Nigeria: A Nation Mired in Waste As Multi-Billion Naira Properties Rot Away

The National Arts Theatre.
4 February 2019

The legion of derelict Federal Government properties worth several billions of naira in Lagos State, the former Nigerian capital, is indicative of how wasteful the country could be. In other climes, such edifices are kept as national monuments or transformed into money-spinning ventures for government.

Bertram Nwannekanma and Victor Gbonegun write that due to improper maintenance culture and political shenanigans, the country is losing huge revenue from these abandoned properties.

For a nation in dire need of financial sustainability and currently borrowing to fund its key infrastructural projects, one would have expected that Nigeria would leverage an avalanche of government edifices that dotted strategic locations in Lagos and other cities to deepen its mandate, especially that of giving better life to Nigerians.

But that seems not to be the case as these properties are currently rotting away due to several years of neglect and government inertia on what to do with them.

More pathetic is the fact that many Federal Government agencies do not have permanent offices to house their staff.

Investigations show that many of the buildings used for offices in Lagos, are rented but with proper planning and renovation, the Federal Government could save money by making sure that most of these agencies move to the abandoned buildings.

There would have been no need spending hard-earned revenue on paying rents for many government Ministries, Departments and Agencies, when the buildings could be completed/upgraded and made fit for purpose.

The buildings, which have been in these ugly conditions since the movement of the federal capital territory from Lagos to Abuja in 1992, include, the national stadium, Surulere, the Federal Secretariat Complex, Ikoyi, the Nigerian External Telecommunications (NET) building, Marina, the Defence House (formerly Independence Building), former Navy Headquarters building in Marina, the National Arts Theatre, Iganmu, former National Assembly complex, Tafawa Balewa Square, among others.

Experts say the potential economic loss at the National Stadium alone, between 2004 and date, is about N52.6 billion, while the Federal Secretariat, which has been overgrown with weeds and is now home to reptiles, could have yielded over N7.2 billion, if it had been converted to luxury residential apartments as proposed by Dr. Wale Babalakin, the promoter of Resort International Limited (RIL).

The 32-storey NET building with about 720 square metres of lettable space could have attracted over N1.6 billion in rent yearly if well maintained and optimally utilised.

Historical perspectives

The Federal Secretariat Complex, Ikoyi was abandoned 29 year ago following the relocation of the federal capital to Abuja.

The once bubbling complex comprising three towers of 12 -storey buildings, was conceived by the General Yakubu-Gowon-led military government in 1975 to cater for its administrative needs when Lagos was still the federal capital.

The secretariat in 1976 was a masterpiece to behold and of course the envy of the world because of its iconic architectural designs.

Fast forward, 29 years later, what used to be a masterpiece, is now in a sorry state of decay and abode for urchins.

Ever since the federal capital was moved to Abuja, the rot has been massive. It was reported in 2009 that plans were at an advanced stage to turn the building into residential complex.

The development, was however, halted by the former Lagos state governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola administration, citing planning permission.

The Lagos State Government which later passed the Ikoyi Victoria Model City Plan bill into law in 2006, insisted that the secretariat should remain an institutional building and could not be converted to other uses.

Going by the calculations of the Federal Government, the premises, upon restructuring, should consist, four, three and two bedroom flats, among others.

The Dr. Wale Babalakin-led RIL, which reportedly won the bid for the secretariat with an investment of N7.2billion had planned its conversion into housing units.

But the plan, which would have accommodated 480 families did not jell with the Lagos State Government which opposed the idea of converting an office complex into a residential area. They obtained a court injunction barring anyone from doing anything with the complex, and up till today, nothing has been done there.

A former Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Mr. Nduese Essien, was reported to have said that the redevelopment of the abandoned complex would resume soon as the Federal Government had commenced discussions with the Lagos State Government with a view to resolving contending issues stalling the reconstruction of the project. Regrettably, that hasn't happened till date.

