Undue Process


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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Undue Process




Joseph Adeyeye




culled from THISDAY, April 2, 2005



The Gravy Train…

In several ways, goings on in Abuja, the nation's seat of power, are reproductions of the greedy, grubby activities that defined Lagos, the former capital, during the Second Republic. Abuja is forever the venue of a silent, a surreptitious, a ravenous feasting that is strictly by invitation. Far away from the public glare where President Olusegun Obasanjo regularly trumpets his anti-corruption songs, public servants, politicians, rent collectors, jobbers, contractors and their relatives gobble contracts, government property, percentages and 'lobbying fees'. It was one of such feasting that President Obasanjo put an end to recently when he fired a letter to his Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Mrs. Mobolaji Osomo asking her to stop further action on the sale of federal government property located in Ikoyi, Lagos. The President's grouse was that Osomo did not follow due process in allocating buildings to over two hundred people, majority of who were highly placed Nigerians. The President who had very harsh words for Osomo also ordered her to invalidate all allocations made. The President's letter, detailing these instructions, bristled with vitriol.

"I must express my great displeasure, in very clear terms, about the way you seem to be handling the sale of federal government property in Lagos," the President wrote. "I also feel personally embarrassed that almost all members of my wife's family are on that list. As it is, the entire list will now be cancelled without fail, the money collected should be refunded and all the property will be advertised for sale except those allocated to Ambassador Ibrahim Gambari and Chief Emeka Anyaoku, which had been approved before this exercise on special condition of encouraging their relocation to Nigeria and on the basis of current value plus 10 per cent.” The fact that the ministry went ahead to place adverts in the newspapers announcing the bid at the beginning of the week, even though several units had been secretly allocated, is responsible for a great measure of disquiet in the Presidency.
In the adverts, the secretary of the Implementation Committee of the White Paper on the Commission of Inquiry into the alienation of Federal Government Landed Property Committee, Professor P.T. Ahire, called on members of the public interested in purchasing the properties to collect bidding forms, free of charge. The committee, which headed by the housing minister, is in charge of the process.

Even before Obasanjo put an end to what critics have deemed a farce of a bidding, occupiers of these buildings have complained that none of the bidding exercises had followed the rules set down by government.
THISDAY checks revealed that from the beginning, the entire exercise had been skewed to favour senior public servants and their relatives. As already revealed by news reports, those favoured included members of the first lady's immediate family, a former head of state, six governors, five ministers, about a dozen serving and retired senior military officers and four very senior police officers (including the Inspector General of Police) and other top civil servants.
Members of the first lady's family affected include her brother, Mr. Henry Abebe (23 Milverton Road at N158,400,000), sister-in-law Dr. Yemisi Abebe (12, Ikoya Avenue, Ikoyi at N80,400,000), her husband, Dr. John Abebe (1B, Iru Close at N64,800,000) and Mrs. Franca Abebe (7B Maroko, close at N57,600,000).
The governors are Dr. Peter Odili (Rivers State); Olagunsoye Oyinlola (Osun State); Otunba Gbenga Daniel (Ogun State), Mr. Donald Duke (Cross River State) and Alhaji Adamu Muazu (Bauchi State).
Also included are Senate President Adolphus Wabara, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, Senator John Azuta Mbata, Senator Isa Maina, Senator Ben Obi, Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives and members Austin Opara, Sadiq Yar'Adua, Bawa Bwari and Abdul Ningi.

The ministers include those of Police Affairs, Chief Broderick Bozimo, Environment, Col. Bala Mande (rtd), Defence (state), Dr. Rowland Oritsejafor and Commerce, Ambassador Adamu Waziri. From the military were serving and retired officers, such as Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-General Martin Agwai, Major General Lawrence Onoja (rtd), Maj-Gen Adeyinka Adebayo (rtd.), Maj-Gen Olufemi Olutoye (rtd), Maj-Gen A. Ajibade, Rear Admiral Adesokan, Brig-Gen J. B Akinyemi, the Acting Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Sunday Ehindero, Deputy Inspectors-General of Police (DIGs) Bello Labaran, Musa Abdulkadir and Mike Okiro.
In the private sector, beneficiaries include Oba Otudeko, Chief Subomi Balogun, and Managing Director of Nigerian Breweries, Mr. Festus Odimegwu.


Mobile banks...

