Sam Ogrih… The Smart City Revolutionary
IN 2009, Sam Ogrih, managing director, Delta Mega Trend Limited, envisioned a smart city in the serene Otokutu community, in the outskirts of Warri, Delta State. His dream was to establish a world-class smart city in the pristine marshy and bushy section of the community, which is on the bank of Udu River.
As an investor, he had doubts, initially, but the thoroughbred real estate mogul was convinced The Plantation City was success waiting to happen. He teamed up with an intimate friend of 40 years, Mr. Godspower Ekpo, and together, they created the city.
The location where the project was to be sited had some daunting challenges for real estate development. The 120 hectares terrain was swampy with large trees doting every space. The City’s team had its work cut out, as it meant that large portions of the land had to be reclaimed through massive tree felling, sand-filling and professional soil management that would enable simultaneous building on the estate’s large expanse of land.
When the project started about 12 years ago, not many people gave it a real chance to pull through, but today, Ogrih’s vision of a smart City has not only come to fruition, it has put Delta State on the national real estate map where Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt are powerhouses.
With over 600 buildings of various designs and sizes, and more springing up, well laid out dual carriage ways, uninterrupted internally generated electricity, digitally driven security architecture that provides twenty-four hours surveillance for the estate, and other firsts like underground power, fiber optic internet connectivity (MTN 5G), and steady water supply, The Plantation City has come of age, and has become a household name in Delta State and beyond.
Origin of The Plantation City
The City project was borne out of Ogrih’s desire to turn Delta State into a real estate hub by transforming the people’s lifestyle through building decent homes with state-of-the-art facilities where people can live in peace without worrying about their safety.
He was particularly driven by the experiences he had garnered in real estate development from many of his travels. But, most importantly, he wanted to replicate the upwardly mobile Lagos estate advancements in Delta State.
He said: “When you look at this country, you’ll see people doing things in different ways, and one of the ways is to see what others have done, and that’s actually the simplest and easiest way – because whatever you’re going to think about on this earth, someone else may have thought about it, or might have done it.
I’m from Isoko in Delta State, and having left school, I went to Lagos to look for greener pastures, so to say. Living in Lagos, I saw a couple of things that were going on there in terms of real estate.
“You look at the lifestyle of people over there and you say to yourself, you want to make these things happen in your locality in Delta State. Will it make any impact? If the answer is yes, the next thing is how do I go about it. Those are the things that made us start The Plantation City project.
“The initial plan is to ensure that people around here have a better living, people around here have a decent living,” he retorted.
At inception, the facility faced daunting security challenges largely from several years of clashes by ethnic nationalities inhabiting the three Warri environs namely Ijaw, Urhobo and Itsekiri. The clashes staved off investment prospects in Warri and its environs, including Otokutu, where The Plantation City is sited.
“One of the challenges that brought Warri to a standstill and unattractive to investment was insecurity,” Ogrih explained.
“So, we looked at the insecurity in Warri area, how do we assist or address the issue? That is the reason that made us to say we will create The Plantation City as a gated community. You also understand quite well there was crisis in the town and basically it was problem of Itsekiri, Ijaw and Urhobo. And we also looked at it that these people used to live together and all of a sudden there was problem. We also felt that we could create a community where all these people would live together. The insecurity and the desire to bring everyone together as brothers and sisters. Another issue was infrastructure, how do we improve how people live? We looked at these factors and we said okay, let’s go and do a trial. Of course, it was a novelty idea so no one was willing to support.
“When you hear estates in Warri – you talk about Okumagba and one or two others – they exist by name – they are not fenced round. Two, when you hear of the other estates, they don’t own the properties there, people go there and rent. But in The Plantation City, we created it in a different way, here you own the property. So, we said let’s go and take a risk, and because it was a novelty idea, no financial institution wants to support you because financial institutions are not Father Christmas, they want to know where they are putting their money.”
Meeting set expectations
Ogrih is not too enthusiastic weighing if he has met the goals of establishing The Plantation City or not, because, according to him, the project is still ongoing and that there is still a lot of work to do.
But he is elated that he has changed the narrative and proved that such a smart city could be built in Otokutu, Warri and environs with all the negative stories of insecurity associated with the place.
