16 April 2008

Nigeria: Is El-Rufai Really Guilty?


Abuja — As Malam Nasir el-Rufai mounts the podium today to face the Senate committee probing the sale of houses, revocation of plots of land, demolition of structures and sundry issues in the FCT while he was holding forte as minister, LEADERSHIP'S ANDREW OOTA examines the pros and cons of the matter.

The on-going probe panel of the Senate on Federal Capital Territory, investigating the sale of all federal government houses in Abuja, demolition of structures, revocation of titles, concessioning of properties in Abuja between 1999 and 2007 has invited former minister of FCT, Malam Nasir el-Rufai to answer some questions. He is certainly not the only one to be questioned.

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory, Senator Abubakar Danso Sodangi, through a resolution of the Senate wrote all stakeholders as well as former and present ministers of the Federal Capital Territory to appear before the panel and give details of either their involvements, roles and any other information at their disposal that would assist the committee to respond, act and recommend in the overall interest of all Nigerians.

The demolition, revocation and concessioning exercise in the Federal Capital Territory has remained a big source of worry for all Nigerians, both residents and visitors to the FCT.

Also contentious is the issue of revocation of land titles conducted by the immediate past administration of the Federal Capital Territory, under former minister and Chairman of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), Malam Nasir Ahmed el-Rufai.

Unlike the situation in the House of Representatives where the committee on Power and Steel is looking into the state of the power sector where so much monies have being pumped into, yet Nigerians are living in dark, the on-going investigation in the Senate is believed to be borne out of the cries and numerous complaints from the public.

Suffice to say that the demolition of structures in the Federal Capital Territory, revocation of land titles as well as eviction of some persons, like the case of the late Justice Sambo are some of the issues that are very germane and of great concern to Nigerians.

However, the man in the midst of the whole controversy is no other person than the immediate past minister of the FCT, Malam Nasir Ahmed el-Rufai who is expected to face the committee today.

Aside the series of indictments the former minister is facing from the inception of the probe, his long soared relationship with some members of the Senate, particularly the ranking lawmakers is one factor that cannot be ruled out.

The former Minister, although through his Chief of Staff, Malam Balarabe Abbas Lawal is being taken on any attempt to malign or cage his boss.

As the former FCT minister appears before the Senate panel on FCT, probing the sale, demolition and allocation of land titles as well as the issues of concessioning today, he is not only expected to stay longer on the hot seat, but to also shed lights on all the contentious issues.

Earlier on, the present minister of the FCT, Dr Aliyu Moddibbo had told the committee that he could have probed the administration of his predecessor, "but I did not do that because I looked at all the problems and resolved that they are fixable and could be treated using a piecemeal approach".

The Minister had also expressed concerns over what he described as insinuations making the rounds that he influenced the probe of the Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory.

Equally, a former Director in the FCDA also told the committee that the administration of the immediate past FCT minister was not just lawless, but also did not believe in due process.

Of great concern again was the submission of late Justice Sambo's son, alleging that his father death was as result of the eviction from his official residence, despite an injunction from a competent court of law, restraining the FCDA authorities from doing so, but such order was disobeyed by the FCDA, aided and supported by the Nigerian Police under former Inspector General of Police, Mr. Sunday Ehindero.

Ehindero, in his submissions, accepted that indeed there was a court injunction restraining the FCDA from evicting the late justice, but argued that he could not have directed any of his men to carry out the eviction as by so doing, it would amount to disobeying the court orders.

The FCT minister is also expected to answer questions on issues of revocation of land titles from other Nigerians without due process and strict adherence.

Topical on the revocation and re-allocation of some sensitive plots of land in the Federal Capital Territory, which the former FCT minister is expected to shed light on, are his revocation of over 15 plots of land, which were awarded to the former President Olusegun Obasanjo, his first daughter, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo, the son to the former Minister, Bashir el-Rufai and his wife, Hadiza el-Rufai. These are some of the issues agitating many minds.

General Manager of Abuja Geographical Information System (AGIS), Ismail Iro had told the Senate panel that the former FCT minister revoked 15 plots of land belonging to the Universal Basic Education (UBE), on the eve of the end of the life of the last administration and gave them to the former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo on the same day.

