How Customs Frustrated FG’s House Sale to Officers | Independent Newspapers Limited
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How Customs Frustrated FG’s House Sale to Officers

Posted: Mar 30, 2016 at 3:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Chibuike Chukwu & Innocent Oweh


The Nigerian Customs Service’s hierarchy has been found to have frustrated officers and men of the service from benefitting from the sale of Federal Government’s landed properties in 2005, Independent can now reveal.

Independent learnt that men of the customs were denied the opportunity to buy into the Federal Government sales project, which saw many public officers owning the flats and houses they were quartered.

It was gathered that following the release of approved guidelines for the sale of Federal Government properties in Lagos in 2005, the Presidential Implementation Committee on Federal Government’s Landed Properties visited many government properties including Gowon Estate, Lagos, where both serving and retired Federal Government workers reside.

The then Federal Executive Council (FEC) had earlier approved the guidelines for the sale of all residential facilities (houses, flats etc) built, acquired or otherwise owned by the Federal Government and all its ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).

During the listing, Federal Government-owned Gowon Estate was mentioned. In the estate, customs occupies the 12 blocks of 16 flats on 511 Road and 10 bungalows on 52 Road.

Independent learnt that but for the afore-mentioned, all other apartments housing other government workers have been sold to the legal-sitting tenants in line with Federal Government’s policy.

According to investigation carried out by Independent, the Presidential Committee visited the estate and issued the occupants, which included staff of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Nigeria Police, Customs, Army, the Central Bank, among others, with expression of interest forms to fill.

Incidentally, while other occupants of the estate returned their forms, those belonging to customs retirees were not delivered. It was said that one Adamu Rabiu in charge of the committee’s Lagos office allegedly withheld the forms, saying there was intense pressure not to return them to the Presidential Committee.

The customs officials were soon to realize that they had been sidelined when, in 2011, all other occupants of the estate got their offers to pay for their flats and theirs did not come. It was then that they approached the Presidential Committee that told them that it never received their filled forms.

Independent gathered that the committee issued the occupants of the 192 flats and 10 bungalows fresh forms to be filled and return with N10,000 bank draft, amounting to N2.02 million. It was then gathered that following the fresh move to get the properties bought by the retired officers in line with the existing government’s policy, then Comptroller General (CG) of Customs, Dikko Abdullahi, wrote to the secretary of the committee for a waiver for only the 192 flats and the ten bungalows of all the government properties in Lagos occupied by customs.

The CG, it was gathered, said the customs wanted to renovate the flats and bungalows, even when the apartments do not belong to the service. In a letter dated August 22, 2012 with reference number CM374/G/Vol.1/19 and signed by one O. S. Obot, and addressed to the CG, the Presidential Committee rescinded the sale of only the 192 flats and 10 bungalows occupied by the customs at Gowon Estate.

Consequently, on October 10, 2015, the then Assistant Comptroller General (ACG), Zone A, Lagos, Victor Osita Gbemudu, visited the retired customs officers at Gowon Estate.

He threatened that the service was giving them from that day to December 31 to vacate their apartments and that the customs had bought the whole quarters, even though he was a beneficiary of the same policy, where he paid and owned his official residence in Abuja.

Incidentally, the estate in question belongs to the Federal Government, who initially issued a directive that it be sold on owner-occupier basis to government workers resident there.

In January, a formal letter of ejection from the service in Lagos with reference number NCS/LZ/002/Vol.V111 was written to the officers, stating that all officers on transfer out of the zone only have 30 days grace to vacate their accommodation while retired ones living in the ‘barracks’ have a grace period of 90 days only to pack out.

It is noteworthy that Gowon Estate is not a barrack for the customs, police, army or any other agency. It is government residential area for its workers, which does not place customs in charge of evicting any occupant.

According to some of the retired customs officers, who spoke to Independent, there is palpable fear among them after paying the expression of interest fee. They regretted why the former CG did not allow them to enjoy what the Federal Government has given them as right.

Speaking to Independent, Umeadi Augustine, who retired as Inspector of customs, said there is every reason to believe the Federal Government is not aware of the threat to their occupancy of the houses.

“I sincerely do not think the Federal Government is aware of this threat. It is just between the customs and the Presidential Committee.

“When the former CG could not succeed in acquiring the 511 Road part of customs and the 10 bungalows, he sought the assistance of the then Secretary to Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Amyim, who, we gathered, asked the secretary of the committee to give our apartment to customs.

“What I don’t know is whether he acquired it for himself or for the customs. Why we are still here is because Dikko and Gbemudu were removed. Perhaps we would have been thrown out even when the Federal Government has not spoken on the contrary concerning the sale of the flats to legal-sitting tenants,” he said.

