by Shehu Abubakar & Vincent A. Yusuf, DailyTrust
People residing in six villages in Abuja, the nation’s capital, have been forced by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) to leave their homes and relocate to a neighbouring Wukara community at the Aviation Village in Abuja to pave way for the establishment of a farm by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and his mother, Madam Afeni Eunice.
The large expanse of the land was allocated to them by the Federal Capital Territory Administration, Daily Trust gathered.
The farmland, measuring 95.88 hectares, is located at the Cadastral Zone, Aviation Village, within the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) and was specifically allocated to Ebele Integrated Farms Limited by FCTA on March 8, 2012, two days after the company applied for the land and less than three months after it was incorporated by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
A search by Daily Trust at the CAC revealed that Ebele Integrated Farms Limited, with registration number 1003866, was registered on December 20, 2011 with a share capital of N30 million.
The company has only two registered directors: Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, with share capital of N28.5 million and Madam Afeni Eunice, with share capital of N1.5 million.
Records at the commission made available to Daily Trust indicated that the nature of business the company was registered to execute are: “To carry on the business of agricultural and mechanical farming in all its branches (which include but not limited to) crop farming, rearing of livestock, feed milling, arable and fruit farming, manufacturing and distribution of agric products, flour merchants, poultry farming, animal husbandry, fish farming, deep sea fishing, trawling and to sell and deal in same etc.”
However, Ebele Integrated Farms Limited, since its registration in 2012, has no evidence of filing annual returns with the CAC, which is a vital requirement to be fulfilled by all such registered companies.
The legal practitioner that filed the application documents for the registration of the company with the commission, Arum Ifeyinwa Jane, provided the address of the company’s owners, Jonathan and Eunice, as number 23, Kolda Street, Wuse 11, Abuja.
Similar address was provided by the company to the Abuja Geographic Information System (AGIS) in its application for the farmland.
However, when Daily Trust visited the supposed company’s address at 23 Kolda Street, nobody around the area seemed to know that Ebele Integrated Farms Limited or any other company ever occupied the building within the past ten years. A security guard inside the compound told our reporter that the building is owned by a telecommunication firm.
When Daily Trust visited the farm near Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, over 40 articulated vehicles belonging to SCC Construction Company were seen with several staff of the company carrying out different works.
Armed soldiers and plain-cloth security operatives were seen at strategic parts of the farm which has a crocodile section near the main gate, orchards, where well irrigated mango trees provide shelter overlooking the hill top buildings said to be meeting and resting place for the president.
On the other side, there is a standard fish pond with embankment to prevent erosion. There is also the clean water in the fish pond recycling itself.
A short distance from there is a small airstrip for any helicopter to land. The airstrip is overlooking another set of hundreds of mango trees and a small stream with water passing through all in a solid concrete walls round the farm.
The security operatives in the farm were there to, among other assignments, prevent any unauthorised person from gaining access into the farm.
However, our reporters, with their cameras and other tools, succeeded in gaining access to the facility.
People living at the Wukara village, workers at the SCC construction company working in the farm, government officials in the FCT ministry, AGIS, Development Control Department of the FCDA and AMAC “have all been warned not to talk about that farm,” Daily Trust heard.
The case of the displaced villagers is pathetic. Malam Ahmadu (not real name), who was seen resting under a tree at the outskirt of Wukara, spoke to our reporters.
He said: “I was residing in Sarkin Madaki village before we were ejected and our houses demolished. Six villages that include Sarkin Madaki where I hail from, Aguwan Audu, Kukeli, Anguwan Sharuwa, Badambo and Nasarawai, were the villages people were sacked from and demolished to provide space for this farm. Yes, we knew the farm belongs to the president but we have been warned not to say so. They said we must never discuss about the farm with anyone.
“The former FCT Commissioner of Police came in company of some top officers and warned us at the palace of the Aguma (village head) of Wukara that if we ever mentioned anything to anyone about the farm, they will arrest the person that made the statement and drive others from here without compensation. I am talking to you now because no one is seeing us. If you had met me in the village, I would not have talked to you.
“When they sacked us from our various villages, government gave us plots of land each at Wukara. People from all the six affected villages were moved to Wukara. But no monetary compensation was given to us. We had to sell part of the land allocated to us and build the remaining. It was after the commissioner of police warned us and left that we resolved to name the farm as the Aviation Farm.”
Another resident of Wukara, who simply identified himself as Malam, told Daily Trust at BasanJiya, a nearby community where he went to buy provisions, that their problem is not just because their villages have been converted into the president’s farm, but because they took away their houses, places of worship, farmlands only to be given a piece of land, each, in return. “We are all farmers. None of us had his farm replaced. How do they want us to cultivate?
“We all had our various sources of water before we were sacked from our villages. Here at Wukara, we scoop water from the ground to drink, cook and use at home because we have 2 boreholes that do not work. We complained to the Aguma who said he has written to SCC Construction Company but nothing has been done till date.
