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Civil Servants And Govt Housing Policy

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Tonye Fuayefika

Previous governments in Rivers State, in their efforts to provide accommodation for the populace and embrace the global policy on Urban Housing Renewal Scheme, built low-cost houses at Ndoki, and Marine Base Waterfronts as a test case. The Marine Base Waterfront Housing Scheme was divided into three phases. As a follow-up of past government‘s effort, the Sam Ewang administration, embarked on the Igbo-Etche Housing Scheme, while the Peter Odili administration embarked on the construction of 1,000 housing units across the twenty-three local government areas of the state.

The original intention of government was to build and sell these houses to civil servants and other indigenes to alleviate the acute accommodation problem in the state. Accordingly, the Ndoki, Aggrey Road, and Marine Base (Phase 1) Waterfronts houses were sold out on owner-occupier basis, the Igbo-Etche. The 1,000 housing units built by the Odili administration also followed the same concept of owner-occupier basis.

In June 1996, seventy semi-detached two-bedroom flats constructed by the Ada George administration in 1993 were completed at the Marine Base Housing Estate (Phase II). Fifty of the flats were allocated to senior civil servants as official quarters, while the remaining twenty flats were given to the University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt. This marked a drastic shift from the original policy to sell the houses on owner-occupier basis.

It is pertinent to point out that the Komo administration, in order to hurriedly complete the houses at the (Phases II) of the estate before leaving office, pressurised the contractors and so left many works uncompleted. Most of the houses did not have all the fixtures and fittings required. For instance, the road and gutter in lane one (opposite the Marine Base plank shed) and the main drainage for the estate were not constructed, while the transformer for the estate was not supplied. Twenty flats were connected to two or three shallow soakaways.

Tell-tale signs of leaking and broken ceilings, broken louvre blades, brought about by corroded and ill-fitted louvre frames, peelings, cracking and depressing floors, and dust from termite-eaten woods abound in most flats, which shows the low-quality materials and poor workmanship of the buildings. Even, necessary amenities such as portable water, central refuse receptacle, fence-wall and play ground for the comfort of residents of the estate were not provided for in the physical structures.

So also, past governments failed to register the allottees with NEPA. So the allottees were forced by NEPA to register with them and pay for new metres which unfortunately, had then risen to N25,000 per meter. The brunt of the above problem was borne by the allottees as several letters written to government did not yield any fruit.

Compared to other waterfront estates, the Marine Base (Phase II) estate was built on a very low, marshy, saline soil. No sand-filling was done. Apart from the buildings being hastily carried out, workmanship too was very poor. Workers waded through two to three feet deep of water to carry out construction work, and the porousness and mashiness of the soil has caused the buildings to crack in some flats. Right now, the houses are fast deteriorating and dilapidating, and the allottees have taken up the responsibility of maintaining the houses at their own expense, in addition to paying high rents to government.

Findings have revealed that from inception to this moment successive governments have not done any maintenance or renovation work on the said buildings. It was the allottees who took the onerous burden upon themselves to put in fittings and fixtures not provided by government. The policy implementation of owner-occupier principle will definitely justify all financial obligations made by the allottees concerning the maintenance of the buildings.

The population of Port Harcourt is increasing by the days hence, the need to embark on more new housing estates for the populace. Revenue derivable from the sales of flats in the Marine Base Estate (Phase II) will enable government to embark on the building of more estates to meet the ever-increasing housing needs of the state.

Already, the allottees have registered with the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) scheme which entitled them to housing loan at the eventual release of the houses in view. The policy implementation of owner- occupier principles as pronounced in the allocation of the Phase III of the Marine Base Housing Unit, should also apply to the Phase II of the same estate.

It is a known fact that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a civil servant to build a house from his monthly salary. Thus, frustration arising from homelessness has sent many civil servants to a terrible life and untimely death. And since shelter is undoubtedly the third most important thing after air and food. The Rivers State government should consider the implementation of the Federal Government’s “Monetisation” Policy for Rivers state workers. This will definitely lesson the burden of the resident occupants of Phase II, and make their eventual retirement in service a worth while dream.

