Thrown out by vicious landlords, some civil servants in Cross River State have found solace in a low-cost housing estate built by the state governor, Liyel Imoke. Solomon Elusoji writes
In 2008, when the Cross River State Government’s 850-unit civil servants’ housing project located at Atimbo, Akpabuyo Local Government Area of the state was conceived, the vision, as clearly enunciated by the state governor, Liyel Imoke, was to ensure that the state’s civil servants retire into decent and affordable houses of their own.
Governor Imoke’s idea of a housing scheme for civil servants was that no more should they continue to live like squatters after their productive years in service to the state. For the governor, every retiring civil servant should be able to drive a car and live in their own houses.
It was against this backcloth that the idea of a comfortable and affordable housing scheme was commenced seven years ago, to enable the state civil servants actualize the dream of owning their own houses with the launch of 850 housing units in Atimbo.
With the second phase consisting of 250 blocks billed for commissioning on May 25th, four days to the exit date of Governor Imoke’s administration, these houses have come to many lucky beneficiaries as a saving grace and a rescue project, as some who were evicted by their landlords have already found succor in them.
Even with work at fever pitch to achieve its completion and commissioning the stipulated date, there is heightened pressure from applicants to take possession of the property.
For instance, Mrs. Theresa Binang, a widow and mother of three could be seen preparing in what could be described as a race against time to move into her three bedroom bungalow, having been thrown out of her rented apartment by her landlord.
For her, it was as if Governor Imoke had foreseen her ordeal coming. Expressing her excitement at how lucky she was at securing her own house, Theresa said she is not only grateful that Imoke wiped away her tears as a widow, she is particularly thankful for helping her escape the shame of destitution.
Seen putting a last minute touch, preparing to move in, she declared: “I am in a hurry to move in. Just a week ago, my landlord threw me out of his house because I could not renew my tenancy a month after it expired. As a widow, I don’t know how I would have been able to contemplate building a two or three bed room bungalow, given the additional challenge of raising my children and seeing them through school.
“If I was not a beneficiary of this housing scheme, I truly do not know where I would have been living with my three children today. I am grateful to our governor, Senator Imoke for helping to wipe away the tears of losing my husband and also helping me to avoid the shame of being rendered homeless. Not many governors would have cared about the plight of civil servants, but in his policies and programmes, he has ensured that even civil servants are taken care of.”
If Theresa’s ordeal is pitiable, then, that of Mrs. Lydia Omgboche, a staff of Cross River Agricultural Development Project is even more heart wrenching. She was forced by the harsh reality of her situation to move into her apartment even with no windows in place.
Also a widow and mother of two, Lydia is equally a victim of a vicious and capricious landlord. She was driven to extremity and forced to embrace harsh elements in a last-ditch search for succor. According to her, “I moved in with no windows or burglary proof in place. The first thing I did was to fix the burglary proof and shield the windows with cellophane bags and move in. I lived like that for good three weeks without windows. And to the mercy of God, there was no rain during the period. That was when I knew that God, indeed, was husband of the widows.
“My rent had expired in December and my landlord was on my neck to pay. However, I felt there was no need paying the huge amount that was being demanded by my landlord to renew my rent, hence I had to channel it to fix this three bedroom apartment I got from the state government housing scheme in Atimbo for civil servants. I am most grateful to Governor Imoke for initiating a project such as this for people like us. Where would I have gone from here when my landlord was putting pressure on me? I can now sleep with ease in my house and I can channel the money I would have used for rent into my children’s tuition.”
For Barrister James Emechi of the state Ministry of Justice, his plan of building his own house would have remained a pipe dream but for Governor Imoke, who felt that civil servants should not only retire after many fruitful years of service the state, but should do so decently and in comfort.
Speaking amidst joy, Emechi revealed: “I dreamed of owning my house a long time ago, but it has never been that easy to save to start a project like this. But the government, under the able leadership of Governor Liyel Imoke has ensured that our dream of owning our own houses did not die with us. And today, I am a proud owner of a three 3-bedroom bungalow.
“I cannot describe the peace that comes with owning my own house. There is one thing I am so certain about and that is that I am no longer at the whims and caprices of any landlord. Have you ever experienced a landlord asking you to use your money to fix a leaking roof in his house and promising to factor the cost into your next rent and refusing to do that when your next rent is due? That was some of my ordeal in the hands of my landlord.
“Finally, all I can say is a big thank you to our amiable governor, Senator Imoke for making such a huge impact in the lives of civil servants in the state. Civil servants have never had it so good.
Mr. Asuquo Bassey Ekpo, lecturer, College of Health Technology, Calabar, who lost out on the first phase of the four hundred units of the two and three bedroom housing scheme, had this to say about Governor Imoke’s vision of retire into decent and comfort life for civil servants.
“I had earlier applied for the first phase, but I was not so lucky. But that disappointment did not dash my hopes as I continued to hope that the opportunity would come for me to own my own house. And today, thank God that I now have a roof over my head that I can call my own. I remain eternally grateful to His Excellency, Governor Imoke for his housing vision for civil servants in the state. But for him, I don’t know how I would have been able to save to build a 3-bedroom bungalow for myself. My ultimate happiness is that I will no longer be under pressure from any landlord.”
With the infrastructures in the state at 90, 75 and 80 per cent completion for electricity, water and roads respectively, Mr. Edward Ogon, Special Adviser, Mortgage Finance to Governor Imoke, spoke of the project and how the sprawling estate has transformed the socio-economic landscape of the Atimbo community and its environs:
“The second phase of the civil servants Housing estate Atimbo, Akpabuyo Local Government Area is made up of 250 blocks. The access road has achieved 75 percent completion. Any moment soon, the water cooperation should be moving in to reticulate water in the estate. Electricity is also at 90 per cent completion.
“Already, we have about ten civil servants who have moved in while we are still installing doors and windows and over a hundred who have collected keys to their own 3-bedroom apartments. We have in the range of 2-bedroom semi-detached, 2-bed room detached and 3-bedroom bungalows. So we are under a lot of pressure to deliver.
“In all, we have over ten thousand applications, but what we can deliver for now is eight hundred and fifty. Over all, there is an ongoing plan to deliver about ten thousand houses to civil servant across the state.
“The goal of this administration is to provide houses in a sustainable and affordable manner. To achieve this, the state has keyed into the National Housing Fund (NHF) Act as a contributor. To qualify for the scheme, every civil servant contributes 2.5 per cent of his or her monthly salary to the NHF for up to 10, 20 and 25 years, depending on the years of service. The demand has been astronomical. The government has a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement with First Bank mortgage.
“The emergence of the sprawling estate has also resulted in some sort of economic boom in the area with the corollary spinoff in low-income jobs such as vulcanising, petty trading, among others.
“I am very pleased to say that the Department of Mortgage Finance has done a lot in providing and growing small scale enterprises in this area.
“Under the Imoke Housing policy, the same initiative is to be replicated in Ogoja, Ikom and Obudu with about 500 in Ogoja, 250 in Ikom and another 250 in Obudu as well as 100 units in Yakurr.
“In order to make the scheme affordable, we use the most affordable labour and materials, all in a bid to drive down the cost for our civil servants. At the end, the house must be conducive, liveable and affordable.”