FCT Probe: El-Rufai Demolishes Allegations
From Sufuyan Ojeifo in Abuja, 05.01.2008
At last, former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Malam Nasir el-Rufai had his day before the Senate Committee on FCT and Housing probing the sale of Federal Government houses and other related matters.
Clad in a French suit, el-Rufai, who arrived at the National Assembly Complex at 1.15 p.m., took his seat before the Committee at 1.50 p.m. and was engaged by the Committee for the next four hours.
El-Rufai said many of the victims of the demolition exercises embarked upon under his administration bought land from a fraud syndicate headed by one Engineer Success.
He listed those who fell into the hands of the fraudsters to include the former Senate Presidents, Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, the late Senator Evans Enwerem and the former Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Jonathan Zwingina.
He told the Committee that Engineer Success was currently being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The former minister said that another member of the syndicate, Alhaji Kamba, had already been investigated by the EFCC and had been released because there was no concrete evidence to prosecute him.
According to him, �Engineer Success did his NYSC in the FCT, so he used his knowledge of the FCT land and set up a forgery syndicate. They would give C of Os and allocation papers, they have a printing press in Kaduna.
�Engineer Success was very clever, he targeted Senators specifically and one of the victims is Senator Anyim Pius Anyim. There is also Senator Zwingina. The list is long but I also remember Senator (Evans) Enwerem,� he said.
He spoke against the backdrop of the complaint by Anyim over the demolition of his mansion in Asokoro District.
According to him, �I decided to address these cases together based on the common source of the problem that affected the validity of the titles involved. All the titles relating to these cases were forgeries perpetrated by one Engineer Success who had a celebrated case and was arrested by the authorities.
�In the case of Senator Anyim, he was advised not to proceed with building on the second plot while the matter was under investigation but he did not take our advice. Hence, the building was removed because not only were the documents forged but even the Development Control approval was also forged.
�The Senator was surcharged for the other building along with other similar cases and his title was regularised. All the decisions on the two plots of land were made the Federal Executive Council.
�In the case of Senator Zwingina, the situation was even worse as we believe he introduced most of the Senator victims to Engineer Success.
�The Dreams Plaza plot was fraudulently subleased to another party. The two buildings were located on the land designated for �Park� or �Green Area� and therefore treated differently from the Anyim case and completely removed.
�All buildings in the vicinity were removed to make way for the Park, including some genuine allocations. Senator Zwingina�s plot was allocated through a public bidding process to a Park and Recreational developer via a sublease.
“Although both Senator Zwingina and Dreams Plaza were not entitled to any compensation, we approved the grant of genuine allocations to both parties.�
On the sale of the Vice President�s Guest Houses to him and two others, el-Rufai said that the decision was reached and endorsed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to take care of some public officers whose houses were exempted from sale.
The former minister said that consequent upon a memo raised by him, the VP�s guest houses were put up for sale because the decision had been taken that the next Vice President would occupy Akinola Aguda House.
According to him, �Former President Obasanjo had also approved that the guest houses of the Vice President should be located within the presidential Villa, this necessitating the sale of those purchased by himself, Mr. Akin Osuntokun and Alhaji Tijani Abdullahi.�
According to him, �Vice President Atiku Abubakar wanted to buy one of the Guest Houses, but never submitted Application Forms (after several visits to collect from his office).
�After the explosion in VP-Elect Jonathan Goodluck�s country home, there was a Presidential decision entailing the following directives: Revert CJN residence to the Judiciary; VP-Elect Goodluck to move into Aguda House; VP�s Guest Houses outside Villa are security risks and should be sold immediately; New VP Guest Houses to be built in plot meant for VP�s Residence (occupied then by CJN); Ineligible POH to be sold houses on Open Market Valuation (AS-3), as Public Bidding + walk-in sales phases over,� he said.
At a point, el-Rufai objected to the usage of the word �subterfuge� by Senator Obiorah to describe his action when he was in office.
The tension-soaked session was characterised by all manner of questions spanning his four year-tenure and all the issues raised by the numerous petitioners, to which el-Rufai provided answers.
