By Omeiza Ajayi
Emerging evidence has shown that the purchase of a N7 billion building for the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, over which a former Permanent Secretary, Dr. Mohammed Bello, was issued a query, was approved by the Federal Executive Council, FEC.
In an April 9, 2019 letter sighted by Vanguard‘s correspondent and signed by Deacon T. O. Onaeko, the Director, Lands and Housing Development in the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, the then Minister, Babatunde Fashola, had written to his counterpart in the Ministry of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, disclosing that the said building had been inspected and valued.
The letter read: “Further to your letter Ref. No. AGR.1201/Vol.1/13 of 13th March, 2019, on the above subject, I am to inform you that the property has been inspected and valued. I am to convey the Honourable Minister’s approval of a capital value of (seven billion, two hundred million Naira only) for the property.
“The approval is purely for valuation purposes only. However, this is to further inform you that you should seek and secure the approval of Mr. President before any planned acquisition.
“The property is a 10-floor office complex on a 3,754.90m2 plot of land and identified as Plot 1062, Central Business District, Abuja.
“This approval is subject to the following conditions: that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development confirms the genuineness of the vendor’s title before conclusion of the purchase transactions; and that the development is not in contravention of any Town Planning Laws/Regulations.”
The Ministry of Agriculture consequently wrote the Federal Capital Development Authority, FCDA, seeking a status verification of the property.
In a letter dated April 24, 2019, FCDA, through the Abuja Metropolitan Management Council, AMMC, verified the status of the property.
The letter was signed by the Director, Department of Development Control, Town Planner Muktar Galadima on behalf of the AMMC Coordinator.
In the letter, which was addressed to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, the AMMC said: “The Department acknowledged the receipt of your letter dated 23rd April 2019 requesting for building plan approval status of Plot No. 1062, Cadastral Zone AOO, Central Area District and to further inform you that records in the Department’s database indicate that building plan approval was granted to M.G. Properties Ltd in December 2014.”
The Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP on April 30, 2019 consequently wrote to the Agric Minister and attached a “Due Process Certificate of ‘No Objection’ for Award of Contract”.
The certificate was signed by the Director-General, BPP, Mamman Ahmadu and another official, Engr. Ishaq Yahaya.
The BPP, in the letter, said: “Please find attached Due Process Compliance Certificate of ‘No Objection’ for a contract award in favour of Messrs Efab Properties Limited with respect to the above project.
“The Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP, having examined your request and all the documents forwarded, confirms that the project has satisfied all due process requirements for issuance of a Certificate of ‘No Objection’ to proceed to seek Federal Executive Council, FEC, approval for award of the contract.”
According to the Bureau, the project cost as requested was N7.2 billion which it, however, reviewed downwards to N7.075 billion, a reduction of over N124 million.
The minister complained, FEC approved
According to one of the documents, FEC received memoranda from the then Minister, Chief Audu Ogbeh, for the purchase of a “10-storey property on Plot 1062, Herbert Macaulay Way, Central Business District, Abuja, to serve as the corporate headquarters of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in favour of Messrs Efab Properties Ltd, in the sum of N7,075,746,264.59 inclusive of 5% VAT.”
The minister had complained that the ministry had, for 20 years, been operating from a single block office of three floors within the premises of the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, noting that it spends over N400 million annually in rents for some of its departments which could not be accommodated in the complex due to lack of space.
The document showed that after inputs and queries from some council members, including the President, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the then Minister of Power, Works and Housing, the Council approved the purchase of the building for the said sum.
Recall that the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Dr. Folasade Yemi-Esan, had in a query to Dr. Bello, the then Permanent Secretary, dated May 11, 2020 asked him to within 72 hours answer to allegations of buying an “uncompleted carcass” building for the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development FMARD in the sum of N7 billion.
Bello, who was also a Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Interior, is currently occupying the same position at the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology.
He was also queried, among others, of giving out seven deep drilling rigs for borehole procured at N1.3 billion to some unnamed individuals under “fraudulent arrangements”.
However, in his reply to the query dated May 14, a copy of which was obtained by Vanguard, Bello said the then Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, and FEC actually gave approval for the purchase of the building.
He described the allegations as “baseless, completely concocted, unfounded, without facts, malicious and calculated to deceive,” urging the Head of Service to “kindly note that we have been invited, interrogated and cleared by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and ICPC on this particular matter after glaring facts were presented to them.
“I will state that due process was followed to the letter in the purchase of the said building. After submission of recommendations to the Hon. Minister of Agriculture, he approved that council memo be made to that effect.
“We then sent the memo to the Secretary to Government of the Federation, who then scheduled it for Federal Executive Council, FEC, approval.
“Consequently, the Federal Executive Council approved the purchase of the building.”