PROPERTY Inside the irregularities of FCT Land Swap
The immediate past minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Bala Mohammed’s Land Swap policy was the subject of a recent probe by the House of Representatives Committee on the FCT. Our correspondent looks at the alleged massive irregularities of the programme.
The Land Swap policy was a programme in the FCT in which green land or districts were earmarked for various investors that would develop them and provide both primary and secondary infrastructure and resettle the inhabitants of the affected areas in exchange for the grant of particular percentage of the buildable plots in the districts.
Thepolicy,whichwasbasically a land-for-infrastructure swap agreement, took off in 2012 and was coordinated and monitored by one of the agencies of the FCT Administration, the Abuja Infrastructure Investment Centre (AIIC). Twenty five investors were selected and allocated districts to develop, and the programme was to be implemented in a total land area of about 7,600 hectares situated in 15 greenfield districts of the FCT.
However, the policy has been a subject of controversy right from its introduction owing to allegations of irregularities. Thus, in October last year, the House passed a resolution mandating its committee on FCT chaired by Rep Herman Hembe to probe the matter.
Before the taking off of the programme, the FCTA set out some guidelines known as the Basic Terms of Relationship, which it said must be fulfilled by every investor, otherwise the entire engagement of an investor would be vitiated. There were also memorandum of understand (MoU) and the Comprehensive District Development Agreement (CDDA), which were other conditions that came up as the programme progressed.
The first basic term of relationship set out by the FCTA, which it said must be fulfilled within 30 days of receipt of engagement letter, was that every investor must open an account with the sum of N350 million, which would be dedicated to the project. The amount was to serve as a commitment fee to be used in funding physical plan, preliminary design, survey plan, feasibility study, engineering design and preparation of agreements.
Again, every investor was to procure detailed designs and provide infrastructure in the districts within 48 months. Such designs must be based on the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) and Urban and Regional Planning Department guidelines.
The FCTA was to retain at least 40 percent of the buildable plots in the districts and that 15 percent of Right of Occupancy was to be released to the investor upon evidence of a transfer of 15 percent of the total project cost to the project account. These, among several other conditions, were to be met by the investors.
However, during a 5-day public hearing of the House committee, our correspondent observed that most of the companies engaged did not meet the first condition of opening a dedicated account with the sum of N350 million. The chairman of the committee, Hembe, told the House during the consideration of his committee’s report that only about three of the 25 companies engaged opened the account with the said amount.
The committee stated that the entire Land Swap programme was in breach of the Land Use Act, 1978, the Public Procurement Act, 2007 and the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission Act, 2005.
However, the former minister, Mohammed, insisted that the policy, as far as they were concerned, was not a contract but a programme developed to provide massive infrastructure for the FCT in view of its deficit.
Mr Faruq Sani, the coordinator of the Land Swap programme, however, argued before the committee that it was ”private sector collaboration, a model of Public-Private Partnership” to which the National Policy on Public Private Partnerships, the Public Procurement and the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission Acts do not apply.
Consequently, the committee said Sani constituted himself into a court for the purpose of giving meaning to Section 8 of the Land Use Act by contending that since the programme involved the grant of land, all other extant laws of the land in such matters were not valid.
The minister therefore relied on the “above misguided” interpretation of Section 8 of the Land Use Act and “disregarded the all important regulations of due process in award of infrastructure provision works at the total cost of over N960 billion,” said the committee in its 82-page report.
Also, the committee discovered that some of the companies engaged were actually registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) after their engagement for the programme. The committee said that based on its findings, none of the companies engaged should continue with the project because they all breached the major guidelines in one way or the other.
Additionally, the committee said the process of selecting the companies was shrouded in secrecy since it was not advertised, thereby denying other qualified and capable Nigerians the opportunity to participate in the programme.
But the former minister told the committee at the hearing that they did a transparent process and due diligence was strictly followed in selecting the investors, saying they did not advertise because they felt they were not so bound by the Procurement Act.
He said: “I only acted within the provision of the Land Use Act, which permits the FCT minister to allocate land. The gazette produced was not an executive order or law but an agreement.
“All the existing districts were done by my predecessors without any advertisement, so I’m not the first to start such a programme. I only continued from where they stopped. The process of the selection was very rigorous. I have no interest whatsoever. We selected the investors based on our conviction that they could deliver, from their track records. I challenge anybody that says I did what I did for personal gain to show evidence of such,” the former minister said.
Similarly, the committee discovered that money to the tune of about N1 billion was paid to individuals both through their accounts and in cash, although some of those involved appeared before the committee and explained their roles and how the money given to them was expended.
In the end, the committee made 10 recommendations, all of which were adopted by the House on June 23. The recommendations included that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) should investigate the former minister to examine the likely abuse of financial regulations in the Land Swap policy.
Also recommended for probe alongside Bala are the Executive Secretary of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), Engr Adamu Ismaila and the coordinator of AIIC, Sani, to ascertain their culpability or otherwise in the abuse of financial regulations, due process and other regulations regarding the programme.
The House also asked relevant security and law enforcement agencies to investigate and track all monies expended outside the laid down financial guidelines for the programme, particularly, monies paid to the FCTA Land Swap Programme Account with the FCMB Plc, and the private personal account of Mustafa Usman Ka’oje, the accountant of AIIC and any other official of FCTA and AIIC.
The House said appropriate sanctions, as contained in the Financial Regulations, 2009 of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, be meted out by the relevant authorities or any officer found to have paid or collected money in cash or cheque without proof of exemption from the federal government’s E- Payment Policy.
FCT Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello (2nd right), Executive Secretary, FCDA, Engr. Adamu Ismaila (right) and other personalities during the House of Representatives Public Hearing on the FCTA Land Swap Programme, at the National Assembly, Abuja, recently