He had also told the panel that the immediate past FCT minister revoked some plots of land in the Asokoro District of the FCT on grounds that those houses were built on sewer lines, but later allocated same to his son and wife.

Earlier on, the former FCT minister was alleged to have revoked plots of land totaling 75 and allocated them to the American Hospital without the consent of the original owners of such lands. He was also accused of revoking plots of land belonging to former Heads of State, Generals Yakubu Gowon, Abdulsalami Abubakar.

Although his Chief of Staff has already told the media that his boss never operated out of the law in revocation and allocation of land titles to Nigerians, the story would be better told by the former FCT minister himself when he appears before the Senate panel today.

The former FCT minister is thus expected to shed more light on the proceeds from the sale of all government owned properties under his administration.

In the financial statement presented to the Senate Committee on FCT carrying out the probe, as presented by the former minister on the sale of the houses; a total sum of N96.32 Billion was realised and collected out of which a total of N1.8 Billion has been expended, comprising cost for survey and beaconing; property valuation; publicity and adverts; public auctions; consultancy; information technology equipment, handover costs; audit fees; staff salaries; purchase of vehicles and office operations.

In the document, the total receipts amounted to N96,322,913,123.18; transferred to the Central Bank of Nigeria which was 75 percent amounting to 19,145,104,978.98; transfer to the Federal Capital Territory was 25 percent amounting to 6,381,701,659.66; expenses were to the tune of N1,819,889,739.02; refunds were N6,592,659,774.76; returns to the drafts and bank charges were N215,087,754.66; total deductionsN34,154,443,907.08; while the available balance amounted to N62,168,469,216.10.

The document also states that the delay in the proposed N100 Billion bond by the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria had made it impossible to close out transactions as majority of Nigerians were unable to raise money from alternative sources at attractive rates.

"However, the bond has now been finally floated with the sum of N26.5 Billion refinancing of mortgage loans generated by various originating banks and buyers can now access mortgage facility at 9.5 per cent interest rate and in a 15 year tenor".

The presentation from the former Minister, in which a copy was made available to LEADERSHIP, also clears the air on how the monies were spent.

According to the document, "given the sensitive nature of housing, particularly being the first and realistic policy in home ownership, a team of legal professionals charged with the responsibility for responding and attending to various legal petitions, courts cases, advising on compliance with sales guidelines and legal processes were brought on board from the FCDA legal Department. Currently, there are 254 cases pending in various courts. Some of the court cases including illegal or unsuccessful occupants of some of the sold properties secured court injunctions so as not to be evicted".

On the allegations that some of the prospective owners of the houses were not issued with the Certificate of Occupancy of their houses, the document states:

"From the commencement of the sale in July 2005, 22,061 offer letters were issued to qualified career public servants, political office holders and successful winning bids in the seven rounds of auction, MFA special auction and the walk-in sale exercise.

"Valuation and beaconing are done at no cost to the buyers. Note that efforts are being made to print about 10,000 C of O's in the next few weeks to clear the bulk".

On the eviction from the residence of the late Justice Sambo that the former FCT minister unlawfully carried out, a document presented to the FCT committee and made available to LEADERSHIP which was addressed to the late Justice Bashir Sambo in respect to his N0.1 Aso Drive, Maitama, Abuja entitled, ' Re-sale of non-essential FGN housing units in Abuja, FCT-Withdrawal of offer and signed by Abba Umar, chairman, Ad-hoc committee on Sale of Government Houses, the story of the late justice's son contradicts the letter written his father to retain the house and also contradicts the submissions that the former FCT minister disobeyed a court order restraining the FCDA officials from evicting him.

The letter dated 27th July, 2006 states, " in response to your letters on the above subject matter, we wish to inform you that the property situated at N0.1 Aso Drive, Maitama which you are presently occupying is conclusively exempted from the sale of Houses under the FEC approved rules and guidelines. This also follows further consultations with Mr. President in response to your several petitions".

It is also expected that, while the former minister mounts the podium today, it is expected that he would likely spin the beans.

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