Our Legacy To Akwa Ibom Will Run For 100 Years -Enoidem
13 Jun 2009
Emmanuel Enoidem is the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Housing and Urban Renewal. In this interview with Deputy Editor Sam Akpe he spoke on the state government's social and economic contract with the people. Excerpts.
People believe the Ministry of Housing and Urban Renewal was created to give jobs to 'the boys.' What's on the ground so far?
There are many things on the ground. This is the first time in the history of the state that we have a full-fledged Ministry of Housing and Urban Renewal. Before now, the Ministry of Housing was an appendage of another ministry. That means the governor has decided to bring the issue of housing to the front burner of his administration. So, when we came in and met a fresh ministry, we needed to lay a foundation for it. Then we proceeded to establish some departments. In the ministry we have eight directorates vested with different responsibilities. The first and most challenging work we have done is the construction of a new government house for Akwa Ibom State.
There was one before you arrived the scene.
We met a dilapidated government house. One that was going down. That had eight major cracks that ran from the roof to the foundation (with) 18 major leakages. We met a government house that was an object of extreme ridicule as a result of continuous penetration of water from the roof to the foundation. And of course, four years before we came in, the former governor had already embarked upon a comprehensive programme to renovate the government house. So, we inherited those details. When we look into the technical analysis brought by the technical department of the ministry and the consultants, all the result we got was that it was not advisable to embark on renovation. So, as a ministry we now advised the governor in council that since the cost of renovation and building of a new one was very close, just a difference of N500 million, we recommended a new lodge to be built. It was not just the lodge; we recommended that we should bring in other projects that would complement the lodge. So we brought in a government house clinic for the first time; we brought in an office extension that would enable the governor work at night and receive people. We brought in a CSO quarters and a Church. Those were the components. We also needed to take care of the threatening ravine. We are giving to Akwa Ibom State, a legacy that will last for hundreds of years. Apart from the lodge, we also inherited dilapidated government guesthouses. But now, they have been comprehensively turned around. We also met the liaison office in Abuja, which was about 65 per cent completed and we have completed it. The Le Meridian Hotel, this government met it uncompleted, but today, my ministry has completed that hotel of 153 rooms. It is a 5-star hotel.
Speculations are that you are spending too much on this project. It is not just the lodge. We need to bring in a water treatment plant; it had never existed in that place before. We need to bring in other facilities. There were five different components of the contract in that project; the lodge was only one of them. Of course, a lot was done by turn-key. The builder designs it, builds it, and furnishes it; that is what we mean by turn-key. So, it was not only the structure of the lodge, the furnishing is also part of it.
Give us an idea of the structure. We have reinforced the foundation; it is a concrete foundation. The entire building is reinforced concrete. The first and second decking are all reinforced concrete. Whatever you are seeing here; the aluminum roof is just decorative, otherwise the entire building is concrete. We have given to the state a legacy that will run for hundreds of years.
How much will the entire concept cost? With this addition of the chapel; with the addition of the fence, because we want to add the fence, then the road; we are re-directing the road also. We will raise it to about N8 billion. Rivers State had a similar idea, go and find out the cost. Bayelsa also built one; go and find out the cost. It is not anything compared to what we are doing. So, that is part of our achievement and the lodge, the whole complex; the government house complex, the office extension, the chapel, the water treatment plant; every facility and infrastructure in that environment will be completed by the end of July to be fully delivered in about a year and three months. It is almost completed. We had plans to open it on May 29 but for the additional work.
Let us be specific about Uyo and erosion. When you talk about urban renewal, what are you renewing? Strictly speaking, erosion control is the responsibility of the Ministry of Environment. But because this is a government, we are working as a team at the ministerial level. There is an erosion control master plan; one is around the secretariat. Another is the area where we are going to build the Tropicana now. So, those ones are going to be fully developed and by the time they are, I am sure all the erosion menace in Uyo will be under control.
