4 August 2012

Nigeria: Land Dispute - Why Patience, Turai Talks Failed

The last has certainly not been heard about the dispute between First Lady Patience Jonathan and her predecessor Turai Yar'adua over the ownership of a land in the heart of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja. Weekly Trust reports

Last week First Lady Patience Jonathan hosted African first ladies in Abuja where she laid the foundation for the secretariat of the African First Ladies Peace Mission (AFLPM). It took the intervention of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mohammed Adoke to make that possible, as lawyers acting on behalf of former first lady Turai Yar'adua had gone to court seeking a stoppage to what they considered an encroachment on land owned by their client.

The land in contention was reportedly allocated in February 2010 to Women and Youth Empowerment Foundation (WAYEF), a non-governmental organisation set up by Turai Yar'Adua but revoked by Federal Capital Territory Minister Bala Mohammed in November 2011. Many questioned the revocation and subsequent reallocation of the same land to Patience Jonathan.

Shortly after, WAYEF's lawyers sued the FCT minister and the Attorney General of the Federation and in March this year obtained an injunction from the Abuja High Court restraining the minister or any other person from acting over the land pending the determination their Case.

But the first lady Patience Jonathan approached the court through the Federal Ministry of Justice to vacate the order saying that she would be hosting African first ladies in July and if she failed to lay the foundation during the period, it would negatively affect the image of Nigeria.

Turai lays claim to land

WAYEF said it remains the original owner of the land and that the minister has no power to retrospectively revoke a right of occupancy. The NGO's lawyers said all documents are in its possession to prove ownership of the land.

WAYEF also presented documents before the court to show that the land, situated at plot 1347 Cadastral Zone, Central Business District, Abuja, was duly allocated to their client's organisation.

But Patience Jonathan, through her lawyers, said the Turai cannot lay claim to the land because it was first allocated to First Ladies Peace Initiative when she (Turai) was the president.

Special Assistant on Media to the FCT Minister, Mr. Nosike Ogbuenyi also said in a statement that what the FCT Minister did was to restore the land to the original allottee, the African First Ladies Peace Mission, adding that the AFLPM was neither owned nor sponsored by the current First Lady of Nigeria, Dame Jonathan.

"The records are there and clear for all to see, showing that the land was first allocated to African First Ladies Peace Mission (through the Office of the First Lady) for the building of its secretariat in Abuja.

"That first allocation was, indeed, made over four years ago on June 9, 2008, bearing the allocation Number Misc 1011173. The allocation was clearly addressed to the African First Ladies Peace Mission as the original allottee with the purpose spelt out as the building of its continental secretariat.

"The record, however, curiously showed that along the line in February 2010, the allocation was inexplicably changed from the original and rightful allottee, which was African First Ladies Peace Mission, to a private non-governmental organisation, Women and Youth Empowerment Foundation, WAYEP, belonging to the then First Lady, Hajia Yar'Adua."

Out of court settlement

Justice Minister Mohammed Adoke had asked the court to give the parties a chance to try to settle out of court, and a reconciliatory process was kick-started. The court also adjourned the case to September 24, 2012 to hear report of the settlement.

A close source to Turai's camp, who didn't want his name mentioned, told Weekly Trust that "we agreed that the case be suspended and settle outside the court. We respect the rule of law and have respect for integrity and that is why we agreed to an out of court agreement in anticipation that everything will be resolved amicably. But as it seems, that is not so. The options we were given were not appealing. One of the lands we were offered as replacement is smaller than the original land in question and the other is situated in an undeveloped area."

The insider also said that the NGO was looking at a possibility of an earlier take off of construction work 'but with the way things are going it is going to take longer than we expected. If you check our records we have paid all dues levied on that land worth billions of naira. If this case continues like this we might have no option than to go back to court and let the court decide."

A new dimension

A new dimension was introduced into the saga when former FCT Minister Aliyu Moddibo Umar told the Voice of America (VOA) Hausa service that the controversial plot of land was originally allocated to ALFPM in 2008.

"When I became minister, I brought the idea for the building of the secretariat as a legacy the former first lady would leave behind. I consulted the former president and advised him on the project after she became the leader of the African First Ladies Mission. I told him that the NGO needed a secretariat to build an edifice just like the Women Centre built by late Maryam Babangida and the National Hospital built by Maryam Abacha.

"He (Yar'adua) agreed and told me to look for a land. When I eventually found the land, I prepared a Certificate of Occupancy and the structural design of the proposed secretariat before I reported back to him. He appreciated the effort and directed me to meet her with the proposal. After a discussion, she accepted the idea and set up a committee comprising of the FCT and Foreign Affairs officials, Maryam Abacha, late Murtala Muhammad's wife and Patience."

Waiting on Aliero

But commenting on the claims of the ex-Minister of the FCT Mallam Modibbo Umar that the land was initially allocated to the African Ladies Peace Mission but later reallocated by Adamu Aliero, our source says "We wouldn't know about that but I think Senator Adamu Aliero will be in the best position to answer that and explain why he reallocated the land if what Modibbo said is true. Senator Aliero alone is the person in the best position to explain the mix up after all he was the Minister then" he said.

Also speaking, Ayo Osinlu, the special adviser on media to First Lady Patience Jonathan, said what the FCT minister did was to right the wrong committed during the time of his predecessor, who gave the land to WAYEF even though he knew it belonged to AFLPM. "So the minister only returned the land to its actual owner."

But all efforts to get Senator Adamu Aliero to speak proved abortive. The VOA also reported that it contacted Aliero but that he declined to comment on the issue.

As Nigerians wait to hear Aliero's side to the story, one thing is certain, the last is yet to be heard, and the solution may ultimately be with the court.

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