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Battle of Political Titans

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A government White Paper just released indicts Gbenga Daniel of illegal land deals but his aide says the former governor’s hands are clean

For nine months now, the battle between the two political titans in Ogun State, popularly called the Gateway State, had raged endlessly. During this period, the gladiators have fired darts at each other ceaselessly. But it now appears the duel between Ibikunle Amosun, current helmsman in the state and Gbenga Daniel, his predecessor, is reaching a crescendo.

Last month, a five-man Commission of Inquiry set up on September 16, 2011, by the current governor to look into “all land allocations, acquisitions, sale and concessions of government properties and administration of land policies, rules, and regulations between January 2004 and May 29, 2011, and other matters connected therewith,” turned in a guilty verdict against the former governor. On February 9, 2012, the government followed it by issuing a white paper and gazette, it. The governor accepted the guilty verdict against his predecessor. But OGD, as Daniel is popularly called, has rejected the report and described it as part of the grand plan to discredit him and his administration.

The commission was headed by Abiodun Akinyemi, a judge of the State’s High Court. Other members included Dipo Onabanjo, Ayobami Biobaku, Bisi Olumide and Niyi Oguntula. Olumide, a female architect, declined the offer. The commission was given eight terms of reference. These were:

(i). Inquire into all allocations of state land between January 2004 and May 29, 2011, by all ministries, departments and statutory agencies charged with the exercise of the power of allocation whether such allocation be by way of sale, lease, grant or any other manner of land transfer with a view to identifying whether such allocations involved breaches of policies, guidelines, rules, regulations or procedures resulting in non-payment or under-payment of appropriate fees, loss of opportunity to the state for industrial, commercial and agricultural development or any other situation which in the opinion of the commission is not in public interest.
(ii). Inquire into the structures, systems, methods, policies and procedures of land administration in Ogun State,  between January 2004 and May 29, 2011, with a view to determining the adequacy, conformity with best practices and transparency of the systems, methods, policies and procedures, and identifying instances of impropriety in land allocation and acquisition.
(iii). Inquire into the acquisition of any interest in land or property in Ogun State, by any public officer or public office holder in Ogun State between January 2004 and May 29, 2011, (either directly or through any person) or by any body corporate in which such public officer or office holder (with or without his spouse and children), has majority shareholding with a view to determining whether such acquisition was in abuse or misuse of power or authority or in breach of the rules, regulations, policies and guidelines governing the acquisition of such interest in land or property.

(iv). Inquire into sale, lease, grant, concession or any other form of transfer of interest in any property held in the corporate name of Ogun State Government or in the name of any of its Ministries, departments, statutory agencies or any body corporate owned by Ogun State Government between January 2004 and May 29, 2011, with a view to determining whether or not such sale, lease, grant or other form of transfer was in the public interest and in conformity with best practices.

(v). Identify individuals, institutions and groups involved in the breaches, abuse or misuse of power, loss of revenue and other acts, omissions or losses enumerated in (i), (ii), (iii) and (iv) above and extent of their involvement.

(vi). Recommend appropriate measures and sanctions against such individuals, institutions and group identified in (v) above.

(vii). Recommend appropriate policies, guidelines, rules, regulations and structures of land administration in Ogun State to prevent the future occurrence of the breaches, lapses and losses identified by the Commission and

(viii). Make appropriate recommendations on any other matter which in the opinion of the  Commission is relevant or incidental to the foregoing.

The body received and examined 160 memoranda. It began sitting on October 25, 2011, held 26 public sittings and interviewed more than 100 witnesses over a two month period. According to the gazette, the commission submitted an “interim report” to Governor Amosun on December 16, 2011. However, Akinyemi said it was the final report in respect of the allocations acquisitions, concessions, corporate organisations and individuals covered in the report. “The need to submit a first report was to enable the Governor-in-Council look into the recommendations of the commission as they touch and concern matters that are very important to the State economy and fundamental to the public welfare,” he said.