Observers say the position of the Lagos State Government to revert the complex to its original use against the concessionaire's plan to transform it into homes for more than 480 families, amounted to paying lip service, while leaving the 35-year-old investment in ruins.

The National Theatre, Iganmu was conceived as an architectural masterpiece and a cultural landmark. The National Theatre located at Iganmu, in the heart of Lagos has been in the news for some time.

The contract for the construction of the monument, which primarily is for the performing arts in Nigeria was signed on April 24, 1973, during Gen. Yakubu Gowon's regime but construction was completed in 1976 in preparation for the Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) in 1977.

Before now, several attempts have been made to either sell or concession the edifice designed by a Bulgarian Construction Company, Technoexportsroy.

For instance, the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) commenced the concession transaction of the National Theatre in 2001 following the conclusion of World Bank-financed diagnostic study and transaction advisory service in line with international best practices.

The first concession transaction led to the pre-qualification of the following prospective concessionaires: Jadeas Trust Consortium, and Lloyd Anderson Investment Limited.

Today, the walls and plumbing works of the once iconic edifice fashioned to resemble the Palace of Culture and Sports in Varna, Bulgaria completed in 1968, have given way to cockroaches and all sorts of crawling creatures and a church.

The Director General of the Budget Office, Ben Akabueze, said during his appearance before the House of Representatives Joint Committees on 2018-2020 Medium Term Expenditure Framework /Fiscal Strategy Paper, MTEF/FSP, that the National theatre, was part of the key national assets the Federal Government had concluded plans to sell.

He stressed that the purpose of the proposed sale was to generate sufficient revenue to finance the country's annual budgets for the next three years (2018-2020). But it was not to be.

Also, the move to transform the edifice into an entertainment city, through concession appears to be in limbo for lack of subsequent action by the authorities.

The Guardian learnt that the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) has already issued a Full Business Case (FBC) Compliance Certificate to the Ministry of Information, the supervisory ministry but progress could not be made until the FBC certificate is tabled before the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for consideration to permit further actions on the concession process of the architectural masterpiece and a cultural landmark.

An insider in ICRC, Abuja expressed worry why the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has not presented the certificate to FEC.

According to the source, it is only when that is done that further action will be taken by ICRC on the project being spearheaded by the Federal Government

It was further gathered that the project would involve the complete renovation and restructure of the facility located in Iganmu, Lagos, and transformation of the large, under-utilised area of land around the iconic theatre.

Situated in a landmass of about 23,000 square metres and well over 31 metres tall, the multipurpose National Theatre was established for the preservation, presentation and promotion of arts and culture in Nigeria.

The project is Tagged: 'The Nigeria Entertainment City, a Public-Private Partnership model being deployed to see the current theatre main bowl fully upgraded, and the adjoining land around developed into complimentary facilities.

Tafawa Balewa square/ Defence House, Lagos situated in the centre of Lagos Island's commercial district was where Nigeria celebrated its independence on October first, 1960 only that it was just a mere race course then.

The Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) is a 14.5-hectare (35.8-acre) ceremonial ground (originally called "Race Course")

Constructed in 1972 over the site of a defunct rack for horse racing, TBS is bounded by Awolowo road, Cable Street, Force road and the Catholic Mission Street.

The entrance to the square has gigantic sculptures of four white horses hovering above the gate and seven eagles, which are symbols from the national emblem signifying strength and dignity respectively.

Other monuments in the square include the Remembrance Arcade (with memorials of World War 1, World War II and Nigerian civil war victims) and the 26-storey Independence House, built in 1963, which was for a long time, the tallest building in Nigeria.

In many nations of the world, the Tafawa Balewa Square would have been so bedecked with ornaments, garlands and bouquets that would give the impression that it is a deity of a sort.

Not in Nigeria where the goose that lays the golden egg is never fed until it goes into extinction.

The ugliness on its face, the abandonment of its history and other issues relating to the edifice have been subjects of discussions for a long time.

