– Eburuoh, urban planning commissioner
From Chidi Nnadi, Enugu
The Imo State Commissioner for Lands, Survey, Housing and Urban Planning, Hon. (Dr.) Lawrence M. Eburuoh, is one of those technocrats Governor Rochas Okorocha sourced from the Diaspora to come and help deliver his Rescue Mission programme.
Eburuoh, a renowned real estate broker, who runs a robust private firm in the United States of America, was appointed by Okorocha last December to come and man the Lands, Survey, Housing and Urban Planning ministry considered to be very important in the state.
Ten months after, Eburuoh said that his ministry has taken steps to help in meeting the aspiration of those who need land to build houses in the state, which has become attractive to many because of its development by the Okorocha administration.
He also said that he is satisfied with the vision of Governor Okorocha in building a new Imo State, calling on the people of the state to support the governor. Excerpts:
Okorocha believes in getting experts for critical ministries, you may be one of those experts he went outside this country to bring home; so far what have been your major challenges in the lands ministry?
Actually, there are not many challenges in the ministry, but my major worry is my inability to supply the needed plots to Imolites or people that want to get allocation to come and live here. So due to the desire of people to come to Imo State to build, to live here, there is this sort of difficulty in getting adequate plots of land to satisfy the demand of the people. You know in the last five years of the Owelle Rochas Okorocha administration, the Rescue Mission has made Imo State the big thunder light that shines at night that people from all over the world now flock to use. People now like to come to live in Imo State, people want to build here, people want to call this place their home, but due to the land administration the desire to live in Imo State is very high. Now, you see people from all over the world, people in the Diaspora, Imolites and non-Imolites, those in other cities and states coming here, trying to have their peace here in Imo State and for that reason we are sometimes having difficulties in having plots to give to these people that demand them. But we are working so hard to create more plots so that people can get lands because we really want them to build here.
What is behind the difficulties, why are plots scarce here? Is it that you don’t have enough land in Imo State?
We have land, but sometimes the demand outweighs the supply. We are working hard to provide the land. The fact is that in every given day even on Sundays, people come in, wanting to build in Imo State, and we are encouraging them because when they build, the economy of the state will grow through taxes, rates and house rents. We actually want them to come in, but to have the plots readily available the way they want it is the issue we are tackling.
Before now, Governor Okorocha has this slogan that Imo must be better, do you think Imo is better under his administration?
Frankly speaking, Imo is better and it is getting better and better. If you remember what was obtainable five and half years ago before the inception of Owelle Rochas Okorocha as the governor, you will agree with me that Imo is indeed better. It is very difficult for me to stand here and tell you what has happened, but you can see things for yourself. I will turn to the Bible quote that says, “Come and see what the Lord has done.” This is what I have been telling people to come and see what Rochas has done, how he has transformed Imo State. Where will I start? Is it the free education that starts from primary to tertiary? Is it the 27 general hospitals that he built in every local government area, the storey building for primary schools in all wards? Or the roads: the first inland road, second inland, third inland and fourth inland roads that he just finished? Or the flyovers in the whole city, the bridge; the tunnels, a lot of things he has done to transform Imo State. If you go into the Government House, if you knew the way it used to be, now you can even get lost in there because he has transformed the place. The Sam Mbakwe Chambers, Ndubuisi Kanu Chambers, the new Government House, the deputy governor’s office building, those were not in existence before now. So these are the innovations of Owelle Rochas Okorocha, the man actually came to change the state. Sometimes, people don’t understand it, they take it for granted. This happened in those days we had Dr. Sam Mbakwe when as a child we called him the weeping governor, he would go out to Lagos to cry to get things for Imo. Today, Owelle is here and he has built a new Imo State. And I can assure you that there will come a time in the future, we Imolites will ask God to bring back Rochas to us. I think the governor has done so much, Imo has been transformed and is better.
The governor recently proposed that civil servants in the state work from Monday to Wednesday and use the rest of the week to farm. As commissioner for Lands, Survey, Housing and Urban Planning, do you think the land tenure system in the state will support this policy?
