We’re Building A World Class Garden City – Cookey-Gam

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No where is the symbolism of democratic rule which
we mark today and the psychic income and democracy dividends it has offered, more visible than in Rivers State where Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi has striven assiduously to turn his vision of a great Rivers State to reality, especially in the development of infrastructure and physical planning?
The Greater Port Harcourt City Development Authority (GPHCDA), the agency set up to build and develop a new and modern Port Harcourt City, is one of the many efforts of the state government to ensure structured development in the building of our dream city.
In this encounter with The Tide  Op-Ed/Features Editor, Victor Tew and Senior Reporter, Enoch Epelle, both of whom were later led on a tour of some GPH projects, the Authority’s Administrator, Dame Aleruchi Cookey-Gam adumbrated GPHCDA’s achievements and challenges.
Excerpts:
As pioneer administrator of Greater Port Harcourt City Development Authority, how has it been?
It has been exciting, rewarding and challenging. It is rewarding in the sense that there are things planned that have come to realities.
So you are convinced that you have achieved quite a lot?
Yes. A lot has come to reality. We have achieved quite a lot in terms of development of the new Port Harcourt City and the provision of infrastructure.
You see, over the years, governments have neglected the responsibility of controlling development plan of Port Harcourt. Developmental plan of Port Harcourt City was not regulated until the present administration led by Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi.  With his developmental vision, he mandated us to do so and build a world class Garden City thriving economically, efficiently and prosperously and assuring its residents a quality of life envied for its peacefulness, comfort and sustainability.  We are still in phase one of the development of the new city.
On April 2, 2009, the Greater Port Harcourt City Development law, establishing the Greater PH City Development Authority came into force.  GPH work was commenced with the design and engineering drawing, followed by construction works on some of the projects.
Who are your partners in this developmental task?
We have both public and private investors. We have joint partnership with Rivers State government and the private sector in the area of development plan. We partner with them in different modules, some with money, and some with goods.  Again, the golf course development has commenced under phase 1b, and it is a joint partnership between the state government and a private investor.  We also have an area for educational layout in the new city which would also accommodate a federal government school now in the drawing board.
What are your challenges so far?
We are always faced with some challenges in terms of financing. We also have the challenge of weather.  It has not been easy especially during rainy seasons.
We also have challenges on the part of delay by contractors, in the area of verification and schedules among others.
Your Authority appears to be involved in some sort of urban development. Don’t you see your functions clashing with those of Rivers State Ministry of Urban Development?
Urban Development Ministry is in-charge of Development in Port Harcourt and parts of Obio/Akpor while the Greater Port Harcourt City Development,  Authority takes care of the designated areas in the new plan covering parts of Port Harcourt, Obio/Akpor, Ikwerre, Etche, Ogu/Bolo,  Oyigbo and Eleme local government areas.
However, we do collaborate with Ministry the of Urban Development in all our compulsory field works in terms of government control, regulation and planning.
We also work out the professional boundaries with the Ministry, and if your application is in the area that falls in Ministry of Urban Development, we refer to the Ministry, and the Ministry also refers any application that falls in our area to us.
How did you come about the Master Plan?
The Master Plan was prepared by a South-African firm. The idea is to bring back the glory of Port Harcourt as a well planned city where we have infrastructural development growing along with the development of the state in a structured manner.
We haven’t planned the city to look like London, Paris or Dubai, but with the vision to build a modern City while controlling the already planned old city for urban growth through strategic planning and de-densification of the old city.
How far has your Authority gone in the implementation of the master plan?
We are in phase 1, the one being implemented now.  But in terms of developmental Control for the GPH areas, we are monitoring and regulating how development would be taking place.  Our staff also work with entire LGAs.
But in terms of new city development area, we are dealing with Phase 1 now.
Also, inspite of what we are doing on phase one 1, we also have some other developing stages like education layout where we are already encouraging development plan.
We have  also mapped out industrial areas to encourage industrial development in Eleme area nearer to the Seaport at Onne.
Only last weekend, we tried to define a big industrial area that can offer opportunity like Trans-Amadi industrial layout in Port Harcourt, along Eleme area.
We have different development plans in different areas, depending on what and how it suits the area for the development plan.
How much has so far been spent on the implementation of the master plan?
In terms of Master Plan, all releases are done on annual basis, and I think up to date, we may have put in about N60 billion.
How has your Authority faired in terms of corporate transparency, especially in compliance with public procurement law?
We, as agency of government, have remained in compliance to public procurement law in all our dealings.
Have land owners in the development areas been compensated?
