With the insistence of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) that it would go ahead with the Federal Government’s re-concession plans for the Lagos International Trade Fair Complex, stakeholders, analysts and commentators have urged the federal government to approach the plan with caution.
Thousands of traders at the Lagos International Trade Fair Complex recently protested what they called secret moves by the BPE to give out the complex, a facility they said they have so far invested more than N70 billion in, to a concessionaire.
With placards that read: “BPE stay off the trading complex;” “We are in court, why not wait for legal decisions?” and “We say no to the re-concession that will impoverish us,” among others, the traders vehemently urged the BPE to discontinue the move. They insisted that the action was in bad faith.
Chief Daniel Oforkansi, president, Auto Spare Parts and Machinery Dealers’ Association (ASPAMDA), who spoke on behalf of stakeholders, said: “Recently, the representatives of government invited us to a meeting at the Golden Tulip, FESTAC, telling us that the train had left the station since and whether or not we liked it, the complex would be given out to a concessionaire. They said we should get on board or be left behind.”
Chief Oforkansi, who is also the chairman of all the market associations at the complex, vowed that the traders would resist the move legally.
“But we are saying such action cannot be possible. We put our investment to develop the complex and we are not going to give it up to any concessionaire. We will appreciate it if the minister himself could see the investment and plight of over 180,000 traders earning their living from here.
“We will do everything we can to protect this place. If government is interested in giving out the concession, it can do that with its motel and other free land in the complex,” Oforkansi said.
The traders also stated that their leasehold was for 99 years; that is, 50 years in the first instance and 49 years thereafter. According to Mr. Ages Okeke, ASPAMDA’s pioneer president, the traders have barely spent 20 years.
However, BPE declared in a statement issued by its head of public communications, Amina Tukur Othman, that the federal government does not intend to sell the Lagos International Trade Fair Complex (LITFC). The statement said the government would rather do a concession of the facility through a competitive transaction process. The statement issued on Tuesday March 19, in reaction to the protest, further said: “It is for this reason that the government has procured the services of Messrs Feedback Infrastructure Services to advise on the way forward for the proposed concession. It is apt to inform the public that the bureau, on Friday, March 1, 2019, met with the entire traders’ associations to explain the essence of the planned concession.”
The BPE further reminded the public that on “August 23, 2017, it placed a caveat emptor in some national newspapers in the country wherein it stated that the lease agreement that was hitherto executed by the Federal Government in favour of Aulic Nigeria Limited had been validly terminated and possession reverted to the federal government with effect from August 23, 2017.
With that, members of the public were warned that “any purported allotment, buying, selling, letting, leasing, charging, and subdivision, construction upon or dealings in connection with the said property and parcels of land in any other manner howsoever without the written permission of the FGN represented by the BPE is unlawful, illegal, fraudulent and amounts to trespass.”
According to the BPE, any persons interfering with the said parcels of land “stand to lose their money as the FGN, through the BPE, will neither honour agreements, contracts or arrangements entered into with persons purporting to have authority to transact the property and or parcels of land whether in the manner described or in any other manner whatsoever nor will it reimburse any monies paid in respect of such transaction.”
It then reiterated its willingness to collaborate with all stakeholders to ensure a smooth and successful completion of the transaction, and appealed for cooperation from them.
But counsel to the traders, Kehinde Yekeen, said the confrontational and unrelenting position of BPE was the crux of the matter. He said the BPE took action without regard to the rule of law and sanctity of the judicial process. He explained that the parties in the matter were already in court in suit FHC/L/CS/1870/18 ASPMDA& 8ORS V AGF&7 ORS.
He reiterated the need for the government agency to retrace its steps in a letter he addressed to the executive director, Lagos International Trade Fair Management Board.
Part of the letter reads: “In spite of the pendency of the suit referred and by necessary implication, the need to stay action regarding the subject whilst the matter yet pends before a court of competent jurisdiction, your office has blatantly refused to abate action in this regard. It is needless to state the fact that your office is indeed aware of the pendency of this suit as service has since been duly effected on you, your action ever since therefore leaves much to be desired.”
Reacting to the altercation between BPE and the traders, Mr. Oscar Onwudiwe, a lawyer, wondered why government policies and actions were full of double-speak and uncertainty. In his words, government had been taking one step forward and three steps backward.
His words: “The same government that gave the unbuilt/undeveloped portions of the complex to the traders on lease is now coming up again with spurious re-concession agenda that is yet to acknowledge the presence of these traders going by the response of BPE to the traders’ protest recently.
“What exactly is government trying to communicate to the public? That a lease agreement duly entered into has no force of law any longer? These traders have occupied the place for more than 20 years and made huge investments worth more than N70 billion, turning the place to an international business point,” Onwudiwe said
Onwudiwe, who is also the president of Aka Ikenga, the professional wing of Ohanaeze, said this position did not tell well of government to both local and foreign investors.
“The PMB government has embarked on a lot of road shows, both local and international, to get investors to invest in this economy. Does it not occur to his ministers and advisers that would-be investors locally and internationally consider government relationships with existing investors before venturing to play in any economy?
“I don’t want to bring ethnic toga to this matter, but the current frenzy and negative obsession against anything Igbo will not help the country. The Igbo, going by historical facts, are about the only tribe that has demonstrated unalloyed faith in one Nigeria. Every part of Nigeria is home to Igbo, not by words but by action. And this positive attitude has contributed immensely to economic growth and development of Nigeria. My sincere appeal to government is to tread softly and apply due process and good faith as it goes about this journey to avoid worsening our present economic challenges,” Onwudiwe said.