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Our plan for Port Harcourt – Cookey-Gam

The Rivers State Government has set in motion a machinery to transform Port Harcourt into a city befitting the 21st century with the establishment of the Greater Port Harcourt City Development Authority.
The organisation’s administrator Mrs Aleruchi Cookey-Gam spoke on its plans at an interactive session with journalists in Port Harcourt.

Excepts.

How much would the infrastructure for the new Greater Port Harcourt city cost?

For phase 1A, it’s about N170 billion. For this part, funding is not our major challenge. Our challenge is to link the new city and the old city.

For instance, our water reticulation will serve the new city and part of the old city; our sewage treatment plant is going to tear about 20 kilometers from the old city.

The cost is much so we had to scale down, limit ourselves to phase 1A to fast track what we are trying to do. As we go along we will seek funding. But as for phase 1, the government is ready to fund that.

Is transportation an integral part of the process? We recently heard about the light monorail development of the State government, is it linked to the Greater Port Harcourt City development?

Aleruchi Cookey-Gam...as we continue our efforts of planning development...a lot of people begin to appreciate such efforts

The monorail is done in the old city and its running from the township area through Ikwerre road from Azikiwe road to Trans-Amadi and the Phase 1 of 19.5 kilometres has started but that’s for the old city.

In the new city, we have planned roads, a surface rail system to link the new city with the old city. But it’s not in our immediate plans because we do not have the residents that will run that now, but the area for the rail is reserved.

For now we are dealing with the green field areas and we need the population to be able to make it worth the while. As you are aware, rail transport system all over the world is a very expensive exercise and is never meant for government to do alone, so the last thing we want to do now is to start on that when we haven’t provided the houses that people will live in. so it’s provided for somewhere in our master plan but it’s not one of our focus areas.

We’ve reserved the route, so if you send me your building plan for approval on that route, nobody is going to give you an approval because that route is known, everybody knows its reserved for the rail.

Only yesterday, Rivers State government commissioned its Geographic information system and Lands information system, so everything now is key on the master plan and that’s why we’ve been warning people who are developing and we are trying to stop the documents because if you are trying to develop in a green verge area, through our auto photo mapping that we have drawn, we know the entire terrain and we know the rail lines… so nobody is going to allow you build anything there.

So when you send your plan to us, we chart it and if it falls there we just tell you we are sorry you can’t develop, government will have to acquire that land and reserve it for the purpose it’s meant for.

What Abuja did not do is reserve, because Abuja could not have built its rail system maybe 15 years back. But now there is a need for it. If they had implemented a backup plan the way they should have, perhaps, they provided for the rail road line but they developed on it.

So that’s what we are going to try to ensure doesn’t happen here.

If you go to investment forums outside the country, Nigeria is seen as the next investment frontier. How is the Government and the GPHCDA positioning itself to take advantage of this fact? You have a big project like this. How are you positioning yourself to take advantage of what is coming in the next 3-4 years?

The mere fact of what we are doing is the positioning. None of those investors are going to come to you if you don’t have structured planning.

When we started in 2008/2009; that was the peak of the economic crisis that we suffered, for one who is faint hearted, you would have just said to yourself, the world economic climate doesn’t favour this kind of a thing so why do we go into it. And like I say to people, if you take that kind of strategy, by the time things pick and people are looking for where to invest that is when you will start laying your bed.

If you lay your bed now, then you have positioned yourself to be attractive. The stock market failed, there’s a lot of money out there and people are looking for where to invest.

So we see ourselves harnessing funds both locally and internationally. There is a lot of money in the Nigerian market, but a lot of our people live abroad, they are looking for how to get a decent house, decent accommodation here, but they don’t understand how to swim through the quagmire.

This is the kind of structure they would understand and its time now for us to market ourselves. We didn’t talk before now because we don’t want to keep telling people we are planning this, we are planning that.

What are the incentives tabled for investors?

