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Daniel’s Hands Are Clean

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Sina Kawonise, former commissioner for information under the Gbenga Daniel administration in Ogun State, speaks to Demola Abimboye, principal associate editor, on the indictment of the former governor by a government White Paper just released in the state. Excerpts:

Newswatch: On September 16, 2011, Ibikunle Amosun, governor of Ogun State, set up a five-man commission of inquiry to look into land allocations, acquisitions, sales and concession of government properties between January 2004 and May 29, 2011. The body has submitted its report and government has issued a white paper on it. The paper indicted the administration of former Governor Gbenga Daniel. Did the former governor appear before the commission?

Kawonise: The former governor did not have any issue to defend before the Land Commission.


Newswatch: The paper said lands were acquired for the Abraham Tabernacle and Golf Resort International improperly. What do you say to this?

Kawonise: Abraham Tabernacle was not built for his father but only named after him. The church has since been handed over to the Baptist Convention. It is a not-for-profit project. No commercial interest was intended. That church has a board of trustees headed by Pa Abraham Adebola Daniel, the former governor’s father who died January this year. Members of the trustees were invited by the commission and they made adequate legal representation before it.

On the Golf Resort, the former governor does not have any direct connection with that hotel. Kresta Laurel, a company owned by Daniel, invested in it. So, the former governor was not invited because his name did not appear there as a promoter of that hotel but Kresta Laurel is one of the companies that invested there.


Newswatch:  But the process of getting the C of O for the Resort was said to be untidy: first the C of O belonging to the Lions Club was revoked and given to Gateway Front Foundation and later Golf Resort International. How do you reconcile these irregularities?

Kawonise: I will not be able to speak in terms of material particular on the Golf Resort and even on Abraham Tabernacle because cases are in court over them. They are among the charges of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission that have just been quashed by the High Court in Abeokuta. Four EFCC officials were almost jailed by the court for commenting on the issues before it. But for the subsisting cases, I would have talked on it. I don’t want to run foul of the law.

The Amosun government has proven to be a lawless one. I don’t want to be part of that. One thing very clear is that what is going on in that respect is like working from the answer to the question. What is the integrity of the commission of inquiry that was set up? If you look at the composition of the commission, Justice Akinyemi, chairman of the panel, was a partner of Wemimo Ogunde, the attorney general and commissioner for justice of Ogun State. They were both in the same law firm. From here, he was appointed a judge of the high court. So, he set up a commission of inquiry and put his partner as chairman. Even the man who was attorney to the commission was also a partner in Wemimo Ogunde and Co. They were three in the firm. So, you can see that there is no way that commission would be fair to OGD whom Amosun had declared his enemy. So, the integrity of the commission is in serious doubt. And the way that commission had gone about its assignment showed that it is a kangaroo panel. The Nigerian Constitution talks about fair hearing in any matter. There is no way the commission can be fair to OGD. And the activities of the commission have confirmed this. As we speak, the commission is still sitting. The commissioner quickly carved out a report on areas where former Governor Daniel was tangentially related. From this, they hurriedly put out a white paper. I have not seen this type of thing before. A commission is still sitting, yet a white paper has come out! A white paper is usually the last thing, the consummation of the setting up of a commission. But in this case, a white paper has come out and an enforcement of the paper has been carried out. And everybody knows what Amosun is targeting. From all that is available, there is no infraction. But only a court of law can declare so. There are two cases now – one on Abraham Tabernacle being handled by Gbenga Ojekunle and another one on Golf Resort by Professor Taiwo Osipitan, SAN, and his team of lawyers.

Nobody is in any doubt that Amosun is on a vengeance mission, politics of bitterness, vindictiveness. Even the Golf Resort, they said the hotel has been confiscated because it was built with state funds. How did they arrive at that?


Newswatch: The white paper said a committee headed by the deputy governor has been set up to investigate whether state funds were used to build it.

