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Bros You Done Stay Barracks Before? – A Solution to Nigeria’s Police and Army Housing Problem

July 16, 2016

Have you ever lived in or visited a Nigeria Police barracks before? Visited as in, spent some time moving around the environment, entered and used the bathroom or toilet…the kitchen…have you?

Well I have.

I mean, I have visited one.

As well as lived in another…sort of lived in.

All I can say is that living in either a Police or Army Barracks in Nigeria is not for the faint hearted.

Unless you live there.

And you are a Nigeria Police or Army Officer.

But then you already know that our Officers are ‘Obi Agu’ Lion hearted, abi?

So how did I come to live in a Barracks?

At some point during my Unilag Undergraduate days (either 1995 or 1996), I had found it convenient to live with a friend and Police Officer classmate  (he is still a great friend to this day so this is not intended to denigrate you bro).

This was at Pedro Police Barracks in Shomolu Lagos.

I don’t know how best to describe the place….but I will try.

Pedro Barracks was a slum.

A colony comprising a number of decrepit buildings and a police station.

The colony’s open gutters reeked of an odoriferous presence that was not of this realm. Yet barely breaking the surface of the gutters, swarms of mosquitoes held town hall meetings and elections, jabbering in tongues several high-pitched languages. With the benefit of hindsight, it is now clear to me that these mosquitoes must have cross-bred with an alien intelligence, fi not how they for take get that kind accurate GPS sense? But that is a story for another day.

 

The concrete covering slab of one of the colony’s Soakaway pits was broken and askance, with putrid faecal sludge spilling into the ‘yard’. Some of this toxic spread managed to find its way into the nearby open gutter…a gutter that had already seen enough.

Yet there was always frenetic and lively activity at the Barracks, day and night. A pool table had the colony’s youth perpetually engrossed, that and a Barbers shop that doubled as a small Video Club run by the son of one of the police officers. There was also the Mammy Market whose major attraction was the Anambra woman that served an aromatic and finger-licking export quality onugbu soup, always garnished with long-strands of tastey dried ‘aja-azu’ fish.

And there was Samav Hotel, located at the adjacent Igbehin Adun Street, with its multi-coloured disco lights laced balconies, loud inchoate live band, smokey interiors and weary smiles wearing aged and young ladies of the night.

Pedro Barracks was disgustingly filthy, and this was for me who at the time lived in the quintessential Lagos ‘Face-Me-I-Face-You’. A room so tiny and claustrophobic that if you stretched both arms with your fists clenched, you will still touch both walls. Where you had to take your turn to use the two slimy toilets and bathrooms that served what looked like an entire clan, brush your teeth in the gutter in front of the house while hailing your neighbours as they dashed off to work, and depending on the direction of the morning breeze, intermittently inhale the stench of the obnoxious and alive green-black alchemy that wriggled and squirmed (without flowing) in the gutter.

It is this me that found Pedro Barracks extremely filthy, so you can imagine.

But the police officers and their families in the Barracks were said to be lucky. I was told of a Police Sergeant whose room in a Barracks in Onitsha lacked a ceiling board. During the day, the corrugated iron sheets on the roof became conductors and amplifiers, magnifying the Sun’s heat and literally frying the brains of all the room’s inhabitants. It is such a man that the authorities arm and ask to police the rest of the populace.

Are we okay at all?

So it was after my sojourn at Pedro Barracks that I started viewing our Police Officers through a completely different prism. How do you subject human beings through such inhuman and perilous health conditions then give them guns to guard the streets?

What do you expect?

So fast forward to circa 2007 (by then I had long upgraded from living in a face-me-I-face-you to a relatively decent abode), during the tenor of Mike Okiro as Inspector General of Police (IGP). The IGP had made the provision of accommodation for the 310,000 Officers and Men of the Nigeria Police Force a cardinal point of his Nine (9) point reform agenda. At the time, 75% of the NPF’s Officers and Men lived outside Police accommodation with the NPF having to pay largely inadequate monthly rent subsidies of between N2,518 (Two Thousand Five Hundred and Eighteen Naira Only) for Constables to N45,793 (Forty Five Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety Three Naira Only) for the Inspector General of Police (note that the NPF’s remuneration has since been reviewed though I hear that its still largely inadequate).

