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Mass Housing: A Gold Mine For Racketeers

News Introduction: 
Land racketeers are taking the advantage of absence of sound housing policy in Abuja to swindle residents of the territory. - By George Emine

It came as a relief to Okey Aguwa, a young and newly wedded journalist, when he was told by a senior colleague that Isvin Ventures Nigeria Limited, a real estate firm, was developing a mass housing estate in several choice locations in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT and other parts of the country. With the rising cost of accommodation in the nation’s capital, Okey was looking forward to owning a house instead of paying almost N400, 000 annually for his two-bedroom apartment in Kubwa, a satellite town about 30 minutes drive from the city metropolis. His hope heightened when he was told that the housing project was to be executed in line with Multilinks, a telecommunication company. 
To qualify for the scheme, Okey was told to obtain a N5, 000 form, and was given CDMA activated Multilinks handset. Okey wanted a two-bedroom semi detached bungalow at Lugbe, which goes for N4 million. Okey and his wife decided to stretch themselves to the limits financially to own two units so they could give one of the units out on rent and live in the other – respite from the troubles of Abuja landlords they thought.  
In the offer letter dated December 1, 2009 with reference number ISVIN/EMD/OL/LGE/F00, and signed by the vice chairman, Mrs. Vivian Idachaba Israel, Isvin Ventures had stated that:
1. Acceptance of this offer is by signing and returning the attached acceptance form as well as submission of bank payment teller/draft for N100, 000 processing fee not later than 14 days from the date of this letter.....
2. Down payment of 15 percent of total cost is to be made before completion of project and the balance will be spread out for the remaining period of five years, monthly, quarterly or yearly.
Some three years after, their dream of owning a house in Abuja seems only a mirage.  Having paid cumulatively the sum of N210, 000 (including N5,000 application form and N100,000for each housing unit) nothing has been done to raise their hopes.  
 “If only I had known that these people were not real, I wouldn’t have involved myself.  Each time I called or went there to see them, they told me a different story; they have not been consistent at all,” Okey lamented.
The sad story of Okey Aguwa has become an old swan song for residents of Abuja, who look forward to owning a house of their own.  
The Catholic Adoration Family of Nigeria, CAFON, a parish situated at the Police Barracks, Garki, Abuja, took off in 2006, with only about a hundred members made up of Nigerians whose hope in governance was dashed by the demolition of their houses by the then Federal Capital Territory, FCT minister, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai. When the parish announced its involvement in a mass housing scheme in Kurudu area of Abuja, not only members who had grown large in number, but other Nigerians too, jumped at the opportunity.  To them, it was hope at last as the church was now initiating moves to make them landlords in Abuja, with buildings that would never again be demolished.
 
