4 December 2012

Nigeria: Malaysian Garden of Intrigues


Nothing can be more intriguing than the on-going face-off between the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, on the one hand and the Malaysian High Commission and a property developer, Messrs Global Formwork Limited, on the other. Reminiscent of recent controversies over proprietary interests in land administration, within the FCT, Messrs Global Formwork Limited and the Malaysian High Commissioner have dragged the FCT and its minister, Senator Bala Mohammed to the bar of public opinion through a well-orchestrated media onslaught.

The bone of contention is a whopping 510 hectares of land leased to Messrs Global Formwork in 2004. Under the agreement, it was expected that within ten years, the Lessee would develop and sell 14, 085 housing units to members of the public, the would-be beneficiaries of the ensuing rights and certificates of occupancy.

From all indications, the project is yet to materialize with the developers and the high commissioner crying foul. In a strangely-worded advertorial in the Daily Trust newspaper of November 14, 2012, the Malaysian embassy had accused Senator Bala Mohammed of stalling the project because of the developer's alleged refusal to meet his demands which included to be given 400 hectares of the land for his personal use and to drop the Igbo partners in Messrs Global Formwork Limited.

Not surprisingly, the ministry has issued a well worded response which, considered in its entirety, simply means that the developers are crying wolf when indeed it is the ministry that should be crying foul. It is like the victim dressed in the toga of a villain in a weird drama of seemingly undiplomatic guffaws, mischievous posturing and breached agreements.

If one were tempted to lump the Malaysian Gardens drama with similar accusations and counter accusations between the FCT and all manner of developers, the diplomatic angle to the matter suggests otherwise. Let us start by conceding to the Malaysian High Commission the right to intervene given the fact that Messrs Global Formwork is a joint Nigerian-Malaysian partnership. But we must be worried that, in what looks like a desperate move, the high commission saw no harm in breaching clear diplomatic ethos by going public with a matter that should be resolved through appropriate diplomatic channels. Even if one were inclined to ignore that faux pas, I have no doubt that members of the diplomatic community will shudder at the uncouth language used in describing the FCT minister, something of an insult to the Government and people of Nigeria.

If indeed the rather intemperate advertorial was issued by the high commission, it then leaves much to be desired. It is rather strange that the diplomatic mission could ignore certain intriguing factors that puncture holes in Messrs Global Formwork's case. Consider, for instance, that this matter has spanned eight years involving all of five ministers at various times; take note that from available evidence, the developers had a tiff with Adamu Aliero, a problem with Modibbo Umar and are now embroiled in an altercation with Bala Mohammed. Interestingly, going by FCT's claim, it stands to reason that the only reason the project is still alive is because Bala Mohammed decided to give it a second chance.

And that is in spite of the fact that, as claimed by the FCT, Messrs Global Formwork, have not mustered the funds to pay to FCT Development Control - whose responsibility it is to approve building designs - the statutory charge for building plan approval and supervision. If that is true, why would the high commission expect the development control department to approve the building plans in clear breach of the rule? Why would the embassy expect a Nigerian regulatory body to grant to the developers concessions that are denied Nigerians? Were we not told that the Malaysian miracle emerged in part because of the rigid enforcement of rules by the promoters of the country's industrial revolution? Why then would the country's Nigerian mission indulge in actions that seek to undermine President Jonathan's transformation agenda hallmarked by bold moves to curb corruption in high places?

To be honest, any insightful reader will doubt that the said advertorial emanated from the Malaysian High Commission. For all practical purposes, it seems to be a forgery, aimed at taking advantage of recent controversies over demolitions in the FCT to draw public support to the developer's case by sullying the integrity of the minister. In other words, the developers fear that the bulldozers could be rolling ominously towards their ill-fated premises.

If that was not the case, how else could they have made the ridiculous allegation that the minister had asked to be given 80 per cent of the land instead of admitting that they had been privy to the recommendation of the Senator Dansadau's committee recommending outright revocation of the project? When did the ministry and the minister become the same entity? It is either that somebody, somewhere, has taken the embassy for a ride or the embassy does not have much regard for Nigeria.

I am reluctant to dwell on the allegation that the Senator demanded that the Igbo partners be dropped. I will be shocked to my bone marrows if Bala Mohammed could descend to the nadir of ethnic jingoism. My intimate association with him, spanning a period of 30 years does not bear him out as an ethnic Czar intent on emasculating other groups. No. If anything, his role in recent Nigerian history holds him up as a detribalized, patriotic Nigerian.

What I know of Bala is that he is a very compassionate person. You want the evidence? The Malaysian Gardens case! Come to think of it; simply take a look at the response of the ministry: the Senator Dansadau panel recommended that the Development Lease Agreement be revoked; the Federal Executive Council took a decision that the project be scrapped; yet Bala set up the Olorunfemi committee that recommended that the developers were left with something. I would think that being Igbo, the Nigerian partners would have reminded their Malaysian collaborators of the Igbo adage that enjoins a person whose cow is on the run to cut off and retain its tail instead of allowing the entire animal to escape. After all, when did the conventional wisdom that half a loaf is better than none become obsolete?

Last line:

Nigerians will be glad to learn that the novel land swap initiative of the Bala Mohammed FCT administration will not suffer the same fate as the Malaysian Garden project. Could that be the reason the FCT is insisting that prospective developers show evidence of funding before the ground-breaking ceremony? Whatever their motivations might be, it is appropriate to remind Bala Mohammed and his team of the time-honoured adage that those who ignore their history risk being condemned to a repeat performance.

Agu, former newspaper administrator, wrote from Abuja.

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