Amid mounting housing and infrastructure deficit in Nigeria, a number of Federal Government’s abandoned properties have continued to rot away in Lagos several years after the federal capital was moved from Lagos, the country’s commercial capital, to Abuja.
These properties which include the old Federal Secretariat, Ikoyi, old National Assembly Complex at Tafawa Balewa Square, Independence Building that housed the Defence Ministry and former Federal Ministry of Commerce, at Tinubu Square have been left un-utilised since the seat of power was moved to Abuja by the former military president, Ibrahim Babangida.
Housing industry professionals and sundry stakeholders are worried that these properties are allowed to rot away in a country with an estimated 17 million housing deficit and in Lagos where housing deficit is both qualitative and quantitative and estimated at 3 million units.
The professionals posit that it would be an advantage to Nigerians if the custodians of these properties, particularly the old federal secretariat, valued at N40 billion a couple of years ago, look inwards and proffer creative ways the buildings could be transformed for commercial or residential purposes.
“These properties can be transformed into mixed use developments or work, live and play facilities. They can also be used as a co-work space, multi-studio apartments. Alternatively, they, the old federal secretariat especially, can be used as retail facility in order to reduce the 2.7 million space deficit across the nation,” Udo Okonjo, Fine and Country West Africa CEO, suggested in an interview.
But officials of Lagos State government confirmed on Thursday that discussions were ongoing with Abuja to have the properties either sold or ceded to Lagos on the grounds of being the original owner of the lands, particularly the Federal Secretariat, Ikoyi.
Backing Lagos’ position is Femi Okunnu, a former federal commissioner of works in the first republic, under whose tenure most of the lands were acquired by the Federal Government.
Also sharing this view is Babatunde Ruwase, president of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), who has described the abandonment of these properties as ‘economic waste’.
An official of the Lagos Lands Bureau who spoke with BusinessDay on Thursday, said “the state government is very interested in having these properties, especially the federal secretariat in Ikoyi. I can tell you that discussions are ongoing at the highest level between Governor Akinwunmi Ambode and Abuja,” said the official who craved anonymity.
But there is a challenge here. The old federal secretariat was part of the Federal Government’s properties in Lagos offloaded into the property market between 2003 and 2006 by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration in the country.
Wale Babalakin’s Resort International Limited which acquired the property had the intention of redeveloping it into residential properties but the redevelopment effort which would have provided homes for a good number of families was stalled by the Lagos State government.
The state government demanded that Resort International must obtain a fresh Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) irrespective of documents issued by the Federal Government on the property. The company was also required to apply for the consent of the Lagos governor on the property; apply for a change of use as well as a development permit from the state government.
The state government’s insistence on having these requirements met and the company’s decision for legal interpretation have left the facility in its present state, even after an Arbitration Tribunal awarded N88 billion against the federal government for the damages the company suffered as a result of the breach of a clause in the Development Lease Agreement (DLA) which they entered into with the Federal Government in 2006, granting them 99 years’ lease to redevelop the secretariat complex into luxury apartments.
But Okunnu insists that apart from the abandoned properties, other un-utilised lands acquired from Lagos by the Federal Government should revert back to the state.
Okunnu who chaired a special committee set up by the Ambode-led administration on Federal Government Assets in Lagos, said the whole of Ikoyi, Banana Island, Osborne Foreshore, Festac Town, Satellite Town, Trade Fair, among others belonged to Lagos State, and title of the lands were vested in the governor of the state, stressing that it was time the federal authorities handed over the titles to these properties to Lagos State.
“Federal Secretariat gives me sadness because I built it when I was the federal commissioner for works. The land upon which the secretariat is situated is part of the Crown land now State land. It is not only the quarters but the land on which many of these buildings in the areas are situated,” said Okunnu.
Similarly, Ruwase, president of LCCI said the abandoned assets could be put into use and made to add value to the nation’s economy.
“The Federal Government should either return the property to the Lagos State which is the original owner of the land or give them out on lease to the private sector.”
He noted that aside the economic waste, many of the buildings served as hideouts for hoodlums, criminals and posed security risk to residents.
It would be recalled that the Federal Government in 2017 handed over the Presidential Lodge, Marina, Lagos, and the Muritala Muhammed International Airport Road, to Lagos State Government, on the request of the state government.
CHUKA UROKO & JOSHUA BASSEY