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
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
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.
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
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
"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.