Tongues are wagging over allegations that the FCT Minister’s alleged greed and double standard may make Nigeria lose the billions of naira invested in the Malaysian Gardens housing project in Abuja, reports our Correspondent
To Global Framework (Nigeria) Limited and Malaysian investors, who are joint owners of Malaysian Gardens Mass Housing Projects situated at Saraji District Abuja, 3rd October 2006 was a memorable day. Pomp and pageantry reigned when former President Olusegun Obasanjo performed the official ground breaking ceremony of the estate.
The company’s joy has been short-lived as seven years after, the estate has not taken off, as a result of what the owners of the housing project termed greed, selfish interest, and envy that led to the stalling of the multi-billion naira project.
In a letter of complaint dated 14th June, 2012 with reference number SR (247) 100/18-1 Vol. 2, addressed to His Excellency Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the former Malaysian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Dato’ Nik Mustafa Kamal Nik Ahmad, explained to the President how FCT Minister Bala Mohammed’s, alleged greed and envy are trying to consume a project that will make immense impact on the Nigerian populace in the area of housing.
According to the High Commissioner, the one thing he regretted during his tenure in Nigeria is the issue of the Malaysian Garden project. The letter stated that: “The $600 million mass housing project was in response to former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s initiative to welcome Malaysian investors to Nigeria in many areas including real estate development. It is envisaged to provide 14,085 housing units including medium and low income groups in Abuja. This would greatly address housing supply in the city and add value to the Federal Capital. It is sad that the project is still uncompleted after six (6) years despite the best efforts of the Global Formwork Nigeria Ltd, the developer of the Malyasian-Nigeria joint venture.
“The developer was taken to court by the then FCT Minister, Mr. Aliyu Modibbo Umar, having had its accounts frozen and been investigated by the EFCC and numerous bureaucratic obstacles. The building plan approval was only given after 5 years during the time of former Minister Adamu Aliero. As of today, the engineering drawings namely for roads, sewage, electrical, storm, water etc, submitted since 2004 have yet to be approved. It is pending for 8 years now.”
The High Commissioner added that: “despite those challenges, none posed so much hardship to the developer than the present difficulties created by the current Minister, Senator Bala Mohammed. The Minister on 21 February 2011 had threatened to take back the land (land originally given by past ministers for the Malaysian assisted mass housing project) unless the developer agrees to give as much as 400 hectares to him which is 80% of the total area of land of the project which will effectively kill the mass housing project. He also asked the Nigerian Igbo partner to be changed, to which the Malaysian side would not agree. The minister even hinted the possibility of using EFCC and the Police against the Developer if his demands are not met. All efforts to find amicable solution failed. Senator Bala Mohammed has refused to approve all the engineering drawings or even register the housing project. This puts the developers in a dilemma, as they cannot proceed with the project at all. If the developer hands over 1800 units which are nearing completion, the buyers will not be able to occupy or sell the houses due to lack of Certificate of Occupancy.”
The High Commissioner stated that he really believes the minister is not protecting Nigeria’s interests, but is driven more by selfish interests.
In another letter to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was the person that did the launching of the project way back in 2006, he asked for the former President’s intervention, cited same reasons he gave in his letter to President Jonathan.
In one its petitions, Global Framework, it alleged that the $1.8 million earth moving machines and other equipment which were brought in December 2006 to the site of the project remain idle five years after they were unloaded due to the stalling of the project.
According to the petitioner, as at 17th June 2004 they had submitted all the necessary engineering and building plan drawings for approval to the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) long before the ground breaking ceremony in 2006, but since then, there has been continuous submission of drawings after drawings. On two occasions, they were told that their file had developed wings and flew away.
Soon after Senator Adamu Aliero became Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Global Framework was invited alongside the Malaysian High Commissioner to Nigeria for a meeting, “a meeting which prompted Aliero’s visit to the site during which he expressed satisfaction with the standard of work on our site and therefore called on the Federal Government of Nigeria to support the ambitious project which he said would impact positively on the economy of the nation.”
According to them, “it was under Senator Adamu Aliero’s administration that we got the Building Plan Approval, having waited idly for 5 years to have it approved. The Building Plan Approval came with fees attached to it amounting to the tune of N433,659,753.04(four hundred and thirty three million, six hundred and fifty nine thousand, seven hundred and fifty three naira, four kobo) which we were meant to pay within 30 days from the date of the receipt of the approval letter.”
According to the petition, “an ultimatum for them to pay the building plan fees within 30 days was not what the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) made them to understand at the early stage of their meetings with them as they were told then that it was the prospective buyer that would bear the cost of the building plan fees which they said is normally factored into the processing of the Certificate of Occupancy (C of O), a matter which was brought before the then Hon. Minister, Senator Adamu Aliero who agreed with their explanations that the prospective home-owners should pay for the building plan fees since it has not been the policy of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCDA) to collect Building Plan Fees from the developers; he went further to promise that he would approve all our Engineering Drawings. However, Aliero’s promise to approve the Engineering Drawings could not be fulfilled because his tenure was short-lived by the minor cabinet reshuffle carried out by the President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.”
Global Framework added in the petition that they got the building plan approval on the 23rd April 2009, which further compelled them to mobilize and engage both skilled and unskilled labour, which was well over 750 excluding eleven (11) expatriates with their numbers increasing by the day “until the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in November 2006 clamped down on us on unfounded money laundering allegation.” The matter was however, determined in their favour as they won the case at a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, although prior to the court judgment, they had suffered terribly at the hands of the EFCC as they had all their accounts in various banks in Nigeria frozen thereby crippling activities on the company’s site.
