FCTA threatens legal action over Abuja $600m Malaysian Garden’s row

A FRESH diplomatic row may soon break out between the Nigerian and Malaysian governments over allegations and counter allegations on a popular housing project, located in Abuja, otherwise known as Malaysian Gardens, as the former may take a legal action against the former over the impasse.

For several months now, there have been issues over the ambitious mass housing project, being developed by a firm, Global Formwork Nigeria Limited. The project would have housed over 14,000 Nigerians if completed.

When the going was good, FCT had allocated 510 hectares of land in Saraji District to Global Formwork Nigeria Limited on 2nd July 2004 under a Development Lease Agreement (DLA.)

The DLA states that the developer was to build 14,085 housing units within a period of ten years

By the terms of the DLA, Global Formwork is a lessee and was only granted a right of entry to build, construct and sell such houses on completion by them from the commencement of the DLA.

But with the row hanging on the project, which is now stalled, there are fears among stakeholders, if it would ever be completed and delivered as promised.

Only last week, the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) rejected a purported claim by the erstwhile Malaysian High Commissioner, saying, if need be, it would file a law suit to clear its name.

According to a letter purportedly signed by the former High Commissioner of Malaysia to Nigeria, H.E. Dato Nik Mustafa Kamal Nik Ahmad, the FCT Minister, Senator Bala Abdulkadir Mohammed was accused of high-handedness. The letter, which was written to President Goodluck Jonathan reads: “the Hon. Minister has demanded to be given 400 hectares or 80% of the total land area of the Malaysia Garden project; the Minister has demanded that the Igbo partner be changed to which the Malaysians reportedly rejected; because of the two above, the Hon. Minister has refused to approve all the engineering drawings or even to register the housing project - a situation which the Ambassador claimed has put the developer in a dilemma and the project in jeopardy; the developer cannot hand over 1800 housing units which are nearing completion due to lack of certificate of occupancy.”

In a refutal claim, through a statement made available to The Guardian, Global Formwork Nigeria Limited broke the DLA by failing to settle the building plan approval fee of N433, 659, 753.04.

A statement signed by Nosike Ogbuenyi, a Special Assistant on Media to the FCT Minister, Bala Mohammed and made available to The Guardian in Abuja, said: “it is the statutory responsibility of the Development Control Department of FCT Administration to vet and approve building designs including fixing and collection of the necessary approval fees.

It further said: “Contrary to the claim of the company that the Minister of FCT, Senator Bala Abdulkadir Mohammed was frustrating the efforts of the company to deliver the agreed 14,085 housing units, the Minister’s position on the matter has been guided by public interest, time-honored diligence and the provisions of the DLA entered into by the FCT Administration with Global Formwork since 2004.

“The entire documents and physical evidences including status of the project over eight years after the commencement of the DLA demonstrate the glaring lack of capacity of Global Formwork to perform. According to the available documents, the company, Global Formwork Nigeria Limited, admitted via formal correspondences with the FCT Administration through the Development Control Department that it was unable to pay the mandatory N433.6 million building plan approval and supervision.

“It is instructive to note that this statutory charge was signed and collected by the company on 23rd April 2009, more than three years ago.

The statement further reads: “Upon receipt of the bill, Messrs Global Formwork wrote an appeal to FCTA claiming inability to settle the entire bill at once and pleaded that it be granted a concession to defray the amount in four installments as it needed more time to raise the said amount.

“The FCTA then graciously approved that the lessee (Global Form work) made the payment in three installments of 50%, 25% and 25% between 30th June 2009 and 31st August 2009.

“On 23rd June, 2009, the company wrote the FCTA pledging to make the first installment of 50% of the bill on or before 15th July 2009. Having failed to do that, Messrs Global Formwork then on August 21 2009 wrote to the FCTA stating their inability yet again to raise the funds that were needed to settle the building plan approval. The company cited what it termed the “gloomy picture of the banking sector brought on by the recent takeover of five Nigerian banks by Central Bank of Nigeria amongst which are our bankers, Intercontinental Bank PLC and Oceanic Bank PLC…”

“In yet another occasion, Global Formwork blamed its failure on the crisis that rocked the Bank PHB. Thus as at today not a single naira has been paid by Messrs Global Formwork to FCT Development Control as the statutory bill of the building plan approval more than eight years after the bill was officially submitted to them.

The Development Control Department stated that since Messrs Global Formwork was in clear breach of its obligations as per the DLA, it was patently absurd to expect the department or the FCTA to issue building plan approval for the 510 hectare-Malaysia Gardens pro bono (free of charge) adding that such would amount to defrauding Nigerians of their commonwealth.

Commenting on the same issue, the Senior Special Assistant to the FCT Minister on Information Management, Hajia Jamilah Tangaza said the FCTA was aware that it had become fashionable for the FCT Minister to be blackmailed by elements that violate set rules and regulations in the FCT.

Tangaza recalled that the Senator Saidu Mohammed Dansadau Committee on Land Administration had in 2010 recommended an outright revocation of the land for the Malaysia Gardens project, a conclusion, which was later approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC).

She stressed that Mohammed had set up an implementation committee headed by the then FCT Permanent Secretary, Dr. Nathaniel Olorunfemi. The Olorunfemi committee recommended that 100 out of the 510 hectares be given to the company to carry on with their proposed project since as at 2011 only 24 out of 14,085 units of houses had been built in seven years. The recommendation was that over 400 hectares or about 80per cent of the land be revoked by the FCTA.

“While we doubt the veracity of the said letter, we find it instructive that the Malaysian High Commission has not issued a rebuttal on the matter. We call on the High Commission to take immediate steps to set the records straight even as we reserve the rights - including taking legal action after consultation with the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs - to protect the integrity of the person and office of the Honorable Minister of the FCT”, she concluded.