For instance, he responded to question on the demolition of the house of the former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Ahmadu Ali, insisting that the house was sitting on a water line.
The current Minister of the FCT, Dr. Aliyu Modibbo had last week told the Committee that he had just found out that the house was demolished in error as it was not built on a sewer line.
He had presented a satellite map to the Committee to buttress his claim that Ali�s house was built on a water line.
�The current FCT Minister made statements to the Committee on several issues which set the tone for the many petitions and presentations to the committee in the last three weeks of its sitting. I consider some of these statements gross misrepresentations and outright distortions of the policies and actions of the FCT during my tenure and it is important to set the records straight.
�The claim that FCT Minister has power to institute any Judicial Commission of Inquiry is not true and is not supported by the provisions of the FCT Act.
�This claim was made in the context of the Minister�s effort to show that there is no collusion or any instigation on his part in this Senate Hearing. While I welcome this hearing and any investigation of my administration, the issue of collusion, instigation or otherwise would be best left to the facts and Nigerians to judge. The media attacks sponsored by the FCTA clearly show otherwise.
�Contrary to the new claim by the FCT Minister that the demolition of the Senator�s house was illegally done, I maintain that the Senator�s house is indeed on Water Line. The Satellite Map (on the screen) clearly shows a distinct Water Line running under Plot 1163 and the demolition carried out was on that part of the property.
�Moreover, the remaining part of the property, which I left un-demolished, would still be affected by the Right of Way requirement of 20m distance from the Water Line. Again the facts speak for themselves on this issue.�
He said that the same thing applied to Daar Communication, owners of Africa Independent Television (AIT), which structures, estimated at N2.5 billion by their counsel Chris Uche (SAN) when he appeared before the committee, were demolished.
According to el-Rufai, �AIT was in flagrant violation of Section 7 of the FCT Act by embarking on an illegal development in the first instance and further committing encroachment on Right of Way and other plots.�
The Committee had piled pressure on him to admit that he demolished houses in the face of restraining court orders. He did not agree, insisting that he obeyed court orders that were properly served on him.
He said �The issue of plethora of lawsuits against the FCTA in the wake of decisions we took are totally false and I rely on the written submission of the FCT Legal Counsel (a representative of the Minister) which he contradicted in his oral evidence to the Committee.
�The number of lawsuits cited by the Minister said to be ranging from 650 to 800 are inaccurate and an exaggeration. The actual number of lawsuits inherited in 2003 were above 200 and if you add the number of lawsuits filed against the FCTA during my tenure the number is actually 502 and not the 650-800 claimed by the Minister.�
The Committee had suggested to him that he should apologise to Nigerians whose houses were demolished.
He refused, saying that he would only apologise to those whose houses were demolished without following the due process.
According to him, �I am a student of International Law. I do not know anywhere in the principle of International Law or any convention that says that when a person violates the law, sanctions should not be applied on him because of human rights.
�We do not have the human rights to break the law, I am sorry. What we did in demolition, I have explained. We have removed illegal buildings and we have also removed legal contravening buildings. I do not know whether human rights have been violated.
�What I admitted here, based on the advice I got and I thank distinguished Senators Bassey Ewa-Henshaw and Ikechukwu Obiorah with my lawyer friend here, is the fact that what we have in our C of O and condition of grant fully developed everything (which) is not necessarily correct.
�So, I said that if there were any buildings we demolished on that basis, I apologise. I did not apologise for demolition because what we did was applying the law as it should,� he had said in response to a question by Senator Smart Adeyemi.
He added: �If we demolished a few buildings and, and I am sure that they were negligible, that had boys quarters or whatever, I apologise. But based on the advice that I got at that point in time, what we did was right.�
On the issue of his alleged jettisoning of the Land Use and Allocation Committee, el-Rufai said that Senate Committee �correctly observed that the FCT did not have a standing Land Use and Allocation Committee (LUAC) to advise the Minister on matters connected with land management and resettlement and resolve disputes on compensation.
�The LUAC is one of the provisions of the Land Use Act, Mr. President that as a former Governor is not only overdue for repeal but has caused more problems than intended.
