Maduabuchi Ubani writes that from a forest near Calabar, the capital of Cross Rivers State a city is rising to take care of the housing needs of the residents
Before now, the four villages of Akpabuyo, Atimbo East , Ikot Asuquo Oku and Ikot Ewa, in Cross River State did not attract so much attention. They have been regarded more as villages in the forest.
In fact, when on the 31st of March, 2009, Senator Liyel Imoke, the Cross River State Governor laid the first block to kick start the construction of a housing estate in the barren forest of Atimbo, in Akpabuyo Local Government Area, some five kilometres east of Calabar, the Cross River State capital, his action was greeted with a lot of scepticism and criticism as many wondered how he would transform a thick tropical forest into residential homes.
The sceptics who saw the project and its hype as a political gimmickry by the governor to pull wool over their eyes to get them to re-elect him for a second term pointed to ready examples of failed housing schemes that now littered the state from past administrations.
To be sure, In Cross Rivers State, the last government that built estates to bridge the gap in social housing was that which was led by the late Brigadier U.J.Esuene several decades ago.
And conscious of the past failings in mass housing scheme in the state, Governor Imoke announced at the commencement of the construction work for the estate that the state has a 5% growth rate which was quite considerable and if measures were not taken to develop estates like the one he was initiating, there would be no houses for the people to live in the not too distant future.
He said: “For the first time in a long while, there have been no government housing projects in this state. We appreciate the need for the people to have decent, affordable and secure accommodation which underscores the need to have a scheme like this one which is a public-private partnership initiative.”
Located in an expansive virgin forest stretching through 51.5 hectres covering the four villages of Akpabuyo, Atimbo East , Ikot Asuquo Oku and Ikot Ewa, Senator Imoke had assured the public that when completed pressure would be significantly lessened on accommodation needs in Calabar as the estate will automatically become satellite towns.
That perhaps has become a reality as some workers in calabar now live in the housing estate and commute to work in the capital city from their new abode once described as a forest.
Mr. Eyong Otu, the Secretary of the landlord association who was full of praises for the governor for demonstrating his commitment to cater for the welfare of the people by completing the construction of the housing estate.
He said: “Calabar is so populated which means people are finding it difficult to get shelters. This estate is a response to the yearnings of the people and also at the right time. The environment here is serene and secure, and that gives us the opportunity to relax without fear. We are really proud of this place.”
Another resident, Mrs Zion Iyeli said outside the occasional power failure being experienced the estate has offered needed relief.
“We do experience power failure just like in Calabar, but we are enjoying life here. We feel secure because apart from the fact that there is a police post here, the policemen do patrol the estate all night. We also have good access road which makes our journey to Calabar quite easy,” she said.
The estate which is kept neat by Rashino company limited, an environmental cleaners is spacious, well drained, and fitted with a football field, a health centre, and a police post to meet the modern day requirement of a residential estate and in particular to serve the needs of the people.
“We have constant water supply, there are provisions for shops and a health centre so we do not have to walk long distances to do our routine shopping,” Mrs Iyeli Confirmed.
For the family of Mr. Greg Okem, a Director at the Internal Revenue Service who occupies one of the flat, moving into the estate has afforded the family a conducive atmosphere.
"Life in this place is quite different from the hustle and bustle in the town. We have enough space to play football and even hockey which was not the case when we were in Ekotenim where we once lived before we moved here,” said Celestine Okem, son of the Director.
He added: “We also have efficient water supply system within the estate.”
Down the road, where Barrister Emmanuel Ekaya from Obubra lives, his cousin, Ebri said they moved into their House 13, Block 3 apartment in February this year and since then “We have been enjoying everything good. We have no worry about flooding or any mishap since the houses are well built with proper drains.”
A 7- year-old pupil of University of Calabar International School, Gift Imoh relief her experience: “since January when we moved here, it has been fun using the recreational ground around to relax and we are loving it.”
Basically, with the rising population of Calabar and skyrocketing cost of accommodation, the new estate, which is one of several being built across the three senatorial districts of the state, is expected to significantly reduce the strain on housing and accommodation in Calabar.
“There has been a continued rise in the cost of accommodation in our city in spite of the low income of our people; something urgent has to be done to address this,” Imoke said declaring that it was in keeping to his campaign promise to ensure that civil servants and residents of the city have their own houses that compelled him go through the stress and rigours of acquiring the expansive land for the housing scheme.
“The first challenge was that Cross River State withdrew from the National Housing Loan Scheme in 2002 which ought to have provided the platform for our people to build their own homes. So we have had situations where people work and couldn’t afford to build a house. To us that is not acceptable. So this scheme is meant to give workers in the state the opportunity to take advantage of the low interest rates that this scheme provides to own houses at a low cost.”
To get here, Imoke said that the state government paid compensation to the communities, provided amenities and infrastructure like road, electricity and water at a cost of over 1.7 billion naira.
“ The state went into a public-private partnership arrangement to make life easier for our people and kept its commitment of bargain in the partnership by providing Aso Savings and Loans all the encouragement and assistance it needed to complete the construction of the first phase of 200 housing units which comprises of 64 three-bedrooms bungalows, 98 two -Bedrooms semi-detached bungalows and 12 units of one bedroom terraces which were commissioned on the 10th of December, 2012 by Ms Ama Pepple, the Minister for Housing,” enthused Imoke
And with its commissioning, the new housing estate that was once a forest is expected to provide shelter for a large number of people in the state.