Apart from the hue and cry generated by the reports exposing these deals, one other thing that has generated an equal amount of concern is the staggering amounts of money those involved had paid or had committed to pay for the buildings. Such worries are a product of the fact that most of these individuals are either serving or retired public officers with no known investment concerns that could have provided these sums. These serving and retired public servants on individual levels had already paid over N550 million while companies from the private sectors had paid over N750 million. Individual payments came from Rear Admiral Michael Onoh, who paid N56.4 million for a property at Oroke Drive, Ikoyi, Rear Admiral E.A. Abolarin, who paid N10.4 million for a property on Bank Road, Ikoyi, Brig.-Gen. J.D. Akinyemi who paid N76.8 million for a property on Bourdillion Road, Major General M.C. Osahon who paid N93.6 million for one at Ikoyi Crescent while a retired General paid N130 million for properties at Macdonald Road, Ikoyi.
Others include NTA’s director of marketing, Grace Egbagbe, who paid N54 million for 6A, Milverton Road, Alhaji Abubakar Malam had paid N84.6 million for the property at 7, Bell Avenue while one Chief Ogunleye had made payment for the property at 5, Lugard Avenue at the sum of N67.2 million. The firms in the private sectors which had fully paid for their allocations include Well Property Development Company, which paid N79.2 million for 33 Queens Drive, Chyfrank Nigeria Limited paid N94.8 million for 22 Thompson road, Ikoyi, Adenoil Electrical Engineering Company paid N60 million for 34 Cooper Road, while Messrs Just Properties Limited paid N84,456 million for 25 Ilabere Close. Others are Atrine Properties Limited paid N72 million for 23 Ilabere Close and Forte Properties and Investment Limited paid N132 million to 18 Osborne Polysonic Nigeria Limited paid N79.2 million for 27, Cameron Road, Craft Union Estate Development Company paid N70.8 million for 46, Alexander Avenue and Glorem Investment Limited paid N57.6 million for 23 Cameroon Road.


How the deals were hatched...

The past weeks, according to sources, have been busy ones at the Ministry of Housing as interested bidders and middlemen allegedly kept making spirited efforts to secure the houses before the committee went public with the bidding. According to sources, these weeks witnessed a virtual re-enactment of the import licensing days of the eighties. Those who are close to members of the committee and senior staff of the housing ministry are said to be at the heart of the thriving trade that has evolved around the sale of these buildings. These individuals allegedly procured allocations, sold to interested buyers and pocketed the difference.
A major player, according to sources, is the snooker-loving lawyer son of the housing minister. His mother’s mortgage firm, Estaport Building Society Limited, located at Mushin, Lagos, which he runs, is said to be at the centre of the deals. Some of the civil servants involved are said to see it as an opportunity to get 'compensated' for the years they have spent earning peanuts in government service.


The denials…

While certain public officers allegedly joined the rush for allocation, others stayed out of the fray.  Already, some of those reported to have won allocations have issued statements denying involvement. They even claimed not to have known that FG’s property in Ikoyi was being sold. Sources say that some individuals may have used the names of these highly placed Nigerians to secure allocations, which they then sold, without these individuals knowing about it. A source close to the Finance Minister, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was alleged to have bought a building by a newspaper said she never did. Rather, the source said Okonjo-Iweala received a letter offering her one of the buildings and rejected the offer. "She told the (housing) minister that the bids should be advertised publicly and that she wasn’t not interested in owning a house in Lagos,” the source said. Another senior public servant, presidency sources say, only got to know when an enraged relative called to lampoon her that the administration's due process and anti-corruption campaign was a sham. “She (the relative) told her that some individuals who said they were about purchasing her government allocated residence were at her home. And that was weeks before government made the bidding process public,” the source said. The governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel has also refuted reports that he was involved. A statement issued by the state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Niran Malaolu, said the governor neither applied for, nor got the allocation of any federal government landed property in Lagos.
“Officials of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development at Abuja, whom we contacted today, have also dissociated themselves from issuing any list that contained the name of Otunba Gbenga Daniel in this respect. In clear terms, the inclusion of Governor Gbenga Daniel among the names published on this landed property issue is false and very embarrassing. It is a calculated attempt to tarnish the name and good reputation of our dear governor,” the statement said.
The Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, Hon Bawa Bwari, who was also listed among those who bought the Ikoyi properties denied any involvement. "I am telling you now that I neither applied for nor asked for the form to be sent to me. Unless there is a mistake, the only possible thing that may have happened would be that someone used my name to apply for it,” Bwari said.


In the beginning...