�On assumption of duties in FCT, I considered setting up the LUAC but was advised by all the heads of land-related departments not to do so. On consulting my boss, President Obasanjo was also concerned that members of the LUAC may trade their appointments in the Abuja market to gullible applicants for land.
�Furthermore, a quick check revealed that virtually all State governments had no LUAC. In the particular case of the FCT, the provisions of the Constitution and two other applicable legislations make the LUAC redundant – the Constitution vests land absolutely in the Federal Government and compensation paid to the states from which FCT was created since 1976.
�The FCT Act details how compensation to entitled individuals is calculated, and the Nigerian Urban and Regional Planning Act establishes a Tribunal to adjudicate over such disputes. These provisions are more efficacious than the LUAC, and I am surprised that this is even an issue for the Committee�
In his response to the report of Ministerial Committee on land matters in which so many issues were raised, he said: �Mr. Chairman and distinguished members, I had responded to the issues raised in the Ministerial Committee report on Land directly to Mr. President in November 2007 and I recap my position on all the issues raised by the Minister FCT on the recommendations of this Committee as follows:
�When I was assigned by President Olusegun Obasanjo GCFR to the then Ministry of FCT (MFCT), he gave me the mandate to clean up amongst other things, the FCT land administration system which he adjudged to be a major source of corruption and rent-seeking in the Federal Government. In the FCT, I found that the President�s judgment was largely correct. For instance, we found that:
�Many Nigerians, particularly the political and military elite had been allocated plots of land, which have remained undeveloped for years. These plots of land are in every way developable and the title-holders persons of financial capacity.
�Notwithstanding the terms of grant requiring development within two years (unless there are practical physical or technical hindrances), these �big men and women� held on to Abuja plots, which they were selling for tens and hundreds of millions of Naira.
�While these persons held on to these undeveloped plots, over 85,000 applicants for land remained in MFCT without any allocation. Indeed, we found that even senior staff of FCT had no plots of land allocated to them even though some have been in Abuja from its inception.
�Abuja�s physical development stalled, rental levels went even higher than Lagos and Port Harcourt , while a few connected people got rich. These land speculators do not even pay to the FCT, the annual ground rents of a few hundred or thousand naira, which is a condition for continued retention of their titles.
�In addition to the Land Administration and Resettlement Department, every department in the FCT system from Engineering to Development Control, and agencies like AEPB and Water Board were all engaged in the �allocation�, sub-leasing or otherwise alienating land with the attendant confusion, record-keeping nightmares and total disregard of the provisions of the Constitution, the Federal Capital Territory Act and the Land Use Act which vest that power statutorily delegated by the President only in the Minister of FCT and no other person or authority.
�Staff of the defunct Ministry of the Federal Capital Territory (MFCT), the FCDA and other FCT agencies all joined in land speculation scams. Multiple applications for land by staff in various names with passport photos obtained from States� Pilgrims Boards were common. An example was when the EFCC discovered in the house search of a middle level staff of the MFCT, 132 land allocations in various names!
�Diversion of people�s allocations by MFCT staff, hiding of files to facilitate multiple allocations of the same plot of land to more than one person (double allocation), and even the allocation of government plots to individuals and companies were the order of the day. Federal civil servants lobbied and bribed to be posted to MFCT, and those posted returned the favor by facilitating allocations to those that posted them, and the cycled continued.
�Such allocations are then laundered via a �stock market� within FCDA premises � which by the way; also provide trading floors for MFCT/FCDA contracts and employment letters, amongst others. The use of Powers of Attorney and Deeds of Assignment to launder and transfer these fraudulent allocations were the order of the day.
�We moved quickly to take corrective measures with President Obasanjo�s strong support at all times, while seeking sustainable, longer-term solutions. Amongst other steps:
�We set up several committees consisting of outside and internal staff experts to study the problems observed above and make recommendations.
�We sought the assistance of the Police, ICPC and EFCC in the investigation of all valid cases of corruption in land matters. The FCT is one of the first �states� to have a resident EFCC branch to handle such matters.
�We abolished all disparate departmental discretions in land matters and centralized all land allocation under the Minister�s Office supported all the relevant technical departments.