But their hopes were soon to be dashed when a prominent member of the parish, Festus Obidozie, who had secured unalloyed trust of the congregations including the parish priest, to the point of being made a sole signatory to an account operated by the parish for the purpose of the mass housing estate, duped the church.  Before going into the mass housing project, the chaplaincy was already involved in a multi-purpose cooperative society that offers interest-free loan to genuine applicants, among other benefits. The chaplain of the Parish, Fr Raphael Fagbohun had to petition the police authorities on the matter.  Even until January this year, some persons who applied and had paid for plots were still complaining that they had not been either refunded of their money or given fresh allocations.  CAFON spokesperson, Tai Olusoccer said the church, more concerned about protecting its image, had to obtain about N200 million from other sources to pay people swindled of their money by Obidozie.  He said the payment had been going on in batches. Olusoccer disclosed that it was later gathered that Obidozie used the money to buy properties overseas. He assured that the church would not allow people’s hopes to be dashed by the actions of a few unscrupulous individuals.  But a couple of applicants for the land who spoke to this magazine said they were yet to be refunded their monies. One of the applicants said his N1.2 million was yet to be refunded while his friend’s N1.5 million was still outstanding. It was gathered that some applicants had gone to court to compel the church, Archangel Raphael’s Chaplaincy to refund them their money.   
In January this year, it was reported that two persons who applied for houses under the botched CAFON Housing Scheme, asked an Abuja High Court to order refund of their monies over breach of agreement.  Okechukwu Ogboo and Jacob John Waba filed a case against CAFON Real Estate and Construction Ltd. under the undefended lists procedure for refund of sums of N3.040 million and N1.140 million paid for a four bedroom detached duplex and a three bedroom detached bungalow respectively in Kurudu district, Abuja. They said they paid the amount under a mortgage arrangement in August 2009, which was allegedly not yet honoured as at December 2010, the agreed date.  After listening to counsels, Justice Sadiq Umar expressed surprise that a mortgage firm could solicit funds from people before procuring the land. Ogboo and Waba said they were motivated into N10 million mortgages repayable in five years at six percent interest rate following an elaborate online advertisement by CAFON about the development of various housing units styled as Vatican Garden City Estate in Kurudu, which attracted different prospective buyers. 
For Arome Samuel, he had applied for land allocation with the FCTA but after almost 10 years, no allocation had been given to him.  So when he was introduced to the mass housing scheme, he jumped at it, seeing it as the much awaited opportunity.  His was with the National Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC Cooperative Investment and Credit Society, FCT Abuja Command.  After paying the sum of N250, 000 on April 12, 2010 for his plot of land, and an additional N82, 000 supposedly for infrastructural development of the estate, nothing has been done by the developers on site.  There is still no access road or other infrastructural development going on more than two years after applicants have been made to pay the money.  The plots are situated at Ebba, Rafin Kwara and Piyanko in Nasarawa State. Samuel hopes to build a 4-bedroom duplex on his 845.27sqm of land.  He had already been issued a building plan on Plan No. 281.  All payments were made to Zenith Bank account number 617007843.
Also, the site for the NSCDC proposed estate at Gossa, along Airport Road, has been abandoned for over a year now. Those who applied for and have already made payments for land are crying foul.  One of the officers of the NSCDC, who pleaded anonymity, told this magazine that after collecting the sum of N5,000 from applicants, with others making further payments running to scores of thousands of naira, and having secured mortgage loans from the United Bank for Africa, UBA, the society is yet to account for the funds it collected.  Very reliable sources confided in this magazine that currently the NSCDC is rocked by allegations of misappropriation of funds in the mass housing scheme it embarked upon.  Top command of the agency has already waded into the matter to ensure that it does not degenerate into a big scandal.  Last year, the paramilitary outfit was even accused of selling fake plots of land to unsuspecting buyers in some sites by the FCT. 
The story is the same with the NSCDC FCT Command Christian chaplaincy.  After paying a total of N200,000 for 500sqm in February, 2011 and having received her building plan in August of the same year, Mrs. Chidinma Nwosu is yet to begin development on her supposed plot as the land in New Karshi is still inaccessible – no access roads and other no infrastructure.  Chidinma is worried because she and her husband do not hope to continue to pay rent after this year, but events prove otherwise.  Although, the terms of agreement say she and other allottees were expected to begin development three months after allocation and have up to two years to complete the project.  But up till now, they cannot commence any development on their plots as the land is still largely inaccessible.  
Pastor Taiwo, who coordinates the project, told this magazine that their machines got spoilt “so we had to suspend the process but right now we have commenced allocation and work has commenced on the site.” He claimed that they have mobilised to site to begin the construction of the access roads. “We also have the challenge of finance we are grappling with. But that is why we have not enforced any of the terms of the agreement like commencement of development not later than three months after allocation, because we know we have not been able to put the necessary infrastructure in place.  But we have commenced work now.”
 