Fuayefika wrote in from Port Harcourt.

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Opinion

Dimensions To Nigeria’s Food Crisis

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Going by statements credited to Nigeria’s Vice President, Senator Kashim Shettima, that “some people are working to undermine the efforts of the President Bola Tinubu administration”, especially with regard to the rapidly rising costs of food items across the country, one begins to worry if the trend of economic difficulties that began since 2015, will ever be reversed, or at least be halted. 2015 was the year the All Progressives Congress party took over governance in Nigeria, led by former President Muhammadu Buhari.According to national media reports, Vice President Shettima had used the opportunity at a conference on Public Wealth Management which held in Abuja, to reveal the discovery of “32 illegal routes,” in Illela Local Government Area (LGA) of Sokoto state, through which smugglers freight commodities out of the country. The VP also disclosed that “45 trucks loaded with maize were intercepted while making their way to neighbouring countries at midnight on Sunday.”
While the discovery of 32 smuggling routes in one Local Government Area, (LGA) of Sokoto state alone is startling, it is disheartening to realise that the state has five other border LGAs where similar things happen – Gudu, Tangaza, Gada, Sabon Birni and Isa – and worse still, considering that apart from Sokoto, states like Kebbi, Zamfara, Katsina, Jigawa, Yobe and Borno all lie along Nigeria’s porous 1,608km border with Niger. The interception of 45 trucks in just a night in one LGA, makes unimaginable the enormity of the number of truckloads of food items leaving this country daily.The unpatriotic priority of supplying Niger Republic, even at the risk of smuggling across terrorist-infested borders, against pressing domestic demands, is another reason for concern, and puts to scrutiny the efficiency and patriotism of our border control personnel towards implementing extant government policies. How long has this been going on, or was it a recent development?
Or was it the result of calculated distraction from political antagonists to frustrate the present administration, as the VP tried to paint it? His picture looks appealing when correlated with the recent spike in the price of cement, especially. But how come it was the vice president who stole the show of making the revelation public, instead of the intercepting agencies? It is expected that the federal agencies whose duty it is to secure borders should have been proud to parade and announce such achievements to showcase the essence of their establishment. And from Mr Vice President, who went short of naming the culprits, but rather alluded to “knowing the consequences of revealing the masquerade”, many would have preferred he damned those consequences by revealing particulars, otherwise many are tempted to perceive him as merely propagandising facts in the face of a national crisis.
However, while pondering the above worries, it would be worthwhile to review the changing political and economic landscapes inside and outside Nigeria since 2015, to find out factors that might have been at play. Hitherto, Nigeria had enjoyed free, cross-border movements of goods and persons with Cameroon, Chad and with its Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) neighbours up until May 2015, when President Muhammadu Buhari came to power. These movements supported transverse trades up to Mali, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic and as far as Lybia. By July of 2015 the Buhari’s administration, poised to enforce home-grown production, had imposed cross-border restrictions, a situation that became more stringent following the COVID-19 pandemic lock-downs of 2020.