�We established a Task Force to computerize the land register and all land-related records, and while project that was on for about 10 months; suspended new land grants, except the most critical commercial or public building needs.
�We ordered a review of development control regulations, ground rents, compensation rates and other land use charges, which had remained unchanged since the early 1990s.�
He added that �These efforts led to far-reaching land reforms � at the time, the most advanced in Nigeria � the fulcrum of which was the computerization of the land information system (LIS – the paper file records) but this was supplemented by satellite-supported graphical information system (GIS), the recertification exercise to sanitize the records, and the enactment of the legal framework to guide its design and implementation.�
The Committee also asked him question on the former Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the late Justice Bashir Sambo.
He said that, �The issue of late Justice Sambo is an emotive one, which has elicited condemnation of the FCT and my person for what seems to be a callous act. In deference to the deceased, I present the facts supported with written letters and documents by the deceased, which speak for themselves.
�Late Justice Sambo, was a Judicial Officer and thus defined by the Nigerian Constitution as a �political appointee�. Furthermore, his house as defined in the guidelines, as a residence of �Justices of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, Federal High Court and High Court of the FCT� were exempted from the sale along with residences of key officers of the Federal Government.
�The house was initially offered to him on the understanding that he was a political appointee and he was given forbearance to pay outside the deadlines for payment to enable him purchase the house.
�However, the offer was later withdrawn on the basis of the advice of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice to the effect that the Chairman and Members of the CCT be treated akin to Judges properly so called. In the circumstances, he was refunded what he paid in full and given the option to buy another property.
�Late Justice Sambo sought to change his status from a Judicial Officer to NOT a Judicial Officer and made a case to Mr. President to ignore the interpretation of the Attorney General.
�We discovered that he had already sold the property in contravention of the Guidelines BEFORE final payment, which was in itself sufficient ground for revocation of the Offer.
�He was granted several notices and deadlines to vacate the residence and given an opportunity to bid for any other house, or right to match like all other political office holders but he declined.
�On the day of the eviction, he requested for 2 hours to pack his personal effects HIMSELF but used that time to invite the NTA and other media to witness his �eviction�.
�The court order being referred to was never served on the FCT authorities, never seen by any Defendant until now and was therefore incapable of being complied with.
�After eviction, Late Justice Sambo applied to the court to commit FCT for contempt. At the trial, upon a preliminary objection, the Court struck out the contempt case as it found that the order was NEVER properly served on ANYONE.
�At the trial for the substantive case against the Federal Government, owner of the house sold, Late Justice Sambo withdrew the suit from the FCT High Court and re-filed at the Federal High Court.�
The committee could not finish with el-Rufai yesterday and has asked him to appear before it again on Wednesday, next week. The passionate plea by him to the Committee to take him tomorrow (Friday) fell on deaf ears as the committee members seemed to have made up their mind.
Not even the plea by el-Rufai that he has his law examinations to write next week could dissuade them from insisting that he should appear before the committee next Wednesday.
In his 99-page presentation to the Committee, which was yet to be exhausted and admitted as exhibit by the committee, he said �contrary to several claims presented to this Committee that I own seventeen (17) plots of land in the FCT, I was allocated two residential plots before July 2003. These are Plot 2551 A04 Asokoro in 1998 and Plot 1368 B01 Gudu in 2002.�
According to him, �I instructed the revocation of the Asokoro plot for non-development (over seven years) and it was reallocated to a valid applicant in 2007. I do not have any other plot in the FCT other than the one arising from the house I bought under the Sale of Government Houses program, that is No.12 Mambilla Street, Aso Drive, Maitama.
�In 2000 when I was Director General at the Bureau of Public Enterprises, I bought a terraced apartment under a sublease in Stallion Estate, Lobito Crescent , Wuse II, Abuja .
