•Police, developer fight over ownership of 200 houses in Cross River
Judex Okoro, Calabar
Controversy has continued to shroud the ownership of over 200 houses in the Ikot Eneobong Police Barracks, Cross River State.
The Ikot Eneobong Police Barracks, which was established during the President Shehu Shagari administration, has a large landmass of over 10 hectares. The land was acquired for the police housing scheme (aka City Gate Estate) for serving and retired police officers.
Located on the outskirts of Calabar, the capital of Cross River State, the site of the barracks needs proper planning and development control to ensure that the peculiar topography of the community was maintained.
However, the original idea behind the barracks, as quarters for police officers posted to Calabar and its environs, is fast being eroded. It is becoming a ‘barracks for civilians.’
Over the years, successive administrations of the police force have failed to properly develop the barracks and provide basic amenities to make life more meaningful to rank and file as well as officers of the service.
When Daily Sun visited the barracks recently, the over 30-year-old facility was in distress. The buildings and facilities were in a terrible state of disrepair just as the road leading to the was succumbing to erosion.
It was further discovered that several houses have been completed and occupied by civilians and some retired police officers.
Investigations by Daily Sun showed that, in 2010, the then AIG of Zone 6 held a workshop for policemen and lectured them on the need to key into the housing scheme introduced by the federal government. At the workshop, the police authorities advised their men and officers to partner with the developer to build affordable houses for them.
Reports also said that, as part of the terms of developing the estate, about 40 per cent of the houses in the estate was to go to members of the civilian public, while police officers would have “exclusive rights to purchase 60 per cent.”
According to stakeholders, they were surprised to find that the reverse has become the case now, as civilians have virtually taken over the project that was meant to provide affordable and comfortable accommodation for serving and retired police officers to, at least, give them a sense of belonging.
An officer who simply gave his name as Justine, said: “I participated in the workshop and I can tell you that most police officers are not happy about the development. We have complained to the higher authorities even as we have taken further steps to stop the firm by putting up stop-work sign notice.
“We have written to almost all the AIGs that have served here, complaining of the development, with no concrete moves to stop them. In 2016, we wrote to the then AIG, who told us to leave them because they got orders from police authorities in Abuja.
“Since then, officers are afraid of who to complain to for fear of being victimised or intimidated or even transferred to remote villages or Boko Haram-controlled villages. The scheme is anti-people because we may not have another opportunity to have this type of large expanse of land,” he said.
A senior police officer who is resident in the barracks lamented the poor state of facilities and the influx of civilians in the barracks, which he claimed was giving them security problems.
According to the officer, the police authorities were uncomfortable with the increasing influx of civilians in the estate, especially when police apartments were in a very deplorable state, compared to those of the civilian residents.
The officer, who did not want this name in print said: “Since government and police authorities have stopped developing estates within the barracks as originally planned, civilians are gradually assuming full control of the barracks due to the absence of proper control.
“Hundreds of buildings and various sizes of apartments have been put up within the barracks in recent times, and this has led to a large influx of people with the attendant breakdown of law and order.
“The chaotic state of the barracks has provided a platform for criminal elements to perpetuate vices, which prompted a protest by wives of police officers residing within the barracks,” he said.
Worried by this development, a group, the Concerned Police Officers Wives, in a letter dated November 25, 2015, made available to Daily Sun, decried the state of insecurity of life and property in the barracks due to encroachment by civilians.
In the letter, signed by Mrs. Grace Edunam, alongside two others, the women drew the attention of the chairperson of the Police Officers Wives Association to the barracks’ current state, saying it posed serious threats to officers.
According to them, “Ikot Eneobong Police Barracks was one of the safest barracks in Calabar municipality of Cross River State, until of recent when a certain estate developer came in and started selling out police land within the barracks to so many civilians, instead of developing it themselves as promised.
“The civilians quickly erected their buildings and brought in people of questionable character into the barracks, which, incidentally, was not fenced.”
The women contended that, as a result of the development, many unauthorised routes were created and subsequently used by “criminals to perpetrate all forms of crimes, including stealing of our husband’s motorcycles and raping of our young daughters.”
The women called for the fencing of the area and eviction of all those who have illegally acquired police property inside Ikot Eneobong Police Barracks.
Another group, under the umrella of the Police Officers Association, deplored the spate of illegal development and the poor state of facilities within the barracks.
The group said: “Due to the neglect of facilities at the barracks, the foundations of some of the apartments are about to cave in and we took up the reconstruction of the apartments at our own expense. This should not be, as it is not the duty of serving officers to carry out the maintenance of their apartments.
“Again, the on-going development has no bearing on environmental impact and there seems to be a major disaster waiting to happen as a result of this. Some of the new apartments coming up are within a few metres apart, which is not consistent with safe building practices.”
Further investigations by Daily Sun revealed that the housing scheme has not been taken over by land-grabbers, but the police authorities handed over a section of the estate to a developer to develop it on behalf of the police.
In an award letter to Udapa Nigeria Limited, also made available to Daily Sun, dated September 21, 2011, the police authorities stipulated conditions for the company to develop eight hectares out of 10 hectares of land at the estate on behalf of the police.
The award letter read in part: “That 60 per cent of the houses will be reserved for exclusive purchase by policemen, who will do so at their discretion. The developer shall bear the cost of project supervision and management and shall pay for all government requisite approvals.
“They are to collect the appropriate bill of quantities, drawings, site plan and allocated site area, from the office of the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, ‘C’ Department. That the developer shall bear the cost of project supervision and management and shall pay for all government requisite approvals.”
Further cementing the contract for Udapa Nigeria Ltd, the Commissioner for Police, ‘C Department (Works), State Police Headquarters, Calabar, ASP Okon Bassey, in a letter dated November 3, 2012, authorised the construction of two-bedroom and three-bedroom as well as four-bedroom semi-detached bungalows at Ikot Eneobong, Calabar, under the police housing scheme.
The works officer maintained that the police has handed over the project site to the contractor.
In his reaction, the managing director of Udapa Nigeria Limited, Dr. Paul Udayi, said, by the MoU, the police were to, among others, ensure unhindered access to the land, adding that what was happening now was already a breach.
He said: “In the quest to provide decent accommodation for its personnel, the Nigeria Police decided to engage developers all over the country and my company was awarded a contract to develop in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, and Calabar, Cross River State.
“For that of Calabar, a parcel of land measuring eight hectares was allocated to me to build houses under the same agreement. I have started doing that and one of the beneficiaries of the estate is a retired Commissioner of Police, Mr. Osita Ezechukwu.
“I started building but the policemen in the barracks started saying all sorts of things but I have a MoU that is water-tight.
“They are to provide security and ensure unhindered access to the building sites at Ikot Eneobong, Calabar. They are also to ensure the security and integrity of all persons to whom portions or sub-division of the land area may be sold.
“I have not in any way encroached into the land. I have not allocated outside the MoU terms. It was allocated to me to build houses and estates for officers and men of the police. It was handed over to me on November 12, 2012. Again, I don’t sell land; I’m allocating houses to members of the public. The MoU empowered me to sell to police officers and members of the public. And the police are to protect the land.
“The police conceptualised the project. We have the same project in Port Harcourt. I have not contravened. I know I am doing the right thing and they are putting spanners in my works.”
Insisting that the police were breaching the terms of the agreement, which said they should protect whosoever has a land-holding there, Udayi added that one commissioner of police went through the document and later pleaded with him to allocate houses close to the barracks to police officers, which he obliged.
Although the Cross River State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Hafiz Inuwa, declined to speak on the issue in spite of repeated calls and visits to his office, a police source disclosed that the matter was being looked into.