ATM Interview with MD/CEO of ACTDA, Ven. (Barr) Amaechi Okwuosa
“…They can’t eat their cake and have it.”
The dismal state of infrastructure in Awka, the capital of Anambra State, is a much-mentioned issue, and the focus of detailed reporting in this month’s edition of Awka Times. As a capital city, Awka has seen major changes in its urban landscape with the location of major government institutions in the city. These include the State Secretariat, the State House of Assembly, the headquarters of the state judiciary, the Government House, and the official residence of the state governor (the Governor’s Lodge), to mention a few. The spread of government establishments has added to the pressure on Awka infrastructure.
The infrastructure pressure arises not just from massive population growth driven by expansions in the governmental and non-governmental sectors, but also by increased rural-urban migration. The population growth is also driven by remigration: the return of sizeable pockets of Awka and other Igbo emigrants displaced by religious and political volatility in other parts of Nigeria. Awka infrastructures are creaking under the weight of these massive population shifts.
Awka Times thought it would help to find out how the Anambra State government plans to alleviate the decay of infrastructure in Awka capital city. ATM Editor, Emeka Ral, accompanied by our reporter Stella Nzekwe, sat down with the MD/CEO of Awka Capital Territory Development Authority (ACTDA), Ven. (Barr.) Amaechi Okwuosa, to interrogate the issue of Awka infrastructure. The Authority is charged with the responsibility of coordinating infrastructural development in the capital territory.
The interview was focused, and Ven. Okwuosa was forthcoming, at times appearing – under skillful questioning by our editor – to blame Awka residents for the dilapidation of the city’s infrastructure. We present the interview below, very lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Awka Times Magazine (ATM): Could you briefly describe the responsibilities and objectives of the Authority.
ACTDA MD: The Awka Capital Territory Development Authority (ACTDA) which was inaugurated on May 15, 2014 is an independent watchdog and regulatory a body for any development activities within the Capital Territory. It is overseen by myself as the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer. It was primarily created to amongst others, accelerate infrastructural development of the Awka Capital Territory; prepare a Master Plan for the Capital territory and for land use with respect to town planning within the Capital territory; Implement Awka Capital Territory Master Plan; Provide infrastructural services in accordance with the Master Plan; and enforce compliance to appropriate standard within Awka Capital territory in collaboration with other relevant authorities. Our vision is to build a cosmopolitan city with excellent infrastructure and [is] the preferred investment destination in Africa. As you may well know, the present state of Awka is unacceptable, as it is lacking in key excellent infrastructure required of a cosmopolitan city that spurs investments.
ATM: We hear about the Structure Plan of Awka and Satellite Towns produced under Gov. Peter Obi and a subsequent Awka Development Control Manual by the current government. Is the Agency still implementing these plans?
ACTDA MD: At the moment, the provisions of the Development Control Manual within takes precedence over the previous plan. What we are compelled to follow at the moment is as stated in the Development Control Manual for Awka Capital Territory, under the Awka Capital Territory Development Authority. The Structure Plan is there as a guide, but when you look at the main mandate for ACTDA, we are mandated to produce a comprehensive master plan for Awka Capital Territory and that actually envelops the Structure Plan and other areas not contained in it. It is more like an improved version of the document that the former governor produced. So, this is holistic and contains all the attributes of what you would see in first class cities of the world.
ATM: Could we look at what specific achievements the Authority has been able to record within its short period of existence.
ACTDA MD: There are quite a lot. For instance, the Manual that we have now which meets with international requirements. That’s one. We have commenced the production of the master plan. Though it is not complete yet, but we are into it at the moment. Thirdly, there has been a very clear distinction within our development control. We have areas designated for high density, and others for low density. We also have industrial areas. Now, it is very clear that things are not muddled up as it used to be. There is clear-cut demarcation in terms of development within the Territory. We’ve been able to start up regeneration in some areas. Revamping exercises have been ongoing. There are some slums that we’ve been able to restore from sordid states in which they were. ACTDA has been able to set a clear line regarding our standard for approval of building plans. Unlike what we met before, we now have a data of all the approvals we grant which is easily referred to in case of discrepancies. We are also very strict when it comes to approval of building plans. It is now compulsory that before we grant building approvals, there will be site inspection. We also engage in constant follow-ups to ensure that the construction follows the approved plan. Under the current dispensation, we’ve been able to enforce the observance of setbacks on roads. It used to be business as usual, but now, even with your approval, you must observe the setback. We’ve been able to enforce “no building zone” under the high-tension cables. When we were established, there were lots of buildings under the high-tension cables. On former Abakiliki Road (now Club Road), most of the structures there that contravene the current were put in place before ACTDA was established. We have demolished some of them, and others have been cut off. That would show you that we mean business. There is a law prohibiting people from building on waterways. Most of the structures that infringe that law were constructed prior to our establishment. But now, there is no approval given to individuals or firms without going through those basic rules, and at the moment, there are certain areas where we don’t approve businesses or charities like churches that may cause noise pollution. From my predecessor to myself, we’ve built quite a few structures, including many roundabout. Under my tenure, I built the Ring Road Roundabout. You would also see so many parks around. Places that were used for open defecation have been turned into beautiful green areas with flowers. There is one at Amawbia which has just been completed at the site of the accident which took place in December last year, when a petrol tanker overturned. We’ve revamped the place. At the moment, we are rebuilding the Amawbia roundabout which will be one of the best tourist attractions around with a bell tower that is over 100ft high and pure sterling silver. It will be like a tower of light that will be seen from every part of Awka.
