Sunday, June 12, 2011

N4billion 37-storey-house sold to Bankole’s-firm

The sale of the N4 billion 37-storey NECOM House to West African Aluminum Products Plc, belonging to father of former Speaker (Chief Alani Bankole) House of Representatives has recommended the revocation of the transaction. 

Nigeria Newspapers had exclusively reported that the skyscraper, one of the tallest in the country, was sold to the company for N4bn in controversial circumstances.

The transaction triggered sundry protests from both NITEL management and workers.

On October 29, 2010, the NITEL management wrote to the Bureau of Public Enterprises protesting the purported sale of the building on No. 15 Marina Lagos, by the liquidator of NITEL Staff Pension Fund, Mr. Olusola Adekanola.

It noted that the sale was done in contravention of a presidential directive stopping the plan to sell the building.

This led to the setting up of a probe committee headed by the Director, Oil and Gas at BPE, Mr. Ibrahim Kashim.

Other panel members are the Acting Director, National Facilities and Agricultural Resources, Mr. Vincent Akpotaire, and the Acting Director, Electric Power, Mr. Ibrahim Babagana.

According to the committee, the transaction is fraud-tainted and provides sufficient grounds for its revocation if the Federal Government chooses this line of action.

In a 32-page report on its investigation sourced exclusively by our correspondent, the committee said the Federal Government could revoke the sale of the building or refer the matter to the Corporate Affairs Commission to take necessary action against the liquidator who carried out the controversial transaction.

It said, “Government may revoke the sale of NECOM House to West African Aluminum Products Plc by the Liquidator of NITEL/MTel Staff Pension Fund (in liquidation) on the grounds of the established fraud-tainted process and ask the liquidator to refund the consideration with interest to the buyers.”

On its findings, the panel said, “The committee confirmed that the original list of NITEL/M-Tel non-core assets which formed the basis of all the assets transferred to the Trustees of NITEL Pension Fund Scheme for purposes of liquidation was generated by the management of NITEL/M-Tel and handed over to BPE.

“Former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo vide his memo dated May 16, 2007 approved the Presidential Taskforce’s recommendation that NECOM House be retained in the schedule of NITEL’s core operational assets due to its strategic importance to the SAT-3 operations.

“Despite Mr. President’s approval which the liquidator claimed was not formally transmitted to him by the then Director-General of BPE, Mrs. Irene Chigbue, he had sold NECOM House to WAAP Plc sometime between May and July 2008, with evidence of certified true copies of the Deed of Assignment between NITEL Trustees Limited and the buyer duly consented to by the Minister of Works.

“Although no written communication came to the liquidator on this matter, the submissions reveal that he received verbal communication from the then D-G, BPE and this led to the negotiation with Transcorp Plc on the appropriate price for NECOM House.

“We discovered from the recitals in the Deed of Assignment between liquidator and WAAP Plc, the statement that the Committee of Inspection approved the sale at its meeting of May 16, 2007 is not true.

“At the time of the said sale, the liquidator’s right to sell was impeachable as the COI had, according to the minutes of its meeting of April 3, 2008, taken the following decisions: ((i) the committee was informed by BPE that the presidency had directed that a meeting be held between BPE, Transcorp and Ministry of Information and Communications on the resolution of the conflict in the classification of five NITEL properties including NECOM House; (ii) that consequent on (i), the committee resolved that all action on the said properties would be stayed until the outcome of the said meeting.

“The Committee of Inspection overseeing the liquidation process was said to have approved the sale of NECOM House to WAAP Plc at its meeting held at BPE Abuja on May 16, 2007. It was on the basis of the alleged approval by the COI that the liquidator sold NECOM House to WAAP in 2009.

“The minutes of the COI meeting of May 16, 2007 shows that no discussion on NECOM House took place and no approval of the sale to WAAP Plc as recited in the Deed of Assignment by the parties is disclosed therein. The sale was predicated on a wrong and illegal premise hence fraudulently contracted.

“The liquidator sold NECOM House without COI approval and as such contravened Section 427 (1) of the Companies and Allied Matters Act 1990.”

Alternatively, the committee said, “Government may decide to subject the liquidation process leading up to the sale of NECOM House to judicial review through court process.

“Government may decide to repurchase the said No. 15 Marina from the new buyers.”

It added, “Government could negotiate with all parties to excise the five-storey building housing substantial parts of SAT-3 installations from NECOM House with a rider granting NITEL/M-Tel right of access to their installations on the 32nd, 34th and 35th of the NECOM House.

“The Bureau may commence disciplinary measures against all BPE members to the COI for their negligence which gave rise to the liquidator’s failure to comply with the presidential directive approving the reclassification of NECOM House as a core operational asset of NITEL/M-Tel dated May 16, 2007; and this created room for the liquidator to illegally sell the said asset.”

The submission of NITEL to the probe panel showed that the management of the company became aware of the sale of the building when it received a letter from George Taylor, Ashiru & Co; solicitor to WAAP Plc demanding N250m being rent for the years 2008 to August 31, 2010.

The letter also gave notice to NITEL to quit the premises within 21 days, else security men would be used to evict it from the property.

Implementing the recommendations that fall within its powers, BPE had queried its four members of staff involved in the NECOM House transaction as members of the COI.

Not satisfied with the answers given by the workers, the privatisation agency had set up a disciplinary committee for them.

NITEL board chaired by Ambassador Stephen Willoughby had petitioned the Vice-President, Namadi Sambo, as Chairman of National Council on Privatization, on the sale.

It was gathered that the Presidency had not taken action on the petition dated March 15, 2011, which noted that due process was not followed in the transaction and therefore, pressed for a reversal.

Earlier however, the Liquidator, Adekanola, denied selling the house secretly adding that the sale was an open transaction and went to the highest bidder.

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