“Yes, they are constructing access road for us through the bush path. We do not want that one. Let them construct the one that will burst near the airport gate. That’ll be shorter and safer for us.”
When Daily Trust visited the palace of the Aguma of Wukara, Malam Mohammed Sarki, the people seen around the palace said the traditional ruler was indisposed.
One of the elders was however said: “Nobody can speak to you about the farm. On the issue of the road and water, we have written to AMAC and SCC. Go to their offices and ask them why they refused to help us.”
Daily Trust reporters visited AMAC twice; first the chairman was said to be in a meeting, while on the second occasion he was said to have gone to the FCT ministry for official consultation.
A senior council official who pleaded anonymity, however, said: “Look, do not waste your time. The chairman will never see you on this matter. How can the president compensate them? Advise them to come and beg the chairman for a borehole and clinic, that is more realistic.”
At the SCC Construction office in Utako District, Abuja, efforts to see the project manager were not successful.
However, a top official of the company, who pleaded not to be identified, said the Aguma had actually written a two-page letter to the company, dated May 16, 2014, requesting them to sink additional boreholes for them, adding: “In as much as we sympathise with the community, as contractors, we cannot use our money to develop their community for them.
“What they are asking for is not provided in the contract agreement. As a construction company, we only employ people with skills. But we went out of our way and employed their people who are now working for us. I am not privy to the contract sum, I would have told you. But it is a fact that what qualified us most for this contract was what the president saw our company did in General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s farm in Minna. You know, it was SCC that constructed it also.”
Meanwhile, the development makes people wonder if the farmland in question was actually intended to be used as such by the designers of Abuja.
A retired top ranking civil servant, Chief Bisi Winsala Kolins, who said he used all his retirement benefit to build houses in Garki that were demolished by the FCDA on the excuse that the area was meant for business and not residential, averred: “I am aware that in the Abuja master plan, no part of the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), including the aviation village, is meant to be used for farming. It is also a fact that the Abuja master plan cannot be redesigned to accommodate any new development. That farm must, therefore, be demolished and relocated to outside AMAC for justice and fair play.”
Former Minister of the FCT, Malam Nasir el-Rufa’i, in a response from the United Kingdom to an online enquiry by Daily Trust, said no part of Abuja Municipal Area is supposed to be used for farming purposes, including the aviation village now housing Ebele Integrated Farms.
El-Rufa’i said: “Aviation Village is self-explanatory….it is part of Phase 5 of the Federal Capital City (FCC) meant to accommodate aviation company needs – hangars, fueling and maintenance facilities, housing and hotels. There were no provisions for agricultural land in the city footprint.
“Farmlands are located outside the city in places like Gaube, Kuje and Kwali. I am surprised that agricultural land is being allocated in the footprint of the FCT. This may be another violation of the Abuja Dream…..God Save us.”
At the Abuja Geographic Information system (AGIS), a top official who initially doubted claims by our reporters that the application by Ebele Integrated Farms Limited was approved in only two days from the date of the application, was shocked to see the company’s file number MISC 117899 with AGIS.
He said: “You are right, look at the farm’s file. Their application for the allocation of the plot was dated March 6, 2012 and approval given on March 8, 2012. The initial plot number was 1680 before it was later changed to 1683. The change in the plot number does not affect the plot itself. Look at the note written with red pen that the FCT Minister attached to his approval.
“In all my years in AGIS I have never seen an application for plot of land treated with such a rush. If we were allowed to treat it like the normal applications, we would have verified the address. Even if the address they gave was correct and they later moved to a new address, they are supposed to notify us of their new address.”
Jonathan’s multibillion naira integrated farm project has attracted a lot of criticisms from the public, mainly because Jonathan’s salary and legitimate earnings as a president could not afford him to own a multi-billion Naira farm project.
An NGO, Purpose Driven Human Initiative, in a media advertisement said the president’s farm project has vividly demonstrated why his administration has been unable to fight corruption.
According to the NGO, the president’s action of owning the farm has contravened Fifth Schedule Part 1 (code of conduct for public officers) of the 1999 constitution, section 1, which states: “A public officer shall not put himself in position where his personal interest conflicts with his duties and responsibilities.”
Reacting to the publication, New Generation Coalition, a pro-Jonathan group, argued that the president’s project has not violated the Constitution, arguing that the Constitution allows a public servant to engage in farming activities.
It also pointed out that former president Olusegun Obasanjo also acquired a farmland in Abuja while in office in 2005.
Also, some legal experts who spoke to Daily Trust expressed different views on the issue. While some argue that the president was morally wrong to undertake such ventures while in office, others think differently.
Below are some of the views in their words.