In 2001, it was listed by the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) in line with its role of determining, approving policies and criteria for privatisation and commercialisation of public enterprises contained in the act.

The National Council on Privatisation (NCP) later approved its concession with other federal government properties like the Lagos International Trade Fair Complex.

It was concessioned to a private developer - BHS International, which is expected to turn it into a world-class facility that will boast of a 5000-seater convention centre, conference halls, a five-star hotel, 1,500 spaces shopping mall, 10-floor creativity block, 60-floor offices, 200 luxury apartments and 10,000 spaces of car park.

However, there are also controversies surrounding its ownership, with experts saying the property is probably receiving less attention because it is in the wrong hand.

For instance, Prof. Rasheed Ojikutu of the Faculty of Management Sciences, University of Lagos, recently queried the Federal Government's ownership of the property saying it is doing so fraudulently because the land on which it is erected is a jockey club ceded to the people of Lagos by King Dosunmu in 1859.

According to him, in a memorandum dated October 8, 1897, Governor of Lagos Colony, Henry McCaullum sent a prayer to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria for Confirmation and Approval of Ordinance Number 8 of 1897 which provides for the control and management of the Race Course in Lagos.

Also, Mr. Babatunda Fashola refuted claims that the edifice was sold by the Federal Government.

Fashola, who made the clarification at the City Hall, Lagos, venue of the Public presentation of a historic book on Lagos, Possession- A History of Law and Justice In The Crown Colony of Lagos; 1861 - 1906', authored by former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of the State, Mr. Olasupo Shasore (SAN), said because of ignorance of the history of Lagos, most people make spurious assumptions and statements that offend the sensibilities of Lagosians such as the one by the Federal Government saying it has sold the Tafawa Balewa Square.

Till date, the edifice despite the concession agreement is yet to be fully utilized.

The Nigerian External Telecommunication (NET) Building with about 160metres (520ft), and 32 floors used to be the tallest building in Nigeria and in West Africa. Located at No.15 Marina road, the building was completed in 1979; it was popular with two names, NITEL and NECOM.

The tower was built to be used as the headquarters of the Nigerian External Communications (NECOM), which was bought out by the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL). The building represents a tower designed in line with the architectural style of that period.

Nickson Borys & Partners architectural firm handled the design while the general contractor for the project was done by Costain Group Plc.

The building once represents a national heritage for engineering strength and innovation. Prominent communications tower on the roof also serves as a lighthouse for Lagos harbour.

At present, the building and its focus have gone down the drain.

NITEL has become a thing of the past and the Federal Government high-rise property is now an eye sore. The building is illegally occupied and grass has taken over the facility.

The National Stadium, Lagos was built in 1972. The facility represents one of the biggest stadia in the country with a capacity to accommodate about 55,000 spectators.

Since it was reduced to a 45,000-person capacity in 1999, it became a shadow of itself.

Its potential was lost with a particular reference to the turf, which has lost its greenery capacity. Regrettably, the facility is now allegedly used as a rental space for some religious activities.

Subsequently, it has become an abode for area boys who feast on it and use the once glorious edifice for some personal purposes.

Only recently, during President Muhammadu Buhari's visit to Lagos, the state government asked the Federal Government to hand-over the stadium. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode inspected the ground with Youth and Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung to ascertain the amount of work needed to rehabilitate the edifice.

The state government wanted the Federal Government to hand over the stadium completely, but it appears that Federal Government plans to concede it, through a concession agreement for renovation.

Although sources said there has been progress in negotiation, the edifice, which was home of the Super Eagles has remained in a sorry state due to lack of maintenance.

Experts lament colossal waste of assets

Speaking on the nation's culture of waste, the President of Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV), Rowland Abonta, noted that the buildings, whose value is in billions, have become 'wasting assets' to the economy, whereas the nations' wealth was invested in them.

He observed that the poor situation of the buildings could be attributed to the obvious lack of a maintenance culture in the country.

