- Coalition of Supporters of Democracy and Good Governance names Mayor of Housing as outstanding investor of impact
By Wisdom Chukwu-Ohaegbule
Time has come for serious-minded investors in Rivers State to be fished out and encouraged to develop the state through innovative investments.
This was declared at the weekend by the Coalition of Supporters of Democracy and Good Governance (CSDGG) led Gershom Bobmanuel Achor, national president while presenting the award. While presenting an award to the CEO of the Housing and Construction Mayor Limited, My-ACE China.
Achor who described the CSDGG as a coalition of professionals, academics and other worthy citizens from the 23 local council areas of Rivers State said they have interacted closely with the Mayor of Housing and found him to be full of innovative investment strategies and the burning willingness to move into action in the state.
Saying the Coalition also mounts sensitization campaigns against vices such as drugs abuse and cultism, the president said the body identifies those who have good intentions for the state based on their track records and based on what they have on the table. He therefore called on the chief executive of the state to draw closer such investors as is done in most advanced countries to know their needs and provide support and ease of doing business for them to hit the ground running.
Achor justified the coalition’s stand thus: “We have followed your progress and your activities. As a real estate man, you did not come to Port Harcourt to reap but to sow. You identified a virgin ground and you actually identified the needs, the most hitting problems of the people, and you had solution because you have developed and built the capacity. You have come to solve that problem for us and we are very proud of you.
Ideas that can create a Dubai in Nigeria
The Coalition president admitted that the ideas oozing from the Mayor of Housing were enough to create a Dubai in Nigeria. “You have in your head and what you have put on the table are so beautiful and wonderful that if it is put in place and in practice, if given the opportunity, Rivers State would turn into a semi-Dubai in Nigeria.
“This award today is a pointer that Rivers people are very receptive and we are in love with good ideas and hard work, and that is why we have decided to create this audience with you to sit down, build, and cement a good relationship with you. This is because the job you’re doing is very strategic to a developing city like Port Harcourt, and the government and the people of the state will fall in love with your ideas.
“And we as an NGO, we will make sure that to take this matter to the relevant authorities to ensure it is given public attention and get it to the ears of those who need to hear it. We will give it a proper attention.”
He said the Mayor of Housing is an agent of progress and development. “You believe so much in the comfort of humanity and that is why everything about your idea, everything about your business and your company revolves around how to make human beings comfortable. We applaud you for that.
“Life on earth is short, so, within that short period, we need to be comfortable. A lot of people have so much resources but they do not really have the idea and how to direct their resources and to make themselves comfortable, but you have brought that down to us. We will make sure we will utilize this opportunity.
“It is in view of this that, my NGO (non-governmental organization) wishes that if today passes and we did not confer this award to you it will be a disservice to this eminent personality because of lovable ideas you have brought on the table.”
During the interactive session, the issue of landgrabbers came up and the coalition sought solutions from the Mayor of Housing on how to curtail the menace.
Mr China offered his opinion thus: “There are two things that need to be done; number one, the government needs to have a Rivers State integrated land system where every land is captured just like in Abuja. They call it Abuja Geographic Information Systems (AGIS). Every land is gazetted and captured in that system. This will solve all the problems of land. They will know the indigenous owners of every parcel of land, and before you transact any land, you must get clearance from that agency. That’s one. However, that agency comes with a caveat. It must be apolitical. Every suggestion I make to the government, I tell them that for it to work, it must be apolitical.
“Just like the 20,000 housing units that the governor of Rivers State is doing for low-cost housing scheme. Why I know it will succeed is that it is a public private partnership (PPP) arrangement with a company (TAF Africa) whose track records I know as very apolitical. If government gives any of these things to political cronies, it will fail. Why Songhai Farms Initiative is no longer working today is that they were politicized. We’ve not stopped eating fish or any of the products of the farm. But they didn’t function because they were politicized. Then away from government. The indigenous people know their boundaries and they know the owners of each farm. Every locality must create three things. One, they must invite the state Boundary Commission to come and establish the integrity of their local boundaries.
