She is a Lagos-born lawyer and Special Assistant, Legal and Multilaterals to the FCT Minister. In this interview with Anayochukwu Agbo, general editor; Chinenye Eseke, reporter and Adewale Adelola, senior photographer, Bimbola Salu-Hundeyin, discusses the legal and policy aspects of the land swap initiative in Abuja
As the SA Legal and Multilaterals to the FCT Minister, what exactly does your job entail?
It is legal and multilateral. So I have two caps that I wear. The legal is that I give legal opinions to the Minister on a lot of matters, particularly land matters because as you are aware in the FCT we have more of land matters especially in court. Ninety per cent of our litigation matters are land-related. I also give opinion on diplomatic matters. That is the multilateral aspect. For example, when some embassies write to us through the ministry of foreign affairs that they have given us land in their country free of charge and they expect the principle of reciprocity in diplomatic world to apply. In such a situation, I would take the necessary step to confirm; if it is so and so we can also treat them the same way they have treated us.
Thirdly, he is also the governor of the FCT because the constitution says the FCT is a state and is like a state. So he wears three caps and the global practice in the diplomatic world is when diplomats come into countries, they usually stay oftentimes in the capital cities and they should pay courtesy visits on the governor. So he has to receive them to assure them of their welfare and when they have problems of land or legal issues they would come in and then due to our relationship with them and the work the Minister has been doing we have been largely appreciated by most of the embassies.
On the land swap policy what was your legal opinion to the Minister?
I would first of all like to explain what land swap means in simple terms. It simply means land for infrastructure swap model. When we hear of that all it means is ‘Mr A’, who is a private person says I have got money, I have got expertise, I have got engineers, I have got architects, I have got estate surveyors, I have got marketers and I want to invest in Abuja. I need the profit but I cannot afford to buy the land because my financial resources will be depleted by the time I pay so much for land. And you know on our side we have a problem of infrastructure deficit, we have housing deficit, and budgetary allocations have never been enough. There is no state that can survive only on budgetary allocation; especially the Federal Capital Territory that is growing in leaps and bounds. By the calculation of the founders of the FCT by this year we were supposed to only have just about maybe a million people but I tell you we have about five million or six million. People come in from other states everybody believes Abuja is where you can make money and all that so we are now burdened with infrastructure deficit and we do not have enough money as a state to carry it out on our own.
This is where the minister’s ingenuity comes in. Land swap shows the Minister’s ingenuity. Because he wants to transform Abuja in accordance to Mr. President’s transformation agenda we had to think of a transformational policy that could help and that is how the land swap came in. We had to let the Minister know first of all the legal framework because if it does not stand on proper legal framework investors would be scared to bring in their money.
Jobs are being created and I must let you know that this has also attracted foreign direct investment, FDI. The beauty of the FDI is that all the FDIs that we have on ground have Nigerian partners. It is not like total strangers coming into our land to take benefit. So we have Nigerians benefitting. And because of the nature of land swap you will need artisans, there is skills acquisition, so it is a win-win; everybody wins. People make money, people have been changed, employments are being generated, the economy is improving and the transformation agenda is on course.
We understand there is a legal draft already and investors are looking at it. What are the details of this draft?
That is a bulky thing; the details are much. For every agreement for you to move on like I said there needs to be a proper legal framework. The best policy can become really bad so we decided the agreement takes care of each party’s liabilities, responsibilities and duties. It also takes care of the community because you know the land belongs to certain people and we know that they must be paid compensation. So it takes care of their compensation, it takes care of their resettlemen; it takes care of even proper structures. We are not leaving that out. We also have provisions to ensure that what they are building is what it should be. We do not want any investor after taking our land; after taking out the communities to just do anything. So the agreement takes care of everything that could from a human perspective become a problem or a hindrance to the success of the land swap. Do not forget that the land swap is not just for this season. Government itself will continue. It is a legacy the minister would leave behind for successive government and we want to ensure that as much as possible we do not have issues that will forestall its success.
