By Ike Michaels Odenigwe, Jr.
There have been media comments on the Centenary City Project and we have deliberately refrained from responding to most of them. The reason is quite simple: Some are outrightly mischievous, uninformed or speculative, while others, in countering the mischief, sought to advance public discourse. With both sides of the debate out in the public domain, our view was that truth would emerge in the course of the exchanges.
But because many of the commentators are motivated by genuine patriotism and desire to place all the cards on the table, so that Nigerians would be better guided in their perceptions of, and comments, the management of the Centenary City has a duty to clarify the issues.
One of the more sober comments came via a well-meaning editorial comment in Thisday newspaper of Monday, July 6, 2015. Our Board of Directors, led by General (rtd.) Abdulsalami Alhaji Abubakar, GCFR, is convinced that what is at stake is of great important to our country and has urged the management to respond only to informed and purposeful comments in the media. The editorial under reference calls for information on the status of the project and the rights of original inhabitants, among others. Such interventions do not set out to undermine the project and thus damage the economic visibility of Nigeria as a favoured FDI destination.
I shall attempt to straighten the records in this response and give some details about the project and its development so far. The newspaper’s call on Nigerians to exercise the necessary vigilance, so that we get the best of this Centenary Legacy Project, which was initiated as part of the programmes and activities for Nigeria’s centenary celebration in 2014, is very apt. The project set out to focus the attention of the investing world on Nigeria and trigger investment opportunities, the way cities like Dubai (UAE), Monaco (France), Shenzhen (China), Singapore (Singapore) and Songdo (South Korea); impacted the development of their respective nations.
Following the Concept Document for the City, an investors forum was held on the 5th of February 2013, after the successful flag-off of Nigeria’s centenary celebration the previous day by former President Goodluck Jonathan, GCFR. The forum attracted 124 potential investors and other professionals representing 11 countries. At the end of the investment forum, 29 potential investors from nine countries (including Nigeria) expressed interest as “promoter investors”. To further expand the opportunities, advertorials were later placed in three national newspapers, to enable those who did not have the opportunity to register their interest and commitment at the investors forum to express similar interest as promoter investors.
A meeting of interested parties was later called, where it was resolved that: (1) a company to promote the Centenary City be formed with potential investors as its promoters; (2) Equity Call in the Company would be a minimum of US$250,000 and a maximum of US$5 million (to forestall the possibility of any particular investor having overwhelming majority); (3) subscribers of up to US$5 million were to constitute the Board and appoint a Chairman that may or may not be a subscriber; (4) the company would be a public limited liability company whose stock would be quoted in both local and international stock exchanges in due course and (5)the legal adviser and financial advisers were to be appointed by the promoters, to perfect the decisions reached in the meeting.
The promoter investors who confirmed their interest and commitment met on March 1, 2013 and agreed to appoint a legal adviser to incorporate the company. They also agreed on the appointment of a consulting firm to work with the legal adviser to: (1) work out the Share Structure and Corporate Governance Framework of the company (2) conduct feasibility studies for the Centenary City and (3) consider the Concept Master Plan for the Centenary City, in addition to any other business that may arise therefrom. The competitive presentations from invited professional firms at the above meeting led to the emergence of Sterling Partnership Legal Practitioners (“Sterling Partnership”) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (“PwC”) as legal adviser and financial advisers, respectively. They were to finalize the Company Registration, Share Structure and Corporate Governance Framework. The Capital Call of US$5,000,000 (maximum) and US$250,000 (minimum) was also restated at the meeting.
On 25th of March, 2013, another meeting of promoter investors was held, to re-confirm Capital Call commitments and to deliberate on key issues to be included in the Shareholders Agreement. A draft discussion table provided at the meeting enabled promoter investors to discuss a number of issues from the legal and financial advisers. The milestones achieved within the intervening period (4th February 2013 to 19th May, 2015) include the registration of the Centenary City Plc. with an authorized share capital of N1 billion by Registered Nominees of Sterling Partnership (First Limited and Basic Start Limited) with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) pending the finalisation of the Shareholders Agreement and the distribution of shares to subscribing promoter investors. The company also received capital commitments in excess of US$80,000,000 from 40 private sector Nigerian, UAE and USA promoter investors. The Board of Directors was elected and inaugurated, with General (rtd) Abdulsalami Alhaji Abubakar, GCFR as Chairman; thus making the Centenary City Plc. a 100% privately owned public limited liability company. The senior management reports to the Board and functions in accordance with the provisions of the Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA).
