By Mark Okafor and Sunday James
LEGISREPORTS NG – The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) national vice chairman, South-south, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to institute a probe into the multi-billion dollar Centenary City project.
He alleged that there were fraudulent acquisitions clandestinely orchestrated by the sponsors of the project which cover over 1,500 hectares of land in the Federal Capital City, Abuja.
Dr. Ojougboh made the allegation in a petition dated July 21, 2015 and copied the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for necessary action.
He said the Centenary City project was coordinated by former secretary to the government of the federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, whom he accused of cornering 3000 acres of the land designated for the city.
He added that the land mass allocated for the Centenary City is estimated to be Maitama, Asokoro and Guzape districts put together.
LEGISREPORTS Recalls that the Centenary City is an ambitious new project by the Nigerian Government under former president Goodluck jonathan to build a smart city along the same lines of as Dubai, Monaco and Singapore. The city is to be built from scratch on a 1,260 hectares piece of virgin land located several kilometres southeast of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.
The concept of the city was mooted as project to mark the 100 year anniversary of Nigeria by January 1, 2014 with emphasis that It is to be private-sector driven.
Non Complicity of Jonathan?
But in a chat with newsmen in Abuja yesterday, Dr. Ojougboh exonerated former President Goodluck Jonathan, saying in spite of the fact that he approved the project, he did not endorse the alleged fraud that trailed the project as carried out by top officials of the federal government.
“The former president signed the papers as were presented to him by the former secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), but he was not properly briefed because of vested interests. I can defend him; he was not part of the fraud. If Jonathan had been properly briefed, he would not have approved the project not to talk of going to perform the ground breaking of the project.
“The former president thought that the Centenary City was for the good of all Nigerians because of the centenary spirit; unknown to him, it was the private project of the former SGF and his cohorts.”
“I am calling on President Buhari now to revisit the Centenary project and he will be shocked at the findings that the project was owned by private individuals but procured with government funds.”
The Proposed Smart City Within A City
Abuja Centenary City, a smart, inter-connected urban centre that draws on the latest technologies, is expected to have a central business district, a financial centre, a museum & cultural centre to promote African and global arts, world-class hotels, business and technology parks, residential districts, an 18-hole golf course, and industry centres, sports and leisure facilities and community amenities.
The Centenary City is said to be designed to work in harmony with nature, it is a city within a city that will offer complete cosmopolitan lifestyle to its residents, as well as serves as a hub for the wider community
‘The Address Abuja’ is a few minutes from the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport while it is 30 minutes drive from the city centre.
Construction work has commenced on the first phase of the Abuja centenary city which has a completion date of four years. The entire project is expected to cost about $180.6 billion with a completion period of ten years. The City is being developed by Eagles Hill.
According to the Executive Director of Eagles Hill, Mr. Jaimal Shergill, the first phase named ‘The Address and Residence’ would offer a combination of residential and hotel spaces, spanning across 25 hectares of land with world class amenities, restaurants and more.
He added that ‘The Address’ would bring its five-star services to elevate the city’s standard of living with luxury villas featuring four to nine bedroom units.
Despite being a Public Private Partnership (PPP), Shergill explained, the centenary city, as a free trade zone, would be exempted from both federal and state taxes, pointing out that it would also be exempted from the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) property tax.
The executive director revealed that 87, 000 jobs would be created. “In addition to that, ‘ he said, we will have- 137, 000 residents-a bulk of the workers will be Nigerians, and in our estimate for every resident, two or three jobs would be created, which is close to about 300 to 400, 000 jobs.
“There will be two stages of job creation which include the construction phase and the services stage. The first phase which is the five star hotel and residence would be completed within four years.”
Shergill noted that centenary city is not for the rich alone as it is an all inclusive project, adding that the first phase is a bit expensive but the housing phase is all encompassing.
He disclosed further that arrangements were on top gear with their partner to power the site, noting that compensation had been paid to all the inhabitants of the place.
The centenary city according to the then Secretary to the Federal Government, Senator Pius Anyim, would be modeled after cities such as Dubai, Monaco and Singapore, to serve as a political and economic tool for securing foreign investment.