We also have external solicitors as consultants because, you know, in law nobody is a custodian of the law. So what we do is that the legal department has a committee. We also liaise with other committees that are relevant like the financial negotiation committee. We also have that which the economic department does. We also have the larger house. We have the EFCC chairman. The resettlement and compensation department or committee tells us what they expect. Each person comes up with what they expect and as long as we put flesh to it and we also talk with the investors to be sure that we are not putting up a plan before the investors that would be impossible to execute. We want to make sure that everything we are doing is possible and it is done according to timelines.
Apart from trying to provide infrastructure what percentage really accrues to the FCT in terms of returns on investment?
What we did initially was 60:40; 60 for the investors, 40 for us. Do not forget that the investors build the entire infrastructure. The investor does everything but we give the land as our equity but we also work with them from engineering department. We make sure that they are well supervised. The plans, the surveys are also being supervised. They work on them jointly but we have also found out that where it might not be that convenient they are willing to shift. What we just want is a workable position for all the parties for the economy to move forward.
If you are an investor, you know governments come and go what safeguards do you have in the agreement to assure these investors that if Bala Mohammed for instance quits that their investments are guaranteed?
That is why we are not giving them leasehold. We are actually giving them a proprietary interest in the land to protect us, the government and the people that own the land. It is also done by instalments. If the investor gets to a certain level of their proprietary interest, we give you a certain level. We want to be sure you are performing. We do not just give the C of O of a whole land of a community to you and say, “Go on and build.” We have timelines and what you should do. When you get there we give you certain percentage when you get there we give you another percentage.
For the benefit of a layman, what is the difference between leasehold and a proprietary interest?
Previous administration especially under El-Rufai because of the deficit in infrastructure concerning housing in FCT they had what they called the Accelerated Development Lease. Under that what they do is give you six months or a maximum of two years to build. When you construct and build, then the C of O is given to you at a particular level like if you get to the foundation level the development lease agreement now records the name. That is what we call the development lease agreement it is a lease. You never have the interest until you get to a certain level. With that leasehold it is different; your document is not bankable. With the proprietary interest your document is bankable. And then it has an interest; you have an interest in it.
Now what are the challenges because we understand from some of the investors that there are a few challenges; from your own side of the divide what are the challenges you are trying to sort out?
I think the first challenge we have is the community dwellers themselves. But the beauty of it I must be honest with you is that the Minister has been able to handle it in such a beautiful manner that they are happy with us. We all know that change is not that easy.
Are there safeguards or legal framework that you are going to put in place so as to make whatever you decide to sell to the publics affordable?
That question is not just legal it is also policy. I think that is something that we would try and look at from the policy angle because everything is not legal when you are dealing with human beings. We want to strike a balance between making the people happy, ensuring investors’ profits and that the government delivers on its transformation agenda. This is very important to this administration.
What do you think of Bala Mohammed?
Whaoh! He is a powerful orator. When we went to Caracas, the government of Caracas had requested that we go into training agreement with them. Actually that was the first training agreement we signed and we had to do it in Caracas. When we were in Caracas the ambassador came to my minister in the hotel and said, “Minister I would like to take you out round Caracas.” At that time we were thinking of building the boulevard you know it is still on and the minister said, “SA legal, you would come with us.” We went round in the night. And you know the Minister was also thinking of Abuja having nightlife. That was how the boulevard concept came in because with the boulevard you can have nightlife. So we went round, he parked somewhere and we went round and we walked round and walked round and the minister was asking questions and all that. I was just following, looking and when we got to the hotel. The hotel, like most hotels like the Hilton Hotel you know the gate is usually far from the hotel itself the minister told the man, “Do not take us in.” As soon as the man left I have never seen such despair in a human being. My minister sat right on the flowerbed and said, “Look, this is what I want for Abuja. I want Abuja to be like this.” I saw passion. I saw untold pains of a leader that wants the best for his people. I could only compare the passion I saw in my minister with the passion of a mother for his sick child. I saw in him a man that believes that he needs a lot of healing for his city. He believes that every programme he takes is a healing balm that would make the people/city healthier economically, socially and otherwise. He is a passionate leader. You can say anything about him but you cannot take that away from him. Bala Mohammed is a passionate leader and he loves FCT and the residents.Follow Us on Social Media