Kawonise: What I am saying is that while that is being done, Amosun’s body guards were drafted there and occupied and dislodged 300 workers. That is barbaric. Why don’t you wait for the outcome of the court case? In any case, it was Amosun that gave EFCC all the documents for the court case against Daniel yet, he could not wait for the outcome of the case before taking action. There is more to it than the white paper is making us to believe. But I can assure you that this is not a banana republic. It will not stand.


Newswatch: But they are saying other friends of Daniel were investors in the hotel project?

Kawonise: Yes. Alex Onabanjo and others are investors in the hotel. Are they saying Apagun Wole Olumide had access to state funds to put into the project? Or Otunba Osifeso? All of these people invested in this project and you now singled out one investor – Kresta Laurel – a corporate body? It is not done.

Newswatch: But the paper did not even mention Kresta Laurel?

Kawonise: So how did they come about the suspicion that state funds were used to construct it? He said it in many places – before traditional rulers and so on – that OGD owns the hotel. With that at the back of his mind, he now set up a kangaroo panel and another committee headed by the deputy governor to find out whether state funds were used in building it? Is the deputy governor an EFCC official? Does he have training in crime detection? All these things are ridiculous.


Newswatch: It was alleged that some other persons’ land were cornered to form a bigger parcel of land for Abraham Tabernacle.

Kawonise: Even if that were to be the case, has any court ruled on the matter? One of those who supposedly had a C of O on the land has gone to court. What is the locus of the state government to bring bulldozers to enforce a ruling or judgement that had not been made by the court?


Newswatch: Aside the Abraham Tabernacle and Golf Resort, there were other issues, especially concessioning of Gateway Hotels in Abeokuta, Ijebu Ode and Ota. The government white paper indicted the former administration for doing a shoddy job, that the state did not get commensurate value for its investment. What will you say to this?

Kawonise: If I sell a phone for N100,000, you can say it is worth N200,000. That is the way you valued it. It is subjective. But in this case, there are certain issues that were not subjective. How were the hotels and farms before concession? The three hotels were built with a loan of $87 million from the World Bank by the Olabisi Onabanjo administration. At today’s value, that is N9.8 billion. The whole debt, the bulk of which we inherited, had been paid. Between when established and when concessioned was 26 years. The three hotels gave government a dividend of N24 million for 26 years, that is, less than N1 million every year. Government was paying salaries and others expenditures and not getting returns. There were three options before us at that time – outright sale, heavy capital injection and concession. We rejected outright sale. It was as if we anticipated all the shenanigans going on now. Fund injection was also rejected. Today Kessington Adebutu, the concessionaire, has injected about N2 billion into the Gateway Hotel, Abeokuta. We did not have that kind of fund. We knew that the fundamental flaw was that government was running the hotels whereas government should have no hand running business. So, we ruled those two options out and were left with the third – concession. We conducted public enquiries and hearings. Ben Bruce and others in the entertainment world participated in the biddings. Bruce won the bid for Abeokuta hotel but because he could not pay on time, we gave it to Adebutu, the reserved bidder. Due process was observed.

Government raked in N527 million as signature bonus – N300 million from the Abeokuta hotel and N227 million from the other two. From assets that gave N24 million to government in 26 years! The length of concession is a function of how much the investor will spend there or is calculated to be needed there and how long it will take to recover that investment. MM2 Aiport Terminal, Ikeja, was concessioned for 30 years. The Lekki expressway was given to Lekki Concession Company, LCC, for 35 years. On this basis, we came out with two models: when you start to make money, give us a percentage of your turnover or of your profit. We saw that turnover was in the best interest of the state. Profit could be hidden as directors’ overhead but turnover can’t be hidden. So, we agreed that for the first 10 years, we will take 7.5 percent of turnover. After the next 10 years, it goes to 10 percent. From projections, the 7.5 percent was to give the state N6.5 billion. This from an asset that gave only N24 million in 26 years! The next 10 years will yield N10 billion. So, in all, we expected N16.5 billion. Every year, the state will get N412 million. That was the calculation. You can’t beat that.

But if you now say we should have negotiated for 20 percent, that is your view. What we did was far better than what we met on ground.


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