"Immediately after the British colonial masters left the country and Nigerians took over the mantle of leadership, they wiped off what was supposed to have been imbibed from the colonial masters which is the culture of maintenance.

NIESV as an association is advocating the enactment of a facility management bill in Nigeria with a recommendation that part of the project team for any national project should include facility management provisions and consultancy of a facility manager who will be able to access the running cost and requirement of such facility and a plan for the successful maintenance of such facility before the projects are executed."

He stated that through the process, the culture of maintenance would be made to be part of the nation's policy and development plan.

To him, the way forward from what exists not only in Lagos but also across the states' capitals is to make a conversion of the facilities to residential facilities to cushion the over 17million housing deficit and house hundreds of Nigerian families who are homeless in such facilities.

His words: "Almost all the states have such assets wasting where we used to have governor's lodges, most of them are occupied by gatemen, junior staff who sometimes sub-let them to make quick money. We are a nation that is careless about our assets, that is a big disadvantage to the economic growth of the nation.

The Federal Government should be called on to look into its own assets in major cities including Port Harcourt and the professionals like estate surveyors and valuers would be ready to partner in terms of doing feasibility and viability assessment of those property and recommending the best way to put them back into economic use."

Reacting to the development, the President of Nigerian Institute of Building, Kenneth Nduka, stated that the challenge is that when such big structures are abandoned, elements in the building will get choked because buildings normally breath and if they are not used and so not breathing, the various structural parts would start to deteriorate.

In terms of the opportunity cost, he expressed concerns that developing the federal secretariat project/maintaining it to a functional level and a subsequent abandonment for many years, is like throwing money into the ocean.

"The steel will start to rust, wood will rot, gas cooker will start rusting because you will have dusts in areas where ordinarily there shouldn't be moisture. Dusts will accumulate and absorb moisture.

If building facilities are not put to use for which they were designed, there is clear indication that there must deterioration.

The important thing is that those projects were abandoned due to lack of focus and planning because even if it is our personal houses, we would have made sure that they are taken care of or converted into liquidity settings that would bring additional revenue to the system. Right now there is no return nor benefits on the investment."

He emphasized that as congested as Lagos State is, if there is strong synergy between the state government and the private sector, the abandoned federal secretariat building alone is enough to form the campus of a university, a five- star hotel, converted into a condominium and other various opportunity costs that are being wasted.

"If you want to look at it from the view-point of statistic, the cost implication of the neglect, is enormous even in terms of environmental development. Imagine the economic activities that it will create for traders, food vendors, and bottled water vendors and recharge cards sellers if it is put to use. The chain of economic activity that the dormancy of the project has impacted on the environment is huge. Look at the national theatre as it, virtually the sound acoustics are made up of special woods and if they are locked up, the woods will rust".

He said if government thinks that it can't use the buildings, it should be privatised to earn money but must not be sold out because selling them will amount to a great disservice to Nigerians and the national economy.

Government should allow the buildings to be exposed to something that could generate income, provide employment for the environment. For you to convert the building to alternative use, it means you have to focus another budget on it, to restore the project, he said.

The immediate past president, Nigerian Institute of Architects, Mr. Tonye Braide, explained that it might be difficult in real terms to appropriate the amount lost from the abandonment of facilities like the Federal Secretariat and the National Theater.

However, he said if there was a bond or an irrevocable standing payment order to cover the projects, the rent which government is paying somewhere else for its office use could have been used to redeem the completion of the facility or maintain it.

"Because there is a need for that space, those offices are somewhere else in rented apartments and the Federal Government is still paying money.

When a project is started, authorities must set up a construction bond, because there are so many abandoned property and projects in Nigeria, which one could hardly find in most developed countries.

If government is committed that a project is what the people really require, then it should commit like a five or 10 years' bond to it and once they are committed to the project, it therefore means that it is irrevocable, money over the period, will be entering an account.