Three days into the New Year, on January 3, 2011, Amosun set up a five-member committee to review the commission’s first report. The new team gave the commission a pat on the back and justified its establishment. “Land is a prime asset in Ogun State not just for the government but also for the people. As a result, the setting up of this Judicial Commission has met with universal approval and support. This is evident from the number of memoranda received, the witnesses who testified and the eager expectations of the people of Ogun State both in Nigeria and abroad,” it noted. It claimed to have painstakingly examined the report and came up with the views and decisions which the Governor-in-Council subsequently ratified and issued its white paper.

The white paper indicted the previous administration on all the areas covered by the committee, the most contentious aspects of the report and white paper being the findings in respect of  allocations of land to organisations where the former governor is believed to have indirect links. These are the Abeokuta Golf Club, Regeneration Church of God, aka Abraham’s Tabernacle, Sagamu named after former Governor Daniel’s father who died last January and the Golf Place Resort Hotels Limited.

In the Abeokuta Golf Club case, the white paper said that the original allocation and Certificate of Occupancy, C of O, complained of by Akin Akande and other Club members was originally belonged to Abeokuta Golf Club and not Abeokuta Golf International Ltd. “The government was misled into issuing the said C of O meant for Abeokuta Golf Club to Abeokuta Golf International Club Ltd. whose chief promoter is Apagun Oluwole Olumide and that the survey plan attached to the said certificate was wrongfully and clandestinely altered after the Certificate of Occupancy had been signed by the governor to achieve the intended mischief.  This action by itself taints the said Certificate of Occupancy rendering it a suspect document,” the White Paper said.

The commission summoned Olumide to testify before it but he did not honour the invitation. Consequently, the committee recommended that the C of O registered as number 7 at page 7 in vol.476 dated 29th October 1992, issued to Abeokuta Golf International Limited be revoked and, upon application, a fresh one with the correct and exact land size dimensions and abuttal properly demarcated be issued to the Abeokuta Golf Club and handed over to the registered trustees of the Club. However, the Hillcrest Estate and the Mamu Village excisions granted out of the original land allocated to the Club were retained in public interest.

On Abraham’s Tabernacle, the commission found that the church at Oba Erinwole Road, GRA, Sagamu, was built by former Governor Daniel in honour of his father. Three of the named registered trustees of the church, to whom the ex-governor issued the C of O No 0033337 and dated May 14, 2011, were his “close family members namely: Olabunmi Opawole (Wife), Adebola Irede Daniel (Son) and Most Reverend Abraham Adebola Daniel (Father). Among the
irregularities found in the processing of the allocation made to the Church were that
the application form for land allocation was obtained on January 4, 2011;
filled and submitted on January 20, 2011, and was sworn to at the High Court Registry, Abeokuta, on September 13, 2010. “All receipts for payments connected with the land such as premium, annual ground rent, capital contribution, preparation of Certificate of Occupancy, (except government survey), were all made on 4th January, 2011 (the same day the land was applied for,) as evidenced in the copies of the receipts and endorsements on the application form,” the paper noted.
Furthermore, it said that “the letter of Allocation of the land issued by then Director General Lands, Surv. Gbenga Ogunnoiki, was issued on 9th July, 2009, almost two years before the land was applied for” and that “even the survey plan of the land dated 11th October, 2010, was done long before the land was applied for. The allocation (9th July, 2009) was done even before the name in which it was allocated was registered on 8th June, 2010. As at the time the allocation was made on 9th July, 2009, and the certificate of occupancy issued on 14th May 2011, other private citizens had subsisting valid titles on portions of the land.” For example, Dele Dada had subsisting title to a piece of land there. The governor’s consent was granted him on February 1, 2006, based on a C of O registered as no 13/13/142 dated 13/8/80 at the Lands Registry, Abeokuta. His land was said to be Plot 3 Block XLIX.

Three other persons’ land were said to have been fenced into the church’s land even though their titles were not revoked by the former governor. They were M.C. Sowole with plot number B BlockXLVA, G.I.O. Aduwo, Plot 9, Block XLVB and S.O.J. Olokun, Plot 10 Block XLVA.

The commission recommended that the allocation to the church should be cancelled and that all other persons with titles to their land should be given immediate possession and the church offending fence should be removed. The government accepted all the recommendations and asked its surveyors to determine the actual size of land for the church’s use which it will allow the trustees and congregation to keep.