“Two, after establishing the integrity of their local boundaries, they must create a strong land committee of non-compromisable individuals of unshakable integrity that will handle every land issue in that community. The king must release a decree that nobody will sell or buy land in that community without clearance from the land committee. The land committee must go round and capture a catalogue of all the lands within your community and who owns what, so that the moment somebody is pointing at a land, they already know this land belongs to the Azubuike family. The land committee is telling you that they will get their own Indigenous surveyors to survey those lands and tell you this land is Azubuike’s land. It is not Okonkwo’s land. Okonkwo has no right to be pointing at that land to you. And when developers, buyers, investors know that there is a reputable land committee in this community by the community going on air to publicize that ‘we are here oh’ to avoid land grabbers and they get permission from the government by taking that dossier of all lands to go and register to the government and surveyor-general’s office. Before you issue anything, get clearance from us, we are the ones on ground, you will see land grabbers will run away.”
He said why land grabbers run away is lack of operation of indigenous land owners. “If you are scattered, people will scatter you the more. A scattered environment is a rosy environment for a land grabber. An organized environment is a scary environment for a land grabber. So, organize yourself and they will run away.’
On how groups can come into partnership with his firm to tap from what many call his brilliant ideas, the CEO said my answer is simple; “You can come in by being a positive pressure group and doing what we call deliberate design projection. This is projecting the value you have discovered in our brand. Our brand is so value-centric that we say we don’t sell houses or land, we sell value. And we don’t ask people to judge us based on our claims. We ask you to judge us on our track record. So, the track record that we are projecting is that right now we have a very important project. In fact, it is called the Alesa Highland Sustainable Smart City project. It is going to be a sustainable city but, unfortunately, it’s going to be a high-brow luxury project because we believe that we start from the top to come to the down in terms of serving people because the infrastructure it takes to serve one hundred people that are subscribing with hundred naira is bigger than the infrastructure you’ll need to serve one person that is paying 100 million. So, right now we are showcasing our abilities through those easier houses which is high-brow. So, what you can do is by being a positive pressure group is number one; you’ve come close to me today, proximity. By proximity, you are able to know and do your due diligence on who this company is. Our character because the destiny of the company is ultimately going to be tied to the characters and players in that company.
“A company will rise and fall to the level of the character of the operators. So, when you know the passion and character of what we have for housing, you begin to deliberately project that to your political and other groups so that that kind of news will start spreading that it will get to the ears of the government so that they give us investment incentives that will give us a soft landing as an investor in Rivers State. They make it easy. It is called ease of doing business. Ease of doing business in any location is what attracts investors. If my doing business in Rivers State will give me high blood pressure, if another person hears it, he won’t come to do business here. But if my doing business here will give me such ease of hospitality from the government, hospitality from the indigenous people just like we have to enjoy maximum hospitality from the people of Alesa community, anybody that hears this will want to bring his money here and then if the relevant policies and support from the government is given to us and that project succeeds, when we say we want to start another project, the whole world will listen to us. We have a deliberate strategy that when we finish launching our high-brow estate, and getting some profit from it, we can now finance the indigenous technology it takes to build indigenous housing and low-cost housing that wouldn’t involve much of imported products so that that money, the profit we got there can finance this. Also, the reputation your positive pressure group creates of our success and how far you loud it will make when we launch that low-cost project, the whole world will want to partner with us to ensure that we deliver on our mandate of delivering affordable housing to Nigerians.”
Why low-cost housing is important, he stated, is that at a scale we will also employ people because the house will not be built by foreigners or angels. “It will still be built by our youths and our indigenous people. So, if our youths are engaged just like before the advent of all these modernity every youth in the village knows when to go to help another youth to get bricks to build houses, even to cut grass or to tach the house. So that is the model. So, you need to be, like today you have given this award. After this award, you need to follow this brand closely and anything you see us do in the secret of our site, you will shout it at the roof top and say Mayor of Housing is doing so well, governor hear it, or you even as a group can organize courtesy call to the governor and ask what support are you giving to Mayor of Housing, he has been trying to help our people? Do you know he is doing this? Do you know he is doing that? As you came to meet me, the governor cannot come and meet me like this. But if you carry this record to him, he can know about me. That’s what we call deliberate projection.”
