Land: Nigerian Navy Versus Ben Ayade, Matters Arising BY EYO EKPO

In Breaking News, Opinion, Politics

The pictures in the news story with the floodlights in the background indicate that the Commissioner for Lands is referring to the site of the former Nigerian Navy Clinic close to the UJ Esuene Stadium. He claims that the Navy is building a hotel on that former site. Yet the last time I drove past the site, just a few days ago, a sign put up there indicates that it is for the Naval War College, Calabar.

Who do we believe? For the moment, I would believe the Navy signpost, simply because he Commissioner himself said the Navy had not filed an application for building approval, meaning we do not have any credible evidence of the Navy’s intentions, apart from that signpost.

The Commissioner for Lands describing the Nigerian Navy in effect as a public nuisance comes on the heels of unconfirmed reports that the State Government has already sued the Navy over the same site in the High Court of Cross River State. It also follows a recent State Exco meeting at which the Governor complained bitterly against the allegedly excessive presence of the Navy in Calabar. So, the problem appears NOT to be about obeying laws. Rather, it is about the occupation of choice real estate that some people have been eyeing.

Why would the Governor complain about the footprint of the Nigerian Navy in Calabar but not the presence of the much larger Police or Army formations in and around the city? What exactly is going on here? It is bizarre to see a CRSG functionary not merely criticising but actually insulting a military service. This is so not because the military is too big or powerful to be insulted but because of the historical and hitherto excellent connections between each of the 3 military services, various paramilitary organisations and the State going back almost a century.

In addition, even if there is no historical connection, the Commissioner and the Governor of Cross River State have available to them better and more effective ways of communicating with the Nigerian Navy than newspapers and electronic media. This is even more so when I recall that Governor Ben Ayade just a few months ago PERSONALLY expressed his displeasure to me about my criticism of his administration. His reason was that as a former member of the State Executive Council, I know that there are other ways to reach him. Why would the Governor not apply the same logic to himself and quietly engage the Navy?

The amazing and odd performance of the Commissioner for Lands compels me to ask him a few simple questions:

1. Do we really have an urban development master plan that CRSG can honestly claim to be implementing? If so, can he make it publicly available?

2. If there is indeed such a plan, I would respectfully ask him to explain how it accommodates the massive residential development being undertaken by the Governor himself on land that is said to belong to the Presbyterian Church and why (assuming the Governor acquired the land legitimately) his Ministry gave approval (assuming also the Governor applied for it) for a residential development on what is supposed to be land reserved for education purposes? Is that not a distortion of the urban development masterplan the Commissioner holds so dear?

3. Again, if there is indeed such a masterplan, why would his Ministry create or allow to be created that place called Waterboard Estate WITHIN the premises of CRS Water Board Limited and give approval to various politicians, public officers and cronies to build houses AMONGST water works installations, probably a first anywhere in Nigeria and perhaps in the world? If the public purpose for which the land was acquired had expired, why did he not initiate the process of returning the land to its ancestral owners (as the Donald Duke Administration did with land no longer in use by the Nigerian Army at Ikot Ansa)? Why did he instead condone the brazen appropriation of the land in the State Water Board premised by well-connected favourites of Governor Ben Ayade?

4. Does the Commissioner realise that there is a building on Murtala Mohammed Highway known as Transcorp Metropolitan Hotel, CALABAR directly opposite the CRS GIA office, less than 300 metres in a straight line from Government House Calabar, with its top floor rooms overlooking the Governor’s Office Complex. Will the Commissioner also go after Transcorp Hilton?

5. Is the Commissioner aware of the monstrous property development along MCC Road at the site of the former NPA Quarters being undertaken at this moment by someone reputed to be extremely close to the Governor, indeed said to be the alter ego of His Excellency?

Is he aware that this building has no setback at all from its perimeter fence? Does the CRS Development Masterplan permit buildings without setbacks? Did his Ministry grant approval for the buildings springing up so fast along MCC Road to be built without setbacks? Is this permitted by the State Urban Development Masterplan?

Lest he has forgotten, let me remind the Commissioner for Lands of certain facts:

6. The Nigerian Navy has had a continuous presence in CALABAR dating to when its ships brought in troops of Colonel Benjamin Adekunle’s 3 Marine Commando to liberate CALABAR from Biafran occupation, in October 1967 (I hear the Governor himself was born in 1968). Without the Navy, the Nigerian Army would have had to take Calabar by land and it would certainly have taken much longer to do, at a much greater cost to Biafran and Nigerian lives, not to mention the Cross River communities that would probably have been devastated by the longer occupation by Biafra and the prolonged fighting to liberate the area, all of which were thankfully avoided by the amphibious operation into Calabar.

