By Kenneth Jukpor
As the Federal Government’s announced that it has revoked the Lagos Trade Fair complex concession through the National Council on Privatization (NCP), one begins to wonder why such cases which amount to flouting of the law should thrive in Nigeria (a country which is practicing democratic system of governance).
Why should the government and its agencies not respect the law? Why would they not respect legitimate agreements entered by their predecessors? Those who are enemies of the government can be arrested and even withheld after the court has said release them, while those who are allies to the government continue to enjoy liberty despite glaring cases of corruption.
Isn’t this a cynical system of government which has become the bane of governance in developing nations? There is no reason the government shouldn’t deliver on the promises they made to concessionaires few years after, let alone revoke the concession without any explanation. There is no reason the government should renege on agreements carried out legitimately without sufficiently explaining the rationale.
In reaction to the announced revocation of Trade Fair Complex concession, the Chairman of Aulic Group (the concessionaires), Prof Nick Ezeh said, “the purported cancellation of Lagos International Trade Fair Complex Concession cannot be true and valid. There is a subsisting preservative order of the Federal High Court Abuja in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/382/13 of 18/11/2014 directing NCP, Bureau of Public Enterprise, Lagos International Trade Fair Complex Management Board, Attorney General of the Federation and others to maintain status quo. The matter is still pending before the court”.
However, it is saddening that the Federal Government as well as some state governments have become so reckless that they feel, “we are the government, nobody can question us or fight us, nobody can arrest us and we can clamp down on everyone” Prof. Fidelis Oditah (a Senior Advocate of Nigeria) posits. According to the legal veteran this is responsible for disrupting the Nigerian economic system. “While other countries are trying to be competitive to attract and encourage investors to come in; we are giving the investors in Nigeria an attitude of indifference. The Nigerian government is saying, “We don’t care”; what happens when we say we don’t care? The cargo goes elsewhere to nation’s where the government cares and the Nigerian masses suffer grossly” he says.
Recall that the terminal operators of the Calabar ports have lamented that the factors that led to the throughput projections have not been provided more than 10 years after the concession
The Chief Operating Officer of Ecomarine Terminals (Operators of Terminal B in Calabar), Mr. Dayo Balogun says; “Since the concession in 2007, the first thing we did in Calabar was to invest massively in brand new cargo handling equipment because we recognized the need to improve on the facilities at that time to carter for more traffic following the dredging, but the agreement we signed says that NPA must maintain a channel of 9.4meters but 10 years after, the draft of the channel is 6.4meters and some of those equipment we bought haven’t lifted a single container since 2007”, he said.
According to Mr. Dayo Balogun, the major problem in the port sector has been the lack of political will to do what is right on the part of government regulatory agencies.
As disappointing as this may be, it gets even worse for a boat operator. Let’s visit the case of Mr. Gani Balogun, the Managing Director of Tarzan Marine Enterprises.
In 2006, Tarzan Marine Enterprise got a 25-year concession agreement from Lagos State as an operator of Badore and Ijede jetties. Ten years later, the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) announces that it has evicted Tarzan Marine from Badore and Ijede jetties.
Narrating the experience, an aggrieved Balogun says, “It looks like LASWA is trying to pave way for other investors to come in. If that is the motive then trying to push me out of business is not fair. I have been in this business for over 30years and I can confidently say “if my jetty is not the best, then it is one of the best in the state and passengers can attest to this. I have all my documents right here (he opens files and begins to show each document). Is LASWA saying I went to their office to remove their documents? It’s a big question that must be asked. If they can’t verify it in their office does it mean someone removed the documents?
Balogun had invested in those jetties at a time when Tinubu, the then governor, threatened to close down the Lagos State Ferry Services since the water transport system wasn’t viable.
Balogun who is also the President of Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transportation of Nigeria (ATBOWATON), showed MMS Plus all documents of his receipts as well as letters of approval he had received for the lease of Badore and Ijede jetties.
After evicting Tarzan from Badore, the next action of LASWA officials was to visit the jetty to remove all properties including vehicles that belonged to other private individuals; 21 boats, a truck, a big tipper, a Nissan jeep (used to tow boats out of the water) were taken away.
This highlights the collective failure of the government and the brassiness as various levels otherwise they would have the sanity to discuss issues if they feel the concession wasn’t done properly and negotiate rather than attack concessionaires.
The Chairman of the Trade Fair concessionaire, Aulic Nigeria Limited (ANL), Prof. Nick Ezeh has debunked the report in what he labeled “miscarriage of judicial process”, even as he expressed shock at the news (which he also found out on the media).
“My reaction is that this is democracy; impunity and abuse of law is not allowed under any democratic government, especially when we have a senior advocate as the head of affairs at the National Council on Privatization (NCP) in the person of the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo”.
Explaining the challenges the company had been facing since the concession, Prof. Nick said, “Since 2007, when we won the concession, the government has not handed over. It has been protracted. We have it in court order; records that the NCP at various times has directed that they should go and hand over the place. But the management board led by the Ministry of Trade, Investment and Commerce has refused to do that with their management board”
Speaking further, he said that the matter is before the court. “We have had 192 meetings-post concession; 42 appearances at the National Assembly; 36 court cases and we have not lost one and the outstanding matter is that there is a court order directing Federal Government and its agencies to maintain statusquo and take no step. Court order directed that the NCP is not a party to the concession agreement and should not take any unilateral action against the concession and the matter is still in court. It is very important to stress that the prevailing court order has not been revoked, it has not been withdrawn, it has not been vacated, and it is still subsisting”
He argued further on the concession withdrawal, “What they did, that is, if they actually did it, because they have not written us, they didn’t hear us, they did not invite us, is simply a unilateral decision and we are reading it on the pages of newspapers. Such things do not stand the rule of law”.
