Chief Eboh Ihekwereme Okorie's appointment as Commissioner for Lands and Survey by Governor Theodore Orji comes with experience and value added, with a long track record in banking and finance where digitalisation is the key to global business practice. He speaks to Emmanuel Ugwu on why the former opposition group in Abia is now very supportive of Orji's administration, how he intends to digitalise the ministry's operations and turn it around as a revenue generating centre for the Abia treasury What were the basic challenges you met on assumption of office? The basic challenges that I met on assumption of office as Hon Commissioner for Lands were those of power and infrastructure. We need to make an improvement here by which I mean the ministry needs to be digitalised. Digitalisation is critical for the efficient programming of our activity network and when this is done, revenue generation will go up. The state government is working hard to improve all aspects of our activity through the IGR but resources from federation account are meagre. The finance ministry and the Board of Internal Revenue generation are meeting to explore ways of marking up the IGR. In this ministry, we need power to function efficiently. Land ministry depends heavily on deeds to generate revenue. Information generates revenue. What is the process of land allocation? There is a process in place. Government is the caretaker holding land for the common good of Abians. Acquisition involves negotiation. Sometimes communities make an offer or government pays an outright compensation with minimum or no frictions. Each situation calls for peaceful negotiation. I have come with fresh ideas on how to move this place forward because it is a revenue earner. An example is the setting up of a Geographical Information Service (GIS), which will help map out all the land in the state. For now, we are heavily dependent on manual activities as files from colonial times become difficult to access. That is what calls the need for digitalisation. There is need to set a mechanism for easy search. All landed property must have been geo-coded like the AGIS in Abuja and with no out of pocket expense. At the end of the day when all these details are put in place, this ministry will be awash with funds generated as revenue. The whole idea of digitalisation is to move away from the manual approach. The civil service has not been my beat and the idea here is to scan future mails via email. It is all about electronic co-ordination as well as training. All the identified government land will be put to proper use devoid of any encroachment. We are looking at the parcellation of the IBB Phase with the aim of resolving all encumbrances. After this, we shall invite the public to enter into the land for planned development according to the masterplan. People are being invited, we have at least five estates all aiming to raise modern houses. They include- Ama Uba , Sedar, Isieke. There is the Ochendo Housing Estate next to Ubani Market and the others. It goes to buttress Governor Theodore Orji's interest in widening the state capital. The idea behind the Ama Uba Housing Estate , next to Ubani Market, is to create room to spread out from the centre of the capital and decongest Umuahia Town in the process. Development also means it must be progressive, spreading into all sectors of governance and here land for agricultural development is given special emphasis by engineering the whole developmental process. In all this, the manpower base here is encouraging. I have never sold land here. They guide me on what I do What other values are you adding to the metropolis, the state capital? The Umuahia Main Market has been relocated to Ubani Ibeku and this ministry decides largely who comes to the old market space. Part of our critical consideration is the attraction of investors in need of land and we run the entire process of negotiation. An example is the Ogurube Layout e-Library which is a federal government project. The Federal Ministry of Education is also contemplating another library, an ultra modern library, that is. For Ubani Ibeku, roads were built from Amuzu-Ukwu to Ubani-Ibeku. The Umuire to Uzuakoli Road is being expanded just as the Umuyota-Umuokehi Road with ancillary businesses contemplated for the service of the market. We are talking to traditional rulers convincing them on the need for development. How does the state capital fit into this new look? What is emerging is the New Umuahia extending to Ikwuano, Ubakala and Olokoro. Sometimes we partner with individuals. Architect Joke Ekelodo and the ministry are in partnership to develop his 150 hectares of land in Nunya. Overall, our masterplan is designed to develop a state capital which five years from now will envisage Afugiri as the centre of the state capital down to Ubakala. It took guts to relocate the state capital and the same guts will envision the emergence of a modern state capital. The New Umuahia we are envisaging is one in which estates will be provided with modern amenities such as hospitals, schools, town halls and fields of play. This is urbanisation in its true sense. We are hugely involved in estate development right now and more are being contemplated. Shoprite is coming at the old Garki. There is the Aba Mega-Mall at Osisioma, a project that has gone on site. Anything we have in Umuahia is being replicated in Aba. Construction work is on going to help stem flooding in the state with road construction work on course while more will be built between now and 2015. There is also an Auto Mall for vehicle dealers, cars and earth movers. It is a huge complex that will accommodate shops and this is coming up in partnership with banks. Aba dwellers are happy and excited at the prospects coming with this new investment whose investors are coming from Lagos . How does proposed Abia Airport fit into all this? The Governor has had some hiccup fixing the Eke Onunwa Market. At Christmas, Umuahia was an eyesore, now it is going to be different. We are also looking at the prospect of constructing an airport for Abia State . The governor has already set up a committee comprising the Deputy Governor, the Commissioner for Special Duties, the Commissioner for Transport, the Lands Commissioner. The mandate is to locate the land and come up with a game plan for the new airport How is this developmental process going to affect rural life? The impact of development on our rural life is positive.. Living in a rural setting has nothing to do with the primitive life. The rural dwellers will have the added benefit of living in their known abode with a better life style surrounding them. For example, the thatched roofs have disappeared while farmlands are being mechanised as the days unfold. Access to modern amenities will increase. The people had always owned their land. Land ownership system was altered by the military making government own all the land and leasing out to the people. The idea of holding land in trust for the people is ideal, allowing for a judicious and equitable distribution. What this means is that development of land should not just be an all Abuja affair; the federal government must also extend this to other parts of the country, it must be proactive in its developmental effort; it has to spread across board. What is your assessment of the governor and his legacy projects? Without fear of being immodest, or that he has given me a job, Governor Theodore Orji in my estimation has done tremendously well. Take a look at his legacy projects, a departure from the poor architecture we had in the past. This ministry had been like a derelict abandoned elementary school, now all that is history. However, we are looking forward as a state, to a state of the art conference centre with a state of the art concept. The Abia Hotel for example is being knocked down and remodeled and this remodeling of the state goes on at various levels. Where were the previous governors before now? I belonged to the camp that was Governor Orji's most vocal critic. Right now, our members are his greatest cheer leaders. I mean it from the bottom of my heart. We will crush anyone who stands on his way. Michael Okpara was the man after our hearts because of the legacy he left behind. Now Orji is reminding us about him. Abia is peaceful, security wise. Governors before him were busy doing their thing. Umuahia was neglected right from 1991 when the state was created. The first four years of this administration was practically run by the governor's predecessor. In his second term, he has more than paid for that loss. We need to support him even more. How peaceful and security conscious is Abia? The governor has shown so much interest in this project which is now yielding dividends as investors are rushing to Abia to open new businesses. Governor Orji at a time took the bull by the horn. There was a time kidnapping was a daylight nightmare and you could not drive from the town to the surrounding villages. At the head of this deadly enterprise was a man called Osisikankwu who terrorised the state capital but the governor at enormous cost then and now rose to the challenge and turned around Abia State to a safe haven, now an investors' delight. Now he has extended his gesture to the re-absorption of non-indigenes who were previously laid off by the state government, after the mass retrenchment of Abians in some states simply because they did not belong there. However, the governor's humane gesture is one that sees most of these indigenes- northerners and Yorubas inclusive, as part of Abia State because they were born and brought up here. His kindness, his humanity are making this possible.
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