Public Hearing on the probe of the multi-billion dollar Centenary City Project by the House of Representatives has generated furore, as the former SGF Anyim Pius Anyim and former FCT Minister, Bala Muhammed allege bias, ADEBIYI ADEDAPO reports.
The House of Representatives in July 2016 directed its Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to investigate the Centenary City Project so as to ascertain whether or not it is being executed in line with extant laws and regulations.
The Centenary City Project was embarked upon by the last administration in 2014 to mark 100 years of the amalgamation of Nigeria.
The resolution to investigate the project followed a motion sponsored by the member representing Pankshin/Kanke/Kanem federal constituency of Plateau state, Hon. Golu Timothy. Golu alleged that the project, located along the airport road, had costed the government billions of naira and loss of thousands of hectares of land.
The Senate Committee in charge of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) had carried-out a similar investigation and endorsed the establishment of a multi-billion-naira city located within the territory.
The senate committee in a report the committee compiled after an independent investigation ofthe project, noted that the centenary city project will stimulate both foreign and domestic investment to the tune of $18 billion, create 250,000 well-paying jobs, promote world-class urban infrastructure, leisure and entertainment and attract multinational retail chains to Nigeria, among other things.
The report signed by the chairman of the committee, Dino Melaye, also stated that the programme would support the urban renewal of Abuja and earn outstanding revenue for the FCT, also said that the project is entirely a private sector project that will be completed at no cost to the government.
However, a mild drama ensued last Friday at the commencement of public hearing by the House of Representatives, as the immediate past Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim accused chairman of the House Committee on FCT, Hon. Herman Hembe of impropriety.
Anyim, who was the senate President from August 2000 to May 2003, left the House of Representatives abruptly on Friday, following heated arguments with members of the committee.
The former SGF who expressed reservations about the invitation sent to him by the committee clerk noted that the manner of invitation denigrates his person as a former Senate President and Chairman of the National Assembly.
“Mr. Chairman, if you want me to appear before you, I have no issue with that, but I cannot accept any attempt to subject me to disrespect. You cannot ask a committee clerk to invite me to appear before you, it is unacceptable. Even you, Mr. Chairman is not qualified to sign such letterof invitation to me. Please if you need the attention of any former chairman of the National Assembly; get the clerk of the National Assembly to sign such letter,”Anyim said.
He also accused Hembe of inadequate understanding of the concept of centenary city, said he was ready to discuss the project.
“Mr. Chairman, if you do not understand the Centenary City Project, I will not blame you, you may as well not understand this new National Assembly Complex you are enjoying today, you may wish to know that I midwife the conception and the design of this new complex alongside National Assembly committee set-up for that purpose,” he stated.
Also, former Minister, Bala Muhammed noted that the committee had inadequate understanding of the project, adding that he received a letter from the Presidency on the 21st October 2013, which permitted him to vary former President Goodluck Jonathan’s initial directive on the project.
Anyim alleged that the committee chairman has a personal interest in the probe, thereby requested that he steps down and allow his deputy to continue with the probe.
“Mr. Chairman, I want to put it to you that you have personal motives, you have told everyone who cared to listen that when the former Director General of the Security and Exchange Commission ( SEC) Ms. Arumah oteh accused you of demanding bribe, you have pushed for her sack and I refused to sack her as the SGF, so this is an opportunity to get back at me. You have been threatening to conduct this public hearing for over one year now, we only discovered your game plan for all the postponement when you started denting messages to the Managing Director to come and see you privately, I want you to know that nobody will come and see you privately,” he stated.
Nevertheless, Hembe is not new to controversy, he was in 2012 accused of soliciting a bribe of N44 million from the then Director General of Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) Arunmah Oteh, in a scandal that almost put the House at the risk of public anger.
The committee continued its assignment and presented documents to buttress allegation several infarctions in the agreement signed by the office of the SGF and management of the Centenary City Company Plc.
According to the committee, the spirit of the said agreement violated the federal governments gazette on land swap programme which ought to be the guideline for the project.
The committee also established that the former Minister, Bala Muhammad signed the Right of Occupancy and the Certificate of Occupancy of the land on the same day, in violation of provisions of the gazette.
According to Hembe, the lifespan of the project implementation as contained in the gazette should be between 24 to 48 months as against 60-120 weeks stated in the contractual agreement.
He also noted that the private developers were not allowed to sell any portion of the land until it attains 35 per cent development level, but the company was also granted a waiver in that regard.
Hembe added that that there was no evidence that the company paid the 15 per cent of $18billion expected as initial payment for the development of the city.
The former Minister, who initially declined comment on the issue, broke his silence when the member representing Ayedaade/Irewole/Isokan federal constituency of the state of Osun, Hon. Ayo Omidiran, accused him of violating directive of former president Goddluck Jonathan.
When the committee Chairman, Hembe directed that the former minister be administered on oath, he said; “I believe government is a continuum, I will not speak on the matter until the current minister who here presents speaks on it, except if you direct a specific question to me.”
Omidiran while speaking to documents before the committee lamented that the project as approved by the former president Goodluck Jonathan had been varied without consent of the former president.
“This is unfair to former president Goodluck Jonathan, his heart must be bleeding with all these revelations, this is not fair at all,” Omidran said.
Muhammed in a swift reaction noted that the committee had inadequate understanding of the project, adding that he received a letter from the Presidency on the 21st October 2013, which permitted him to vary former President Goodluck Jonathan’s initial directive on the project.
“I will want to interrupt you at this point, now I want to speak, received a letter from the Presidency on the 21st October 2013, which permitted him to vary former President Goodluck Jonathan’s initial directive on the project,” he said.
A heated argument ensured among members when the member representing Ohaozara/Onicha/Ivo federal constituency of Ebonyi State, Hon. Linus Okorie presented questions on the investigation and was ruled out of order by the Committee Chairman, Herman Hembe.
The question was to the effect that a later Presidential directive on the project allows the use of government’s fund, as against Hembe’s believe that it was meant to be a 100 per cent private sector investment.
Hembe during the hearing noted that President Goodluck Jonathan approved the project as purely private sector driven, guided by the Lang Swap gazette of the FCT.
“Former President Goodluck Jonathan approved paragraph 8 of the letter, which is to the effect that the cemetery celebration will only be private sector driven and the land swap strategy of the FCTA will be approved,” he said.