nigeria Police are also part of the Committee, the Ministry of Justice, the report of the Low Cost Committee and the Eviction Committee we will implement it. They are far reaching.

We want to ensure those genuine allotees will be given opportunities to occupy their houses. We want to ensure that those who have never received allocations from government will be given opportunity and it shouldn’t be something that will fall within the circle of politicians. I’m very emphatic about that, I don’t have one allocation and my relatives may not have the opportunities to have one. And how can we get the Rivers people who are not so financially buoyant and who may not compete with other ethnic groups to take advantage of the opportunities is a big challenge. We believe that the houses should be sold at their level of completion whatever stage they are. Now they were supposed to be sold at subsidized rates. Two bedroom apartment in various blocks with living room and other facilities, that is what we refer to as low cost houses in all local governments.

Now, the administration of Dr. Odili believed that it should be subsidised, at N1.5 million if a house is at 50 percent completion, we believed then it should go for N750,000. If it is at floor level, it should go for about N75,000, that way our people will be able to have access to them, then complete them, I’m trying to ensure that, civil servants are also given the opportunity on owner occupier basis. We are trying to see that whatever housing programme we want to embark on, even if it is through Public Private Partnership (PPP), Mortgage element, will be such that is of benefit to our people. Now we also set up a committee on Housing Authority. What has been happening to all our housing schemes. Why is it that, the play ground where our youths initially referred to as restive are now referred to as militants were all converted to other purposes. Why are our estates that are supposed to be neighbourhood that will foster proper interpersonal relations and also provides for recreational facilities, that will also help us reduce stress be turned to something else? What has been the mode of the deduction of the National Housing Scheme? Why are we not benefiting from the Federal Housing Authority scheme, why is it that our own is always different? These are the issues, it should not be considered as confrontational, but we believe that is important that we resolve the issues. I want to be able to resolve these issues as much as possible before I leave. We want to have a compendium of all the houses that Rivers State Government under my Ministry ever had, so that we can have a data bank. What is the state of affairs of those houses, who are the occupants? What is the status? This will also extend to finding out what is the funding. That committee is a very important committee. The Ministry of Justice is there, it is an inter-ministerial committee, and we also have the labour.

We have the chairman of NLC who, nominated somebody to represent the interest of the workers, because this programme is geared towards the benefit of those who have been putting in so much energy to move the state forward.

You are having a third stint as the Commissioner for Housing and just as you said, a lot of people will be expecting there will be an estate here, there will be one there, people want to see these estates, but they won’t understand that there are things, you are doing to ensure proper implementation, how do you feel, how do you explain this to the public?

There are a lot of houses that can be made available in the pool, it is important that we look at the direction of government, not only at the state level, national level but even globally.

Governments globally have challenges with providing social houses, there is no society even the advanced one that has been able to cater for the housing needs of all the people. If you go to the United States for example, in New York, there are a lot of homeless people. They live on the streets. We thank God that ours is not as deplorable as that. Going by our culture, you can go back to the village, you have a relative you can attach to. However, we believe that with what we are doing, like I pointed out earlier, government may be informed of the need to build more estates.

As you know currently, the policy of this administration is the public private sector partnership. In housing, our challenge is the fact that most prospective investors want to recoup their investment as fast as possible. It is a sector that we believe, that eventually, government will have to have a total look at. We have a concept which we believe, we will develop. We believe that housing needs cannot be addressed entirely by government. Private sector element is required. But also we have three tiers of governments, we have the local councils, we have the state and we have the federal.

We are looking at the issue of having a better relationship with the national level. At the national level, you have the federal Ministry of Works, Housing and Urban Development, and Environment, all merged up. We want to see how the federal housing scheme will work properly here. Rivers State Government previously, the previous administration bought what we refer to as Eleme garden, big expanse of uncompleted houses of about 252 housing units, an appendage to that was 49 hectares.

Practically, the federal government is not investing in Rivers State, perhaps because we have not been so forceful, we are going to address the challenge and task the federal government to come and develop the 49 hectares, because they said it is not part of the original purchase and they said they also have to manage the facilities so we are trying to see at the federal level how they can invest more and how we can harness it.

At the state level, I know that this current administration will embark on what we refer to as the prototype housing estate for the low and medium level bracket. This is already provided for in the 2010 budget proposal we sent to the House of Assembly. In Diobu, we believe that we will embark on initially 700 housing units, one and three bedroom apartments, it will not be overpopulated, it’s just a prototype district for the housing renewal programme and it will also have eleven storey building with a ground floor. The issue of management, we have considered that. There will be a management training programme, Rivers indigenes will be trained to manage the estate, a three management arrangement with the prospective developers and that is going to be done by government directly.

Is that  a PPP arrangement?

We as a Ministry are not directly in the Rainbow-First Bank arrangement, but we believe the programme will be geared towards affordability. For me, that is my watch word. The Diobu estate for example, the maximum cost for a unit and referred to as high rise which we refer to as opulent, because it will be fully furnished like what you have at Eastern Bypass will not exceed ten million naira and we hope there will be a mortgage element.

When it comes to PPP, you know you have the Greater Port Harcourt, we only sit on the board. The Greater Port Harcourt intends to embark on housing programmes, which by virtue of my presence on the board, we hope will be affordable and within reach, and that’s where the mass housing concept comes in, using technology that will be affordable and most cost effective. We also hope that, the local governments will begin to see the need to invest in houses to check the challenges of rural-urban drift.

Hon. Commissioner, just a clarification on what you said about the prototype housing estate, when do you intend to complete it?

 The completion is a legacy. The fundamental thing for government is to give a direction. We are not in a dictatorship where a government believes that it is best suited to manage affairs. We can ensure that governance continues to flow. Don’t forget that this administration inherited many programmes from the immediate past Celestine Omehia’s government, there is a continuity. A programme of that nature may not be concluded by this administration. We do intend to commence this year, with what is provided for in our proposal. I believe that at the executive level, we have no problem. The other housing type are three storey building. Don’t forget there had been a lot of piling work to be done at that place, because of the soil type and the water table is very high. But we believed that a substantial amount will be made available and our target is that 50 percent of the project will be achieved within the tenure of this administration.

To be continued