The issue of housing in Uyo started under Attah's administration. What are you doing to ensure that the ordinary people can afford the houses? That is why the governor did not want to hurry into the construction of housing estates because when we came and took a survey of the market, we found out that the prevailing cost of a typical 3-bedroom flat was above the capability of the average Akwa Ibom person. So, we needed to go down to the basics, begin to strategise to see how best to come out with something. We have completed plans to bring up the first batch of 1,500 housing units that will cut across Ikot Ekpene, Uyo, Eket; senatorial districts; and the houses are going to be built on owner-occupier basis. We are going to give people the opportunity to indicate the kind of houses they want; 2-bedroom, 3-bedroom, semi-detached bungalow, etc. These are housing units that will serve the different strata of the citizenry of the state. And we have also tried to adopt some engineering measures that will bring down the cost of the building. A 3-bedroom flat in the market today can go for N8 to N12 million, depending on the location and the facilities available. But we are trying to, as much as possible, make sure that we complete a 3-bedroom flat under N6 million.
Does that mean putting up inferior structures? No, no. It means a closer scrutiny. It means cutting down on the profit margin. If the profit margin used to be 40 per cent, we have to bring it down to 20 per cent. That will save us a whole lot of money. It means government is going to buy cement in bulk. These are the measures we are planning to adopt to enable us keep the price of the buildings as low as possible. We are not going to compromise on quality, we are not going to compromise on durability, and we are not going to compromise on aesthetics because the governor is a man of taste. When we came in, we discovered that local government chairmen were staying in the urban centres and the excuse was security and lack of adequate accommodation in their domain. So, we decided to build some nine buildings for them. We intend to put the chairman there, the vice-chairman, the secretary to the local government, the head of legislature, we will put the DPO, DCO, Head of Works, and we will put the SSS man. It is going to be a kind of a security estate; these people are going to be there. We will provide electricity and infrastructure that will make life comfortable. The purpose is so that we constrain local government chairmen to live in their domain. As I am talking to you, contracts have been awarded for these housing estates for all the 31 local government areas in Akwa Ibom State.
Can you explain more on the building of housing estates at senatorial districts? When we say senatorial districts, we are talking in terms of the local governments that make up these districts. There is no way it will be possible for us to go to all the local governments because we want to have standard modern estates. So, we go to Ikot Ekpene; we go to Uyo, which is the headquarters of Uyo Senatorial District; then of course, Eket which is the headquarters of Eket senatorial district. The population concentration in these three towns is more than any other local government area in Akwa Ibom State. We are beginning from there, but we are not going to end there. Don't forget also that we inherited some mini-housing estates. There is one that has 50 housing units each in each of local government and the information we have from those local governments is that those houses were not properly utilised. Some of them were not properly located. The planners did not take into consideration the end users so most of them were abandoned until this administration came and devised some means and went back to buy in. But most of them are still wasting away.
Most of the houses are usually bought in bulk by the millionaires and then sold or rented out at exorbitant rates to ordinary people. What is government doing to check that? That is why I was telling you that the kind of housing estates we are going to build are going to be on owner-occupier basis. The designs are ready. We are talking about a capitalist system; we are not a socialist state. But we are trying to go round it to ensure that those tendencies are brought to the barest minimum because if you are a public servant for instance, and you are interested in the houses we are going to build, you will give us the indication even at the time we are laying foundation for the building that you are interested. We are going to have that kind of arrangement. You will tell us you are interested in this kind of building in this location and we are going to facilitate an arrangement that will enable you get a loan to buy into the housing estate we are going to construct. Nobody will come using you as a surrogate to buy the property on your behalf when you do not have a house. Those are the guarantees we are trying to put in place.