On his advice to governments, he said said with particular reference to Rivers state, “We’ve had challenges of houses where a vast majority of persons are still squatting, even those who are married are still squatting. People live under the flyover. People cannot afford to live in organised areas and those in the rural areas are living in a place where they have no sense of security and access to good things of life.
“My advice to the government is simple. Number one, boost ease of doing business. Make the state so easy to do business, that it will woo investors. Like if you notice in most countries, they don’t charge tax for real estate. This is so they can encourage people to invest more in real estate. There’s what they call tax under-writing, tax defilement, etc. There are lots of tax incentives in other climes in real estate and a lot of government support in real estate abroad, where developers even get government endorsement so that financial houses can give them loans. So, the first thing the government needs to do is to boost ease of doing business, ease of giving Certificate of Occupancy (CofO) to credible companies.
“Number two; Government needs to integrate the state. If you want to integrate this state, you need to mark the state, just like the Rivers State government started with the ring road. When you do the ring road, find out the places that are semi-rural. Semi-rural places are like, if you notice, there’s a place after Iwofe, with water only separating it from Iwofe. What that place needs is just a bridge. With a bridge, it’s now Port Harcourt. So, look for those hinterlands that are one road away from the state capital, then integrate them and then put infrastructures in those areas and deliberately encourage developers to go develop low cost housing estates in those areas. To do low cost houses, the major thing the government needs to do is land. Look for places you can get land on the cheap, settle the indigenous owners of the land and do what they call a PPP joint venture with developers, where you provide a land, the developers build the building and then you’ll write off your land equity from the cost of the building, so that your indigens that acquire the building for cheap. With that, the fourth thing the government needs to do is to open their eyes. They are lots of pretenders in the industry. Separate the pretenders from the contenders. Encourage the contenders and chase away the pretenders, and you’ll have housing for your people.”
He explained why developers were scared: “Before the advent of government modernity and all this, no village had a homeless person. We were all able to house ourselves. There was a way we collaborated to build houses. If the government does not collaborate and make it easy. Like what is scaring people away from Rivers State is the difficulty in doing business. People are afraid of marching ground (illegal fees charged developers), people are afraid of land-grabbers, people are afraid of insecurity, people are afraid of even community, people are afraid of a lot of things. If the government shields those developers and give them a soft-landing that they can come in and build well without interference, they will not only provide housing, but for every one house IT takes an average of 50 workers to build. That means with this 20 thousand houses the government, if they build them indigenously, we’ll have about one million jobs created. But if it’s one company that’s building it, the one company may not adsorb that amount of manpower. But if you have a lot of companies doing a lot of things in Rivers State, a lot of Rivers youth will be employed in the development of those houses. So, in all these things, one thing ties everything down; political will. This is because any of these suggestions I’ve made, if you politicize it, political cronies that don’t have the capacity, the competence to deliver these things, they will derail everything.”
Appreciating the award:
Appreciating the award, China said: “If this award was given to me in December, it will be half the importance it’s having today, because at the end of the year, each year people see your efforts and achievements for the year and reward you towards the end of the year.
“For this award to be coming at the beginning of the year, it’s not an award of reward but an award of encouragement. I am greatly encouraged not only to ensure that we give Rivers State our best but to ensure that, that best is not hindered by any powers or any group, that best must come to the fourth to reach the auspices of all and sundry in the state especially the common man.
“So, I urge you, I was very happy when I knew there was a collation of supporters of democracy and good governance in terms of dividends of democracy our dear state is behind, in terms of beautification and development we are behind, in terms of positive publicity we are behind, all you will hear in the news about Rivers State is the political crisis; so we need to be deliberate to change that narrative and I am passionate about that, very passionate, not only do we need to throw our support behind the governor but for the first time like John F. Kennedy said about America I would repeat “As a collation group don’t think what Rivers State can do for you, think what you can do Rivers State”. With that, I am sure we’ll be back on the map, global map as the garden city of the world not just Nigeria, and I am sure with you guys we will get there. Thank you very much.”