“As am talking to you, they have also employed the services of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) but we do not owe Federal Government one naira. Their last submission is that they have not handed over and they could cut out some areas, refund us what money we paid for the entire trade-fair complex, but they have not done that. If they do, then we will sit down and recompute the cost of the concession and it is either we pay them or they refund us.
He expressed worry, saying “All these have not been done and they went ahead unilaterally abusing the rule of law and process in announcing the revocation of the concession and that is the crux of the matter”.
Meanwhile, he revealed the Court Order granted by Justice AFA Ademola of an Abuja Federal High Court, with reference number, FHC/ABJ/CS/382/13., the Court ruled that “Parties are hereby ordered to maintain statusquo pending the hearing and determination of application filed in this suit,”.
Aulic Order 2ANL had sued Lagos Trade Fair Management Board, NCP, BPE, Ministry of Trade, Investment and Commerce, both ministers, that is, the minister of state and the AGF on May 30, 2013. The case is yet to be decided before the pronouncement of revocation of the concession by the NCP.
The National Council on Privatization, which is chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, revealed in a press release that it had approved the immediate revocation of the concession of the Lagos International Trade Fair Complex.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Laolu Akande, said this in a statement on Monday, last week, noting that the trade fair complex was in 2008 given to Aulic Nigeria Limited on concession, a move that had elicited mixed reactions from several trade groups.
Also speaking, the Aulic’s legal counsel, Mr. Dan Udeh said the revocation order was a farce as the matter was still pending before the court. “We will do everything within the law to ensure that we get justice since the matter is still in court. We want to believe that the federal government acted out of ignorance and this is what we will prove before the court,” he said.
He said that the federal government has fired the first bullet of a pending war against Ndigbo, and added that the concessionaire would be taking the matter to the International Court of Commerce, where he hopes to get justice.
National president of Igbo Youth Congress, Mr. Jerry Ugwu, has said that the revocation of the Lagos Trade Fair Complex concession to Aulic Nigeria Limited by the federal government amounts to disobedience of court order.
Also speaking on the matter, Ezeigbo of Ojo, Pat Eneh, said it was another move to completely annihilate the Igbo.
“We will not fold our hands and allow this kind of thing to happen because the federal government is aware that the case is in court. There is a substantive order in court and government cannot say it was not aware of it. They acted in ignorance and nobody is above the law. I know this it is happening because the concessionaire is an Igbo man. This is another strategy to sabotage and annihilate the Igbo. They said we can’t have Biafra and now, they want to destroy our means of livelihood.”
On his part, Chairman of BBA Board of Trustees, Trade Fair Complex, Okey Ezeibe, said the revocation did not affect traders in Balogun and the order affected only the areas that belong to the Aulic Nigeria Limited.
Asked whether this is not a subtle move by the federal government to take over the entire place, he replied: “It is not possible. We got there on lease, ahead of Aulic, and, we pay our dues regularly, in advance.
“The Federal Government cannot revoke our portion since we have not breached the agreement and understanding.”
In his contribution, President of BBA Shopping Mall at the Trade Fair, Alex Obi-Odunukwe admonished members of the mall to “be calm” and go about their normal business “without any fear”. Obi-Odunukwe added that they enjoy mutual relationship with the federal government and Trade Fair Management Board.
The Nigerian business environment has become so challenging that people have to ensure that they are close to the government to bribe and stay close to the corridor of power; but that shouldn’t be the situation. People should be able to go about their businesses legitimately without fear of victimization.
However, the press statement was so terse that it did not adduce reasons for the revocation, raising the fear that the issue was never discussed at the NCP meeting, and that some people have vested interest in the complex. The reason could not have been on breach of agreement on the part of ANL which has been calling on the government to adhere to the rules of the concession agreement. There is a development plan with which the concession was won, and ANL has been developing the complex according to plan. At the last count, it has established an export hub in line the government’s export policy. Some automobile companies are coming to cite auto plants in the complex. Can NCP make a clarification on this announcement?
The Public Private Partnership(PPP) business models in Nigeria are fraught with government’s breach of contract terms, all over. The port concessionaires are in court over numerous breaches against the government, Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited(BASL) is equally in court with the government over breach of contract, yet the Federal Government is still seeking investors when it seems to lack business integrity. Recall that the Virgin Group owned by the UK born business guru, Richard Branson has left Nigeria as a foreign investor over corruption and breach of contract in the aviation sector.
It has since been proven that any key investment in Nigeria without the involvement of some ‘money bags’ is a ruse and must be revoked or cancelled to have their fronts as promoters while they operate from behind with stolen funds from the government treasury.
The coming of President Mohammed Buhari as President spewed so much hope for a change but it does seems like businesses and the economy have been under bondage with the rule of law and fundamental human right on suspension. The question most foreigners and Nigerians now ask is: Is superior reason or emotion the compass of this government? If this travesty of justice is allowed to gain ground, then this government is finished locally and internationally because a concrete precedence has been created and it could be the turn of any investor or concessionaire tomorrow. They would have been no need spending fortunes abroad on Road Shows to attract investors whose investments are not secured when agreements are not kept.
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