On road, we’ve been able to take into cognizance the need to embark on road expansion and construction of new roads. There are so many estates. At the moment, we have Millennium Estate that is coming up and that will be the best estate made up of smart houses and the ability to regenerate itself. The plots are currently on sale, and people are showing interest.
When it comes to flooding and other areas, it was a mayhem before we took over. One of the major causes of flooding within Awka and the capital territory is manmade and negligence. Most of the drains were blocked intentionally by indigenes, land speculators, and people who felt that doing so was in their interest. Last month, we embark on major desilting work around Court Road, Works Road, parts of Zik Avenue, Dike Street and Obunagu Road. It was quite atrocious what we encountered along Obunagu Road. A stretch of about 200 meters, certain individuals used reinforced concrete to fill up the drains. Some build restaurants, car garages, houses, perimeter fences, and others on the drains. I had to bring them down. And whenever it rained (no matter how little) the whole place would be flooded. Now, I am proud to tell you that the situation has been arrested and we spent over eight million naira to do that because we had to hire special machines for the exercise. In other areas, you have about 10 meters and 5 meters, but that was the highest we encountered. There was a particular man we decided to fill his to the ground level, and erected his fence directly on the drain. We had to pull it down. So, we’ve achieved a lot. We’ve been able to mediate among striking members of the community. Our goal is not just to demolish houses. We want to bring sanity and peace to the community.
One of our major achievements is in the area of sensitization. I believe in direct contact and dialogue. Most times when people know the reason why they should do the right thing, they would do it effortlessly. When you use coercion, they may do it but it would be counterproductive, because when the fear of that force is no longer there, they would revert to the status quo. However, when they know that it is in their own interest, they continue along that path. For instance, when I embarked on enforcement of grass cutting, [I told them that] they shouldn’t do it because it is government’s responsibility. I had to explain to them the cause of the incessant bouts of typhoid and malaria is dirty environment. If your environment if clean, you have less incidence of vermin, mosquitoes, etc. But when you have bushy surroundings, obviously you have mosquitoes, snakes and others around. As you know, some major carriers of salmonella and other bacteria and viruses that cause little sicknesses are vermins. I made them to understand that it is their civic responsibility to keep their environment clean, and not the government’s. No if you walk along the Amawbia-Amansea motorway, you would see that we are cutting the grasses there and the private individuals are mandated to cut theirs. When they fail to do that, we will fine and prosecute them.
We’ve also been able to educate the people to be their brother’s keeper. In the past when kidnapping was rife in the state, people were kidnapped and kept just a stone throw from their houses and nobody would know because the whole place was overgrown. That informed our decision to bring out a plan regarding the perimeter fencing which we’ve already enforced along the expressway. Soon, we shall be going into the town. There must be a clear view from the outside. We have this false sense of security deriving from lock-up fences and high walls. In effect, it is much more hazardous and dangerous to have high walls around your house. If something is going wrong inside the house, no one would know. Somebody could even come in and shoot you without anyone knowing. But when these fences are in line with the prototype we have produces, people would know when something is going wrong and they can come and help you. This false sense of security of “once I lock the gate then I’m safe” is not true. There have been instances where people’s houses were set on fire and just because nobody could get in, the children, disabled and aged were burnt alive. But when you have that open space, people can come in and help you. That’s one of our achievements. We’ve been able to enforce it, and we have more than 95% rate of success.
ATM: [You] mention[ed] some shanties and slums which the Authority has reclaimed. If you don’t mind, Sir, could we have specific examples.
ACTDA MD: Of course, we have the Millennium City now. There were a lot of shanties around that place. They were illegal occupiers, most of them non-indigenes of Anambra state, without mentioning name to avoid segregation. Some of them settled [there] and from cattle rearing, they started building up the shanties. We also had to sack them from the Old Ikenga Hotel axis. The current site of the International Conference Centre also had a shanty. Another spot was close to the Amansea Cattle Market which has remained a continuous battle, as they keep leaving and returning.
