Unfinished business of government buildings
ALL over Nigeria, there are buildings or projects which have been abandoned either because the contractors have not been paid or the contractors have simply abandoned the jobs even after being paid. Some of these jobs are in the centre of the cities and many are subject of litigation.
Most, however, are Federal Government buildings which have remained empty since the government moved from Lagos to Abuja. These buildings include the 25 storey Federal Secretariat, that was later known as Defence House, the Cabinet Office at Moloney Street, the Legislature Buildings in Race Course, NET Building on the Marina, Federal Secretariat which was to be turned into flats so that our foreign domiciled professionals could come home and would have somewhere to stay. They were to be sold to returning Nigerian professionals. There are so many others that I do not wish to list all of them here.
Lagos State Government is making a reversionary claim on these and other federal properties. The Muhammadu Buhari Administration is almost unique in having a good working relationship with Lagos since both the government power in Abuja and Lagos State administration are APC. But it will be invidious if these properties went to Lagos State and ended the way many Lagos State properties have so far ended: especially in Ikoyi where the properties have ended up in private hands of members of the ruling party in Lagos. It cannot be beyond the imagination of both the Lagos State Government and the Federal Government to find a transparent way to deal with these matters. Mr. Dimeji Bankole, the former Speaker, at less than 40 years old, was able, according to him, to buy the NET building on the Marina. There are too many politicians who use office to feather bed their nests. I have no reason not to believe Mr. Bankole, a former Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, about his source of funds: i.e. that it came from his father. There are well tested methods of proving such a claim.
President Buhari-led Government should be able to make simple rules about selling these buildings or forming co-operation with private estate agents or investors, first, to restore the buildings and let them out at commercial prices. This will end the constant rumours that private well placed political juggernauts have cornered this aspect of land acquisition in Lagos. Commentators point at the old Ministry of Works at the junction of Kings Way and Glover which is going up now as a five star hotel. It is suspected that this and other buildings on choice sites have been ‘sold’ to political leaders.
Nigeria is short of nurses. Yet two of the buildings which used to be used as Nursing Schools, one opposite the Island Maternity Hospital, the other opposite Creek Hospital, are no longer Nursing Schools. The buildings are empty waiting for further development by politicians who have acquired them. I cannot think of a better site for Nursing Schools than these two sites and the land surrounding them. These buildings should be returned and used for their original purposes.
Now, to the question of reversionary rights of Lagos State for Federal Government Buildings. I do not know what the legal position is but I can guess at the political implications. Nigeria is not the only country where its capital has moved from one city to another, Philadelphia was once the capital city of the United States, Sydney of Australia, Abidjan of Cote d’Ivoire, Johannesburg of South Africa, etc. Justice Akinola Aguda, who recommended the move of the capital of Nigeria from Lagos to Abuja, had suggested a joint committee on the disposal of assets. When a new state has been created from existing ones, an asset committee is usually set up (I must say that sometimes these committees cause more problems than they solve). There was such a committee set up between the Federal and Lagos State Government when Abuja was created. The Federal Government attitude was governed by a concern that Lagos, a fledgling state, should move its focus to Ikeja and other environs or so the Federal Government thought. It soon became clear that the Federal Government was wrong and that Lagos had every intention of taking up any and every property not in use by the Federal Government, including areas which by law and long practice had also been federal territory i.e. the littoral areas of Lagos, the areas adjacent to NEPA Electricity pylons, areas of either side of rivers, the Federal Government had declared to be waterways and a plethora of regulations which no doubt gave the Federal Government rights in areas that were to be contested by the Lagos State government and indeed by other littoral states.
A federation is made up of the three arms of government – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, each working independently of one another yet curiously dependent on one another. When issues of jurisdiction arise, the judiciary settles the matter where the law may not have been as precise as necessary: or may, by its pronouncement, reinforce an existing practice or order a new one. These cases of jurisdiction and ownership have been through the law court but we still have a problem. Has Lagos State a reversionary interest in Federal Government property left unoccupied in Lagos? How about the other 35 states comprising the federal government on whose behalf these properties were developed? A Federal Government property in Lagos belongs to the 36 federating units and when decisions are made about its disposal, it is the decision of all the states. But Lagos claims a peculiarity not common in other states. Lagos claims that the land of the government never belonged to the Federal Government, that all land belongs to the Idejo White caps Chief and their claim of reversionary interest is on behest of the chiefs. There is some merit in this argument but most of it is sophistry. Lagos was a colony seized by war. Land rights diminished after any conquest. Moreover, the claim of Lagos State for reversionary interest is in no way different from claims other states could make after the 1914 Amalgamation. There are other enclaves in Nigeria which were also colonies – Degema, Calabar – and land rights in these colonies were not dissimilar to those of Lagos.
When a problem arises, the best thing is to find a solution not to compound the problem by raising other complexities. The government should set up a task force to clear up the mess; give the tax force clear guidelines, for example, avoiding selling to politicians and their allies. A task force should rehabilitate most of the buildings and let them out at commercial rates; (and avoid the obvious temptation of buying land and property at cheap prices and making a killing from such purchases). The APC and the PDP are full of such men; for example buying places such as the schools of Nursing, dentistry, radiology, etc. These properties should be returned to their former function. They must not be subject of high rise hotel, etc. Where is the housing development for low and medium income earners? Lagos now has workers who leave home at 4a.m. and return by midnight. What kind of life is that? Those who have used their position in power to acquire more than one property should be stripped of the excess. The Federal Secretariat should be completed as flats and sold to those who are chosen by lottery at reasonable prices. People forget that Alhaji Lateef Jakande sold houses in Lagos and Abuja at N30,000 each. We may laugh at the quality of those houses (which have all been improved) but not at their location or their utility or their purchase pulling whole families out of poverty.