�I declare that I never allocated any plot to myself in my name, or any fictitious name, or any front company during my tenure as Minister, FCT.�
On el-Rufai family land titles in Abuja, he said, �contrary to the campaign in the media, the following are valid titles granted in favour of my extended family members during my tenure: Hadiza Isma el-Rufa�i (spouse) Plot 3350/A04 01/2005; Hadiza Isma el-Rufa�i (spouse) Plot 1417/F01 02/2006; Asia Ahmad el-Rufa�i (spouse) Plot 3376/A04 01/2005; Bashir Ahmad el-Rufa�i (brother) Plot 1381/A07 01/2005; Binta Ahmad el-Rufa�i (in-law) Plot 871/B04 03/2006; Maryam Bashir el-Rufa�i (in-law) Plot 4321/F01 05/2007; AVM Ali Rufa�i (retired) (brother) Plot 822/B19 08/2004; Ibrahim Ahmad el-Rufa�i (brother) Plot 3677/A06 06/2005; Zainab Ahmad el-Rufa�i (Niece) Plot 44/B19 10/2007; Hauwa Aliyu el-Rufa�i (Niece) Plot 206/E08 05/2007.
�All the other names and purported plot allocations are unknown to me. In response to the various claims from AGIS and the Media about plots of land that members of my family and I own in the FCT, I declare as follows: The claim that Nasir el-Rufai has 19 plots is false; The claim that the El-Rufai family members got 19 plots allocated to them under my tenure is false; the claim that a plot on water line was reallocated to my brother is false.
“It was a case of system failure that the plot was not deleted from the system. Bashir el-Rufa�i never received such allocation, and could not have accepted it.”
On former President Obasanjo�s land titles, he stated, �Again contrary to claims presented to this committee, President Obasanjo and his company Obasanjo Farms Ltd were ONLY allocated the following plots in FCT: -Plot 831 AO5, Maitama in 1988 (Residential); Plot 1 L05, Kuje in 2005 (Farmland); Plot 2368 C02, Gwarimpa (Commercial) in 2007; Plot 589 A00, Central Area (Commercial) in 2007 � this is the subject of an ongoing litigation.
�As far as I know, no other plot of land was allocated to President Obasanjo and Obasanjo Farms other than these four mentioned above. The late Stella Obasanjo was allocated the following plots in her lifetime: Plot 1 B04 Jabi in 1993; Plot 3445, A06 Maitama in 2000; Plot 150, B19 Katampe Extension in 2002.�
On Plot 589 A00 in Central Area, which was said to have been revoked from National Primary Education Commission, he posited: �This plot was initially allocated to the defunct National Primary Education Commission on June 6th 1990 and not Universal Basic Education. The plot is not located within the Government Exclusive Zone or the Parastatals Zone.
�Following non-development for 15 years, the title was revoked in 2005 and reallocated to Inter-Projects Associated Ltd under the Accelerated Development Program on 26th July 2005. In breach of the development guidelines of the ADP, which requires commencement of development within 6 months of allocation, the company failed to commence development after 1 year 8 months of non-development and title was revoked in May 2007. Only then was the plot reallocated to Obasanjo Farms Ltd, which had a valid land application at the time.�
Thursday, May 01, 2008
Obasanjo got only four plots, says El-Rufai
From Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Abuja
THE former Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Malam Nasir el-Rufai has defended the allocation of plots of land to former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his family members in the FCT.
In a statement presented to the Senate Committee investigating the activities of past regimes in FCT yesterday, el-Rufai also explained why the late Chairman of the Code of Conduct Bureau, Justice Bashir Sambo had to be subjected to the experience of eviction from his house.
He said: “The issue of late Justice Sambo is an emotive one, which has elicited condemnation of the FCT and my person for what seems to be a ‘callous’ act. In deference to the deceased, I present the facts supported with written letters and documents by the deceased, which speak for themselves.
“Late Justice Sambo, was a judicial officer and thus defined by the Nigerian Constitution as a ‘political appointee’. Furthermore, his house as defined in the guidelines, as a residence of ‘Justices of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, Federal High Court and High Court of the FCT’ were exempted from the sale along with residences of key officers of the Federal Government.
“The house was initially offered to him on the understanding that he was a political appointee and he was given forbearance to pay outside the deadlines for payment to enable him purchase the house.