A: For us, as you all know, this thing called the federation and the apron string we all tie about ourselves slows down some states. But we’ve been speaking with NIPC to see ways and means to ensure that we work together because at the end of the day if we are able to get the kind of progress that we require, it will be to the benefit of the country.

For us in Rivers State, we expect that our first pioneer people get some kind of concessions, I mean, if I see someone who is ready to invest big, I don’t think I’ll be worrying myself about how much he is going to pay me for the land. If you’re going to fast track what we are doing. So the first comers will of course get an advantage that the late comers would not get.

How would you solve the issue of electricity? Will the State government’s development like that of Primary Schools be replicated in the Greater Port Harcourt City?

I believe that Rivers State Government is the foremost government that has invested a lot in electricity. We are the only state government that has a transmission network. Transmission is on the exclusive list. No other State government has a distribution line.

We built it with billions of Naira, but it is owned by the Central Government. Rivers State Government is the foremost in terms of generation. In terms of distribution, I don’t think any other State government has invested more in sub-stations. Currently we are doing more, transformers have been distributed.

The president was here some months ago to commission an additional 100 mega watts of power in Trans-Amadi completed this year. Where I live in Port Harcourt, I currently enjoy about 18-20 hours of electricity supply a day.

There’s no way you can say you are addressing electricity without talking about distribution. And there’s no way anybody will spend a dime in electricity if you don’t know how you are going to make your money back. So whatever government did to decentralize telecommunication, it must do exactly the same for power.

For development, we cannot say that what we are doing is for the poor or for the rich. We would like to see affordable kind of houses developed. We have layouts for schools, a family health centre. A section has already been allocated to PTDF to build schools.

One issue that is rarely addressed is the issue of sustainability. What is the probability that after Governor Amaechi’s tenure these developments will not cease? Another is security for investors.

And the new sports facility been built is meant to be used for the National Sports festival in February. Do you think it would be completed by then, and how much is the cost?

A: let me start with the last. The Sports centre: I’m not in a position to know the project cost, its not under my direct supervision it terms of financial, you’ll have to meet the commissioner of Sports for that. As to whether its possible to deliver. I’m told they are on course. I have no reason to doubt them.

The only thing that bothers me is the stadium. But some other facilities, like the Tennis court, basketball, all kinds of facilities, I have no doubt about those ones. It’s the main bowl of the stadium that bothers me. As at a week ago, they said they had finished all the piling and they are moving on to the roof level.

So let’s take their word for it. But most of the materials like the seats have been imported and are being cleared from the ports.

They have had their difficulties, part of it from not complying to regulations. When they started they put some structures like their live camp right on our road. We had to stop them.

We said even though you are government, you have to comply with the rules. So they ran to the governor, they called me and I said yes, they must take it off  because they have put it where we said they shouldn’t. and the governor told them to go take it off.

That road is the road that will lead into the sports city so we must have that area to build a road which we are starting in November. So they had that delay. We also asked that we must see the drawings of what they are doing because we must agree with it.

Also, this year has been a terrible year in terms of rains, but now we are having some dry spells and we expect them to take advantage, and we’ll see how far they will go.

Security of investments: yes, it bothers one, and that is why the government felt there is a need to look at PPPs(public private partnership) relationships and provide a regulatory framework for that. Like I said, we are still on the table trying to work out good concessions that will encourage the investors. Each investor comes with his own need, so its on a needs basis.

A lot of the taxes are Federal Government taxes so there is a limit to what we can do. Sustainability: I think that as we continue in our efforts of planning development, we see that the general public, a lot of people begin to appreciate such efforts.

But so long as Nigerians decided not to stand up for what is right then we would never move forward because there will never be an Amaechi for about 20 years neither will there be an Amaechi for more than eight years.

But I think it is the responsibility of the people to begin to appreciate that you must have a say to how you want things being run. So if after eight years, you now have another administration that is trying to put this away, it think people should be able to stand up and ask, what is happening.