Most land owners have been compensated for their land, while a few others would soon been compensated. We deal directly with the land owners without going through any agent to avoid any excuses.
On the other hand, we are bringing back Port Harcourt City to its original garden city plan.  We have done a lot of urban renewal; we have opened – up roads to give access to the new areas of development. You can see roads completed and ongoing, linking Elelenwo, Woji and Akpojo areas to the Greater Port Harcourt City area at Eleme and others.
We also have the road that linked the Airport through Obiri-Ikwerre to NTA and Ada George Roads.
We are also developing infrastructure and amenities to tie the new city and old city of Port Harcourt. We also considering traffic in some of the developing areas in the future and we are constructing flyover bridges.
In the past, Port Harcourt was only planned up to GRA and Presidential Hotel, but today Port Harcourt has been expanded to Oyigbo, Etche, Ikwerre, Eleme. But the difference is that the expansions were not planned and there was no consideration on how the city is growing, hence it continued to grow in unstructured manner.
In the new city plan, we have what looks like triangle from the Airport, Refinery Road, Seaport and Old City of Port Harcourt.
Recently, your Authority invited applications from interested members of the public on sale of lands at the greater Port Harcourt area. How are you going to ensure transparency in the process of selecting beneficiaries?
The process of selecting beneficiaries would be very transparent and that would be done in a few weeks time. Honestly the demand is more than the supply.  There are categories of applicants.  And we are going to be fair to all and that is going to be by balloting.
Why can’t some of the projects be taken to the hinter land?
We can. If you watch the way Port Harcourt is growing, you will see that the greater Port Harcourt has a purpose. You see a lot of growth in Eleme, Oyigbo and Etche axis, that is why we, in Greater Port Harcourt decided to control development in those areas. Development is a continuous process as long as people are alive.
If you watch around the world now, most people have come to realise that there is need to take control of how development is growing, like Delta, Kaduna, Lagos, Cross- River, Akwa-Ibom. We can see the difference between areas that are developing and areas that are not and therefore most governments are invested heavily in infrastructure. It has nothing to do with colouration of your party, or for the visioner.
The truth of the matter is that the society need to grow and effective administration must continue to ensure that we take control on how development grows.
If you watch what is happening in Abuja now, you will see that the residential area is fast developing without control.
There is no control in the development of infrastructure in Abuja.
Development is growing faster than the infrastructures that have been put in place.
Are you saying that control is the integral part of development?
Exactly, if you do not control how will you ensure there is discipline.
What we are doing is to ensure that there is control of existing master plan and a new city that will stand the test of time with infrastructures growing along with development.
For example Trans-Amadi layout has gas turbine.  Definitely, it is cheaper for companies that are there to get electricity.  So it connects economic growth.
So if you look at our master plan you will observe that in the residential areas, we have facilities and infrastructures that are planned to boost economic activities, like at Eleme area, we designated industries, we do that to connect the seaport at Onne, for economy and logistic  activities.  So these are the kind of things we are trying to do.
It is important to also note that we work in conjunction with all other departments of government to put everything right before the time, and therefore you can see new roads because the master plan has provided roads to run in the same directions.
So, is we see a new road in the area, we ask the commissioner for work to identity the road, and how it fits into the plan.
In the new development area, we also plan for managing the traffic. We are building bridges not because we don’t know what to do with money but to avoid the kind of traffic problems we have in the city presently.
If you go to the new Port Harcourt City, you will see what we are doing. We have bridges access roads. Water supply, power supply and other projects going on.  Some are completed, while some yet to be completed. By the time all these developments are okay, and people are there, you will see the difference.
By the time people start living there growth will come and the question is: are you ready for the growth when it comes? We calculating this from the projection of the kind of population we would like to have in future.
We don’t want to have the kind problem we are having in Woji area where a lot of people are coming out there.
What about the roads that  are not yet completed, especially the one linking Akpajo?
You should notice what we are doing there.  We are doing bridges there, expanding the roads down to Akpajo. In the next one year, when the road would be completed, houses there would be very expensive.
We plan, we projected, it is not when population has settled, then we now seek for solution, not at all.
We don’t want to dislocate people in future.
So I congratulate the Governor of Rivers State for the vision. It takes a lot of courage and money to do what we are doing now.  But I can assure you that he has committed a lot to make sure that we drive the projects.  It is just that.
We are encouraging the next governor that will come to queue behind the plan and vision of Governor Amaechi. Development will continue, but let us do the right things.

Administrator, GPHCDA, Dame Aleruchi Cookey-Gam explaining a point during the interview
Administrator, GPHCDA, Dame Aleruchi Cookey-Gam explaining a point during the interview