Osima Ginah & His Curriculum Vitae As The Commissioner for Urban Development in Rivers State

By Odimegwu Onwumere
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Written by Odimegwu Onwumere

Governor Chibuike Amaechi, on assumption of office in 2007, complained-about the annihilation of the original master plan of Port Harcourt and took an oath to restore its standing as a beautiful place. As-a-result, he twisted a special ministry to take care of the urban renewal and development plan of the state. The ministry move backward and forward into action without restraint, demolishing buildings and structures that encroached on government's right of way, including the Government Reservation Areas, (Popularly called GRA).

Osima Ginah, the Honourable Commissioner for Urban Development in Rivers State is today like a crab that no one eats in the hideout without making a sound in Port Harcourt. Since his appointment as a commissioner in 2008, over 1000 illegal structures comprising of buildings built against the Master Plan of the state have been brought down. Many might say that his on-going demolition act has rendered a lot of people in the state homeless or jobless, but there is need to know or understand that there are things that are done to see that there is effective growth in the encyclopedia of humanity of which one is such act of Ginah, which was not put in place to witch-hunt anybody or organization in the state, but anybody or organization that is has built or is building structures against the master plan of the Rivers State.

In 2008, he personally supervised the exercise at the PDP head office, after some structures were brought down along Emenike Street, in Mile 1 area of Port-Harcourt. Explaining, Gineh said that the party was given a seven-day demolition notice which had expired. In his words, “Today we have come to remove those structures. That is the same standard for everybody. We correct ourselves before others. Our people can be rest assured that no one is above the law.” His promise that the exercise would reach all parts of the city where billboards and illegal properties were constructed outside the limits provided by the law, was not a ruse, as all and sundry can see. Other notable places affected in the demolition exercise include the fence to the headquarters of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, the walls of the government-owned Abali Park and several make-shift boutiques beside the park, all on the Aba Express Road. The demolition exercise started with them during the administration of former Governor Celestine Omehia at the Mile 3, market and the adjoining Bishop Okoye Street, also in Mile 3. Today, the demolition exercise has extended to other illegal markets all over the state capital, including the popular Flyover market at the centre of the metropolis.

Not forgetting this in a hurry, few days later, after the PDP head office was visited in Port Harcourt, the bulldozers visited the Mile One Police station, Port Harcourt where police officers' wives built stores along Ikwerre/Afikpo streets. According to reports, when the exercise started, owners of stores at the Ikwerre Road axis demolished all illegal structures on their own. But some wives of the police men who own shops in the area refused to comply. Some of the police men took sides with their wives by opposing the demolition of the shops in the affected area. Consequently, they continued to block the road to the affected area daily to stop the bulldozers from going in. (Such is the problem Nigeria faces and it is undermining the growth of the nation). Thank you.

But if not for the intervention of the state police commissioner, Bala Hassan, by sending one of his assistant commissioners to the scene, the story today would have been different on both sides. Reportedly, Ginah was on hand, and the policemen had no options than to allow the bulldozers to move in and pull the structures down.

Initially, everybody in the Rivers State capital did not appear to have become conscious of the exercise to the extent that once their structures are marked 'X' with red paint, and removal notice and expiration date is issued by agents of the government, they hesitate to remove them by themselves. But today, it is a different story. This is because those who don't remove the illegal structures themselves but allow the government bulldozers to do it for them at the expiration of the notice have had grape-kid test in their tales to tell. According to an observer, “This is so because the structures would be yanked off the way repairs would cost more to the owner.”

Unlike before many people are spared in such exercise, but not so again. Most of those “above the law” had their fences and security posts wrenched off. Do you know that in the Port Harcourt City, some residential buildings and business premises are now left without perimeter fences? And good enough, some of the owners have, however, been shown where the government points as boundary to enable them know how to go about erecting of new fences. Nobody is worse hit in the exercise than the other: the people are affected likewise the government.