On the other hand, nationalist uprising in eastern Cameroon from 2016 culminated to the 2019 Ambazonian separatist movement that ever since, pitched the ‘amba boys’ in gorilla warfare with Cameroonian authorities. Buhari’s government corresponded with Cameroon to tighten border restrictions on both sides. For every step of restriction, commodity prices responded in increase, both in Nigeria and across the borders, increasing the inducement for smuggling, no thanks to porous borders and the usual “pay and pass” atmosphere. Border bribes get higher with restrictions, reflecting on costs as goods flow across. Nigeria, being a huge source of farm products, and for a long time a source of subsidised petroleum products, fed scarcities that intensified many miles off its borders. Accompanying and aiding smuggling was heightened islamists influx into Nigeria from the Sahel.
Greater numbers of maraudering Islamist gangs from Mali, Niger, Chad and the Central African Republic, acting either criminally on their own, or on brotherhood solidarities in the ethno-religious, farmers-herders or political conflicts in Nigeria, attack and plunder agricultural settlements. It has degenerated to current general insecurity, spate of kidnappings, and rapidly rising food prices. The spread of inflation across border was aided by the coup of August 18, 2020 in Mali, to which ECOWAS responded with economic sanctions. Mali with no direct border with Nigeria, has short connections through south-western Niger Republic. The overall game changer dawned since February 24, 2022 with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, followed by October last year’s out-break of Israel vs Hamas war in the Middle East. Ever since, global supply chains of grains, energy and raw materials have remained disrupted, shooting up everything from transportation costs to the value of foreign currencies.
Subsidy removal shocks on Nigeria’s poor transportation infrastructure, a sector daily threatened by insecurity, meant it was becoming more expensive to businesses in the north, compared to shorter cross-border routes which, in addition present prospects of higher gains. This becomes more obvious considering that the distance from Gboko in Benue to Bamenda in Cameroon is 443.7 Km, while from same Gboko to Lagos it is 795.9 Km, and 538.5 Km to Port Harcourt. Yola in Adamawa to Touruo in Cameroon is 229.5 Km, but it is 879.1 Km to Calabar and a staggering 1,327.4 Km to Lagos. Meanwhile, Illela in Sokoto can be crossed on bike or donkey into Birnin Konni, 5Km into Niger Republic, while the distance from Kano to Maradi in Niger is 268.2 Km, Kano to Abuja, 432 Km, and 992.2 Km to Lagos. Birnin Kebbi in Nigeria is 395.6 Km to Niger’s capital, Niamey, while being 658.4 Km off Nigeria’s, Abuja. In fact, smugglers utilise shorter segments, like in case of Illela to Konni, for higher round-trips.
According to reports, the amount of cross-border trades currently going-on across the Niger border is to the tune of N13 billion weekly, on items ranging from kusus, local flour, onions, tomatoes, pepper, potatoes, millet, maize, rice, jewelries to livestock, from which Nigeria losses revenues. The juntas in Niamey and Bamako, for all their militantness and recent pull-out from ECOWAS, let the illicit trades thrive. All these put together, it is easy to figure out the underlying factors to Nigeria’s economic woes, and to relate patterns with insecurity – Nigeria’s very porous borders have become more attractive in the face of rising haulage costs, as much as agro-production outputs are declining due to insecurity.The situation therefore calls for drastic measures to curb insecurity, transportation costs and smuggling, while massively investing in production. Even if it takes the tactics of ancient cities whose domains had to be walled-off with fortifications to achieve internal control and protection.
Yes, the flux across Nigeria’s 1,608 Km porous border with Niger Republic can, and should be checked with perimeter fortifications punctuated with approved access stations, and manned with surveillance technologies. Nigeria should also do same along its 809 Km border with Benin Republic and the 1,975 Km with Cameroon. With security concerns now gulping over N3.2 trillion in the 2024 national budget, a trillion Naira out of that bulk would fortify more than one flank of the borders to give our security personnel, beset by attack-and-withdrawal terrorists, a better chance at ending insecurity, and the border agencies, no excuses in discharging duties.

