By C Don Adinuba
1. The Anambra State government received an intelligence report in late 2018 that there were a number of properties in prime locations in Enugu which were given to Anambra State following the sharing of assets between Enugu and Anambra states when the two states were created out of old Anambra State on August 27, 1991, but had been allowed over the decades to rot away in Enugu, without the knowledge of the authorities. An Executive Council panel headed by the Secretary to the Anambra State Government, Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu, and assisted by the Ven. Amaechi Okwuosa, a lawyer, who is the Managing Director of the Awka Capital Territory Development Authority, was set up to investigate the report.
2. The panel’s discoveries were startling: (a) The report was credible; (b) There was no record whatsoever known to the government about any of the properties; (c) The Anambra State government has not derived any value whatsoever from the properties by letting them out or by using them as guest houses or offices since 1991; (d) The existence of only one of these properties was known to a handful of persons in various administrations preceding this one but they kept it to themselves; (e) These former government officials had an agenda not compatible with the interest of the people of Anambra State; and (f) These individuals have been keen to either sell the properties surreptitiously and pocket the proceeds or convert the properties to their personal assets when the existence of these huge properties in prime areas has faded from the public consciousness.
3. The Anambra State Government consequently hired the services of a firm with a record of property recovery to quietly identify these properties, take possession of them, eject the illegal occupiers and hand them over to the true owner. Five of such properties have been recovered fully, though there are indications that there could be other landed properties.
4. Given that these assets in Enugu, which include a 7-acre land in Independence Layout, would yield far greater value to Anambra State if there was a proper asset swap, the proposed sale was advertised in two national newspapers on January 3, 2021. Though Governor Willie Obiano was to suspend the decision to sell off the properties, the advertisement in national media was in line with the principles of transparency, accountability and due process. A less transparent government would have furtively sold the properties on sweetheart terms.
5. It is not surprising that Anambra is one of the states proclaimed by the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation on January 13, 2021, a leading practitioner of transparency and accountability under the World Bank-assisted States Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability (SFTAS) programme. Nor is it surprising that BudgIT, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, last August 19 declared petroleum-rich Rivers and Anambra the two states with the best fiscal responsibility index in Nigeria.
6. However, some unscrupulous elements whose secret and dark agenda over the decades has been uncovered have now launched a ferocious but failed de-marketing war against Anambra State to discredit it in the public imagination, so that it would be compelled to abandon the asset recovery. They have recruited in their dirty war not just a section of the social media but also members of a political party with a notorious history of violence, mayhem, election rigging and buccaneering in Anambra State.
7. This is an obvious case of corruption fighting back with viciousness. As part of the strategy of mind poisoning, the enemies of the people of Anambra State have even gone as far as sponsoring reports on the social media that Gov. Willie Obiano is infected with COVID-19, together with “at least 70 per cent of his Executive Council members’’. All they want is to cause panic all over the state, so that they could set their sights on the properties again.
8. Not done, the same people have been sponsoring reports on the social media that the Anambra State government has already sold the Anambra House in Lagos. Of course, only persons grossly deficient in personal integrity could make such an allegation.
9. They have also alleged the government has begun the sale of the Commissioners Quarters in Awka at N25m per compound. True, there has been a move to alienate the Commissioners Quarters at N45m, and not N25m, per compound. This valuation was reached based on the comparative market value of land in the area and environs where the Commissioners Quarters is located as well as the fact that the government allocates land at 10m for 1,000 square metres in similar locations. As each of the compounds at the Commissioners Quarters measures 3,000 square metres, the value has been computed at N30m per compound. Therefore, the value is N30m per compound. In addition, an upper value of N15m has been determined to cover the total value of old four-bedroom bungalow of poor finishing and two-room servants quarters, bringing the total valuation to N45m.
10. The move to dispose of the plots of land and the houses on them, though now suspended by the Governor, was informed by the desire to develop more befitting accommodations for its commissioners and other top political appointees. The envisaged Commissioners Quarters would be fully funded by the proceeds from the sale of the old Commissioners Quarters.
11. It is important to stress that the existing Commissioners Quarters has not adequately served the purpose for which it was acquired. Only seven out of the 20 compounds are occupied by commissioners in the present administration. The rest are occupied by officials of the Immigration Service, Nigeria Correctional Service, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency as well as National Youth Service Corps. What is more, during the EndSARS riots last October, the area came under attack owing to its location in a part of the state capital inhabited by many university students.
12. The intention for the property alienation was to use the proceeds from the sale of the 20 compounds and one undeveloped plot of 3,000 square metres to build modern multi-family buildings which should serve as official residences of commissioners and other top political appointees in a more secure location in another part of the state capital.
13. Though a committee set up by the government to look into more efficient use of the Commissioners Quarters recommended the alienation of the place in line with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led Federal Government policy under President Olusegun Obasanjo, Gov. Willie Obiano decided toward the end of last year to stay action on it. Some elements nevertheless have mischievously been intoning the news that the governor wants to give out the Commissioners Quarters at below the market value to members of his administration.
14. It is a supreme irony that the elements championing this disinformation are the very people who were given large swaths of government lands free of charge in choice parts of Awka by the immediate previous administration in which they served as commissioners and special advisers. Chinua Achebe, the eternal raconteur, novelist, thinker, seer, social critic and Anambra’s gift to the world, has said it all: our greatest tragedy as a nation is the practice of those who only last night stole the walking stick of a blind person, but are now on the altar pontificating on morals!
15. Let us say for the umpteenth time that corruption is fighting back in Anambra State, and it is doing so with acute viciousness. It will fail. (MOI)
Mr C Don Adinuba is currently Anambra State, Commissioner for Information & Public Enlightenment