Did Ignatius Ajuru, Nigeria's former ambassador to Ukraine, sympathizing with those affected by the exercise not said but explained that the state capital would be better for it in the long run? Did Chika Nsiegbe of the Christ Mustard Mission, PortHarcourt, not advise the people not to oppose the plan to return the capital to its Garden City status? Did he not, however, urged government to ensure that adequate compensation was paid to those whose structures were affected in the course of the urban renewal programme?

This was why in March 16 this year, the HABITAT Programme Manager for Nigeria, Professor Johnson Bade Falade met with the Hon. Commissioner Ginah to prove things right or wrong as contained in the petitions by mammoth of supplications which the National Union of Tenants in the state have hipped on him. Allegedly, the petitions were sent to the United Nations Habitat office in Abuja. This compelled the Abuja office of the UN-habitat Commission to send a four-man-fact-finding entrustment to Port Harcourt. According to Falade, 'the visit was not antagonistic, but to verify claims and accusations of government's insensitivity and abuse of the rule of law in its ongoing demolition exercise, brought to the organization by the National Union of Tenants, for a balanced and purposeful report for the way forward.'

And the Hon. Commissioner was of the opinion that, “I will like to reiterate all the same that the Urban renewal Exercise of the Ministry has its legal backing from the Physical Planning and development Control law No.6 of 2003. This law is not aimed towards victimization of any individual or group of people, but to properly regulate development and bequeath to the State a sustainable decent habitable and business friendly environment. Urbanization being a global phenomena and process of replacement, imposition and modernization for true social re-orientation and development has its own challenges no doubt…These challenges and task before us are not only assiduous but is the goal the Rt.Hon Chibuike Amaechi, Governor of Rivers State is contending with, in its ongoing urban renewal programme, which is geared towards correcting the heinous wrongs consciously perpetuated by individuals and government alike, in the built environment which has not only deprived the State and its people of needed social infrastructures and its prided Garden City glory, but has effectively defaced and distorted the painstakingly outlined master planes of the Capital City, Port Harcourt and its environs.”

Does the people of Nigeria like living in opaque? Was the Ministry of Urban Development not empowered to be removing illegal, offensive and contravening structures as contained in the Physical Planning and development Control law No.6 of 2003? Was it not also empowered to recovering road setback for utility and beautification and urbanization of the city? Why then do people revolt against the law of the land? The Hon. Commissioner Ginah did not wake up and start reinventing the city, what he is doing is according to the already laid down law.

Furthermore the Commissioner said: As a democratic and people oriented government, the government in carrying out this exercise, has deliberately and consciously sensitized and involved various stakeholders, including Landlords and tenants in decisions and that government has paid adequate compensation for structures it intends to acquire for public purpose in its Urban renewal Exercise. Such acquisition are made in complete agreement and support of the owners, who are even given the rare privilege to get the services of private valuers and attorneys, an indication that government does not carry out any secret deals or plans to victimize its citizens as we are in government to serve the people.”

Barrister Ginah should be applauded for these feats in making sure that Port Harcourt was restored to its former status, after all, in the late 1940s, nonstop into the late 1970s in the British English, urban renewal (similar to urban regeneration) was known as a program for land re-development in areas of moderate to high density urban land use. It did not stop there, traces of it was still occurring in the early 1980s. Analyses also proved that land re-development has a major impact on the urban landscape. There was Atlantic Yards project in downtown Brooklyn which stands as an exception. Reports say that similar apparatus perform an interesting responsibility in the times gone by and demobilization of cities around the world, including: Beijing, China, Melbourne, Victoria; Saint John, New Brunswick; Glasgow, Scotland; Boston, Massachusetts; Warsaw; San Francisco, California; and Balboa, Spain. Commonly cited examples include Canary Wharf, in London, and Cardiff Bay in Cardiff. However, the world over, urban renewal is seen as exceptionally contentious: this characteristically engrosses the destruction of businesses, the relocation of people, and the use of eminent domain (known as Compulsory Purchase in the UK). This is an apparatus to repossess hush-hush property for city-initiated development projects. It is on record that in the 1960s James Baldwin famously dubbed Urban Renewal "Negro Removal".

Odimegwu Onwumere is the Founder of Poet Against Child Abuse (PACA) Rivers State, 08032552855. [email protected]