“The idea is to get a better city than the present Abuja where people will not need to provide basic amenities by themselves.” said the Nigerian President Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
The new city will be sustainable because it balances economic, social, cultural and environmental factors to produce harmonic development.
The Centenary City is a project of the future. It will be a high profitable entity for the government agencies, investors and users because of its designation as a “duty free zone” and “tax shelter” with special banking regulations.
The new city will be one of the most powerful catalyst that will trigger opportunities for better social and economic development in Nigeria.
The decision makers of Nigeria have provided excellent conditions and land for development, now it is up for the investors and technicians to perform the highest quality work to make this project a reality.
Allegation of Deception and Fraud
However, Ojoogboh said he had reasons to believe that the former SGF may have connived with the sponsors of the project covering over 1,500 hectares of land in the Federal Capital City, Abuja, to perpetrate fraud.
The PDP stalwart lamented that the free trade zone status granted to the centenary city project is a wanton loss of revenue to the country.
He also maintained that the land whose size is equal to Maitama, Asokoro and Guzape districts put together did not meet the criteria of a free trade zone as is being ascribed.
He also accused Anyim of deceiving the Nigerian people that the centenary is a synergy between the federal government and the organised private sector.
“The former president thought that the Centenary City was for the good of all Nigerians because of the centenary spirit, unknown to him, it was the private project of the former SGF and his cohorts, I am calling on President Buhari now to revisit the centenary project and he will be shocked at the findings that the project was owned by a private individuals buts procured with government funds.
“It would be interesting to note that the land owners demanded compensation in line with the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) administration resettlement and compensation programme from the federal government but the sponsors of the project used a private firm to pay the sum of N1.2 billion to the land owners.Where did they source that money from?
“How can an individual still serving in the government get such a huge sum to pay compensations without government knowledge, who is the owner of Mullark? All these President Buhari should direct the Department of State Security Services, the Nigeria Police, even the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) to look into the matter as well as EFCC,” he asked.
Former SGF Pius Anyim Reacts
The former SGF in his response to the charge of fraudulent dealings, through his media aide, Sam Nwaobasi, noted that as far as he was concerned the matter was now in court, adding that Ojuogboh should spare Nigerians the trouble of peddling allegations and go to court.
Anyim’s spokesman said, “The issue is already is court. Senator Anyim has gone to court to sue him for defamation on the previous press conference and interviews that he granted in which he accused him of almost all these things you said he is saying now. So the matter is already in Court and senator Anyim does not wish to join issues with him on matters that are already in court.
“The senator did not send people to go and protest against Ojougboh. There is no need for such thing. What he thinks and what he knows is very civilised. Since he feels aggrieved by what Cario has been saying and writing against him, he is pursuing a very civilised cause of going to the court to plead his case and that offers Cairo the same opportunity to defend himself.”
“So he cannot resort to engaging people to demonstrate which does not in anyway mean anything to him. He did not, he will not, it is not his character to do that. So whatever Cairo Ojougboh is making, he will have an opportunity in Court to explain all of those and then plead his case.
As far as Senator Anyim is concerned, the matter is in Court and he does not wish to join issues with Cairo in matters that are already in court,” he said.
Call for Action
“The president must insist that each of these security agencies carryout independent investigation so that the depth of the matter would be reached. I am available to offer the much I know from my independent quests on the matter.” The PDP chieftain insists.
The PDP stalwart said his attention was first drawn to the scam by the Anti-Corruption Network led by Senator Dino Melaye, which drew the attention of his board to the matter that the “idea of certifying the Centenary City as a free zone was to give import duty to the owners through the back door.
“The sole reason that the Centenary City project has been declared a free zone is to allow for a custom duty waiver in order to evade payment of import duties for cement, construction materials and machineries which otherwise would have generated huge sums in revenue.
“The consequence was to rob the Nigerian masses of their land, revenue and retard the industrial growth of the nation therefore for every one Job the projects creates today it robs the nation of over 10 jobs in taxes and industrial development,” he said.
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