Aso Guesthouses Sale: How Obasanjo’s aides bought choice houses
By Ahmed I. Shekarau & Ben Atonko
Among those who purchased the guesthouses are: Malam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, former Minister in the Presidency and Chairman of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA); Dr. Andy Uba, former Special Assistant to the President on Domestic Matters who was dethroned as governor of Anambra state only last Thursday by a Supreme Court judgment which reinstated Peter Obi; and Mrs. Remi Oyo, Senior Special Assistant to the former President on Media. Also among the beneficiaries of the guesthouses sale are Dr. Mohammed Hassan Lawal, former Minister of Labour and Productivity, and Mr. Akin Osuntokun, former Managing Director of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) and, later Honourary Political Adviser to the former president.
Sunday Trust learnt that other aides of the former president emerged highest bidders and acquired other presidential guesthouses.
While there is currently a dispute on the revocation of the sale of those guesthouses located within the security zone of the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, the sale of one of the three guesthouses of the vice president to el-Rufai generated much more controversy of recent, with the immediate past VP’s campaign group alleging that the FCTA refused to sell the property to their boss, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and later turned to sell to the former minister. This led to altercations between the FCT authorities and the Atiku group, which is being supported by the former VP’s party, the Action Congress (AC).
Much more than the altercations, however, questions are being raised over the propriety of the sale of No.12, Mambilla Street, Aso Drive, Abuja, to el-Rufai, as who supervisor of the FCTA was also the chief auctioneer in the sale of federal government houses in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Some have likened this particular deal to selling shares in the ongoing federal government privatisation programme to Mrs. Irene Chigbue, the chief promoter of the exercise. But the committee in charge of the sale was quick to defend its action.
In a statement published on Monday last week, the committee said: “On the 30th of April, 2007 His Excellency, former President Olusegun Obasanjo approved the immediate recovery of the existing presidential guesthouses utilised by the office of the vice president and disposal of them under the sale programme as they were no longer essential and in any case posed a security problem as they were located in the midst of civilian residential quarters.
“Following these developments, the former Honourable Minister of FCT, who was previously not able to participate in the sale exercise as his official residence is exempt (from sale), was given the opportunity to express an interest to purchase one of the now available FGN houses, and former President Olusegun Obasanjo approved the sale of No. 16 (now No.12), Mambilla Street, Off Aso Drive, Maitama, Abuja to him on the 16th May, 2007,” the statement stated.
Aside the controversies and altercations, however, one unanswered question is that of the rate at which all the presidential guesthouses were sold. Both the sellers and the buyers are mute over that. An official of the FCTA contacted on Friday said: “I’m not competent to speak over that.” Meanwhile, Dr. Abdu Muktar, Special Assistant to the FCT minister who doubled as chairman of the ad hoc committee on the sale of federal government houses was not on seat to respond to our inquiries on Friday when our reporter went to his office. Earlier on, Dr. Muktar did not answer or return all calls by our reporters to his cell phone. Similarly, he did not reply a text message sent to the same line seeking clarifications on the sale of the guesthouses. This has ultimately opened room for wide speculations and more questions on the pricing of all the presidential guesthouses sold.
Akin Osuntokun bought the presidential guesthouse on No. 2 Mousa Traore Crescent, Abuja. Sunday Trust learnt that Osuntokun who inspected the property on 22nd of last month after the acquisition, moved into the property within the Asokoro District of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
When contacted on phone on Friday evening for comment, Osuntokun replied, “I don’t know whose house it is that I bought. How do I know if it’s one of the guesthouses of the vice president?” Asked if he bought it from government officials, he said, “Of course, yes, but how do I know who was occupying it? You should tell me!”
On claim that the house was sold to him at a give-away price, the former political adviser said: “Why don’t you go to the FCTA and ask them the price?”
The man who was removed as governor by the Supreme Court on Thursday was clearly spotted in his Villa abode that evening. Andy Uba who was in charge of Obasanjo’s domestic affairs acquired property No. 19 Ibrahim Taiwo Street, Aso Rock, Abuja. When contacted last Wednesday, his Chief Press Secretary, Chuks Akunna, promised to speak with his boss before getting back to us.
He did not up till Thursday morning. A text message was sent to him but he did not reply until news broke that the Supreme Court had reinstated Peter Obi as governor of Anambra state. Sources said Uba spent Thursday night in the Aso Rock residence.
