Cross River state Commissioner for Social Housing, Effiom Okokon Edem, in this interview with David Odey, our correspondent in Calabar, speaks
about the urgent necessity that brought about the vision and quality of the 52 units, 2 bedroom flats Orange Citrus Estate built by the Prof Ben Ayade-led government and tasks the United Nations and the federal government to replicate same for the IDPs since their ancestral homes were ceded to Cameroon due to no faults of theirs.
What are the efforts put in place to ensure the resettlement of Bakassi returnees?
In all fairness and in truth, the governor has done immensely well for the Bakassi returnees. He started by ensuring that every month they have something to eat. We started by providing N475,000 every two weeks for their meal. The total people that were at Ikot Eyo camp then was about 215 people, even though the total number of people passed on to us by SEMA under Senator Liyel Imoke's administration was 135 households, with an average of four persons per household. Later we started buying bulk food to pass on to them, rice, nappies for children, children diapers and food. And the governor had been doing this consistently until we went into this project, because he saw that going into this project was a lot more enduring than what we were doing.
How many units of houses are you building and for how many households?
We have 52 units of houses for 52 households. As you have seen, all the necessary infrastructures are in place. You can see us building roads, culverts and so on. And so you can also imagine the sheer beauty. The estate will come with all the cavaliers required to make it a model estate.
How many households do you have?
I said from the information we got from SEMA under Senator Liyel Imoke's administration, there were 135 households. You don't expect this government to do everything. This is not the problem of Cross River alone. If you look at the people who were displaced, they are not from Cross River alone. We have people of Ijaw origin from Bayelsa, we have people from Ilaje from Ondo extract, we have people predominantly from Akwa Ibom state. And we have our own people. You can see that the governor is taking care of people from four different states. Cross River state didn't cause this problem. The United Nations and the Nigerian government caused this problem. They were the ones that went to the World Court. They didn't seek our permission. They took the decision without consulting us and today we are bearing the brunt of it. I personally believe the federal government is shying away from its responsibility. But Senator Professor Ben Ayade, being who he is, a very kind person, a person who shows sympathy to those who are in need, took it upon himself to help the returnees, practically showing the Afrocentric philosophy that those who are strong should provide a shoulder for the weak. And that is what he has displayed. What you saw at the estate was his vision, his dream, it was his design. Nobody will take glory for that. It is only him and Almighty God that will take the glory. You can see the beauty of the houses in terms of finishing, in terms of roofing. You look at the sheer aesthetics and you will know that he is a man that has great taste. For us in Cross River, we are setting a standard for a new model of social housing. Those who know about social housing particularly in Western Europe can tell you that none matches the standard we have here. You can go and google and find out what you have in Germany and you will know that none meets this standard. An Israeli man came and saw it and said he didn't believe this was going to be for social housing. He said he thought he would come and see huts as social housing and also said what we have here is even better than what they have in Israel.
The 52 units are not enough so how are you going to address the deficit and who are the target beneficiaries?
That is why we are crying to the United Nations and the Nigerian government that if we as a state, whose allocation is sometimes near zero, for a state struggling to ensure that people have their salaries, I think the Nigerian government and the United Nations should have sympathy on such a state. We have actually laid the footprint, we have laid the mark. This is the path we should go. This is the path that should sustain humanity. This is the path that should ensure that IDPs do not suffer in their own country. What they are going through was not caused by them. So why should they suffer for what they did not cause? Professor Ben Ayade has shown in clear terms that the people should not suffer. So, we are calling on the United Nations, we are calling on the Nigerian government, we are also calling on the states whose citizens are being resettled here to come and assist the Cross River state government, knowing that their citizens are also affected. We are carrying the burden of about four states. As for the target beneficiaries, they are the IDPs. We are looking at the most vulnerable among them such as the widows and those who are really vulnerable. By my own count, we have about 31 of them who are widows. So we are going to consider widows and widowers first before the next level of the vulnerable people.
Some major stakeholders have also disagreed with the choice of location. What informed the choice of the location of the estate?
The choice of location was the decision of the governor. He brought them close to the water. That is the same water where they fish. That is same water where they carry out their fishing operations. We have not taken them far from their natural habitat. As a matter of fact, we have even drawn them closer to their ancestral home. If they pour libation here, their ancestors at the other side will definitely hear it. So we have got both spiritual, physical and social connection.
Why do you think the paramount ruler and some stakeholders don't like the estate?
I have said that we should not get muddled in the politics of Bakassi. Because of the confused nature and the urgency of handing over Bakassi, all the necessary things that should have been put in place were not put in place. Basically some of us want to capitalize on that state of confusion. And that is what we see playing out. But truly, at this point in time, this is the best His Excellency can conceive. He is still looking at developing Dayspring which is the source of controversy here. Bu then the cost of going into this area is extremely huge.
How much is this estate going to cost the government?
The budget for the estate was N1 billion but you know His Excellency for his prudent management of resources, trimmed down the whole amount to about N900 million. And looking at it from the eye of a professional, what we have done here is worth more than N1 billion. That is the training we have got from His Excellency, that if you put your soul above your body, your body will definitely follow. You can truly see what we have in terms of roof. Each of the roofs, if you go to open market, will cost up to N1,250,000. But we did it for one million and some few thousand naira.
Apart from housing, have you made any plan for their source of livelihood?
It all depends. You are talking about sustainability. Basically, what most of them know how to do best is fishing. They are also subsistence farmers. We have also brought them to where they can farm. This is the first step. The first step is to accommodate them. If you are looking at Maslow's hierarchy of needs, one of the first needs is housing. There are steps to follow in order that they can be sustained while living in this estate.
When will the estate be commissioned?
We are looking at the 30th of this month. We are working round the clock to ensure that the target is met. The challenge we have is the road network and the culvert. There are small rivers in the estate so we must create a pathway for the small rivers to flow into the larger river nearby. So we had to come up with this idea of creating a culvert. You saw it yourself. Most of you have gone round the buildings and you saw all the doors fixed. For us the other issues are very minor ones as long as you can get over the issue of the drainages and so on.
I understand you want to run for the House of Representatives to represent Bakassi/ Calabar south Constituency. What are you taking to the House Reps if elected, are you going to ensure that the Bakassi issue is revisited?
Let me put it straight this way. It is His Excellency that can determine who runs. I work for him. I remain his core loyalist. He is my senior brother, he is my father. He is the only one who can determine who will run. If he tells me to run then I can run. But if he tells me to run, the issue of Bakassi will be revisited. Yes, we may have been trampled upon as a people. We have been trampled upon by the jackboot of the United Nations, by the jackboot of the federal government. But I want to assure you that we will emerge from the wound, even though with a bloodied head, the head will remain unbowed.
Talking about loyalty, if your people ask you to run and the governor says you should not, which one will you adhere to?
I know His Excellency is a man who listens to the people a great deal. He is very connected to the people. He makes sure that his decision is always pro-people. He takes decisions based on what the people want and if the people say run and His Excellency gets to hear it, he definitely will not go against the decision of the people.