“However, the offer was later withdrawn on the basis of the advice of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice to the effect that the chairman and members of the CCT be treated akin to judges properly so called. In the circumstances, he was refunded what he paid in full and given the option to buy another property.
“Late Justice Sambo sought to change his status from a judicial officer to NOT a judicial officer and made a case to Mr. President to ignore the interpretation of the Attorney-General.
“We discovered that he had already sold the property in contravention of the Guidelines before final payment, which was in itself sufficient ground for revocation of the offer.
“He was granted several notices and deadlines to vacate the residence and given an opportunity to bid for any other house, or right to match like all other political office holders but he declined.
“On the day of the eviction, he requested for two hours to pack his personal effects himself but used that time to invite the NTA and other media to witness his ‘eviction’.
“The court order being referred to was never served on the FCT authorities, never seen by any defendant until now and was therefore incapable of being complied with.
“After eviction, late Justice Sambo applied to the court to commit FCT for contempt. At the trial, upon a preliminary objection, the court struck out the contempt case as it found that the order was never properly served on anyone.
“At the trial for the substantive case against the Federal Government, owner of the house sold, late Justice Sambo withdrew the suit from the FCT High Court and re-filed at the Federal High Court.”
On plots allocated to Obasanjo, el-Rufai insisted the former president got only four.
“Again contrary to claims presented to this committee, President Obasanjo and his company Obasanjo Farms Ltd were only allocated the following plots in FCT:
* Plot 831 AO5, Maitama in 1988 (residential);
* Plot 1 L05, Kuje in 2005 (farmland);
* Plot 2368 C02, Gwarimpa (commercial) in 2007; and
* Plot 589 A00, Central Area (commercial) in 2007 – this is the subject of an ongoing litigation.”
El-Rufai also defended the allegations that he allocated plots to himself saying that he never did.
“Contrary to several claims presented to this Committee that I own 17 plots of land in the FCT, I was allocated two residential plots before July 2003. These are Plot 2551 A04, Asokoro in 1998 and Plot 1368 B01, Gudu in 2002.
“I instructed the revocation of the Asokoro plot for non-development (over seven years) and it was reallocated to a valid applicant in 2007. I do not have any other plot in the FCT other than the one arising from the house I bought under the Sale of Government Houses programme, that is No. 12, Mambilla Street, Aso Drive, Maitama.
“In 2000 when I was Director General at the Bureau of Public Enterprises, I bought a terraced apartment under a sublease in Stallion Estate, Lobito Crescent, Wuse II, Abuja.
“I declare that I never allocated any plot to myself in my name, or any fictitious name, or any front company during my tenure as Minister, FCT.”
He however admitted that some land titles were allocated to his family members:
“The following are valid titles granted in favour of my extended family members during my tenure:
* Hadiza Isma el-Rufai, (spouse): Plot 3350/A04, 01/2005;
* Hadiza Isma el-Rufai, (spouse): Plot 1417/F01, 02/2006;
* Asia Ahmad el-Rufai (spouse): Plot 3376/A04, 01/2005;
* Bashir Ahmad el-Rufai (brother): Plot 1381/A07, 01/2005;
* Binta Ahmad el-Rufai (in-law): Plot 871/B04, 03/2006;
* Maryam Bashir el-Rufai (in-law): Plot 4321/F01, 05/2007;
* AVM Ali Rufai (retired; brother): Plot 822/B19, 08/2004;
* Ibrahim Ahmad el-Rufai (brother): Plot 3677/A06, 06/2005;
* Zainab Ahmad el-Rufai (niece): Plot 44/B19, 10/2007; and
* Hauwa Aliyu el-Rufai (niece): Plot 206/E08, 05/2007.
“All the other names and purported plot allocations are unknown to me. In response to the various claims from AGIS and the media about plots of land that members of my family and I own in the FCT, I declare as follows:
“The claim that Nasir el-Rufai has 19 plots is false;
“The claim that the el-Rufai family members got 19 plots allocated to them under my tenure is false;
“The claim that a plot on waterline was reallocated to my brother is false. It was a case of system failure that the plot was not deleted from the system. Bashir el-Rufai never received such allocation, and could not have accepted it.”