The following dialogue ensued: Sunday Trust: We want to talk to you on the controversy surrounding the sale of presidential guesthouses. Remi Oyo: I’m not commenting on anything. I’m on vacation.
When told that she was only contacted because this issue concerns her personally, the former presidential spokesperson insisted that she was not making any comments, and said: “I won’t comment on any issue, please!”
The third guesthouse used by the office of the vice president is located on Suleiman Barau Street, Asokoro, Abuja. Sunday Trust learnt that it was acquired by Dr. Mohammed Hassan Lawal, the immediate past minister of Labour and Productivity. The former minister could not be reached for comments. An associate of the ex-minister who was contacted on Friday promised to reach out to Dr. Lawal and get back to us. He never did up to press time yesterday.
Meanwhile, controversy still trails the cancellation of the sale of the guesthouses, particularly those within the security zone of the Aso Rock Villa. Sunday Trust learnt form some reliable sources that following objections, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had ordered revocation of the house sale especially for houses within the security zone. However, authorities continue to deny that there is anything like that. Dupe Ajayi-Gbadebo is the new spokesperson of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). Asked to officially confirm if the sale of the presidential guesthouses has been revoked as reported in some media and widely speculated, she said, “I’m not aware of that cancellation. But if there’s anything like that, I’ll inform you.” She never called back to say anything.
But contrary to this, Sunday Trust gathered that a circular had been issued to the effect that the sale of all guesthouses within the Villa had been cancelled, and that any beneficiaries with original receipts of their property should tender such for refund of their money.
Similarly, a Deputy Director (Administration) in the Presidency who is also a beneficiary of this presidential largesse, confirmed to our sources that the sale of the presidential guesthouses inside the security zone (Aso Rock) had been nullified, and that he and others had been directed to leave.
Further attempts to speak with the ad-hoc committee on the sale of federal government houses in Abuja to clarify certain gray areas in the committee’s statement and get the full list of those who bought the houses and at what costs was fruitless. But the senior official of the FCTA who would not want his name in print claimed that no such directive had been handed to the committee. He also said the houses were sold not for security concerns, but for the fact that the guesthouses were too many.
This clearly runs contrary to earlier published statement by the ad-hoc committee on 11th June, 2007 entitled: “Re: Sale of Former Presidential Guest Houses Assign-ed to the Office of the Vice Presid-ent of the Federal Republic of Nig-eria.” (See full text on page 2).
The official maintained that the question of el-Rufai buying the No.12 Mambilla Street property has been over-flogged. “Isn’t el-Rufai a Nigerian? Is he a Cameroonian?” Was his response insisting the former minister got presidential waivers to buy the house in question not explanatory?”
What is yet to be made clear to Nigerians is whether the president was morally right to have granted the waivers.
Another area of concern is the Apo Legislative Quarters, Abuja. It was reported that new lawmakers became stranded in Abuja over dearth of befitting accommodation for them because the housing units originally built for the MPs had been sold to former legislators.
It was said that 1,944 certificates had already been issued to those who completed pay-ments. But the accommodation crisis rocking the new lawmakers might have led to the bid for cancellation of the sales.
Yet, the coordinator of the house sale committee, Mr. Omar Abbas penultimate week denied that a reversal order had been issued by the new government, claiming that such would be ill timed. He claimed that N25.5billion had already been remitted to government coffers from the proceeds of the sale of the legislators’ quarters.
Mr. Abbas view was also echoed by the new Speaker of the House of Representatives who said at her maiden news briefing that, while accommodation of the new lawmakers was becoming a source of concern, the sale of the Apo Quarters was not revoked.
Sunday Trust learnt that, shortly before his trip to Germany where he attended G8 Summit, the new president was approached with a huge bill for the settlement of the housing allowances of the new lawmakers, but he declined to endorse it demanding explanation on how that money amounting to about N3billion would be sourced.
Also in contention is the purported sale of the official residence of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to Mr. Sunday Ehindero, the immediate past IGP. This is in addition to the official residence of a deputy inspector general of Police, said to have been sold to one of the ‘blue eyed boys’ of the former president who is currently serving in the police force and heading a strategic government establishment. The house is located on Mambilla Street, Aso Drive, Abuja. The transaction could not be officially confirmed by the acting IGP, who however promised to take ‘necessary action’ if the transaction is confirmed.