250,000 -job capacity
We have also since negotiated and executed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Eagle Hills International Properties LLC (“Eagle Hills”), a UAE-government supported company based in Abu Dhabi, for 100% development of the Centenary City site at a development cost of US$18 billion. This represents the single largest private Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the history of Nigeria, with the capacity to create over 250,000 well-paying permanent jobs. Management and the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) also delineated the Final Boundaries and Coordinates for the Centenary City site and negotiated a modified Land Swap Agreement with the Federal Capital City Administration (FCTA). The Certificate of Occupancy is for 1,267 hectares of land issued to Centenary City Plc., with the FCTA holding 5% equity interest and a Board seat.
Knowing the controversies that often trail land compensation in Nigeria, management worked closely with the FCDA and concluded the evaluation and payment of approximately N1,234,747,077 in compensation for economic trees and crops to the original inhabitants and other private property interests at the site. This is in addition to the on-going construction of 671 houses and engineering infrastructure, at a cost estimate of about N6 billion to resettle the original inhabitants. The cost is to be borne by the company.
With the supervision of the FCDA, a 330 KVA high tension transmission line crossing the project site was relocated, at a cost of N984,462,583. The company also completed a master plan, which has undergone four intensive Clarification Workshops with the FCDA, to make sure it meets the requirements of the Abuja Master Plan (sequel to a final engineering master plan), at a cost of N486,900,000. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project has received an initial approval from the Federal Ministry of Environment (FMEnv) and we have helped Eagle Hills to construct the access road to their well-designed Showroom and Sales Center, at the project site on Airport Road, Abuja at a cost of N110,000,000.
Centenary City Plc., at the request of (and in conjunction with) Eagle Hills, sought various incentives as Success Factors for the proposed Centenary City, such as Free Trade Zone. An application to the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) for the declaration of Centenary City as a free zone followed due process and met the requirements for a free zone. Mr. President’s approval was subsequently conveyed, making the Centenary City site a free zone to be known as “Centenary Economic City” (CEC). It is one of four free zones approved by Mr. President in 2014 including the Eko Atlantic City Free Zone in Lagos.
On the 24th of June 2014, in the company of the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, and Chairperson of Eagle Hills, Sheikh Mohammed Alabbar, former President Goodluck Jonathan, GCFR, performed the ground breaking ceremony and unveiling of the Centenary City. This was broadcast live on the international network of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). On the 3rd and 4th of December, 2014, Eagle Hills began clearing the project site. It also officially launched the first project on site – The Address Villas & Apartments, which quickly sold out. It is a matter of record that no other free zone in Nigeria has attracted a better-financed foreign investor, nor achieved a faster movement to site, with over 150 well-paying permanent jobs already created!
On the 19th of May, 2015, Centenary City Plc. held its first Annual General Meeting (AGM) to, among others, (1) verify deposits/contributions made by the Promoter Investors for Shares, (2) inaugurate its Statutory Audit Committee, (3) consider the 2013 and 2014 Audited Financial Statements by Akintola Williams Deloitte; and (4) approve the Shareholders Agreement; all of which would be updated shortly with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
Let us note for the record that the major local and international drivers of Centenary City Plc. have been involved in private and public markets for more than 300 years. Their corporate governance and public-private company management credentials are impeccable. Thisday‘s concern regarding the fortunes of the original inhabitants of the site is already addressed in a two-pronged compensation package that covers payment for (1) crops/economic trees and (2) resettlement. Thisday may wish to confirm that no allegations of wrongdoing have been leveled against the company or its promoters by any government or regulatory agency anywhere in the world. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which has ranked Nigeria as the number one country for FDI in Africa, is being proven right by with the Centenary City Project.
The foregoing is the full story of the Centenary City Project, which is a worthy legacy of our attainment of 100 years as one nation. We are convinced that the economic visibility of Nigeria as a favoured FDI destination is guaranteed by this project. I urge the reading public to disregard the mischievous insinuations of those who fail to adopt the mature and nationalistic thrust of Thisday and who also do not investigate, educate, and inform themselves on the details of the Centenary City, so that their comments will improve national discourse.
*Odenigwe is Managing Director,
Centenary City PLC