•Explains how lease was signed
Pioneer President of Auto Spare Parts and Machinery Dealers Association Members, ASPMDA, Chief Charles Okeke, who was one of the signatories to the lease between the Federal Government and the traders, wants the government to be guided by a committee report on the status of traders in Trade Fair Complex.
You were one of those, who signed the lease between the Federal Government and the market association. How come there are moves to take over the place?
We signed an agreement with the Trade Fair Management Board. I was instrumental to the relocation of Auto Spare Parts and Machinery Dealers Association Members, ASPMDA, from Idumota to this place in the 1990s.
This place was leased to us for a period of 49 years with an option for a renewal for 50 years. I am one of the signatories of that lease. We also made payment to the Federal Government. Since then, we have been conducting business here for more than 20 years and we have been developing the place. We built all the plazas here without our money. The Federal Government didn’t contribute a penny to the funds we used in developing the place.
How was this place when the various market associations relocated?
It was just an underdeveloped expanse of land when we came. The members of the various market associations contributed money to develop the place. All these edifices were built by our members with their money. At a point, the issue of concession came up. The Federal Government concessioned some places to Aulic.
When they came in, The Aulic man thought the whole place was given to him and the matter brought problem between the company and the government. A committee was subsequently set up by the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE, under the chairmanship of one Alhaji Lawal Mohammed. He relocated to this place to know the true state of things. While making his findings, he asked questions and looked at the whole edifice. His first question was: is this place built by the Federal Government? We said no, explaining that we built it with our money. Some of us even borrowed money from banks. Some are still repaying. At the end of his investigation, he saw that there was an injustice.
What were his recommendations?
He carved out ASPAMDA, APT, Balogun, Lakeview, C-temple and other stakeholders that have genuine documents with the federal government. He asked Aulic to only exercise his rights on empty places which were not carved out. This place is being managed by the Trade Fair Management Board. In our agreement, it was well stated that we are to pay allegiance to the Trade Fair Management Board, not state government or any other authority.
On the issue of concession, there was a committee set up by the Minister, to handle the matter. The minister did so without visiting here to know the true state of things. It seems they are more concerned about handing over the place to the people or person known to them. We have about 170, 000 owners of these edifices in ASPAMDA, Balogun, and BBA. Two weeks ago, a meeting was convened by the people sent by the minister. At the forum, they told us that their train is moving, adding that we have the choice of joining the train. They even said that we would be left behind if we refused to join the train. We were worried and had to ask what they meant. We asked the question because our lease with the federal government is still valid.
Was that the immediate reason for last Monday’s demonstration?
The demonstration took place because they were about to come to this complex to start counting shops in readiness for the planned takeover. They wanted to know the number of shops so that they would be collecting money from but we refused.
We did so because we have never failed to honour the terms of the agreement. We pay ground rent annually and sometimes we pay ahead. The government cannot say that we are not fulfilling our obligation. We decided to draw the attention of the world and the Nigerian government to the injustice being done to us. President Muhammadu Buhari may not be aware of what is happening.
We want him to know. We are also Nigerians and demand to be treated fairly. This place was not given to us freely. We paid for it and we are still paying to the federal government. I want to refer the minister to the report of the Lawal Mohammed committee. He should go back to that committee report to have an understanding of the issues. The report would guide him and make him realise that what he is about to do would amount to illegality.
In the event that the government goes ahead with its plans, what would the associations do?
I don’t think the federal government would do so knowing the consequences of giving out what it does not own. I don’t think the federal government would do such thing and I have not heard that such a thing have been done in this area. I don’t think we will be the first people they will experiment with. The edifices here are not government edifices but individual edifices. We were given a virgin land which we developed. Their plan is to concession even the areas with a valid document.
The annual ground rent for ASPAMDA is N7 million and we have been paying. Other people have their own agreement. There is a clause that allows for a certain percentage increment of the ground rent but there has never been a need to apply it.
The clause has nothing to do with what is going on. If what they want is an increment of the ground rent based on the clause, it is not a big deal for us. In summary, what we are saying is that we are the owners of these structures and we built them on the land that was leased to us by the government. The Trade Fair Management Board is our manager.