The federal government waived a total of N63 billion in land fees for the Centenary City project, investigation has shown.
The waiver was granted to a private company, the Centenary City Plc in 2014 to build a mega city to commemorate Nigeria’s centenary celebration.
The firm is chaired by former military Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, but those behind the project were powerful people in former President Goodluck Jonathan’s government.
Under the agreement the company was awarded 1,262.27 hectares of prime land in which it will own 95 percent stake.
The Federal Capital Territory Administration that provided the land and waived the entire processing fee of N63 billion was awarded five percent holding and a seat on the board of the company.
The project covers a land area three times the size of a normal district in the FCT such as Maitama or Asokoro that are about 400 hectares each.
Sources in the FCT administration said that the bill for processing the certificate of occupancy is N5,000 per square metre.
The sources said when this figure is multiplied by 1,262.27 hectares the precise amount waved by the FCTA is N63.114 billion.
A Certificate of Occupancy number 33346 signed by the former FCT Minister, Bala Mohammed, was issued to the promoters of the project.
The Managing Director of the benefiting company, Centenary City Plc, Dr Ike Michaels, told reporters that he disagrees with the idea that his company got undue advantage.
“I am sure you will agree that the so called ‘waiver’ of the C-of-O fees is costing Centenary City PLC much more! In fact, no other FCT Land Swap Agreement has progressed much because of these significant costs.”
Dr. Michaels put the actual size of the land allocated for the Centenary City project at 1,262.27 Hectares.
The allocation of the prime land situated on the expressway linking Abuja city centre to the Nnamdi Azikiwe airport was only possible after previously allocated plots in the area were revoked.
A source in the FCT administration said that even land belonging to the University of Abuja was included in the allocation to the centenary project.
Sources said that on the advice of FCT officials, the then former FCT minister, Bala Muhammed, at first questioned the appropriateness of the project but later succumbed to pressure from his bosses at the presidency.
Even with the departure of the previous administration that allocated the land and waived the fees, there is a wall of silence on anything related to the Centenary City project.
Newsmen wrote to the FCTA requesting for information on the land allocated for the Centenary project but the request was turned down.
The request was made in a letter dated October 16, 2015 and addressed to the Permanent Secretary demanding, to know among others the actual land size
involved, how much, if anything was paid as processing fee and the reason given if the fee was waived.
Nearly a month after the request, A letter signed by Abubakar Sani Pai, chairman FCT committee on the implementation of FOI ACT was received, denying the request.
In the letter dated November 10, 2015, Mr. Pai said: “The committee regrets to deny your request because it is gagged from disclosing this information by the provisions of Section 12(3), as the FCT administration is confronted with containing the problem of forgery of titles to land in the FCT.”
However, some original inhabitants of the area are still pained by the relocation over which they say the N1.2 billion compensation paid to them by the promoters of the project is not adequate.
The project for the centenary city led to the relocation of five communities namely; Baruwa, Gosa Kpai Kpai, Daiynna, Toge and Ruga. The huge tract was awarded to Eagle Hills, an Abu Dhabi-based real estate investment and development company. It was conceived to have a central business district, a financial centre, a museum and cultural centre to promote African and global arts, world-class hotels, business and technology parks, residential districts, an 18-hole golf course, and industry centres, sports and leisure facilities and community amenities.
On February 4, 2013 the former President, Goodluck Jonathan, personally launched the Abuja Centenary City project as part of the ceremony to mark Nigeria’s 100 years of existence as a country. The centenary city project is closely associated with the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim.
Anyim, at a time, said the city was modelled after cities such as Dubai, Monaco and Singapore, to serve as a political and economic tool for securing foreign investment.
The Executive Director of Eagles Hill, Mr. Jaimal Shergill, was reported to have said that the centenary city, as a free trade zone, would be exempted from both federal and state taxes, and that it would also be exempted from the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) property tax.
It is not only the communities displaced by the proposed tax free haven near the Abuja city centre who are unhappy with the project as Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, who is a deputy national vice chairman (South-South) of the PDP and former Chairman of the board of the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) raised objection saying due process was not followed in making Centenary City a free zone.
An APC chieftain, Comrade Timi Frank, on February 2, 2015 wrote an open letter to former President Jonathan demanding immediate revocation of the Certificate of Occupancy for the land as well as withdrawal of the free zone status granted it.
Based on several inquests and inquiries into the project, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has also launched an investigation into the matter. The EFCC’s investigation was prompted by a recent petition by the National Empowerment for Unemployed Youth Initiative which had alleged that the Centenary project was embedded with fraud.
In his reaction to the controversy, Managing Director of Centenary City Plc, Dr Ike Michaels said Centenary City acquired the site under the FCT Land Swap Scheme with a development agreement with the FCTA that called for the provision of certain conditions in lieu of paying the land premium of N6, 311billion.
He listed the conditions given to centenary city under the agreement to include that the Centenary City Plc, would undertake 100% of the entire infrastructure on the site estimated at N150 billion – in progress in lieu of 5% Equity of Centenary City PLC plus a Board seat, pay compensation for crops and economic trees to the original inhabitants on the site to the tune of N319 million which has already been done.
Other conditions include payment of compensation to other private property interests on the site (N918 million) which has also been paid. The company is however yet to fulfill other conditions like the resettlement of the Original Inhabitants by building 671 houses with infrastructure at a site designated by FCDA.
Source: Daily Trust Newspaper