The next most contentious aspect of the report and white paper was the issue of the Golf Place Resort Hotels Limited. It was found that Daniel’s government revoked the title of the Lions Club on the land in 2004 “for overriding public purpose” but that on February 16, 2004, Daniel signed a C of O No 024245 and registered as No: 4/4/619 in favour of Gateway Front Foundation, GFF, founded by Daniel. He was still a trustee as at the date he signed the C of O. Later the former governor signed a C of O No: 025591 registered as No: 36/36/649 in favour of Golf Place Resort Hotels Limited, a purely private concern, without revoking or cancelling the subsisting title of GFF.

The gazette said that although Gbenga Ojekunle, a lawyer, who testified before the commission on behalf of GFF, stated that the Foundation ‘transferred’ its interest in the land to Golf Place Resort Hotels Limited and in another breadth said that the Foundation ‘surrendered’ the title, he could not furnish the commission with any proof of either the said ‘transfer’ or ‘surrender’ of the title. “Gbenga Ogunnoiki, the director-general, Lands at the material time, acknowledged before the commission that the government erred in granting the land, acquired for public purpose, to purely private concerns. In his words, it was a generational error,’ the paper said.

The commission further noted that the two chief promoters, directors and shareholders of Golf Place Resort Hotels Limited namely Alex Onabanjo and Oluwole Olumide are widely acknowledged close friends and associates of the daniel. The hotel presently being erected on the land and nearing completion was said to lack approved building plan. However, the builders have paid all necessary fees for the same.  

The committee recommended that both C of O to GFF and Golf Place Resort should be revoked/cancelled “being not just outright illegalities but products of a gross and blatant abuse of office and breach of public trust by the erstwhile governor” and that Lions Club should be restored to their land.” The government accepted only the first recommendation and said Lions Club cannot be restored to any part of the land but would be given an alternative plot.

Amosun said that the property would be taken over in public interest. “As there is allegation that state funds were used in the construction of the hotel, no compensation shall be payable either to GFF or Golf Place Resort until the said allegations are determined. He then set up a special committee headed by the deputy governor to look into the allegations and advise government appropriately.

The white paper further recommended reversal of the concession agreements on many state enterprises during Daniel’s tenure. Among these are the Olumo Rock Tourist Complex, the Gateway Hotels in Ota, Ijebu- Ode and Abeokuta; Apoje Farms, Remo Rubber Plantation and  Lomiro Oil Palm Plantation. The white paper said that the concession agreements in almost all the cases were not “in the overall interest of Ogun State, being onerous, one sided and grossly exploitative and meant to plunder the state of precious assets.” On Lomiro Plantation, for instance, the paper said “the provision in the concession agreement requiring the concessionaire to invest the sum of N450 million in the farm over 10 years is vague as it does not clearly specify how and what the money should be spent on.  Specifically, it is not clear whether or not it is to be spent on re-planting or regeneration of the farm and replacement of the processing mill, all of which are very crucial factors that will affect the reversionary interest of the state.”

It said further that “there is no provision in the agreement on how much of the farm (in acreage) the concessionaire should replant during the concession period, only that he should leave palm trees with a life-span of at least 14 years. The implication of this is that the concessionaire has the unilateral discretion to decide how much to replant and may not do any replanting at all until about seven years to the end of its tenor, busying itself with only harvesting what has been planted and nurtured over the past several years by the Government.”

The commission said that “no proper valuation of the farm was done before the arrangement with the concessionaire was hurriedly made” and that “on the spot inspection of the farm revealed that the mill inherited by the concessionaire has been completely abandoned and left to rot away. No effort has been made to either replace or repair it. Bunches (produce) from the farm are presently being transported from the farm to the concessionaire’s private palm oil plantation elsewhere supposedly for processing. In other words, Lomiro Oil Plantation is presently serving only as a feeder to the concessionaire’s private farm elsewhere and no efforts are being made to commence re-planting in the near future. Since taking over the farm in 2010, the concessionaire has not added any value to it nor replanted a single palm tree.”

It claimed that the concessionaire paid five million Naira to the government in its first year, being five percent of turn-over, and intends to pay at least N13 million to the government in the current year, being also five of this year’s turn-over. “It means that the company has made a staggering turn-over of about N360m in two years by merely selling off products from the farm without investing any money at all, thereby making huge profit while the government would have only received a paltry sum of N18 million,” the paper said.