Several organisations, government agencies, churches and other religious bodies, as well as a number of private development companies are involved in this very lucrative racketeering.  The Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG has also been fingered in this scam.  Samuel Ademola said he was introduced to the parish pastor of the RCCG in Lugbe sometime in 2010 to help him get a plot of land from the church’s mass housing scheme.  Ademola believed they were genuine because they had earlier gotten a land at Piakasa, which was already being developed.  “To be fair with them, they actually got a land and sold to people at Piakasa Village. So I started the process not knowing that they had no land for us at that time.  Every transaction and meeting was at the Resurrection Chapel of RCCG in Lugbe.  It was in September last year (2011) that they eventually got a parcel of land somewhere very far into the bush, after Trademall Estate in Lugbe.  That was when I asked for a refund. Most of other allocations are in the bush that will take many years before development could come to the area. There is no access road or provision for school, hospital or other social infrastructure that could make the estate attractive. “Out of N700, 000 I paid since 2010, I have been refunded only N200, 000 and that was just last month (March, 2012) while they promised to pay the remaining later.  It has actually been like hell getting a refund; I applied for it since December last year but until now all I have been refunded is N200, 000,” Ademola said.
Even Nigerians in the Diaspora are not left out in this racketeering.  In 2010, the Nigerians in Diaspora asked the Abuja Geophysical Information Service, AGIS, the FCT Minister, President Goodluck Jonathan and Abike Dabiri, a member of the House of Representatives, who chairs the Diaspora Committee, of what happened to the plots of land allocated to them at the Diaspora Village at Pyakasa, Abuja. Many Nigerians abroad, who got those plots with the intention to begin development, were left in a tenterhook as their hard earned monies, amounting to about $400 per each applicant was hanging. The total contribution by Nigerians in Diaspora amounted to about $135,000.  They were unsure of applications that were successful and those that were not as AGIS could neither deliver nor update them with the position of things.  
When he appeared at the Nigerian Newsworld/Nigerian Pilot Leadership Forum last January, the minister of the territory, Senator Bala Mohammed confirmed the fact that the mass housing scheme had become a huge racketeering.  “The mass housing development is filled with a lot of fraud. We started an accelerated development programme about two years ago but we discovered that those close to the administration were given, but because they lack the capacity, they sold them. I have made sure that henceforth, those getting mass housing allocation must be people who have a business plan and financial capacity, who can develop them for mass housing. But essentially, our worry is that the whole area of mass housing has not been provided with primary infrastructure because the land we give free; they now sell to the masses making up to N500 million per allocation when the government has not had anything. This is not fair to government; so we now make sure those who get the allocation pay a certain premium that will not impede on their capacity to develop. 
“Government has in the past given land free for mass housing because of the need to provide affordable housing; affordable in the sense that right from the registration of the land, you are not paying anything. At the end of the day, we will achieve a rent value that is affordable by the masses for the same value. This has not been achieved because Nigerians take things for granted. At the end of the day, the common man is not benefitting from the service and we end up not having the infrastructure and not having the houses but speculators using the allocation as a commodity to make money,” the minister said.
As a solution to the problem, the minister highlighted measures his administration had taken to curb the ugly trend and make it possible for residents to access and own land in the FCT even without the so-called mass housing scheme.  He said: “Our own major trust is to make sure we bring land reform administration. It was the first thing that we embarked upon; to make sure that we make land registration transparent and in accordance with the global best practices, where people access land without so much difficulties. The purpose is to ensure somebody who has the capacity or the finance or the resources will be able to access land. Our plan is to do away with fraud because there have been a lot of fraud. 
“Today we have established Land Use Allocation Committee as a vehicle in line with the provision of the Land Use Act to make sure that states, local governments and indeed all members of the federating states, are given land without necessarily showing their faces, without any personal attachment but on the basis of what is provided as per the template for allocation. But of course, we don’t have all the resources; I mean the capital on the ground to give land to all those who deserve it. So even on the basis of availability, we will make sure we spread it as per federal character since it is the way it is provided in the Land Use Act.”
While laying the foundation for a 300 unit housing estate in Kuje area of the FCT in July 2009, Alhaji Lateef Jakande charged the federal government to step up measures to address the endemic housing problem.  In his opinion, the crisis is fallout of government’s failure. “Nigeria is richly blessed with many resources; there is land, there are abundant human and mineral resources, as well as local building materials to actualise our development aspirations, but lack of national commitment, coupled with inefficiency, has robbed us of the much desired development,” he said.
On another occasion, Senator Bala Mohammed had again decried the fact that the mass housing development scheme put in place for the benefit of FCT residents had been plagued with fraud. To this end, he assured that plans have been concluded to forward a bill that would regulate rent in the FCT. “We are of the opinion that the time has come to address this fundamental issue because shelter is very critical to human beings. We are also aware of the haphazard and arbitrary rent in the FCT and it is our fervent belief that the proposed bill will ameliorate the issue. We are confident that, if the bill is passed into law, the problem of our people will be reduced to the barest minimum. I can also say that the interest of our people will be uppermost in this regard just as the development will now enable residents to get decent accommodation within their incomes.”
An Abuja-based developer, Prince Olu Faboro, blamed land racketeering in the territory on developers.  He said the mass housing scheme of the city has been handled by quacks, who lack the requisite qualification to undertake such projects.  Faboro said the mass housing scheme introduced by the federal government through the Public Private Partnership, PPP initiative was a convenient and cost effective way of providing affordable housing for civil servants in particular and other interested members of the public in general. But he said a large percentage of mass housing plots were in the hands of fake developers, who had resorted to racketeering rather than developing the plots in accordance with approved guidelines. “Genuine developers will join the minister in the fight to sanitise the industry because unless this is done, the dream of the average Nigerian owning his or her dream home may never materialise,” he said. He said the minister deserved commendation for being courageous enough to expose the shoddy deals in land administration in the FCT.
Like Prince Olu Faboro, the national president, Federal Mortgage Bank Union of Pensioners, Ladipo Ani, also implored the FCT minister to checkmate the activities of land racketeers in the territory, as well as monitor the activities of the area councils in the capital city.  “The activities of land racketeers are discouraging most land developers,” he said.
 
The Federal Housing Authority, FHA, which is saddled with the responsibility of building houses for Nigerians, has also not done much to help the situation.  The absence of decent accommodation and the high cost of the few existing ones have been widely blamed for the thriving fraudulent land business.  A former minister of the Abuja last year took a swipe at the authority.  According to the former minister, whose administration embarked on demolition exercise in the territory in its 38 years of existence, the FHA has built about 43,000 housing units. He also accused the federal government of failure to boost the housing sector. “The federal government budgeted N36.7 billion this year for the federal ministry of lands and housing, but not to build any houses. The sum of N3.55 billion is for salaries and overheads. The capital budget of N33.1 billion is an interesting assortment of dodgy projects. For instance, a borehole in Chikum, a town hall in Damaturu, streetlight in Okporo and market stall in Sumaila, over N1.1 billion was budgeted for land acquisition.”
With such palpable actions of government agencies saddled with the responsibility of providing succour to Nigerian masses, it becomes a feast for dubious minded Nigerians to cash in on the desire of innocent and unsuspecting Nigerians with legitimate intentions to swindle them.  Housing remains an essential need of every human.

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