Chat with Commissioner for Social Housing Hon. Edem Okokon Effiom
Could you please take us through the vision of the Ministry of Social Housing in Cross River State?
The vision of Ministry of Social Housing can be divided into three platforms; one is the platform on the part of government intervention in meeting the social needs particularly houses for the core poor; second is working with the NGOs and nongovernmental agencies to provide housing for the core poor; thirdly, also working with the private investors to provide housing facilities for those who can truly afford. Those are the three platforms that the vision of Ministry of Social Housing works upon.
Which one are you working on at the moment?
We are working with the vision of His Excellency, Sen. Prof. Ben Ayade in a form of intervention that seeks to meet the needs of the internally displaced people of Bakassi
What brought about the displacement of the internally displaced people in Bakassi?
This was brought about by the ceding of the Bakassi Peninsula through the International Court of Justice (ICJ) judgement from which we saw a lot of injustice, we saw a lot of fraud for which we think our people were largely short-changed; shortchanged (to the extent that) our hair was being shaved behind us because we were not part of the player. We were not United Nations neither were we Nigerians or Cameroonians. Our people in Cross River State, in Bakassi just had their heads shaved behind them without their consent. This is the injustice we are talking about.
Why has it taken so long for a project of this nature to take effect considering when the ceding of Bakassi took place and now?
I think we should thank His Excellency, Sen. Prof. Ben Ayade because the question you have asked shows the degree of our inhumanity against our fellow human, because a man of this nature who has shown so much care for his people not because he has so much but because he cares so much. Subsequent administrations, mind you most of these people called internally displaced people of Bakassi are not just Cross River only. We have some of them in Bayelsa, people from Ilaje and people in Akwa Ibom. If past governments with so much money at their disposal did not think about the welfare of their people and Cross River State government under the able leadership of Sen. Prof. Ben Ayade is thinking about them, then I think he is a man who has taken so much Nations and Nigeria that drew this first blood but today we are being made to cater for that blood which they drew.
Sir, can we know the partners that have helped your Ministry deliver on this mandate and how effective the partnership has been?
I can truly tell you that the only partner we have is that of God and Sen. Prof. Ben Ayade. No international donor, no partnership with any agency apart from Sen. Prof. Ben Ayade. He is the driver, the dreamer, the visioner of this project. From the conceptual level, he has been the one behind it and all we do as a ministry is to key into his vision to make sure that his vision comes to fruition. He is the originator, the visioner, the dreamer. It is a Cross River State project and so the Federal Government has no hand in it.
What do you consider your biggest challenges and how do you intend to tackle them?
We started overcoming these challenges. One of our biggest challenges is “perception” of this area. It was an area infested by militants. It was infested because people lacked what to do and since we brought this project, a lot of people have been engaged. We have seen a lot of life changing activities. People’s lives have been transformed immensely. You can see it through the number of people working, so when an idle man is engaged, they don’t think about any other evil vices, so what you see is that we have put them to productive use, that is one challenge. Even though we have had a teeming number of them joining us, we still have a small pocket of them who still believe in old ways. Like I earlier said, we have lost a lot of our materials out of theft and this is a very big challenge, we also have the community that are not used to seeing such things and are yet to come to terms with the magnitude of this kind of project. So psychologically and socially, getting them in line to orientate to the vision that is here takes a lot of time; it’s a very huge challenge; and don’t forget another great challenge is the paucity of funds. Prof. Ben Ayade in his prudent nature has ensured that the project gets all that it needs, but sometimes all that it needs might just not be enough. that is why on the part of the staff of the Ministry of Social Housing, we are about to tighten our belts; we about to devise all sorts of means to ensure that the project comes to fruition.
How many housing units are in the project? Altogether 52 housing units How do you intend to share these houses? Basically, 52 housing units will take care of 52 households and as at the last count, we had about 935 (nine hundred and thirty- five) households of internally displaced people. When you multiply that by an average number of households, that is 935 (nine hundred and thirty- five) multiply by four which my assumption is an average household; but often in rural areas, going by the national population rate of 2.6% for rural, 2.3 for urban, it therefore means that most of these households are far larger than four, plus the wife and husband making it six. But they are far larger than six households; so looking at that perception, 52 (fifty-two) of the 935, it therefore means that there is still amount of space for intervention and goodwill either from United Nations or for Nigeria. All we are appealing to them is that Sen. Prof. Ben Ayade , Governor of Cross River State has set the pace, let them come and follow suit.
Without using our forum, what is the effort you have done so far at the moment in trying to reach out for further intervention on the left over numbers that you are likely to have?