Jonathan is not wrong – Fagboungbe (SAN)
From Nahimah Ajikanle Nurudeen, Lagos
Lagos-based Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Felix Fagboungbe, said President Goodluck Jonathan has not violated any law by applying for, and obtaining, a farmland in Abuja.
The position of Jonathan as a president, Fagboungbe argued, did not take away his right to own property.
He said the Code of Conduct only required the president to declare his assets if he owns property, because he has legal right to own property.
“The only thing the Code of Conduct requires is that he has to disclose it, if people know that the land belongs to him, anyway. Because we are not sure he actually owns the land in as much as he hasn’t confirmed that the land belongs to him. People might just be speculating.
“It is not possible to conclude land allocation processing within 48 hours, it is not possible because you need to identify the land, do the survey of land and a lot processes that go along with land allocation. But if truly the land in question was allotted within 48 hours, it means that it was not applied for with the survey plan because for such land, the surveyor-general has to see the survey and the survey department too, has to do something to certify the process,” he said.
It’s an impeachable offence
– Bala Na’Allah
From Garba Muhammad, Birnin Kebbi
Barrister Bala Ibn Na’Allah, a former member of the House of Representatives and a renowned lawyer, described the acquisition of a farmland at Aviation Village, Abuja, by President Goodluck Jonathan as a breach of his terms of office.
“It’s an impeachable offence,” he said.
Na’Allah, speaking in Zuru, Kebbi State, added: “The Conduct of approaching FCDA to get the land is in breach of the oath of his office and that is what is referred to as gross misconduct which itself is an impeachable offence.
“Looking at the speed of the processing of the grant of that land to the said company of which the president is alleged to be a director, it’s obvious to give a reasonable ground for establishing gross abuse of office by both the president and the minister of the FCT.”
Na’Allah, however, pointed out that it may be difficult to determine the legal position of this issue without putting it on both moral and legal scale.
“Law and morality are distinct and distinguishable but looking at the entire phantasmagoria vis-a-vis the oath of office taken and subscribed by Mr. President which among other things states that he would not allow his personal interest to influence his official conduct and decisions.
“It does appear that there is a clear case of breach of oath of office amounting to establishing a case of gross misconduct against Mr. President. While the Constitution allows public office holder’s to engage in farming, it equally prohibits them from taking any appointment as directors of companies and other paid employment.
“So, if you look at this issue from both moral and legal scale, there is no how the president will be exonerated because as president, you are barred from becoming a director of any company.
“Therefore, it doesn’t make sense if anybody thinks that it is okay, since the land is going to be used for farming. Legally, since he cannot be a director of a company, it means he is in breach of the oath of his office where he said he will not allow his personal interest to influence his official conduct and decisions.”
Revoke that allocation
– Aliyu Umar (SAN)
From Ibrahim Musa Giginyu, Kano
For a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and former Kano State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Aliyu Umar, the approval for the allocation of the farmland to President Goodluck Jonathan should be revoked to deter Nigerians from engaging themselves in corrupt practices.
He, however, said that the speed with which the FCT minister approved the land cannot be faulted by the law because the Land Use Act has not given time frame for processing and approving of such applications. “The question to ask is: did he (Jonathan) actually apply for the land or was the land allocated to him before he was given forms to fill?
“If the processes enshrined for the acquisition of the land have been breached for any reason, then it has become illegal and also an act of abuse of office. The act may not be a crime, but it is morally wrong as it encourages corruption.”
He urged relevant authorities to investigate the alleged irregularities involved in the matter such as when the company was incorporated and whether the process involved in the acquisition of the land was breached and whether the acquisition and the erection of the farm has altered the master plan of FCT or not.
He may not be entirely wrong
– Festus Okoye
From Dickson S. Adama, Kaduna
The President is allowed, in the Constitution, to acquire land for the purpose of farming, a constitutional lawyer and Civil Rights Activist, Barrister Festus Okoye has said.
However, he pointed out that the size of the land and procedure of acquiring it can be unacceptable.
He argued: “By the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution containing the Code of Conduct for public officers, the president is allowed to acquire land for the purposes of farming. But the issue of the quantum of land acquired or the purposes for which it is acquired or the means through which the land was acquired is a completely different matter.
But the Constitution allows the president to engage in farming, and you cannot engage in farming without acquiring a land. So, to that very extent, it is legitimate for the president to acquire land for the purposes of farming.
“If you ask me though, I will say that for a land as big as a whole village to be acquired by anyone for the purposes of farming is not acceptable. I personally don’t see the reason why the president should acquire over 90 hectares of land for purposes of farming while in office. Again, what the law says about acquisition of such land or property by a public office holder like the president is that it must be declared publicly and filed with the Code of Conduct Bureau or the agency in charge of asset declaration by public office holders. And this should be done before, during and after leaving the office.”
He urged public officers, including the president, politicians and the media to work towards building a greater Nigeria and stop trivialising issues and or hide under the coverage of the Constitution to do things that would be morally unacceptable.