Joseph Nwankwo

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Opinion

Strengthening African Value System

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Africans are known over the years for sharing cherished values. Some of the values are but not limited to: hospitality, brotherliness and unity. These and some other features drive communalism for which Africans are loved. Rugged individualism is alien to traditional Africans but can be found among those influenced by the Western culture. “The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian, the highest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless”, according to Billy Graham, a 21st century foremost Evangelist and hero of the Christian faith who was at forefront of the titanic struggles for the soul of Christianity. The amount of influence a person has  on  his neighbour, family and society is the result of the positive impact he or she made  on them. Life is all about people we positively impacted and not how much wealth we have inordinately acquired. It is not how much money one has in his or her bank account, it is not the fleet of cars a person is able to acquire, it is not  landed property a person has neither is it the number of children nor the fame a person has achieved nor is it academic degrees.
While these are good if legitimately acquired, they are not what life really is. The very essence of life is captured in the multi-million dollar question Jesus asked, for which every person is required to honestly, conscientiously and thoughtfully give answer to. And the question is: What shall it profit a person if he gains the whole world and loses his or her soul? What shall a person give in exchange of his or her soul? Similarly, the lyrics of a stanza of a popular hymn, titled “Fading Away like the stars in the morning” says: Only the truth that in life we have spoken; Only the seed that on earth we have sown; These shall pass on when we are forgotten…..The selfish, self-centred and greedy have never found true peace of mind and joy because they are never satisfied. They always crave for more even at the expense of others’ entitlements.
John L. Mason in one of his best seller leadership nuggets said, “What you give lives. A good way to judge a man is by what he says. A better way is by what he does. The best way is by what he gives”. “ The secret to living”, says Charles Spurgeon, “is giving”.Whatever God does in your life is not so you can keep it to yourself. He wants you to give to others.  According to Eleanor Roosevelt, “When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die. Giving is always the thermometer of our life. Getters don’t get happiness. Givers get it. When you live for another, it is the best way to live for yourself”. Bible Saint Paul told his spiritual son, Timothy, “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Timothy 6: 6, 7). This wise saying of Paul further underscores the folly of building one’s life on materialism.
A Swiss’ words on marble say: A greedy person and a pauper are practically one in the same. G. D. Bordmen said, “The law of the harvest is to reap more than you sow”. It is a truism that no person leaves this world with a piece of anything he or she has acquired. This is because the immaterial world does not condone materialism. Materials are earthly so have no place in the spiritual realm or the realm of the supernatural. This why great men live their lives for God and humanity. Philanthropy and human-centred services are the bedrock of life. Social application of the gospel gives the word a human face. Great men that have passed on, placed value and emphasis on building or positively impacting humanity than embarking on self centred activities which are counter-productive and meaningless.After repenting from materialism and sin dominated life, the Bible King Solomon wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes: I have seen all the works that are done under the sun, and behold all is vanity and vexation of spirit (1: 14). I made me great works; I builded me houses, I planted me vineyards:
I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees. I got me servants and maidens and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: I gathered me also silver and gold and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces; I gat me men singers and women singers…so I was great and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem…And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy, for my heart rejoiced in all my labour…Then I looked on all the works that my hand had wrought, and the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun (2: 4—11).
Secular humanists do not see life from the perspective of making others happy because most of them take delight in the pains and suffering of others. They rather believe in living for themselves and families even if it means denying others what belongs to them and “robbing Peter to pay Paul”. Those who are spiritually minded and eternity-conscious are service driven and philanthropic. Sadism is a function of greed and selfishness. Not feeling the pain of the whip on someone else’s back, is the height of callousness.  If rich people, especially those holding public offices, should invest the public money stashed away in foreign banks in the less privileged in our society, the untold hardship people are passing through will be greatly cushioned.  A candle loses nothing lighting others. The rich should not be high minded, rather they should be challenged by the humanitarian services of others.No person takes anything out of this world at death, believe it or not.