ATM: How is the Authority funded and how much funding support does it receive from the state government?
ACTDA MD: What I need to tell you is that all our activities and projects are being funded by the state government. That’s number one. Number two, we generate IGR through building control and development control.
ATM: ACTDA is resident in Awka which is the heart of the state capital. Is there any rapport or synergy between the Authority and the town to ensure better achievement of its objective?
ACTDA MD: The capital territory cuts across seven local government areas. Awka city is one of the town in Awka South Local Government. You have Nibo, Nise, Amawbia, and a host of others. So, I do not want us to always focus on Awka town. But having said that, we work in synergy with all the towns that are within our area of jurisdiction. Awka is a bit peculiar, due to the intrinsic nature of the geopolitical issues within Awka town. There is a divide. I observed that when I came in. Some parts against the others regarding who the traditional ruler should be. But that’s not our problem as it happens in some communities. What we do here is that we go with whoever the government has recognized. Not that [they] tell us what to do, no. That is by the way.
We synergize with them. For instance, we had an issue with a waterway that had been blocked. It runs across Umuzocha, Umudioka, down to [Kwata Junction]. From Regina Caeli where it started, it used to be a very huge waterway that was constructed just immediately after the civil war. I understood, when I spoke to them, that it had been there even before Nigeria’s independence, but was demolished during the war. It was about 10-12ft wide and about 8ft deep. We now found out that some land speculators had started covering it up. At a place, it was 2ft wide and 3ft deep. So, you can imagine the volume of water coming from 10-12ft wide and 7-8ft deep being compressed to 2ft by 3ft. So, there was a heavy rain, and almost the whole houses there were affected. Initially when I got there they were very recalcitrant and hostile but I found out that most of those exhibiting the violence were non-indigenes from Ebonyi and Enugu states. I engaged them and that was when the landlords and people of Awka came out, including the chairman and youth of the community. They rallied round us and we were able to mark the structures. We pulled them down and they themselves had gone ahead to start pulling down theirs. Only very few difficult ones are still resisting but we are waiting for the rains to stop because we can’t tamper with that when it rains there. So we intend to go in there probably [later this month] December or [in] January to start demolition. Some of them have actually, on their own, pulled down their fences and moved backwards. So, there is a synergy.
ATM: Some have said that there is lack of government attention towards the inner city of Awka, with greater focus paid to the developing sections of the town. If you are aware, there are serious issues of flooding in many parts of the town, particularly in the Agulu/Umuogbu area. Are there plans to develop the inner community of Awka?
ACTDA MD: The government of Chief Dr. Willie Maduaburochukwu Obiano is one that has human touch. I don’t really agree with you that the inner city is being neglected. The truth is that the villagers are very hostile to government agencies when it comes to enforcing building control and development control. There are some of them that have built on areas where they are not supposed to build. Even when they were building, I personally went in there at Amudo, Umuogbu, Umudioka, Umuzocha, Umubelle, Umujagwo, Umueri and virtually all the places, including Umuoranma and Amenyi. When you ask them to stop building, they would say it is their great-grand-father’s land. You mark a place and direct them to stop building and they would agree. By 3:30pm on Friday they are amassing building materials and moving them to site, knowing that it is weekend when government officials do not go to work. By night, work begins and continues during the day and at night. By the time you arrive the scene on Monday, you’d find structures that were not there obviously built in the wrong places. Because they block the waterways, water must flow. The next day they would come around and start screaming about being neglected. But they are the people causing the problem. So, I am appealing to the Awka community to do the needful. If they want development in the inner city, then they must allow government functionaries to assist them. But at the moment, no. You can’t eat your cake and have it.
ATM: There is the notion by some that the Awka people do not provide adequate support to government in terms of making land available for developmental purpose. On the other hand, the Awka people feel that they have done more than enough in this regard. From your end, Sir, what is the true situation?
ACTDA MD: I want you to understand that under the current law on acquisition of land, government has control over land. By the Land Use Act, the federal government owns all lands. So, the government can acquire any land for overriding public interest. That is the much I can say on that. Awka happened to be one of the most enlightened within this area, even during the colonial era. But it is quite unfortunate that the founding fathers of Awka decided to cluster at one place. It is not my fault, but their own mannerism. They clustered in one place and left other parts. Government would surely make use of empty land. So, you can’t come out and cry that they took your land when you are not making use of that land. And the owners of all lands that have been taken by government were duly compensated, both in land and money sometimes between ten to twenty percent of the land in addition to the monetary compensation. There has not been any case where the government would forcefully take land from the community. If you do not make use of your land and the government needs it, the government would make use of it.