Analysts contend that the entire process of selling this government property has been trailed by crises from the start. On one hand were occupiers of the buildings who insisted that they should have first claim to the buildings. They also claim that government officials saddled with the responsibility of carrying out the exercise had deliberately kept them out of it. On the other side were members of the implementation committee led by the Mrs. Osomo who insisted that the rules were not being broken. While it lasted the presidency kept mum until the petition got Obasanjo moving. Before then the residents had been at the losing end. Only last week, the federal government gave residents of all the buildings sold in the first phase a 30-day quit notice. The federal ministry of housing and urban development, which wrote the residents, warned them to abide by the order or risk being ejected by force.
Sources say that the ultimatum had come from the office of the minister in her capacity as chairman of the implementation committee.
While government insists that it has allocated new accommodation to affected civil servants, sources say only about 50% of those government agreed to provide with new accommodation have been taken care of. The others, according to sources, were simply left in the lurch. "The remaining qualified Government workers were given no options at all. Some of these (new) houses are in Abuja, despite the fact that the workers are still legitimately working in Lagos offices, for example NTA Channel 5 and ministry of defence (staff).
"Some of the houses are yet to be completed, or the central sewage and water supply are yet to be fully functional. In addition, some of the houses are occupied by other civil servants, who are unlikely to leave without putting up resistance.
"The houses are to be purchased through Primary Mortgage Institutions, 10% payable by March 31st. (Yet) these institutions have been indicating on the pages of newspapers that they do not have the funds for such a colossal venture," an affected occupier said.
The period in which the occupiers are expected to move is another sore point for the majority. Many are complaining that the period is too short.
"Government advised the re-allocation about the 3rd-4th of March, and has instructed all tenants to vacate the estates by 31st March, thus throwing breadwinners and their families into a massive quandary on where to go and what to do. The allottees have at least 3 - 6 months of paperwork and completions to do before they will be in a position to move and the rest of the high-rise residents were left out in the cold. We are hearing that the government is so intent on getting us out at a moments notice that they are planning to re-enact a mini-Odi on their workers,” an aggrieved occupier said.
The chairman of the association of Eric Moore Towers Residents Association, association, Mr, Dansel Makolo, said they expressed their intention to purchase six blocks but they were ignored. Rather the buildings were sold to Dock Management Nigeria Limited owned by a former member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Moshood Salvador.


Claims and counter claims…

Severally, however, government and the people who bought the property have dismissed the claims of the occupiers. "That is their problem with government. All I know is that there was a bidding process, which was published for all Nigerians to take part in and I won. It was a process in which they deliberately refused to partake in. I cannot understand what they are talking about. My own is that I have paid the statutory amount expected of me," Salvador said.
Many an occupier believes that their biggest adversary are not the buyers but the minister. They say Mrs. Osomo seemed to have made up her mind on the processes and she seems very reluctant to change it. At different fora the minister has said that most of the occupiers of the six high-rise buildings were not civil servants.

And when civil servants told her that government's monetisation policy guidelines say they were to be treated as first line bidders, Osomo averred that government’s decision to sell was not a product of monetisation. She said it was as a result of the White Paper on the Implementation of the Rotimi Panel set up by President Obasanjo in June, 1999.
"The primary reason for the sale of the affected Federal Government properties in Lagos was because they became excess and unrequired following the movement of the Federal Capital to Abuja in 1991. The Rotimi Commission of Inquiry had noted in its Report in 2000 the rapidly deteriorating condition of such properties and urged the Federal Government to take definite measures to address this situation. It is therefore incorrect to assume, as some have done, that the sale of these properties is pursuant," she once argued.


Two many errors

But analysts argue that even if the government meant well the way the minister had handled the process has been riddled with errors. This assertion seems to have been lent great credence by Obasanjo's leaked letter. The President’s letter confirmed speculations that the property had been sold secretly even before the bidding process kicked off. The committee, analysts further contend, also erred in allocating some of the property to ministers as the rules exclude members of the Federal Executive Council from participating in the bidding.

"Members of the Federal Executive Council and those of the Implementation Committee are excluded from this exercise," a rulebook to be found on the website of the implementation committee on the sale says.
One of the firms, which purchased a prime property, is also said to have flouted a guideline that stipulates that the winner of the bid must pay in full within 30 days. This company, a giant conglomerate, is yet to complete payment months after the bid.
Aside from technical details, the load of those to lose their accommodation has not been lightened by the imperial manner the minister is always said to respond to any form of complaint emanating from those affected. In some interviews Osomo did not only dismiss these concerns she said accommodation are privileges not rights. “ For the avoidance of doubt, let me state here categorically that the sale of these properties must go on. All public servants know that the provision of housing is a privilege, not a right. Public officers are therefore expected to understand when Government is unable to provide this privilege, and to accept their rent allowance in lieu,” she said, during a briefing.

In the wake of the scandal, Mrs. Osomo who spoke to a newspaper reporter said the process was no 'secret'. "The transactions covering the 207 units people were talking and complaining about were the units offered to some applicants before the Federal Executive Council (FEC) decision on the federal property in Lagos.” On the preference given to selected highly placed individuals, she said, "No one can detect the identity of First Lady's men and women as she no longer bears her name. And in any case, those people are Nigerians who are entitled to bid. Since no one is saying we have sold them to anybody at reduced prices or given them free of charge, we are okay."

Despite these protestations, the scandal has been described, by analysts, as a deadly blow struck at the very heart of the president’s focal policies of due process, transparency and probity.




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