I always use Cross River State as an example, after all Donald Duke did for Tinapa, could Liyel Imoke have ever come to power and suddenly decide that they don’t want it? I don’t think so.

As we develop, things like the Green verge areas, flood pane areas, we must have the House of Assembly come up with regulation that will ensure that those areas are preserved for that purpose.

By the time we finish the soil planning, we would then know the coordinates of those areas then it can be legislated, so for you to change it, you will have to go back to the State House of Assembly.

Q: what are those mechanisms you have put in place so that some unscrupulous people don’t corner the best lands as experienced in Abuja? What security facilities will you put in place in the GPHC?

The newly commissioned RIVGIS Land ICT System will go a long way to help in that aspect of defining the land areas. We are planning to expand Trans-Amadi into a six-lane road and during the commissioning we were shown the road and what they have done is to overlay defined areas of each plot that they gave people and they now overlaid the current development, so immediately you look at it, you can see all the structures that are outside what you were given.

And the governor said, our work is half complete because we were worrying about compensation we are going to pay people. But if a man has gone outside what you gave him to build whatever he built, he did that at his own risk.

So what we have done is to transfer all the land details from all the defined areas and that’s why we want to take charge of not only the area we have as our mainstay areas but to other areas so that everything is defined and when you deal with ICT in that aspect, there is no way of hiding some hectares anywhere.

In terms of security, we are going to use CCTV in the new city area. Rivers State Government has invested a lot in terms of security for the general city of Port Harcourt for us to enjoy the peace and security that we enjoy right now compared to where we were few years ago. And for the new city, we are going to make sure that we go beyond just relying on what the government is doing now to ensure security.

Q: By 2014, how much of the projects would have been completed and what time are you looking at to achieve these developments?

A: the implementation of our programme spans about 50 years so we will always be on the drawing board. In terms of the Phase 1 development, 30,000 housing units is not something you can build in 5 years. Our responsibility is to drive the infrastructure and then we expect private sector to continue the entire structures.

I always use Lekki as an example, how Lekki started, how Lekki has grown… so we will always have the responsibility of providing the infrastructure. We are focusing on Phase 1A for now and as we go on, we will still be on the drawing board to try and provide industrial areas for those interested in building industries because the major industrial area in Port Harcourt, Trans-Amadi is already filled to the brim.

Q: Population sometimes determines the kind of infrastructure to be built. What is the population target for the new city? Is this new city being developed after any other development elsewhere?

You are asking if this new city is modeled like some world class cities like Dubai or Paris or any city. Port Harcourt is known as the Garden City, Port Harcourt is the nerve centre of the Oil industry. What is in a name, somebody said why you don’t call it Energy City.

Part of what you see today is part of what the government has put together in the last two years. Port Harcourt is not fashioned after any city in the world. Our goal is to provide conducive environment, where to live, where to do business.

The population: we have a bigamy system in Nigeria that’s why we have agreed that the South Africans handling the project cannot apply their standards for us because we are a different kind of people. Nigerians are proud to have their relations around them so we are working according to population and we’ve made clear to them what our style is as a people. For the 30,000 housing units, we are looking at a minimum of 6 persons per household depending on the kind of houses and we have specific areas. But there is a land use management system which defines all that.

Q: is there a synergy between your Authority and the concerned ministries like Lands, Urban Development and Works? Who is eligible for compensation in cases of demolition?

A: We have six ministries in our Board; we have Ministry of Lands, Housing, Environment, Attorney General’s Office, Urban Development and Works.

Compensation is dependent on whether you have built illegally. For some of the areas that government has gone to expand the road, like Elekahia road was a 2-lane road and it had to be expanded to a 4-lane road with drainage and walkways, same thing for Old Aba road.

They had to compensate all indigenes, these were due to settlements; these people built their traditional houses so if you want to take their land for development purpose, you pay compensation to them. But for people who built on the road reserves and if you don’t have a building plan approval, then nobody is going to compensate you.


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