Wife of the President, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, could have passed a crusading ethnic nationalist yesterday as she publicly engaged the Rivers State government and asked it to dialogue with the people of her native Okrika over the vexed issue of waterfront slums demolition.
Mrs. Jonathan who was on a two-day tour of the state to flag off her pet-project, ‘Women for Change Initiative’ berated the state government for not dialoguing with Okrika people before the commencement of a model primary school that requires the demolition of some houses. What was supposed to be an inspection tour turned sour when Governor Chibuike Amaechi told her at the site of a model primary school still under construction in Okrika that his government planned to acquire some of the houses around the area in order to create a conductive atmosphere for learning.
Amaechi had explained that all the schools in Okrika are surrounded by residential houses and government did not want external interference where children are learning. To this end, he said government would acquire the surrounding houses and pay compensation in order to have sufficient space to create a football field for instance.
“All the schools in Okrika are surrounded by houses and we don’t want the schools to be surrounded by residential houses where people cook, sell and distract the pupils. So we have to demolish them. We want to pay them compensation and demolish the houses,” he said.
But at this point, Mrs. Jonathan told the governor that the issue of land was a very important matter in Okrika. According to her, the government needed to dialogue with the chiefs and the people as far as the issue of demolition is concerned.
“Okrika has no land. Every little land that we have is very important. They don’t play with land. It’s a serious affair. So I want you to know that,” she said to the governor in a tone palpable with anger.
At this point, the governor interjected and explained that communities where such model schools are cited are usually the ones that donate the land as their own contribution to the project. And in cases where the government had had to acquire land, compensation is paid.
Mrs. Jonathan whose Okrika kinsmen are already in court with the Rivers State government over the issue of demolition of waterfront slums promptly riposted that she hails from the community and appreciates the problem of the people as it concerns land.
“I want you to get me clear. I am from here and I know the problem of my people. I know what I am talking about. I don’t want us to go into crisis. We are preaching peace. So we must maintain peace at all levels,” she said.
Mrs. Jonathan pointed out that due to land constraint in Okrika, if a compound is demolished; it means that an entire family has been rendered homeless. She then insisted that there is a need for the state to dialogue extensively before it acquires any property and demolish. The president’s wife explained that the state government before embarking on the construction of the school and two other health care centers should have negotiated with the heads of the village.
“We are a peculiar people. Land is always a problem when it comes to Okrika. The little we have we cherish it so much,” she further said.
While addressing Okrika chiefs and people at a civil reception organized for her, Mrs. Jonathan acknowledged that Governor Amaechi, who was not present, has good intentions but needs to dialogue with the people.
She explained that the waterfronts slum which the state government intends to demolish need to be improved so as to have modern houses and other social amenities. She however appealed to the government to give the people assurance that they would be beneficiaries of the scheme.
Although Mrs. Jonathan was supposed to visit the Port Harcourt prisons where the Chief Judge of the state was to release some inmates to her, she never did as she abruptly went straight to the airport and returned to Abuja. Unconfirmed reports had it that the presidency was perturbed by her utterances and had to ask her to cut short the visit.