ATM: Sir, some feel that in the long run, future generations of Awka may have no place to call home given the volume of land that’s been acquired by government. More so, would it not make more developmental sense to spread government institutions across the six local governments that make up the Awka Capital Territory, thereby putting less pressure on Awka land?
ACTDA MD: Of course we are doing that. It is not true that government has taken more of lands belonging to the Awka community. The problem here is that Awka people spread their tentacles to lands within Awka. There are some areas taken from Amawbia, but Awka people refer to them as Awka. Same with those taken from Okpuno and Isiagu. Isiagu, Okpuno, Nibo, Nise, and Amawbia are not Awka. There is a parcel of land acquired from Isiagu for which they have been compensated. I was there last week for demolition because some people have encroached on the land and most of them are from Awka. The same thing obtains at Iyiagu Estate which is supposed to be Okpuno but Awka people have gone there and encroached. The same thing is playing out at Cornerstone Estate, where after being duly compensated they came back [and] started parcellating and selling lands that have been acquired by government. They moved from the compensatory plots given to them and started selling others. I don’t agree that Awka land has been taken. On your fear regarding how your children will feel, well, come to think about it, Awka is receiving the best infrastructural development. Don’t you think that your children will feel happy that they are living a better life than those in other places that are not so developed? That’s part of development. At Onitsha for instance, which is arguably an older city than Awka, most of the people from Onitsha live as tenants within Onitsha with better means of livelihood. So, it is left for you to develop. Most Awka people today are living in Abuja someone else’s land and building there. Most of you are in Lagos, buying land and building houses in somebody else’s land. C’mon, what is good for the goose is good for the gander.
ATM: Let’s look at infrastructure, Sir. There is the notion that after over twenty years of capitalhood, Awka is not at par with its sister state capitals created same time it was created. Worse still, some like Abakaliki which came after it seem to have overtaken it in the infrastructure race. Given the place of Anambra in the south east and Nigeria, there is the notion that Awka should be much better.
ACTDA MD: What you are saying is arguable, depending on the way you see it. If you were referring to Awka inner city, like I explained to you it is much more difficult to get into a place where there was no plan. It was a rural area and there was no plan so they did what they thought was best for them and now we come in with new rules and laws. That’s one of the reasons why the government is focusing on building new estates and developing areas that are easier to control. We need the cooperation of indigenes. Most of my staff have been beaten up by Awka people (not just Awka, but Nibo and other communities) when they go into the communities to enforce building and development control. They attack them. They see them as visitors. “This is my property and you have no right to come and tell us what to do.” So you can’t eat your cake and have it. Though it is now changing because I have been able to engage and explain to them. For us to be able to sanitize Awka town and build basic infrastructure, a lot of ancestral homes will go. Are you prepared? The biggest resistance is from the people of the town. I say this because I have experienced it. There are some buildings that are in the way obstructing the passage of electricity cables, but the owners would rather die protecting their homes. For instance, go to Amenyi at Imoka you will see the mayhem there. They won’t allow any development to pass through the area. Some of them worship those trees or whatever it is they worship there, and I don’t have anything against it but there have been instances where we’ve gone there to work and the monkeys would attack and they tell you not to touch them. But frankly speaking I told them if the monkey looks for my trouble, I’ll give it to him because they are so wild. You could buy a loaf of bread and they would have the boldness to attack and take it from you. That’s not what you’re supposed to see in a civilized town. I don’t have anything against Awka but I’m just giving you an example. So, there is this institutionalized belief and way of life that we need to change for development to come in.
ATM: Thank you, Sir. On a final note, are there major milestones we should be looking forward to in the coming period?
ACTDA MD: Yes, there are major milestones and we have room for improvements. We are heading towards the building and construction of more roads. We have the International Conference Centre (ICC) that will be one of a kind in the whole south east. It seats more than ten thousand people and has a lot of facilities around. We have Golden Tulip Hotel though it is in Agulu which is also part of the capital territory. It is about the only five-star hotel you have in this area and we intend on building more. The Millennium City which I told you about will be one of a kind and the administration of the present governor, Chief Willie Maduaburochukwu Obiano, is keen on making Anambra state a user-friendly state where people can come in and go. Look at security, before this administration came in, you [couldn’t] move around in most places in Awka, especially when it [was] late. But today, people move about freely. We’ve managed to play down the rift between some communities. I was involved in one episode last year. There is this cultural migration the Awka people perform once in a year called Imoka. People move from Amenyi to Umuokpu through Amawbia. In the past, there had been bloodshed. Last year, I happened to be around and I was able to avert a major crisis at Amawbia. I believe that in ACTDA today, everyone is free to come here for assistance. So, the milestones we are looking at are under infrastructure, education, security, and human development. We are up to it and we are doing our best. But remember, the Awka people should not always complain about their losing their land. They are getting the highest percentage of development and that should assuage their pangs.