If you move just five minutes’ drive or less than a kilometer to Ikpa Nkanyang, you will see a large space that has been created. African Nations Development Program were supposed to intervene by creating a city in remote places. We are supposed to have about 5,000 ( five thousand) housing units. But then, I also feel there are being encumbered by funding and if you go there, 250 ( two hundred and fifty) hectares have been allocated and cleared for this purpose. So it shows you the depth … we have gone. We have interfaced with several other NGOs. We have spoken with them and we are still talking more. His Excellency is also reaching out. Every time he steps out to woo investors, he also on the sidelines puts some degree of humanitarian services on them. These services can come in form of providing houses for the internally displaced people.
What is the role of the Federal Government on this project?
Like I said, the Federal Government is yet to show that kind of leadership, that role that we expect of them. We are truly believing that when they see what we have done, they will be compelled and agitated to queue in line with this noble and positive venture.
As a follow up, you talked about 52 housing units, what are the facilities in each of them?
Without much ado, the you can see the Braitwaithe tank provides about 10,000 liters of water, our assumption is that going by the United Nations standard that no house should go with less than 100 litres of water; we are providing 200 (two hundred) litres of water… per day for every household. So you have the two 5,000 capacity Braitwaithe tank that comes with a borehole that will definitely provide clean water for the Estate. Then the road network and the culverts and soakaway; it therefore means that in terms of all that, we are providing toiletsystem, drainage facilities, sewage system altogether that will support this estate. There is also the solar panel lights in the estate and when we are done, we will step down the lights and every house will have electricity; what else do we want, we have space for (a) skills acquisition center, space for school, health center and even a space for (a) market.
What will you do to safeguard the green areas which must have been designed?
If you had seen the layout, you will have known that there are specific areas left for green areas. Let me give you a classical example which is the drainage also known as the artificial pond. It is a seasonal stream that Throws into the Akpayefe which is a pond, so what we do is to collect the water into a place where children can play and marvel with the family. There is also a football field and every dot of space has its own green area. We have created a palatial abode for the people who will live in the houses.
What measures have you made to safeguard the estate?
For us, Sen. Prof. Ben Ayade has a clear-cut vision. As we finish, the Social Housing Agency will be here the place and look to ensure that things are being run for the next couple of years. they will be around to check that the habitats are living in conformity with the laid out rules of guiding the estate, that is why we have the Chairman of Social Housing Board whose duty and responsibility is to ensure that the original standard is not distorted in any way.
You talked about engaging the former militants and community people, can you give us more details on their engagements?
Basically, the place is surrounded by the Afayafe (River), and the Afayafe divides the Bakassi that was ceded to Cameroon and Nigeria. the distance apart is less than a kilometre; that gives you a clear idea and it is also within the Gulf of Guinea, and if you are saying that militancy is striving in the Gulf of Guinea then that means that Bakassi is not left out and because it is not left out, it means that the youths have actually been engaged in all those unwholesome crises, so what we are doing with this job is taking them out from that. We are now re-energizing them and reconfiguring them and allowing them to find their true self and that truly they can actually do something that is worthwhile and which has a divine value, without getting into those negative vices and that is what we have achieved. Also, that is why a lot of them are engaged in one way or the other. We have done so much in ensuring that the lives of people are transformed economically by ensuring that they take active part in the construction of the estate.
Are you saying that the standard of the facilities are same for the 52 housing units?
Definitely How many bedrooms? We have two bedrooms each, and each room is ensuite with visitors’ toilet, a kitchen, large dining area and a store. As Commissioner for Social Housing, what kind of
Ministry of Social Housing do you intend to hand over in the next three years?
As the days go by, one begins to understand the concept of social housing. The concept of social housing started with Western Europe. But for the standard we have set, they will have to come and copy the standard that we have set. A standard that if you go to Germany, Europe or England where their social housing programs are fixed or standard but don’t meet standard or class. So for us we are leaving something that (is) truly and indeed (the) international community can come and copy from Nigeria An Israeli engineer was around sometime ago and saw what we were building. He asked where we got this idea. He said he had the idea that Africans were going to build all thatch (houses) but what he saw far surpassed the social housing program in Israel. that was an Israeli man saying it. A German and Ghanaian visited the place also and have given us high encomiums; so for me as a Commissioner, the Permanent Secretary and all of us working together, have seen a clear-cut vision that we have bestowed to Nigeria, Cross River State and to the international community; a new paradigm and new standard in social housing programs.
Finally sir, what is your advice to Cross Riverians?
My advice to Cross Riverians in respect to what we are having here is that they must protect it (the estate) and that Sen. Prof. Ben Ayade has another four years they must encourage him to get another four years so that we can have more of this (type of projects). We need to have brand new communities (as) new pole centers or growth centers.
Thank you, Sir