By Chukwudi Nweje
Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Lands and Water Resources, Pastor Umo Eno in this interview speaks on the administration’s moves towards reforming the land and water sectors in the state. The move initiated by Governor Udom Emmanuel, he says will beside giving titles to land owners free up the economy by giving incentives to use land as capital in boosting the economic fortunes of the state.
Eno who is also the director of Agricultural Investments also spoke on the administration’s plans to crash food prices through among others schemes to boost cassava production and revive the long abandoned Akwa Palm.
What have you achieved since your appointment as Commissioner of Lands and Water Resources?
We have done a few things in my ministry since I came on board on January 4, 2021. We have executed the Geographic Information System (GIS), we have improved revenue in our ministry. You know, revenue in our ministry used to be like N5, N6 million, N7 million a month and at N7 million everybody would clap. In January, it was N15 million and from there it rose. It has never gone less than N30 million since I got in and there are a lot of loopholes we have tried to block. We set up Land Acquisition Recovery Committee to recover land where people just buy land and they don’t do anything with it, they just come in, deceive the state government ‘give us land’, they give them land. There are industrial parks that are supposed to have been created, so people just come in take the land and they are not doing anything with it. So His Excellency approved that we should review those land and if people don’t do anything we should revoke them. We set up that committee and we have done a lot of recoveries. Of course, from those recoveries is what you see now, they fight because people that got those land, now that government has acquired and paid full compensation just because they didn’t take possession, there have been a lot of encroachments. Now that government says we want the lands back, my job as Commissioner for Lands is to recover those lands. So you find out that there will be a fight back. Like Buhari would say when you fight corruption, corruption will fight back. Most of these things some officials have hand in them, sometimes they will throw away records and lie to the community, work with stakeholders in the community that records were missing. They wouldn’t come back and say government didn’t pay compensation. But you know all of a sudden they would find out that I have the documents to show that government had paid compensation and nobody knows how I get the documents. You see, help can come from anywhere because it’s good while you live your life, there are people who know you and they are willing to help you. Help can even come from a member of opposition but you are expected to see the person as a member of opposition who will always fight you but that is not leadership. There are people who will believe in you and continue to believe in you. We have done Land Review Committee, the committee has submitted its report and there are a lot of lands we are going to revoke.
Apart from that, one of the greatest things that have happened to the state is the issue of decentralisation of Certificate of Occupancy (CoO) which has been a key factor in the lockdown of businesses. When you talk of opening businesses and part of it is that you want to encourage the Small Medium Enterprises to grow. Now with COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of businesses went down and there was need to stimulate the economy. And what are the ways to stimulate the economy and regain businesses back? A lot of those their land documents are tied up in government, so we met with His Excellency Governor Udom Emmanuel and spoke with him. The constitution empowers him to delegate authority to release the C of O, so he gladly delegated that authority to the Commissioner for Lands which is the first time in the state. You don’t take that lightly because that is part of his duties he has delegated under Section 45 of the constitution. That delegation was done and we can now sign C of Os and we are signing to decentralise and make businesses get back on track. That is wonderful because I come from a business background and I know what it is.
Can you talk about the Water Bill and how it affects the common man?
It does because without those bills you cant for example go to my village to drill water; what is the yardstick, how did you do your enumeration, how did you arrive at that, what is your baseline study? All of those are contained in the Water Bill, the procedure for ensuring that that man in my village has water and when he has water, assuming I’m given money, the application of such funds, accountability. You know all of these agencies, the USAID…
Does it require people taking permission to drill boreholes?
Yes. You will work with the associations and you know them. But again most people just drill, what are the steps that you have to take to be able to understand that to drill for this area, this is the level you must drill, so all of those are contained in that document that they are reviewing right now. Also for the Akwa Ibom Water Corporation that takes care of the urban, how can they raise money? Today, we have the water corporation that is limited liability company that the state government is still paying salaries. So why this limited liability company? Perhaps, they don’t have a document to even know how to enforce. Okay, how do I get water here that is Housing Estate that if I supply water here, how much can I make? That bill empowers you to use meter or to charge, to generate bills. These things are all loose and so long as you continue losing these things, the state government is losing revenue. But most importantly, the people drilling borehole now, you see water but when the water is tasted and analysed, you know that you people are just drinking rubbish. So, these are all contained in the bill, there will be some certification in the water that people finally get.
You can’t do the agricultural and auxiliary services successfully without a clean cut water policy. If for example, Akwa Ibom State Government wants to go into collaboration with African Development Bank on the issue of rural agriculture, there will be need for irrigation project and all of that. So from the water policy of the state, you will be able to know upfront the expectations of government, international development organisations or international development partners on what role they have to do in the participation. That is the only way you can guarantee the issue of off takers having return on investments. If I have a land, Akwa Palm for example, and we want to develop a small holders’ development units where you have communities or cooperatives having their land, then government supporting them seedlings to plant. Now from this water policy, the challenge of those people is going to be access to water which is very key in the history of irrigation. So, the farmers now know from the water policy who and who to approach or which agency to discuss with so that they will participate in the intervention. The federal government has been attending to do that through the establishment of River Basin Development Authorities.
What about the huge investment made under Obong Victor Attah in the water sector through the support of African Development Bank. Water infrastructure was developed, pipes were laid across many parts of the state but in the course of development and expansion, a lot of distortions have been done to those facilities and this accounted for why you are not having water in Ewet Housing, Five Star, the state secretariat like we used to have. What are you doing about this?
The same water policy you are talking about will deal with pipes destroyed like you said but how do you enforce, what is the protection to these water companies because even if you want to enforce that, they will tell you that policy will make the Ministry of Works to understand that if you give contract, the people must understand that there are pipes going through here; get the final maps, if you destroy it, you will be responsible and then the water companies can enforce that. But when you don’t have a policy, of course you know the policy where there is no rule, there is no sin, so people just do it and get away with it. So I think that is why this policy is going to be very necessary.
What we are also trying to do with the state in terms of land allocation is to prioritise instead of people just coming into the state grabbing land like they used to; we will like to know what you want to do with the land, we will give you a time line and you pay the right premium. So these whole lots of reforms within the Ministry of Lands when you come there, you find that it’s no longer business as usual. We are trying.
Before I became the commissioner, I was the Executive Director, Agricultural Investment new directorate that was created by the governor as a directorate in the Akwa Ibom State Investment Corporation. What is the job of the agric investment directorate? To ensure sustainability of all government investments in agriculture and turn them to agric business during the life of this administration. Fortunately or unfortunately, the governor has asked me to continue in that role. So as the Commissioner of Lands and Water Resources, I’m still the Executive Director, Agricultural Investment of the state and I strongly believe that agriculture is the next destination for the state. So, it gives me an opportunity to put a few things in place.