Justice according to Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy is centrally a matter of how individuals are treated. It is also possible to speak of justice for groups – for example, when the state is allocating resources between different categories of citizens, each group is being treated as though it were a separate entity for the purpose of allocation.
There is a contrast in the virtues of justice, charity and forgiveness: we demand justice, but we beg for charity or forgiveness. This also means that justice is a matter of obligation for the agent dispensing it, so the agent wrongs the recipient if the latter is denied what is due to him/ her. Definitely not a false argument but there is an important distinction to make.
In a country like Nigeria, the position of justice when allocating resources in absolute terms, is not a substance of obligation, but largely a function of behaviour, character, and habits of the personalities in public office (that is, agents dispensing justice). Using as a focal point in this context is the right to adequate housing which is both a Human Right and one of the basic needs of man borne out of the desire for security, privacy and protection from negative impacts of the environment. It was Alhaji Lateef Jakande, the Executive Governor of Lagos State between 1979 – 1983, that his administration was sincerely effective and open in implementing the four cardinal policies of Housing, Education, Transportation, and Infrastructure.
It is factually documented that he introduced housing and educational programs targeting the poor, building new neighbourhood primary and secondary schools and providing free primary and secondary education. He established the Lagos State University. Jakande’s government constructed over 30,000 housing units. The schools and housing units were built cheaply, but were of great value. Some of the housing units built then were: the low cost estates in Amuwo-Odofin, Ijaiye, Dolphin-Ikoyi, Oke-Afa, Ije, Abesan, Iponri, Ipaja, Abule Nla, Epe, Anikantamo, Surulere, Iba, Ikorodu and Badagry.
To fund some of these projects, Governor Jakande increased tenement rates paid; the prices of plots of land sold in affluent areas of Victoria Island and Lekki Peninsula and the processing fees for lottery, pools, and gaming licenses. He also completed the construction of the General Hospitals in Gbagada and Ikorodu and built about 20 health centres within the state. As a governor, he established 23 local government councils which were later disbanded by the military. He also started the Metro line project to facilitate mass transit which was halted when his tenure as Governor ended on 31 December 1983 by the military after they seized power from the politicians in a coup.
Since that date, the spirit of social housing, an umbrella term used to refer to rental housing which may be owned and managed by the state, non-profit organisations or by a combination of the two, usually with the aim of making housing affordable, departed the country. However, it resurfaced recently after about three decades, this time around in Cross River state, Nigeria.
Its’ first manifestation in the state was on Friday, May 29, 2020 at Ifiang Ayong- a sleepy riverine community in Bakassi Local Government Area which came alive as dignitaries from all walks of life gathered to witness an epochal and life- changing event – The commissioning of an ultra-modern Estate comprising 52 units of 2- bedroom bungalows built by Governor Ben Ayade. ‘He did not build it for commercial purposes; the sprawling Estate, fully furnished and complete with essential amenities, is the new home to the displaced Bakassi people who lost their ancestral land, homes and livelihoods to the Republic of Cameroon in 2002 following the ceding of the Peninsula to the Central Africa country’.
Looking at commentaries, one major reason that triggered plaudits and encomium for the state government from various quarters across the nation is that in the early 2000s, the Federal Government inaugurated a Special Committee on National Social Housing Scheme (NSHS) with a Presidential mandate to provide housing for its less privileged citizens. In the pilot phase of the scheme, the committee was to build 18,000 unit of houses across the country before the end of 2006. However, the Committee could not deliver because the principles of social housing and values were yet to permeate the “development and management” of government’s housing plan and delivery systems. And since then, little has been done to translate such objectives into actionable plans or clarify processes and opportunities for citizen’s participation in the development and management of social housing in Nigeria. But before the happiness elicited by the development at Ifiang Ayong could settle, another was up at Obudu Ranch Resort in Obanliku Local Government Area of the state.
Worried by the squalid and deplorable living conditions and abject poverty, highlighted by shanties and dilapidations of the host communities of the Obudu Ranch Resort in Obanliku Local Government Area, Cross River State governor, Sir Ben Ayade who was on a one-week working visit to the Obudu Ranch Resort, promised to change their situation with the provision of social housing.
According to the Governor, “We are here at the Ranch and when you look to the left and right, what you see in the entire place are the aborigines, the original owners of Obudu Cattle Ranch. They are relegated to the worst form of human existence; reduced to want, in body, in spirit, in soul and in the most sub-human living conditions with collapsing roofs and huge massive temperatures that run your blood chill and your bones cold. And so my government is committed to constructing social housing to change their course and prove to them that God uses humans as a vessel; to make your town and your place look beautiful as well. So, for us as a state, we are committed to exterminating this kind of extreme poverty.”
On his one week visit to the Ranch, he disclosed that the visit was meant to give him the opportunity to see things for himself as his administration gets ready to revamp the prime jewel of hospitality in the state. He states, “I decided to take a guided tour to spend one week with the people to feel their pulse as we prepare to make the Ranch the most attractive centre for visits in Nigeria. I want to see how the citizens; the aborigines have been living side by side with the glaring reality of the luxury of the ranch resort.”
In what could be likened to a tale of two cities, Governor Ayade lamented: “It is a shame that where I live which is the presidential Villa is as if I am in Europe and just a few minutes’ walk from there, this is what you find. The contrast is unacceptable to my conscience because I have a background akin to this people and so I understand the feeling. I understand the pain”. “My performance efficiency should be measured by how much I have lifted people from extreme poverty to comfort not by how many culverts, how many bridges, how many superhighways, how many deep seaports I have built. The real growth is human growth and that is why I do not believe in Gross Domestic Products (GDP).” “I believe in human happiness index. I want to be assessed on the basis of how happy these people are with the onset of me being governor. When I leave office, what will be the difference I have made in their lives? Until I make such a difference, I would have failed as governor.”
On his determination to reposition the ranch, Ayade hinted: “Very soon the ranch will be the biggest attraction in this country because we are building an international airport to support the ranch for export of potatoes and export of ornamental flowers.” “So, if we are going to do that, and go into commercial farming in Obudu cattle ranch and industrial tourism, where does that leave the host communities? That is why we are here today to assure them that they have a critical role to play. We had a meeting with the leaders of the community and have assured them that the squalor and the sub-human conditions will be exterminated in the next six months. We will be here and you will see the difference.” “Cross River does not have enough but I care enough to make a difference for them and we surely will as a state. This is my commitment.”
Indeed, this is true justice coming from a man who is similar to Pa. Lateef Jakande, loves his people and is passionate about their development. Interestingly also, Ayade in my estimation stands out at the forefront of the crop of patriots wanting the best for his community, state and country, Nigeria.
*** Jerome-Mario Utomi writes in Lagos.