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The Absurdity And Theatrics In Trade Fair Complex Concession Agreement Revocation

The Absurdity And Theatre In Trade Fair Complex Concession Agreement Revocation

Lagos International Tradefair Complex

 By Julius Okechukwu, Ojo, Lagos
 
To ascertain the propriety or otherwise of the purported revocation of the Lagos International Trade Fair Complex (LITFC) concession agreement with Aulic Nigeria Limited will require a dispassionate look at the whole arrangement from the very beginning. In 2007 I was relieved when it was announced that the old management of the LITFC who mismanaged the affairs of the complex was booted out and management handed over to Aulic Nigeria Limited who had emerged through a competitive bid supervised by the Bureau for Public Enterprise (BPE). Thereafter, we were told that the traders operating in the complex to which I am one of them do not want to work with Aulic and the ding dong began. The pertinent questions here are: who are the traders to tell the government whom they did not want to work with? And if the traders did not have official backing, do you think they would have the effrontery to tell the government that they do not Aulic? This is certainly the crux of the matter that the government must examine critically.

Clearly, the reasons for the behavior of the traders are obvious. In the first place, the leadership of the traders are profiting from the phantom war against Aulic. Every now and then, they would collect money from every shop owner in the premises for the purpose of pursuing litigations against Aulic and for settling people in high places in Abuja in order to cancel the concession to Aulic whom we were told is an enemy who has come to take our shops from us. The second reason stemmed from the fact that some of the market executives did not want to “bow” or so it seems to Mr. Aulic who happen to be one of them in the past before launching out overseas. The third reason is associated with the entrenched interest of the old Trade Fair Management Board who felt the concession would rob them of their illicit deals with the leadership of the traders. These are the people beating the drums the traders in the complex are dancing. They have proposed the excision of the traders’ areas from the concession so that they can form a consortium leadership of the traders to manage it. This is akin to frustrating a government programme and it is pure economic sabotage.

Although I am not absolving the government of blame in the whole saga, but I believed that the government was misled into making the revocation decision. I find most of the allegations against Aulic farcical. The government has alleged that Aulic has no standard management team in place and that its corporate governance standard is very weak. If this is true how come Aulic is able to attract the type of investment that is evident in the complex? You will recall that the government insincerity and foot dragging has been a serious set-back for Aulic by frustrating some of his partners from Ukraine who were to build an Independent Power Plant (IPP) in the premises. And if Aulic has no standard management team, is there no way to advise them to act accordingly? The investments Aulic brought in the premises are there for all to see. The LITFC is now an economic hub in Lagos. People from the neighboring countries come there for business. Among other things, there is a licensed container terminal for clearing of goods in the complex; an initiative that is designed to ease business in the complex and help decongest the Apapa Wharf expressway. Aulic too, as part of its social responsibility has taken steps to help resettle some traders that were affected by the government urban renewal programme; something he should be commended for but unfortunately, it is being used to accused the company of breach.

If there was any breach from Aulic as alleged by the government, it is because the government started the entire process in a breach. By not properly handing the complex over to Aulic as contained in the concession agreement signed in 2007, the government has erred and ipso facto has no grounds to accuse Aulic until the right thing is done. In the past ten years, who has been collecting the rents from the traders? It is certainly not Aulic. And if the government has been collecting it, is it the proper thing to do? The government is supposed to give its private sector partners the necessary incentives to operate in order to make the privatization initiative work. It is not to frustrate its development partners.

Now the government has advertised for another round of bid. I bet no genuine investor would bid except of course, the companies where these traders’ executives, the members of the old management of the complex and their fronts have vested interests and perhaps the LCCI who had tactically boycotted the complex since the coming of Aulic.

Clearly, it is an act of impunity and official highhandedness for government to breach an agreement it duly entered into and then unilaterally pronounce judgment without due diligence and without a thought to the consequences of that decision and especially when the said issue is before the court of law. Available information indicates that there are many court cases pertaining to the troubled concession and Aulic has won all. Therefore, it is expected that the government adhere to the court judgments now that we are in a democratic regime and in a government that has promised change to the people. Another look at the controversial decision by the authorities certainly will portray the government in good light.

Therefore, I advise the government to revert to status quo until all matters relating to the concession agreement are trashed out exhaustively. The Federal Government should rescind the revocation decision in the interest of peace and justice and direct the recalcitrant traders to comply with the concession arrangement and all those found culpable sanctioned accordingly. The government anti-graft agencies should launch an investigation into this. Also, I enjoin the National Assembly to act decisively to avert miscarriage of justice.

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