Igbiki Benibo

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Opinion

Nigeria And Echoes Of Socrates On Democracy 

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Socrates (469-399BC), the Greek philosopher and political sage of Athenian descent, was critical of the ways in which his fellow Athenians operated under the then novel  concept, ‘democracy’. Though Socrates was not  necessarily critical of democracy itself, he was worried about its likely outcomes in the future. His criticism indicated that he wanted this mode of decision making and governance to be operated with utmost care. Addressing his audience on the then novel concept, Socrates said thus inter alia: “Thieves and fraudsters will want important government functions, and democracy will give it to them, when thieves and fraudsters finally democratically take authority because criminals and evil doers want power, there will be worse dictatorship than in the time of any monarchy or oligarchy”.
The above brief deposition on democracy is segmented into four parts that yield to critical analysis. The segments are (1) “Thieves and fraudsters will want important government functions”; (2) “democracy will give it to them”. (3) “When they finally democratically take authority because criminals and evil doers want power”; (4) “There will be worse dictatorship than in the time of any monarchy and oligarchy”.   This piece interrogates contemporary Nigeria with special reference to  the essence of democracy and power politics from the prism of these segments of Socrates’ perception of democracy. It is with trepidation that one reflects on the above centuries’ old saying vis-a-vis the reality of contemporary Nigeria with special reference to the Fourth Republic. With the prophetic exactitude of the averment for Nigeria, one could have sworn that Socrates looked into a giant celestial crystal ball for the then non-existent most populous nation in negrodom, perched on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea.
Five months into office as President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Evan Enwerem was removed from office as a result of duplicity of names, fraudulent educational records, concealment of criminal records, etc. It was also during the same period that “Toronto” entered the lexicon of Nigerian politics, not as the name of a major city in a country in North America but as euphemism for certificate forgery. Incidentally and interestingly, the political head of Salisu Buhari rolled in that episode. He was later pardoned and reintegrated into the political fold through a political appointment. Today, public office holders who can, with every sense of responsibility, be justifiably referred to as “thieves and fraudsters” have finally taken authority. How else do we describe those with forged educational and birth certificates other than “thieves”?
Or how else do we describe those who deliberately manipulated the democratic process by hacking into voting machines and altering voting figures other than “fraudsters”? And how do you describe those who brazenly and audaciously grabbed, snatched and ran away with ballot papers and boxes into the “bush” other than “criminals and evil doers”?   Socrates’ crystal ball certainly zeroed in on the futuristic Nigeria and we are all living in that future because all of the above have happened in Nigeria during the 25 years of the Fourth Republic. Hitherto esteemed eggheads have tainted the Ivory Tower by their inordinate quest for ignominious pecks;  the judge’s gavel has morphed into auctioneer’s hammer thereby enfeebling the justice delivery system, the last bastion of hope of the citizen against the Leviathan. The moral fabric of the nation has been swept under the carpet and stench of technicalities.
Sprouting at the heels of the Hobbesian state of nature, when “life was nasty, brutish and short”, monarchies and oligarchies were  characterised with unbridled use of power that degenerated into dictatorship. It is, therefore, very worrisome to note that Socrates envisaged that  “there will be worse dictatorship than in the time of any monarchy or oligarchy”. This is where the Socrates’ averment under reference becomes ominous.   The trending phrase of defiance “Go to court”, is reflective of a compromised judiciary and the hopelessness of the concept of rule of law in the Nigerian social milieu. How this will pan out regarding social order vis-a-vis lawlessness remains a subject of serious concern for social critiques. Given the proliferation of assault rifles in every nook and cranny of Nigeria, what is very likely in the not-too-distant future is that when the seed of disregard for law and order, which we have sown, germinates, government will depart from the democratic ideals of governance.
They will, inevitably, degenerate into dictatorship that may be worse than what obtained during the immediate post-Hobbesian monarchies and oligarchies; this will be necessitated by the need for government to use sufficient force to contain the lawlessness in the land and the resultant threat to peace. Political Science 101 teaches that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.  At this point, there will be justification for the utilisation of extreme force to deal with the dire realities of the extreme situation. There and then, there will be absolute power that will birth dictatorship worse than what obtained “in the time of any monarchy or oligarchy”. No wonder it is said that since Socrates, no one has said anything new.  At the point of the groundswell crises implied above and with powers reminiscent of the absolute powers associated with post-Hobbesian monarchies and oligarchies, Nigerian political leaders are acting like drunken captains of a sinking ship.
With the judicial delivery system sweeping the moral fabric of the nation under the filthy and nauseating carpets of technicalities, Nigeria is consistently and insidiously slipping down a slippery economic slope; and will speedily slide down the precipice of disintegration, if care is not taken. Socrates was right: democracy has given “thieves and fraudsters important government functions” in Nigeria because “criminals and evil doers” adorned in tainted wigs and gowns “want (financial) power”; and now, “dictatorship worse than in the time of any monarchy or oligarchy” is afoot. The tragedy is that, dazed in the hoodwink of religious bigotry, regionalism and ethnocentrism, Nigerians are stupefied and confused; and they are watching helplessly while morally stinking and sticky-fingered scoundrels in every sector of the economy  are sinking the ship of the state. God help us all.

Jason Osai
Prof. Osai is of Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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