By Jimoh Babatunde
What is currently happening between two federal government agencies concerning use of office accommodation in Lagos should be of concern to industry watchers as the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), under the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade & Investment, are currently locking horns over who should maximally use an office complex located at Plot 13/14 Victoria Arobieke Street, off Admiralty Way, Lekki Phase I, Lagos.
Claims and counterclaims have climaxed in RMRDC issuing an eviction notice to SON to vacate the premises.
Investigation and information gathered from top echelons of the affected MDAs indicated ‘that the RMRDC is recognised as the initial owner of the property”; however the premises was later allocated to SON during the movement of former Federal Secretariat from Ikoyi, Lagos to Abuja.
The arrangement was that ‘SON will take full responsibilities of the maintenance, running cost and upkeep of the entire complex (including offices to be occupied by RMRDC) and RMRDC retaining the First floor as its liaison office, exhibition centre and display centre.
It was also learnt that the first floor can also be made available to SON for use and ‘that the office of the Head of Service of the Federation shall allocate 6 (six) units residential accommodation to RMRDC in Abuja as compensation for loss of revenue that would have accrued, had the building been leased.’
The memo approving the allocation of office accommodation dated 30th May 2000, signed by one W.M. Kurawa for and on behalf of the Head of Service of the Federation, was copied to the then Ministers of Industry, Science & Technology as well as the Directors General, RMRDC and SON respectively.
However, in another letter dated 6th June 2000, written and signed by Prof. T.Shamble, then Director-General, SON, which was addressed to the Minister of Industry, SON raised some objections and reservations concerning the allocations. They include that ‘the building has not been in use for long and even damaged such that it was abandoned.’
‘’ I would have imagined that in view of paragraph (3iv) i.e (‘that the office of the Head of Service of the Federation would consider and allocate 6 (six) units residential accommodation to RMRDC in Abuja as compensation for loss of revenue that would have accrued, had the building been leased’) – the building would have been allocated to SON since RMRDC has been adequately compensated with 6 units of residential accommodation in Abuja.’
In the letter, the former SON D.G further contended: ‘’ As a matter of fact, our job does not require only offices but depend almost entirely on Laboratories and Libraries. We are considering modifying the building to accommodate Laboratories and even build more on the empty space to enable us function. This is aimed at helping us to quickly install the equipment supplied by UNIDO which have been lying on the ground. With the allocation as in paragraph 3(i), we will not be able to achieve our objectives.
‘’Indeed, the arrangement is not intended to be a temporary but a permanent one so as not to create a problem for us in future when so much would have been permanently put in place. Renovation and installation of equipment in the place are to be a permanent thing.”
‘’Furthermore, during the negotiation, paragraph 3(i) was not mentioned as stated in the letter indeed the first letter which was brought to Lagos and later taken for amendment did not contain in the paragraph as confirmed by staff who participated in the discussion. You may, therefore, wish to use your good offices to contact the Head of Civil Service of the Federation to resolve this in our favour.”
Investigations show that SON has since put in place some facilities and equipment at the premises which permanent nature is not in doubt. For instance, the agency’s food technology laboratory for biological testing has since received ISO/IEC 17025:2005 international accreditation and certification-3580.01.
By virtue of the accreditation, over seven tests on food samples are being performed at the facility while another globally accredited laboratory for Chemical Testing carries out yet another seven types of tests viz: ash in foods, carbohydrate, crude fiber in Animal feed, fat content in flour and dried milk, moisture in foods, protein in milk and flour as well as heavy metals analysis in foods.
Again, it was gathered that SON has dutifully carried out the maintenance and upkeep of the facility without fail, given that the complex represents the hub of the agency’s key operations across the country.
So, if it is true that the office of the Head of Service of the Federation re-allocated the facility to SON. Where is the truth concerning the claims and counter-claims.?
While the two federal parastatals continue to assert their positions over the dispute, operators are already counting the losses which the entire imbroglio would cause the nation economically.
It is understood that the task of sanitising the nation’s environment of sub-standard products which rests squarely with SON might be hampered if the agency is dislodged from its operational headquarters which is the complex in contention.
Industry watchers, therefore, say the ministers of the affected ministries, need to wade into the crisis to avoid it from escalating; adding that it was doing a lot of damage to inter-agency understanding and collaborations.
Indeed, what appeared to have fuelled the dispute was a letter purportedly written from the Permanent Secretary, Common Services Office, Office of the Head of the Civil Service federation which was never served to SON urging SON to exit the building.
The memo dated July 9, 2015, signed by Dr Babatope Ajakaiye, gave SON only 12 months to vacate the premises.
SON was directed to surrender the property to RMRDC within 12 months. The letter was addressed to the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry Science & Technology & DG RMRDC.
There has been much fuss over the development. The question is what suddenly changed to warrant the eviction. What went wrong.
Did SON violate the agreement or commit an offence? What happened to the six units of accommodation given to RMRDC in Abuja as compensation for the property? Which of the MDAs is witch hunting the other among other questions?
The eviction is in whose interest for revenue or national interests?
For now, SON is fighting hard to remain in the premises at Lekki because its Mycotoxin and Food fortificant internationally accredited laboratories are located there even as it also accommodates one of the agency’s three state offices as well as a modern state-of-the-art library. There is a high concentration of manufacturing activities and seaports in Lagos where SON needs the visibility to succeed in its mandate.
Granted that RMRDC carries out residual or minimal functions at the disputed Lekki office, why should the busy activities of another agency be disrupted simply because of an alleged breach of the agreement which is rather unfounded, one public analyst queried.
According to him, we should be reminded the situation in time past when Nigerians had to go to Ghana and South Africa to conduct tests on exports, tests that ordinarily should be handled at home.
Imagine the costs, both financially and otherwise, of having to start rebuilding laboratories if, for any reason, the ones already standing at Lekki should be dismantled. What about the six block of flats given to RMRDC in exchange for the office complex in Lagos? Would it be returned to the SON?
There seem to be many more questions than answers and Industry watchers, therefore, expect the two ministries or even the HOS of the Federation to urgently intervene in the interest of the nation’s economic and industrial growth