Governor Godswill Akpabio and people like you have been accused of running a government of construction, not a government of investment. They say government is building houses, hotels, airports, etc, but not interested in things that will empower the people so that they themselves can benefit from these structures. We operate a civil service state and in any economy, anywhere in the world, the private sectors are the economy drivers. There must be some infrastructure that must be put in place before we can talk about development of the economy. For instance, we must have airports; we must have good roads; we must have good accommodation. You are asking investors to come to your state, where will they stay? They must be accommodated. They must be given a proper environment- security wise. They must be given decent accommodation; otherwise, we are wasting our time. I don't know what industry we are going to establish in Akwa Ibom State that will not be patronised by the people who have money and are coming from outside. You can lure those people with decent and secure environment; good roads, good infrastructure, good power generating system. That is what this government is trying to do. This present government wants to establish good infrastructure development in Akwa Ibom State. Once that is done, the economic sector will be opened up. One of the things we came to do in Abuja was to have a meeting of the Technical Implementation Committee of the envisaged seaport that this present government is trying to revive. Once this seaport is opened, not less than 50,000 jobs will be created for Akwa Ibom people. It is going to be the kind of seaport that will have a minimum of five to 10 industries of international standing that will spring up: refineries and allied oil related industries. That is what this government is trying to do. And of course, we cannot talk about such international investments without an airport. We can't talk about it without good hotels, resource centres, and recreation facilities. Any body that says this government is not one of investment is telling a lie.
Why is government involved in Tropicana? Like I told you, there must be an intervention. When you are developing a state and if the people around you do not have the capabilities, then government gets involved. For instance, the state government has no business to develop housing estates but people expect the government to do it. It is never the responsibility of government; whether local, state or federal, to go into housing development. All the government is supposed to do is provide the enabling environment, provide land. But if we continue like that then most people will never have houses. So, we are saying that the Tropicana is a tourist facility (infrastructure) and every government the world over is moving away from mono-programmes to multi-programmes. Akwa Ibom State must move away from total dependence on oil to other areas that can generate money. One that is very ready and also of comparative advantage is tourism. We have the Ibom Resort; a world class resort. If we complement that with recreational facilities of international standing like we are doing at the Tropicana, Akwa Ibom will be ready to receive the world. That is the kind of thing we are talking about.
Listening to you it would seem like everything is working well. Finance is one of our major problems. We also have the attitude of the people; this pull-down syndrome. Petitioners are still many in Akwa Ibom State. These are some of the major challenges we have.
Some people say that when you talk about the pull-down syndrome, you are referring to those who do not share the same vision with you or those who criticise what you are doing. Let me tell you what I mean. Tropicana is still in its conception; we just got into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the company that was designing it. The next thing we heard was that the governor had paid N20 billion of the total cost of the project. That was last year when the project was still being conceived. Will you call this criticism? When (former) Governor (Victor) Attah was conceiving the Le Meridian Hotel, some people were saying Akwa Ibom State does not need a 5-star hotel; that was in 2004. Will you call that criticism? Government must welcome some criticism. A democratic government receives, with open arms, some opposition. But when you go to the extent of lies, I don't know what other name to call it.
When do you think we will arrive at a point where there will be unanimity of purpose and vision in your state? The foundation has been laid on concrete by the present administration. Do you know what brings division? It is injustice; when you treat equals unequally, when as a leader you are promoting clannish issues, when you take part of the state you are supposed to be administering to be a common constituency to you. What brings division is lopsided employment opportunities given to the people; when as a leader you treat a section of the state as if it is better than the other. Those are the things that bring division and insecurity. But this present administration has demonstrated in no uncertain terms that it is now time to bury clannish tendencies, nepotism, tribalism, and build everything that keeps us united. That is what he is doing in terms of the way infrastructure is being spread in the state. This government has come out to revisit those areas of injustice that people have pointed out. This government has come to demonstrate that it is not the law that the Secretary to the State Government must come from where the governor comes from. These are the things that have laid a foundation for a new Akwa Ibom State; a new consciousness in unity; in harmony; in the demonstration of real love. That is what the present administration is doing.