Obviously yes, let me tell you, the idea of back to land that just started few months ago, did not start now. If you look at what is happening in the whole world, the economy of states, especially countries that depend on oil revenue to run their economy, going back to land is the ultimate thing to do; it’s not peculiar to Imo State. If you go back and listen to Rochas pronouncement five, four years ago, when he told people to go back to agriculture, but nobody listened. He tried in all ways to make people buy this idea, if you know his former slogan – good morning, Ikuola Nkwu; good afternoon Ikuola Nkwu; good evening Ikuola Nkwu; he started all these things just to let the people realise what will happen in the future. He foresaw the future, but nobody saw it with him, nobody agreed with him. So the idea of people working for three days and using the other days to go back to agriculture is very important. Through agriculture, I believe we can come out from this current situation that we are in now. The idea that people should work for three days and still get paid for five days, their normal pay is not reduced and the proceed in that two days in agriculture, nobody is asking you to bring it is a marvelous idea by the governor. We want to do it for one year and see how it works, but I believe it will work fine because other states are now adopting it.
How does your ministry help in the development of Imo State?
My ministry is a very critical ministry to the development and economic well-being of the state. Besides just maintaining the master plan of the state, it is also saddled with raising the revenue base of the state and making the state grow as well. There are a lot of ways you can do this, if you manage the land well, people pay their taxes and rates, pay rents, that will help create revenue that will help the state to grow.
Recently, Governor Okorocha noted that Imo capital, Owerri is the third after Lagos and Abuja as the fastest growing cities in real estate development, what is your take on this?
His Excellency is right; you know, three months ago, we had this place where all the commissioners met. One of the judges there was a former governor of Kaduna State, Nasie el-Rufai, who was one-time at the FCT. What the governor wants us to do here is similar to what was obtainable in Abuja, so I call myself the El-Rufai of Imo State. His idea is to transform the state and I think if we honesty key into what he had in mind, Imo State will be a place where people will like to be instead of Abuja and Lagos. Yes, Owerri is one of the fastest growing cities in the country.
There is this ongoing demolition, which the governor has referred to as urban renewal programme, ‘Imo My Pride;’ could you explain it because some people believe the exercise is ill-timed considering the economic recession?
That is under the Ministry of Works, but we contribute to it because we have the land. This is what I referred to as the difficulties of having a change; nobody wants change, but when change is completed everybody will love it. For instance, I could remember three years ago when he was forming the first inland road, second inland road, people didn’t like them, but they are good things of change, but people didn’t want them then. Now, you see the easy flow of traffic because of these roads. If you drive through these areas the governor opened up, you can see the beauty of it, you can just imagine what will happen when the road is finished. But I’m telling you that our governor, I don’t even know how he finds the money to do all of these; sometimes I’m thinking that the man’s wealth is what is helping the state because the type of work and income that is coming into the state will make one imagine how he is doing it. So what he is doing is very important, the urban renewal is necessary; building of new markets, we are talking about a modern city. Some markets we know are not supposed to be where they are presently. And we know that some of these people agitating have also travelled and know what is good. But for whatever reasons, for sentiment or whatever, we don’t want to have these things done in the proper way and that’s the problem. We have to be honest, truthful to ourselves and then maybe, use the opportunity we have when we travel to help the state, our people. So, I am calling on those people that have travelled and know of good things to support the system, what the governor wants to do. Besides, what does he benefit from it? This man can even go to elsewhere to live, he can afford to do that, but he refused to do that. He became the contractor, the road worker, just everything to make sure the state is better. The governor, like today, he is in Germany when he gets back, I can guarantee you, the first thing he will do from the airport is to go for inspection of ongoing projects; who does that? This is a passion and desire the man has for his state. If you hear him talk at the executive chambers, I feel pity for him, sometimes, it’s like I want to cry because some of us even don’t understand him; some don’t even understand where he is going to.
This your urban renewal in Imo, some of us are worried because of the enormity of demolition involved because we know that there is recession and equally know that allocation from Abuja has dropped drastically. So are you not worried that Owelle may not find the resources to complete some of these projects?
I have listened to Owelle, my governor and the man I follow and I have seen the way he works. He believes he can do this thing, financially, he believes he can do it. Even if it means him going to all ends to get fund, he is going to do it. The way he is doing it is almost on direct labour. He is always coming back to supervise everything, every contractor he knows by name, he knows how many blocks he needs, how many bags of cement he needs, so he believes this can be done and he is doing it. The only thing we can do is to support him. He could easily raise his hand up, stay at home, don’t do anything again and people will still clap for him because he has done enough, but he said he came to the job not because of the interest of the job, but for the love of the people.
How are you tackling the issue of land grabbing in the state?
One of the reasons we introduced the use of C of O (Certificate of Occupancy) was to stop fraudulent activities of land investors, people in the state and from my ministry. In the past, we had double allocations, double C of Os because of the way it was handled in the past. With this new flag off we did on Friday, I believe that the issue of fraudulent activities on land in the ministry, in land allocation and others will be a thing of the past. I’m hoping that all that will be done away with soon.