In this interview with TUNDE OYEKOLA, the Chairman of the Kwara State Committee on the Recovery of Government Properties, Senator Suleiman Ajadi, explains how government properties were recovered from those who converted them to personal use
You are the chairman of the committee set up by Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq on the recovery of properties belonging to the Kwara State Government. What are your findings so far?
Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq was sworn in on May 29, 2019. In June, he set up a 21-member committee to look into government properties and appointed me as the chairman. The committee comprises experts from different fields. We have done the job and submitted our report. In fact, we submitted three volumes of the report.
In the course of our investigation, we discovered that many properties belonging to the Kwara State Government were misappropriated. We also found that parcels of land and houses owned by the state and located in the Government Reservation Area, as well as in places, such as Lagos, Kaduna and Kaduna, had been sold or given out as gifts to friends or relatives.
In addition to this, we found that the pension law, which provides for the compensation of former governors after the completion of their tenures, was grossly abused. We discovered all sorts of abuse of official duties.
The state pension law for ex-governors states that after completing an eight-year tenure, the government would build a five- bedroom bungalow for a former governor in a location of his choice , but we discovered that a chalet, the Alimi Lodge, where the government used to accommodate important visitors was given to a former governor as a gift.
The Alimi Lodge comprises three bungalows of 9 flats and 9 boys’ quarters. That was given to a former governor. The government also built another five- bedroom bungalow at 1 Abdulkadir Road, GRA, Ilorin after the same person collected N256m from the state government.
There was another large parcel of land, which the immediate past government acquired for the Amayo International Market. Although a plot sold for N250,000 in that area, government purchased one plot at the cost of N7 million per plot.
We also discovered that the sum of N3 billion meant as loan for small and medium scale enterprises was grossly misappropriated. Instead of serving its purpose, the fund was moved from one bank to another until a part of it disappeared.
Also, we were unable to trace the beneficiaries of the N1.6bn anchor borrowers’ fund shared by political leaders.
Regarding landed properties, most of the houses in the GRA, built many years ago by past governments of the state to accommodate important visitors and senior government officials in Ilorin, were shared by political leaders while some were sold to the cronies and friends of the helm of the affairs of the state at give away prices.
The parcel of land in Lagos, which houses the Kwara State Liaison Office, was divided into two. A former governor of the state took one part of it and used it to build offices which he let out to the people. In Kaduna, some of the properties belonging to the Kwara State Government were given out to the friends of a former governor, while the uncompleted government property started during the administration of Alhaji Shaaba Lafiagi in 1992 in Abuja was vandalised. The project, which is located near the Nicon Noga Hotel in Abuja, was vandalised and abandoned.
Here in Ilorin, a parcel of land donated by a family for government use was sold to a Korean at a paltry sum of N100 million.
Satellite Motels and Kwara Hotel were leased out to their friends at N500 million and N350m, respectively, but none of them gave any financial return to the state government. Today, only seven rooms are habitable in Kwara Hotel. That was the type of government they ran in the state. We met the state in a precarious situation.
Many other government projects were mismanaged by the past governments in the state. We can talk of Shonga Farm, Harmony Holdings, Kwara Poultry, KP3 and others. When they were leaving office, some of them went away with three or five cars, even posh cars that cost up to N65 million.
Did you invite those who were involved to appear before the committee?
Yes, we got in touch with all of them. We invited them, but some of them ignored our invitation. In December 2019, the government revoked some plots of land at the Civil Service Clinic.
Are you talking about plots 1,3 and 5 of the civil service land on Ilofa Road in the GRA? Are they among the mismanaged properties belonging to the state government?
Yes, they are among government properties that were illegally acquired. The issue of the land in question came under the terms of reference of this committee, which considered many other government-owned properties and submitted its recommendations in July 2019.
As was the case with all the properties that the committee looked into, the committee’s recommendations were based strictly on available records from the archives of government.
We found that the land in question was acquired by a company, ASA Company Limited, believed to be owned by late Senator Olusola Saraki. Based on the available records, the committee did not see proof of any payment nor an approved Right of Occupancy, even though there was a letter of allocation in principle.
In reaching our conclusion, the committee noted that the land in question was also a part of a larger parcel of land, part of which has been developed into the Civil Service Clinic and Secretariat complex, now housing the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Commerce and Cooperative.
Based on the existing convention that land acquired by government, in overriding public interest, cannot be converted to private use, unless under extraneous circumstances, which require the express approval of the governor of the state, the committee did not see any evidence that a case was made for this land nor did the governor of the state approve of any plan to convert it to private use.
In view of the above reasons, therefore, the committee was compelled to recommend that the land be repossessed and put to the original use it was meant for. So, there is no controversy on the land.
What is your take on the allegation that the state government demolished the old people’s home (Ile Arugbo) built by Saraki?
When people heard that Ile Arugbo had been demolished, the first thing that came to their minds was that the state government had destroyed the place where old people were being catered for. But this is not true. There is no such place where old or elderly people are being taken care of.
Some people even thought that it was the residence or personal house of late Senator Olusola Saraki that the government demolished. But this is not true. Saraki’s personal house on Ilofa road, GRA, Ilorin is still intact and it is still there. It was not touched.
I want people to know that Ile Arugbo was not demolished. There is no Ile Arugbo anywhere. What the government demolished on the piece of land beside the Civil Service Clinic were stalls erected on the land owned by the Kwara State Government.
Ile Arugbo used to serve as a waiting room for Saraki’s visitors. A lot of people used to come from different parts of the state to see him. They would wait in the building for their turn to see him. Sometimes the place even served as a venue for a political gathering.
There was no document, no receipt, no Right of Occupancy or Certificate of Occupancy to show that the land was properly acquired. We are not saying that the land was stolen because we all know that Baba Saraki was not a thief and he did not steal government property in his life time.
I want people to know that the land was set aside for the third phase of the Kwara State Government Secretariat. The foundation has been laid since the 1980s. I met the foundation there when I was Commissioner for Finance and Economic Planning between 1994 and 1995. Part of the land was used to construct the building housing the Ministry of Finance today. The state government also constructed the Civil Service Hospital there.
Secondly, a hospital should be in a quiet place and not in a noisy neighbourhood. So an office for political gathering is not suitable in that place.
It is alleged that you also acquired government land in the GRA and the present government in Kwara is trying to erase the legacies of former Senate President Bukola Saraki’s father out of jealousy. How do you react to this?
I have a parcel of land in the GRA, Ilorin, but I didn’t acquire government land. I bought my own land from private individuals and I have the receipt and the C of O on the land. People can go and verify it. As for whether we revoked the land out of jealousy, why do we have to be jealous of Bukola whom we defeated flatly in the 2019 general elections? We beat him in his polling booth and we beat him in all the 192 wards in the state. He might be the political leader yesterday, but today he is no longer a leader in the state.
It is also alleged that you are playing politics with your committee’s decision to reclaim state-owned properties. What is your reaction to this?
What type of politics are we playing? You governed the state and left with things that did not belong to you. They are saying so to hide their character. Did politics tell you not to speak the truth? Some people have even threatened to deal with me for exposing their leader. I’m not afraid of their threats because we are doing the right thing by speaking the truth. Anybody that is not satisfied about what we said in our report should go to court.