The concession of Gateway Hotel, Ota, to MIDC Limited and sub-lease to ARTEE Industries Limited also drew the ire of the commission. The concessionaire took over the hotel in January 2009. Its business plan indicated that it would refurbish the hotel within 18 months. But the commission noted that more than two and half years after ARTEE has done virtually nothing in this regard but has breached several important terms of the agreement, such as the provision of insurance policy for the hotel, setting up of an operating committee, among others. “Clearly the concessionaire lacks the financial capacity to deliver on the project. Indications of this fact emerged quite early when it failed to pay the balance of the signature fee on schedule, could not honour its obligation to construct the shopping arcade and had to enter into an amended agreement with a third party, ARTEE Industries Ltd., to undertake the construction. The inability to refurbish the hotel on schedule is principally due to lack of funds. While testifying before the commission, Gboyega Isiaka, former group managing director of Gateway Holdings Limited, GHL, who midwifed the concession, admitted before the commission that MIDC had failed woefully to perform and that he even threatened several times to terminate the contract due to serial default on the part of the company.  He tendered before the commission three (3) letters of termination written to MIDC to terminate the contract,” the report said.

Amosun said all the concessions would be renegotiated after a thorough investigation of the concessioner’s antecedents, relationships, financial and professional capabilities. The government said that it would verify the claims of Praemark Commercial Investment on Gateway Hotels Limited, Ijebu Ode, and refund any genuine claims.

On February 13, 2012, Amosun began to implement the recommendations in the White Paper. In revoking the C of O of Abraham’s Tabernacle, the governor wrote Dele Kolade,  resident pastor in-charge of the church: “In exercise of my powers under sections 1 & 26 of the Land Use Act, I hereby cancel the purported Certificate of Occupancy N0 0033337 dated 14th May, 2011, and registered as No. 60 at page 60 in Volume 761 of the Lands Registry in the office at Abeokuta. This letter serves as notice to you of the said cancellation.” The letter was dated January 20, 2012, but was reportedly delivered to the church about noon on February 13.
On Tuesday, February 28, the state revoked the certificates of occupancy given GFF and the Golf Resort Hotels in Abeokuta, the state capital.

Wemimo Ogunde, attorney general and commissioner for justice, said that the allegations that the hotel belonged to former Governor Daniel was unfounded. “The Gulf Hotel Resort does not belong to Daniel; neither does its Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, nor the Article of Association indicate that the former governor was the owner or the promoter of the hotel.

The governor has cancelled that Certificate of Occupancy of the land on which the hotel is standing. Unfortunately, after it was cancelled, they continued to work on the land without any order of court to work on a land whose Certificate of Occupancy has been cancelled. As I speak, there is no court order permitting Gulf Hotel Resort to continue to work on that land. We believe that we have not violated any court order,” he said.

These actions have, however, widened the gulf between Amosun and Daniel, the two political titans in Ogun State. While loyalists of the incumbent governor have premised their principal’s action on law, those of the former governor are also clinging to law to exonerate their boss of any allegation of being a land grabber. Sina Kawonise, former commissioner for information under Daniel, decried the commission’s report or any white paper issued on it. “One thing very clear is that what is going on in that respect is like working from the answer to the question,” he told Newswatch. (see box)

As the battle rages, on Friday, March 2, Olanrewaju Mabekoje, judge of the Ogun State High Court, Abeokuta, quashed the 43-count charge brought against the former governor by the EFCC. The judge said the anti-graft agency failed to seek the prayer of the court before filling the information that contained the offences proffered against Daniel. The EFCC had dragged Daniel before the court last year over allegations bothering on stealing, fraudulent conversion of Local Government funds, failure to declare assets and conversion of state government landed properties for personal use. But the judge ruled that the EFCC committed a fundamental error for not seeking the leave of the court before filling the charges containing the offences.

The Daniel camp was elated at the ruling. Osipitan described the judgement as a welcome development. However, Rotimi Jacobs, counsel to the EFCC, said the judgement was only a temporary setback and that the agency would put the records straight and re-arraign the former governor.


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