“To God be the glory, we have been able to change the narratives in the state and Warri in particular, by putting up our best with a strong team that we have. And looking back, I have no regrets, because at the beginning, I was able to get someone whom I have known for almost forty years as a friend and a brother. That person is Mr. Godspower Ekpo, our General Manager. I invited him and told him let’s go into the project, he didn’t hesitate, he looked at my sense of judgment and said okay let’s go and we both came into this place and worked to put up The Plantation City the way it is now. I’m happy you said you were here in the beginning and that what you’re seeing today is completely different. The man I did the project together (Ekpo), I call him Oga, I have known him for about 40 years. When we were in school, he was the person who won all the departmental prizes, all the governors and rector’s prizes, in fact, he was far ahead of us, he is a professor we call him our leader.
He is principled person; I can dance and flex but not him, I knew that in real estate you just can’t have one lifestyle, I felt he would be a very good ally to me; if I’m dancing around to please someone, he will be there to say no, this road must be followed. So, that creates the balance and today we are where we are.
“Businesses don’t really survive well without having the figures protected, expenses pruned and at the same time being monitored, so you also get a capable hand who can handle that affair.
Why Plantation City is Different
Ogrih explained that The Plantation City is different from others in the state because of the kind of facilities and services in the estate. These, he said, are complemented by high maintenance culture, dedicated and hands-on personnel. “What sets us apart from estate A and B is the facilities we have put in place, then you need dedicated personnel to manage the environment and estate, that is why we have that key person in charge of the facility – after everyone else have gone someone must be there to take care of the place, because without maintenance, which is a challenge in our country, you can’t get most things sorted out. There are good projects all over the country but are they sustainable? Those are questions begging for answers.”
Managing host community
Working with the host community in the early stages of the project was challenging, but after a while, both parties developed a win-win relations template that is working for all parties. Ogrih said government was quite instrumental in achieving the peaceful relationship between the estate and the community.
“Essentially, you cannot go into real estate without having government input. By the Nigerian laws or Constitution, they are the custodians of the land, they have to also meet with the indigenes.
So, with the help of government, this place was acquired – we must give them the kudos – and they were able to see us through to see that we do what we are doing now.
“Then having done that you have to also make the indigenes see that they are stakeholders in the project. Why there is problem in most projects is because people take the natives for granted, but in this case, we took them as partners – so, whatever we do we take them along. From time to time, we hold meetings, we have modalities with which we work and the GM has really handled that aspect creditably with other members of our team and, so far, we are good.
“By the time we came into Otokutu, the community had a negative image because of the ritual incident that happened under a bridge nearby, but by the time we came in we began to rewrite the story by introducing what we feel is the right thing so that we can live the way every other people in the country live, that is how things began to change and people began to see the good in Otokutu and today, the community is on the world map because we have been able to create what I will say is not in the South-South”.
Vision for the Future
“Before now real estate was in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, but when they saw what we have done here in the Plantation City, they added Delta State. So, from conception what did we do? If you go in you will see our layout, you will see the way the infrastructure is being put together, you will see that we have a vision of where we want to be in the next 20 years. From day one, there is provision for those things that we wanted to do. By the time you drive through the estate, you will see that we have good roads, dual carriage way that are not in our expressway within the state here.
“The question you ask yourself is why would you do a residential estate and put dual carriage ways, because we know that in the future, we will need it. And you can see the name is The Plantation City, we didn’t call it plantation estate, which is to tell you we have a city in mind. So, when you have a city in mind you have to prepare for what a city is expected.
Down the line you now have one other city they call the Atlantic City in Lagos, and when you really go there you will know that this people have something in mind. So that was the kind of thing we had in mind. Yesterday, you were seeing one bungalow or, two bungalows but today it is a city, so, that is why the name is The Plantation City.
“And, what are the things you expect in a city? In general language you say you expect the good, the bad and ugly. So, that is why the infrastructure we have put in place will accommodate a city. And, you also notice that no cable is flying because we know we want to create a modern city, and these are visions we had over a decade ago. We also have in mind that at point we will have our own power and today we are not on the national grid.
The electricity we use in The Plantation City is generated by us and it is 24/7 power supply.
“On December 1, 2022, it was exactly three years not being on the national grid. It was like a miracle, but it has come to pass. Of course, we planned that we were going to have a smart city, but people did not understand what we were talking about. If you really want to talk about this project, it is the creation of a smart city. We are doing it in phases and gradually, we are getting there.
“Of course, there is water all over the place reticulated from one source. You won’t see a pipe because they have purpose-built track they are following. In this place, we have digital security. Access to the place. The estate is digitised. When you come in, you see a police station, and we have other security forces that are here. Because you know that insecurity is a major challenge in his area and the only way you can make headway is to address the problem that is facing that particular place. That is how you can actually make a mark. Nobody believed in us when we came here it was just the GM and I. But today, the story is a bit different,” Ogrih said.