Okwe Obi, Abuja
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development under immidiate past minister Audu Ogbeh, spent a whopping N9 billion to acquire an 8-storey building that would now require another N4 billion to renovate what is expected to be its headquarters.
This is even as the former minister, Audu Ogbeh faulted the amount, saying it was acquired for N7 billion, and denied knowledge of any cracks that would gulp additional N4billion.In a telephone interview, Ogbeh said: “The Ministry of Agriculture, since 1982 has never had an office in Abuja.
“We were squatting in a block given by Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) which is hopelessly inadequate. The ministry was spending averagely N400 million yearly on rentals in Abuja.
“So, we were looking for a building to buy. A plot of land meant for our ministry was a source of dispute between two First Ladies. We found a building at Central Business District on Nnamdi Azikiwe Road. And we called the Ministry of Works to inspect it and help us get a fair price for it.
“So, they inspected it and agreed that the offer made by the seller for N7 billion was adequate. So, we took it to the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and they approved the price and said it was reasonable. It’s an 8-storey building which is large enough to accommodate all our departments and save us the annual expenditure of spending N400 million per year.
“We then, took a memo to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and it was approved. You can check with the permanent secretary now because if it was defective at the time we inspected it, the Ministry of Works would have told us .
“I do not know about the crack, quite frankly. This was done about two months before we handed over. The ministry of works had to check it because it is the only expert who can certify a building before anybody can buy. So, if there is any crack, I am not aware. And I doubt it. But I do not know what has develop since we left.
“I think we bought the building from Efab Company. Please find out because I cannot remember the full name of the company. But the permanent secretary will tell you.”
The 8-storey building, located at the Central Business District, in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, is on Azikiwe Street, Central Business District, Abuja .
The building, Daily Sun gathered, was acquired at the twilight of Ogbeh’s tenure.
Several sources in some sensitive departments in the ministry confirmed to Daily Sun that the building has serious crack, broken ceilings, pipes that would require additional N4 billion to repair.
When Daily Sun sought the reaction of the Director, General Services, Udu-Ejembi Mary, who is in charge of public property, she admitted that the ministry actually bought the building but faulted the purchase figure.
Rather, she directed that a formal letter be addressed to the Permanent Secretary, Dr. Mohammed Bello Umar, “who will minute on it” to her before she could speak any further on the matter…?This is not the right place to come for verification…If you go ahead to publish this story, without getting clarification from the ministry, whatever comes out of it, then…”
When contacted on the matter, the ministry’s Director of Information, Mohammed Nakorji, equally declined to speak on the matter.
However, another senior director, who declined to be named, as he was not authorised to speak on the matter, provided more insight. He said the ministry ought to have relocated to what he described as “our headquarters but we are stuck where we are.
“Before the building was purchased for N9 billion, some staff met and pleaded with Chief Ogbeh not to buy the building because of the cracks they saw. But, he went ahead with the project anyway; now, we cannot pack in because we were told that it would require additional N4 billion for the crack to be fixed.”
Another senior staff in an agency under the ministry’s supervision added: “As it is, where we are is no more conducive. The building is decaying for lack of repairs. The toilets are bad, while some sections do not have light. If you check round, most of us do not have seats and it is causing problems for us. We would have relocated last month, if not for the problem.”