7. The presence of the Nigerian Navy has UNDOUBTEDLY been for the good of Cross River State, as witness:

a. The continuous safety of the waterways for trade and social interaction in and around Calabar, particularly between CALABAR and trading ports in Akwa Ibom, Cameroun, Equatorial Guinea and even Gabon; and the safety of the 96-km channel from the Atlantic to the Calabar Port.

b. The very important contribution of the Nigerian Navy to military operations such as Operation Delta Safe that has dislodged certain militant groups reputed to have come to the Calabar – Akpabuyo area from some places around Warri, a city in which the Governor himself once lived and where he has a number of commercial interests, which city is probably protected by the same Nigerian Navy as the one in CALABAR.

c. The Nigerian Navy Reference Hospital, CALABAR, completed and commissioned in 2018, over 45 years after it was first conceived, has become the premier medical facility in the State. With the near collapse of State tertiary medical care, Cross Riverians would have had to go outside the State for medical attention were it not that we have the Reference Hospital to go to.

d. The Reference Hospital was started in the early 70’s during the tenure of Vice-Admiral Joseph E. A. Wey as Chief of the Naval Staff. The E. in Admiral Wey’s name stands for “Edet”. His mother was from CALABAR and he was more a son of Cross River State than he was of Lagos. Until 2015, Admiral Wey’s tenure was the closest South-Eastern or Cross River State came to having a Service Chief.

e. Before the Hospital was commissioned in 2018, it was the Navy Clinic, located at the same place the Commissioner stood and claimed the land was illegally allocated to the Navy. From that illegal clinic, the Navy provided medical and dental care for so many citizens of the State, including my immediate and extended families for over 35 years. How come all these years CRSG never complained about illegal allocation to the Navy and even in the case of this Commissioner for Lands (who has been on seat since 2015), it was not until the Navy started to redevelop the land that CRSG remembered the claim of “illegal allocation”. It begs the question: who did the illegal allocation?

f. Is it a coincidence that this Hospital took almost 45 years and the tenure of the first Cross Riverian to be a Military Service Chief, Vice-Admiral IE Ibas, before its completion and commissioning? I don’t think so. Even then, Admiral Ibas could have taken that hospital to his hometown of Ugep and absolutely nothing would have happened. We would still have been grateful to him.

g. Instead Admiral Ibas did an unusual thing that is very rare for us in Cross River State. He completed and commissioned a project started by a predecessor…something that has not really happened here , the most glaring being the Calabar International Convention Centre (CICC), which is yet to be completed despite the fact that Governor Ayade’s predecessor, Senator Liyel Imoke is reputed to have left behind funds for the completion of the CICC. The Commissioner should check with his family and friends. I am certain they will tell him unanimously that the Navy Clinic and the Reference Hospital were both sent from Heaven…because State tertiary healthcare is seriously suboptimal.

h. The Nigerian Navy as far as is known never had any plan to build a hotel on the site of the Navy Clinic. Instead, the plan is to put up buildings for the Naval War College, which is already running courses from a makeshift location in Calabar. Is the Governor saying that he is unaware of this?

h. The Governor has full access to the very senior officers who command the Eastern Naval Command, NNS Victory (whose commander is also a member of the State Security Council) and the Commandant of the Naval War College itself, all of whom are based in CALABAR. These are apart from the Chief of Naval Staff, who is from Cross River State, the Chief of Defence Staff and the Minister of Defence, all based in Abuja. If all else fails, he has full access to the VP and the President, with whom he recently travelled as part of the Presidential delegation on an official visit to Angola. Did the Governor report the Navy’s breach of State planning and building regulations to its Commander-in-Chief? If not, why not?

i. I believe the State Governor is aware of the attempts by a friendly neighbouring State to fraternally hijack the Naval War College away from Calabar. That plan is backed by serious cash offers but prayerfully those plans have not prospered and the Naval War College will stay in Calabar … in spite of this odd situation in which it appears that the Commisioner and his boss are supporting the cause of the other State?

j. The Navy also has a secondary school at Akpabuyo that has contributed, and is still contributing, immensely to the educational attainment of Cross River children…in a way that hardly any State-owned secondary school has done in a very long time.

Undoubtedly, I love the Navy. Admiral Wey, whom I referred to earlier, was my baptismal godfather in August 1966 and like an older brother to my father who was a soldier. This, however, is not why I’m raising my voice in protest. I am speaking up now because it is one thing for Governor Ayade to administer Cross River State as his personal property, which the entire State now seems to have accepted; but it is quite another for the Governor to use official cover to attack the Nigerian Navy’s HISTORICAL AND LEGITIMATE occupation and use of land in Cross River State that not only does not constitute a nuisance to, or hindrance of, any known or clearly-defined State policies or programmes but, most importantly, is in furtherance of the Navy’s statutory obligation to defend the country’s territorial integrity and provide aid to civilian authorities.

So, to repeat, the Nigerian Navy has been outstandingly a force for good in Cross River State from the day of its arrival in Calabar in October 1967 to this moment. Only a person without any reference to or regard for history or one who has ulterior motives would say that the Navy’s presence in CALABAR is excessive or bad for Cross River State. The real issue here is land – choice land and the inordinate desire to appropriate it for uses that may be difficult to explain or justify as “public purpose”.

I believe that whatever the State Government wishes to do with the site of the former Navy Clinic it can do elsewhere at any of the many CRSG sites around Calabar. If it is a question of applying for building approval, what stops the Professor-Commissioner from visiting the Commandant of the Naval War College and if he refuses, get the Governor to privately call the Chief of Naval Staff?

What a great pity. At a time when other States are clamouring to have Army, Navy and Air Force units stationed on their territory, as Cross Riverians go in fear of kidnappings, murder, armed robbery, rape and other violent crimes, at a time when the Governor should be working on crime prevention strategies with the State’s security, law enforcement, military and paramilitary contingents, our State is busy picking a fight with a major component of its security structure. All because of land?

Good luck to Professor Ben Ayade and Professor John Inyang. This is what has become of our once great Cross River State. I hope and pray wisdom reigns over every other interest.

Barrister Eyo Ekpo is a former guber candidate and former Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Cross River State.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in this article are strictly attributable to the author, Eyo Ekpo and do not represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization the author works for/with.

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