For what many consider his over-enthusiasm in raising N15 billion to complete the long abandoned vice presidential house, Nyesom Wike, Minister of Abuja Federal Territory has gone through great stress and strain this past week. But one thing that is going well for the minister is that you can predict his stand on most issues. That makes him less dangerous than many of his predecessors that have used their positions to inflict pain on Nigerians. It is therefore safe for one to conclude Wike’s desperate attempt to complete the N7.1billion ill-conceived ‘befitting residence for our vice President’ by May 29, 2024 was informed by any other consideration other than meeting President Tinubu’s expectation that he finishes all abandoned projects.
But let us first situate the sources of our nation’s nightmare. Successive past ministers of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have always substituted their brain waves for state policies which they then imposed on Federal Housing Development Authority (FHDA) for implementation.
It has also been established that the Abuja masquerades that have used the FHDA as conduit pipes to fleece the country since 1999 are part of the military baked ‘new breed politicians’ who as creation of “Nigerian army of anything is possible” share the same mind-set with soldiers’ of fortune whose only orientation is sharing spoils of war after victory. It is therefore not a surprise that many of them have been indicted since 1999 through the courts or National Assembly probes for massive corruption executed through “privatization, monetization, unbundling of PHCN and Constituency projects policies or outright stealing by state governors.
While 10 Downing Street, has remained the residence of the British Prime Minister since 1735 and the White House the official residence of American President since 1800 without serious structural changes, our own “Nigerian Defence House”, made up of the main residence/president’s office, Aguda House/Vice President’s office and guest houses, built by Julius Berger at a cost of N25billion in 1989, has according to FHDA gulped about N8b in the name of renovation in a little over a decade.
It was the Abuja minister and the FHDA that unilaterally declared the Aguda House unsuitable for our vice president and went on to secure the Federal Executive Council (FEC)’s approval for a N7.1bn contract to put up what they describe as “a worthy edifice to house Nigeria’s Vice President’. The project according to Minister Dora Akinyili was to be completed in 20 months.
We also got to know through FCDA’s Director of Public Building, Arch. Adebowale Ademo that it was not the vice president, the end- user that decided on the facilities needed in the building but FCDA. And their preference are: the main building, three different living rooms, the vice president private room and conveniences, the second lady private lounge as well as a “chapel, a mosque and a dormitory for the security personnel.”
And just as work was expected to be nearing completion in 2012, it was also the then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Bala Mohammed who insisted N9 billion more was needed to complete the project. The request was turned down by the 7th Senate even after the N9billion was slashed to N6billion by the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP). The then Senate Committee on FCT, led by Senator Smart Adeyemi said either N13 billion or N14 billion or N16 billion for the project was “indefensible”.
His position was supported by the then chairman of the House Committee on FCT, Herman Hembe, his counterpart at the Lower House who expressed dissatisfaction with the level of work done despite the claim that about 87 per cent of the contract sum had been paid. It is also on record that it was the minister who, feeling dissatisfied with the verdict of the two houses, took the case before the Federal Executive Council (FEC) where the case stalled following President Jonathan’s insistence that the nation could not afford 120 per cent variation.
It was also another minister of the Federal Capital Territory, (FCT) Adamu Aliero who threw a jibe at Vice President Osinbajo to attract his attention by claiming “The vice president is staying in a guest house (Aguda House) meant for visiting heads of state.” The vice president in 2016 decided to go and inspect the project that was up till then a monopoly of successive ministers of Federal Capital Territory. His report after the inspection was damning. For him “the N6bn already spent on the project was a misapplication of funds”. His advice to FHDA was that the building be “considered for other use” since according to him, “there is no need for a new residence for the vice president as the current one, called Aguda House, is up to standard with enough space and well managed.”
Osinbajo has said Aguda House is good enough for the vice president. Shettima the current occupier has also not complained. If I were to advise Minister Wike therefore, I will say he should separate himself from his predecessors who as shown above have always wept louder than the bereaved.
I think we should also remind ourselves that it was the FHDA that presided over the sales of Asokoro legislative quarters to the lawmakers, the sale of the Senate President’s mansion, (a national monument) to David Mark just as they did for Dimeji Bankole, the Speaker of the Lower House. While this macabre dance was going on, contracts for a new Senate President and Speaker’s residences were awarded. And while David Mark accused by EFCC of short changing the nation ran to court to defend his spoils of war, the proposed Senate President and Speakers mansions have also become abandoned projects.
In view of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s verdict, I think I will align myself with Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP)’s call on the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, to use his leadership position “to promptly reject the plan by the Minister of the FCT, Nyesom Wike, to spend N15 billion for the construction of a ‘befitting residence’ for the Vice President, Mr. Kashim Shettima.”
The body’s claim that spending N15 billion on ‘a befitting residence’ for the vice president at a time when the federal government is set to spend 30 per cent (that is, N8.25 trillion) of the country’s 2024 budget of N27.5 trillion on debt service costs” will be a betrayal of the people, is unassailable.
After all, we have been told that the house with split ACs fixed was nearing completion before it was abandoned. The then FCDA Executive Secretary, Adamu Ismail, was also quoted as telling the Senate Committee on FCT that the proposed additional N9bn ( slashed to about N6bn) by the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) was meant to provide furniture, fencing, two additional protocol guest houses, a banquet hall and security gadgets.
Since the building can be put into other use in its current state, I think Minister Wike should just ignore the above variations and turn the building into other use as suggested by Osinbajo.
For him it becomes a win-win situation. He would have with one single stroke met the expectations of President Tinubu, a leader he desperately wants to please. He would have also distanced himself from his predecessors who for reasons other than altruism were prepared to shave others’ heads in their absence.