But I am sure that the IGP did not achieve his ambitious housing goals.

Why am I so sure?

Because the extant funding models deployed towards such projects at the time do not support his ambitions. There is a disconnect between his ‘Vision statement’, being his objective, and the ‘mission statement’ being the business and functional level strategy to achieve it.

Historically, Police and Army housing in Nigeria has been approached from a Brick-and-Mortar perspective, with the Nigerian government being the sole financier of all Barracks and estate developments. Consequently, with competing demand from other sectors for limited government resources, it has found little support.

Yet Police and Army housing should be one of the easiest to provide. Ask the UK, ask Australia, ask the US.

How ha sit been done?

You see…

Globally, Armed Forces Barracks, Police Barracks and Military installations are built in the less densely populated areas of cosmopolitan cities to protect National security interests. Military installations particularly are off-limits to the general public therefore high traffic locations are usually avoided. Military and Police Barracks and installations also require sizeable expanse of land to enable training exercises etc. Such facilities allow for future expansion and upgrade to meet with increase in personnel.

However our British colonials unwittingly gifted our Police and Armed Forces with an Aladdin Wish Magic lamp, a diamond in the rough that our leaders seem to be treating like a crusted stone.

You see, in every country colonised by ‘the Empire on which the sun never sets’, military installations; barracks, offices etc. are always located strategically to protect the elite.

Yep! You heard me! To protect the big-men, whether oyibo or locals.

Even those that were originally located in the suburbs / outskirts of the city (to protect the likes of you and I at the time) have since blended into residential and business districts due to urban expansion. Now, while the value of the real estate in these locations have grown and appreciated , most, if not all the barracks and installations are currently in deplorable states (due to lack of maintenance) and are now almost all slums.

Think Lagos; Obalande Kem-Salem Police Barracks (in Lagos Island), Doddan Barracks (Off Awolowo Road Ikoyi Lagos), Bonny Camp (Victoria island Lagos) etc. Think the locations of Barracks in all the erstwhile Regional capitals and commercial centres of Nigeria; Lagos, Ibadan, Enugu, Benin, Kaduna, Port Harcourt etc.

I recall that sometime ago, the Lagos Environment and Sanitation Network notified the public of a drainage channel in the Obalende Mammy Market (behind the State House and Doddan Barracks) heavily contaminated with faecal matter. Subsequently in 2007, a report by the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, University of Lagos, recommended that the Obalende Police and the Doddan Barracks should be reduced in size and freed up land used for public housing.

I doubt that anyone ever acted on this report.

Yet the irony is that given the prime value of Real Estate in all these locations, significant value can be unlocked by the sale and relocation of these barracks, proceeds of which will be utilized to provide new purpose built first-class training, sports, recreation and accommodation facilities for service men and women, essentially gift them a better quality of life.

I have argued that this can be easily achieved through a Private Sector led initiative. Such a model will create a platform for massive investment in / restructuring of the Police and Armed Forces’ existing Real Estate via three key core outputs;

  • A complete inventory and valuation of the Police and Armed Forces’ developed and undeveloped sites (i.e. Brownfield and Greenfield sites respectively), especially those in various City Centres across the country. This will assist in identifying which sites are best placed to serve as core sites for the development/redevelopment scheme that can be used to provide thousands of new homes managed and developed efficiently and effectively.
  • Setting up a project consortium that will fund and manage the delivery and integration of the consolidated programme, including the development of the identified core sites into first-rate purpose built facilities that will ultimately ensure that the Police and Armed Forces personnel are conveniently housed and taken care of thereby attracting quality men and women of the community to beef up their ranks;
  • The sale of surplus sites and managing the complexities that will arise as the Barracks will remain occupied and operational during the building and refurbishment phases thus Police and Military Personnel may have to be moved around as construction work progresses.

Yep! Thats it in a nutshell.

So with the right funding structure, over a 5 to 7 year period, our Police and Armed Forces can be availed with state of the art housing, office and training facilities.

Interestingly, there are several other permutations that can be built into this model to enable the Officers of our Police and Armed Forces not just ultimately own the homes, but ensure that the model generates revenue to fund the construction of new housing units and facilities for future recruits.

It can be done.

All that is required of our leaders is a bit of creativity and gumption.

But na Naija we dey.

Who gumption don ever epp?

 

 

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