Moreover, a total sum of N2.4 billion was lost in economic terms as a result of the stoppage of work due to the EFCC action which left the company in a coma for 18 months aggravating in job losses and leaving only 120 security staff out of more than 750 workers who formed the skilled and unskilled labour. Before the invasion by the EFCC within a period of six (6) months the firm was able to build 1,800 units of houses which by all standard would have been considered a feat.
While battling with the EFCC, the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCDA) under Senator Bala Mohammed refused to allow them have any respite as the Minister revisited the building plan fees insisting that they must pay it before other unresolved issues like the engineering drawings and consent letter are settled. This led them to engage some reputable local banks in Nigeria for the purpose of extending mortgage facility to the army of would –be Nigerian home owners. According to them their plan was to go into mortgage as a Primary Mortgage institution has agreed to help them defray the cost of the building plan fees should they enter into mortgage arrangement with them. “The mortgage institution was excited to see the massive number of houses already on ground valued at 7.6 billion naira which are left lying fallow on account of non-approval of our Engineering drawings.”
The petition also said that “the non-approval of the engineering drawings has become a stumbling block in the mortgage arrangement they have with the banks as they became uneasy that 5 years after the large expanse of land measuring 510 hectares was allocated to our company, it still lacked the necessary engineering drawing approval.”
To allay the fears of the mortgage bankers, they were taken to a meeting with principal officers of the FCDA in the persons of the executive secretary of FCDA, Engr. M.S Alhassan and Engr. Yusuf Yahaya, Director Development Control Department, during which the mortgage bankers sought for consent letter from the Ministry in order to reassure them of the safety of their investment in the housing project.
It was agreed that Global Framework should Bala Mohammed so that they can obtain the consent letter from the FCTA. The letter was written through the Malaysian High Commissioner to Nigeria who in turn submitted the letter to the Ministe.
However, the whole thing took another dimension during the Minister’s unscheduled visit to the project site; he wanted to know why there was little or no activity on site. According to them, they took their time to narrate the challenges that have been impeding the progress of work on site largely due to non-approval of their engineering drawings on Road Network, Water distribution, Foul Sewer Network, Storm Drainage, Electricity Network and Sewage etc.
During the visit, Mohammed addressed the press threatening to revoke the land for non-performance. His statement not only appeared in the daily newspapers, it also made news on the internet and NTA. Even as the Minister was on the site on the 12th of August 2010, he asked Global Framework to write him in order to acquaint him with the difficulties they are facing, which they did on the 13th August, 2010 detailing the pitfalls that are giving them some nightmare in the project.
On 21st February 2011, the Minister, invited them along with the Malaysian High Commissioner to Nigeria, NIK Mustafa Kamal for an emergency meeting, a meeting which they honoured with the hope that the parley would address some of their concerns as expressed in their several letters, including that of the Malaysian High Commissioner to him. But to their greatest surprise, the Minister spitted fire to the effect that he said he would excise the greater chunk of the land due to what he called inability to develop it.
Bala Mohammed had earlier reportedly told them that the meeting will be a family affair, but the meeting was not a family affair. The Minister asked them to surrender the bigger part of their land. The outcome of the meeting was later communicated to their foreign partners, an idea which their foreign promoters through the Managing Director, James Wong, rejected.
According to them, “It is a known fact that there is nowhere in the world were a bank would grant you facility without having all the necessary documentation perfected. For instance, construction fund is being held up in Malaysian Exim back because the bank found it reprehensible that six years after the land was handed over to the developers, all the necessary engineering drawings remain un-approved. Even Nigerian banks feel the same way too as they are now avoiding the project like a plague. Exim Bank Malaysia, it must be mentioned, has relentlessly shown unrivalled interest in the Malaysian Gardens Housing Project having visited Nigeria two consecutive times in 2007 and up till now they are still hopeful that they would be part of this laudable project if approval is given”.
In a bid to create some further confusion and doubt against the company’s reputation and performance, some detractors of the project allegedly recently formed a group of the land owners and urged the villagers to invade the estate on a spurious demand for another form of compensation, which had been fully settled and paid to the FCDA, who officially passed on the same to those entitled. The Ministry apparently refused to intervene in the incessant harassment from the villagers even after they have been fully compensated by the company through the FCDA, and the company believes that all these were ploys to create the impression that it is incapable of discharging its mandate on the project, a scenario they believe is being orchestrated by the FCTA.
Moreover, events unfolding recently further strongly indicate that the present management of the FCDA allegedly wishes to dispossess and push out the company with a design to take over the entire estate for their own use and benefit an individual’s interest under the guise of government action.
Accordingly, the petitioners averred that the ministry is aware of the genuine productive contacts secured by the company with reputable financiers willing to partner with the company to pull through the project now almost completed but has refused to give the aforesaid necessary FCDA Approvals for the various drawings required by the financiers as a business precondition to make available the much needed funds. According to them such assurance are from the Alternate and Green Power Limited and First Bank of Nigeria Mortgages who have written to them emphasizing the fact that without those formal approvals and due registration by the FCDA of the Addendum Lease it will not be possible to embark on any form of partnership commitment with the company on the Estate Project.