Workers in dilemma over failing housing scheme

Omar

FOR so long, the promise of mass and affordable housing for Nigerians workers have been the trump card that politicians have used to canvass for votes but the story has remained the same.

    Even the establishment of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) by the Federal Government to drive the mass housing scheme process is yet to deliver on the mandate. Hence, when the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in conjunction with Kriston-Lally announced a commencement of a mass-housing scheme, workers massively accepted it. The project was even over-subscribed within a few months of flag-off.

    More than two years after, more than N2billion was raked in from workers’ subscription.

    While the NLC has spiritedly made excuses for the looming failure of the project, subscribers continually accused the Abdulwahed Omar-led Congress of insincerity to deliver on the project.

    Some of the subscribers, who recently stormed the Labour House headquarters of the NLC, not only demanded a refund of their money, but demanded for the accrued interests on the money that have been kept in interest-yielding accounts in commercial banks.

    They are also miffed about allegation of money changing hands between officials of the NLC and Kriston-Lally when the project had not been completed.

 Indeed, a high-ranking member of the National Administrative Council (NAC) of NLC confirmed to The Guardian that he was offered the sum of $30,000 but he rejected the offer.

    He said: “I can confirm that $30,000 was brought to my office by Kriston-Lally officials. I then called some officials of my union to be witnesses to the event. I then declined the money on the basis that the project is not completed and that such money can be given to the NLC upon the completion of the project. I cannot also confirm if any other person collected money from the company.”

     Indeed, the Managing Director of Kriston-Lally, Mr. Mustapha Madawaki, alleged that he gave about $1.4 million to the President of NLC, Abdulwahed Omar. Since that allegation was made, neither Omar nor NLC secretariat has denied the allegation. In his reaction to the allegation, the General Secretary of NLC, Dr. Peter Oso-Eson said there was no additional comment from him except that of the official statement released by the NLC on the matter.

    Now, the subscribers are accusing the NLC of incompetence and non-adherence to due diligent, which led to the failure of the project. They argued that NLC did little background check to ensure the success of the project.

      Speaking on condition of anonymity, a subscriber said: “I am perplexed and disappointed that the NLC did this to workers. So many of us put our pension into this project. The involvement of the NLC was the necessary buffer we needed to buy into the idea. We thought that the involvement of the NLC would protect us from any danger of loss. Who can we trust now if the NLC is no longer reliable?”

      Sources at the secretariat said the project failed principally due to the alienation of the secretariat and the non-involvement of the housing committee of the NLC in the negotiations.

    But Madawaki remains upbeat about the ability of subscribers to get their money back. Madawaki said payment process would commence now that the judiciary workers have suspended their industrial action. 

    Madawaki also explained that the moves by the NLC to migrate the subscribers to another firm would be fiercely resisted through judicial option.

     The firm said it took the court option because it is concerned that the NLC is seeking to place the funds into another construction project, which officials of the NLC are promoting, saying, “this is totally illegal and in violation of the agreements signed with Kriston-Lally. We are fully aware that NLC is making frantic efforts to remove us as signatories to the account by force in order to have free access to the funds despite the service from the Courts. This however is not possible as the accounts are Kriston-Lally’s and only the Courts can decide that.”

      It also hinted that Kriston-Lally is also concerned about libel originating from the NLC, which accuses the Kriston-Lally management of forging signatures so that funds could be released from the Bank.

     Madawaki explained: “There are several witnesses to the fact that Mr. Abdulwahed Omar counter signed payment orders to the Bank, which allowed for the transfer of money as preliminary deposits for the payments for land on which houses were to be built. The receivers of each deposit have legally acknowledged direct receipt and committed themselves to return the funds received and these funds are not at risk.”

    According to Madawaki, NLC leadership has more cases to answers  regarding the project. He mentioned the running costs, costs of travels and logistics costs that NLC may have to settle. 

    The firm expressed worry about NLC leadership inability to reimburse Kriston-Lally of money (in dollars) allegedly given to its President, Abdulwahed Omar, and the NLC as part payments for their commissions as earlier agreed once the project is completed. It noted that NLC has failed to  record such sums in the accounts of Congress.

     Madawaki added: “The firm is also demanding for a refund of nine air tickets to Greece, hotel suites and spending money, which NLC demanded that Kriston-Lally pay for on an NLC trip to Greece to meet with international providers of finance for the project. We are concerned that NLC leadership was only interested in the housing project merely for their own personal benefit and had no concern for the welfare or rights of Nigerian workers and in particular for the depositors.”

     There is also anger by some of the subscribers that another platform that the NLC hope to migrate the Kriston-Lally to be mostly out of the reach of common workers who do not have access to steal government money. 

     Indeed, the President of the NLC, Abdulwahed Omar, attested to this when at a flag-off of the Federal Government nationwide mass housing programme for Workers at Apo Tafiya Project Site, Apo, Abuja on Wednesday 17th December, when he whispered to President Goodluck Jonathan, the need to do something about the affordability of the new arrangement.

     For instance, a two-bedroom flat under Kriston-Lally project was about eight million while the same goes for more than N16 million under the new arrangement. Therefore, the mass housing scheme flagged-off by the President cannot be aptly tagged ‘mass housing’ owing to its exorbitant price tag.   

     In his address at the occasion, President Goodluck Jonathan submitted that government is committed to ensuring that the huge housing deficit in the country is bridged through a number of mass housing delivery schemes, including the nationwide mass housing programme for Nigerian workers.

     The President added: “I would like to reiterate that this administration recognizes the importance of workers’ productivity to the development and growth of our nation. Indeed, the world today recognizes work as a source of personal dignity, family cohesion and security, industrial peace and harmony, as well as an incentive for harnessing national productivity for sustainable development. 

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