A reputable contractor will come out, use its money, finish the project and collect its money over the tenure with some little interest."

According to him, if a public building development has reached a credibility stage and is left unused, government could convert its use to affordable housing for the very poor segment of the workforce.

The nation, he said, needs the expansion of real estate, noting that even if government is shrunk at anytime, authorities can always convert real estate into equity through joint venture and the money invested can never be lost.

"The Federal Secretariat in Lagos, for instance, its use could have been converted into one-bedroom apartment for workers from a certain grade level downward and through that they would have access to affordable housing.

Government shouldn't just allow its infrastructures to waste, if it has reached a credibility stage, all that government has to do is to put in services through decent architectural methods, to partition the interior and change the use. If a building is in use, it can span 100 years.

The people at the very lower level of the civil service could subscribe to it and through that they would be able to easily access their houses without necessarily having to travel through a long journey before getting to their offices and back home", he noted.

The past Chairman, Estate Surveyors and Valuers Registration Board of Nigeria (ESVARBON), Mr. William Odudu, expressed sadness over the nation's culture of waste and poor maintenance.

The chartered estate surveyor said the neglect of public buildings is reducing the value of the properties.

Lamenting the sorry state of the Federal Secretariat, he said the nation is losing billions on the dilapidated structure due to poor maintenance culture and called for the creation of a National Agency for Property Maintenance.

According to him, these properties are the citizens' common-wealth, hence the need to maintain them for prosperity.

"There is no need to allow them to be dilapidated only to be sold at ridiculous prices and government budgeting another millions of naira to build new ones. It is not proper to build quarters for civil servants only to spend more to rent accommodation. They can rent them or maintain them and use them and save the money. The assets are wasting away because they are not properly maintained. These are public assets and our common-wealth."

The President of the Association of Consulting Architects of Nigeria (ACAN), Mansur Kurfi, urged government to take immediate action on the properties or give them out to private companies to raise the money through taxes if they cannot use them for public service accommodation .

The Chief Executive Officer of Global Property and Facilities International Limited (GPFI), Dr. Mohammed Kazeem Balogun, urged government to enter into a joint venture with private companies to run the properties for better use, especially those located around Marina because of their prime locations.

These buildings, he said, could be redeveloped or pulled down as the case may be to make way for better structures.

Specifically, he mentioned the Nigerian External Telecommunication building and the former Navy building, Marina as well as the Ministry of Works and Housing buildings as examples of those assets that could be redeveloped as they are located in a money spilling location in Lagos.

He also called for a central agency to coordinate concession agreements as a measure to avoid the 1004 and the Federal Secretariat Ikoyi, experiences.

According to him, such an agency will work with all parties to ensure that a change of government will not alter the concession agreement.

"This is necessary so that one agency of government will not go and sign an agreement and another thing will arise whether at the state or local government levels. It is was a big challenge that affected the sale of 1004 Estate before it was later resolved", he posited.

Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, others react

The Director of Public Building, Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Dickson Onoja, said the buildings have since been handed over to the presidential committee handling the disposal of federal government properties.

Onoja, who spoke through Augustine Ocheje, said the committee reports to the minister and therefore the matter is now outside the purvey of the directorate.

Also the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), an agency of the Federal Government of Nigeria responsible for the development and implementation of public -private partnership framework for the provision of infrastructure services, said the Tafawa Balewa Square project was awarded to Build Hope Services International Limited (BHS).

He explained that the concession is for a lease fee of N9.5billion approved in 2006 and is to be paid over a period of 30 years.

He further stated that the fee is broken down to be paid at N100 million each year for the first 10 years, N250 million for the second 10 years, N500 million for the third five years and N700 million for the last five years.

Under the agreement, the firm is to efficiently maintain the complex for 30 years and provide additional facilities that will improve its use for the benefit of the general public.

The commission said BHS is also saddled with the responsibility of reporting to the regulator to attain better guidance.

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