By Steve Agbota
The umbrella body of the 61 investors that secured different development lease agreements from the Federal Government through the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment and Trade Fair Management Board (TFMB) have petitioned the government over its plan to concession the Lagos International Trade Fair complex (LITFC) on Lagos Badagry Expressway.
Last week, the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) issued a statement that it would on February 23, 2021, showcase investment opportunities in Lagos Trade Fair complex, TBS, Calabar and Kano Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the investing public in a webinar in Abuja.
However, addressing the press shortly after submitting a protest letter to the Executive Director of TFMB, Mrs. Lucy Ajayi, in her office, Chairman of the body and the President of Association of Progressive Traders (APT) in the complex, Chief Eric Ilechukwu, said it was worrisome that the same Federal Government that had entered into different development lease agreements with 61 investors at different times is coming back to the same complex it has leased out for concession.
He added: “It is important to make this clarification to the general public that the Federal Government had , from 1995 till recently, been leasing out portions of the complex to our members and none of the development lease agreements runs less than 25 years. In fact, some are 45 years with an option of renewal.
“Currently, what can be said to remaining or yet to be leased out of the complex is about 20 or 25 per cent of the complex. So, we are saying that, as far as our different lease terms are still running and valid in law, what the BPE has for concessioning is only that undeveloped portion to avoid trouble.
According to him, all the 61 investors have never reneged on their lease agreements, adding that they are all up to date in paying their grand rent directly to the Federal Government’s Single Treasury Account (TSA) through the supervising TFMB.
Also, having demonstrated resilient in developing over 75 per cent of the complex to a world class shopping and business centre, he pleaded with the BPE to allow the 61 investors to take up the remaining undeveloped areas of the complex.
“Since 1995 to date, our members have invested not less than N10 trillion in the development of the complex to world class business centre with borrowed money, and we cannot allow our sweat to be suddenly snatched away from us in the name of concession.
“Any plan to turn us, the key developers in the complex as at today, to tenants upon securing legitimate lease agreements and borrowing from banks to develop a hitherto abandoned federal asset into the largest single trading complex in sub-Saharan Africa, shall be resisted by all legal means,” he warned.
Also, In a petition to Minister of Industry, Trade and Investmen, Otumba Richard Adeniyi Adebayo, by Stakeholders Association of LITFC and made available to Daily Sun, they condemned the ways and manners, in which BPE hastened the concessoining of the complex, lamenting that they were not carried along in the concession plan.
The stakeholders alleged that they had been marginalised and sidelined in the planned concession of the complex.
In the petition, they said that the proposal by the BPE to bring on board a 3D investment to the complex is mere rhetorical statement that has no significant reality with what is on ground at the complex.
However, they appealed to Buhari to intervene in order to prevent an avoidable hardship which the intended concession would bring on the majority of poor Nigerians whose sustainable daily life at the complex has made possible by liberal market laws that permitted them to coexist in the midst of other big time business men and women.
According to them, after the initial failed attempts to get LITFC concessioned to interested private investors, the BPE is repeating the same mistake of not conceding to the established fact that LITFC is peculiarly distinct from the rest facilities listed to be concessioned with it on the grounds that before the entrance of the stakeholders into the complex in 1994.
“Without prejudice to the right of Federal Government to concession, commercialize and or privatize, we are only minded to ask that the simple due diligence assessment of the complex with the active participation of the stakeholders be carried out first before the resort to concession.
“And unless until that takes place, there is no way the BPE relying on the misinformation fed them by the unseen hands that want to enter the Complex at all cost, will get to know the truth. You can imagine the looming disaster waiting to occur with the proposal to concession the second time without inquiring on what led to the failure of the former,” they insisted.
The stakeholder’s notion that the policy of Government in 1994 that invited investors to invest in the virgin land at the LITFC under a lease of 50 years and more with a clause for renewal is now a scam.
“By virtue of the various Lease Agreements entered into between the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment (FMITI) on behalf of the Federal Government with Balogun Business Associations (BBA) with other Trading Associations, Professionals and Corporate Bodies in 1994, by every standard, were duly entered into and legally binding on Federal Government.
“It is therefore unfounded and preposterous to learn that the BPE in their desperate move to dispose of Complex among other things, have chosen to classify the huge investments by the stakeholders as a mere shanti that must give way to the proposed 3D investment,” the Stakeholders alleged.
Conversely, the Stakeholders seek a moratorium be observed to enable the BPE find time to conduct a forensic audit assessment into the claims as made by the stakeholders or out rightly grant the Complex an exemption from concession because of the established peculiarity in structure, content and purpose.
They said that 75 per cent portion of the 350 hectares of LITFC’s land presently in occupation as edifice of plazas, had been built with full capacity and compliments of other standard amenities, which has been a major contributor to the economy of Lagos and the nation at large
“If however, the concession decision as claimed by BPE is irreversible, we appeal that the stakeholders shall be given the offer of first refusal to the remaining 25 per cent of the undeveloped land in order to have uniform pattern of structural development, business concept as well as to avoid the foreseeable conflict in the complex,” they pleaded.