“Sadly, in this estate, both the retired staff of police, NAN, army, CBN, etc, have all gotten their offers, why did they single us out,” he queried.

Speaking in the same vein, another retired officer of the customs, Lawrence Biodun, who retired as Deputy Superintendent of Customs (DSC), said when the issue of the sale came up, government’s two blocks of 32 flats at FESTAC Town, occupied by retired customs officers, was also mentioned and all the officers there have bought them.

“In FESTAC, they have all gotten their flats as owners, but what is Dikko’s interest in this Gowon Estate? We face serious ejection as I speak to you and we don’t know the next line of action. While other government workers are relaxing having bought over their apartments, we are being put under intense pressure after serving the country meritoriously,” he said.

When Independent spoke with another retiree, Samuel Edore, who retired as Assistant Superintendent of Customs (ASC), he urged the new CG to liaise with the committee and complete the whole process towards issuing them offer letters as their neighbours in other flats have gotten.

“Why should the authorities segregate a section of its people? What have the police, army, NAN and others done that we the customs retirees did not do? I want the whole process to be revisited and completed.

“This estate does not belong to customs. During Obasanjo’s regime, he said any government agency that desires to build a barrack for its staff should get a land and do so.

“These are no barracks; they are Federal Government’s properties. Government has taken decision on them to give them to owner-occupiers. Why did customs allow the flats in FESTAC to be sold to legal-sitting tenants and have special interest in the ones at Gowon Estate?”

Meanwhile, a widower, Gregory Ogbuta, whose wife died as Inspector of Customs, is equally faced with ejection with his children. He appealed to the government to do something urgently for the retired and serving personnel.

“There is a deliberate plan and conspiracy to deny these officers, including my dead wife, what rightly belongs to them. The last CG, in connivance with the Assistant Comptroller, Zone A, Gbemudu, is the one cornering the flats, possibly, for himself.

“You know when President Buhari removed Dikko, Gbemudu started fully to champion our eviction, so he was actually fronting for Dikko. Where do they want me to go with the children,” he rued.

Another retired Inspector of Customs, Okorie Godwin, merely questioned the rationale for revoking the sale after the former CG wrote to the committee for a waiver to exempt the customs quarters at Gowon Estate from the sale.

He said Dikko wrote the letter after he had contacted Anyim, then SGF, and that the latter persuaded the committee to revoke what rightly were their rights.

On why the new CG, retired Col Hameed Ibrahim Ali, has not reacted to the development, Umeadi said: “I believe the present CG is acting based on the information available to him.

“They gave him a handover note where they said some customs retirees are adamant to quit their official residence; I even heard that they even mentioned Gowon Estate to him. It all depends on what he was briefed during handing over. I heard he said they should do forceful ejection.

“They can do it elsewhere, not here; this place is not owned by customs but by the Federal Government, who has taken decision on it,” he said.

On why they have not resorted to legal means to reverse the revocation, the retirees said they went to court after receiving a letter of the revocation only to be told that the case is time-bound and that they never came within three months they received the letter.

“Immediately the issues started, we sued the Implementation Committee that after filling the forms and paying the N10, 000 each, they now told us that our own apartment is exempted.

“But whether it was from the lawyer or who, what we got in 2014 during the ruling was that we did not come within three months of getting the letter rescinding the committee’s decision to sell the properties. They told us that the case is time-bound. That was the language they used and that ended it.

“After Gbemudu was retired, we have not been threatened except the quit letter of January, which came from Abuja,” Umeadi said.

Meanwhile, a member of the Presidential Committee, who declined mentioning, advised the aggrieved customs’ legal-sitting tenants to revisit the case in the court of law, saying the retirees have a good case and should pursue what belongs to them.

The frightened former customs officers are pleading for continued process for them to buy out the flats in line with Federal Government’s policy of owner-occupier sales. When Independent correspondent visited the Presidential Implementation Committee office in Abuja, which is situated at Edo House, Central Business District, Secretary to the Committee was said to be out of his duty post.

Our correspondent was then referred to another senior officer in charge of such complaints. The officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said the affected occupants should exercise patience as they were looking into the issue.

The official noted that there were other people who bought such properties years back but are yet to get their Certificate of Occupancy till date.

On the grievances of the custom officers in Gowon Estate, Lagos, she said the committee was yet to receive further directive from the Department of Lands and Survey of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, currently under the purview of Babatunde Fashola.

At the lands and survey department, where Independent also visited and presented the names of one of the affected occupants, Umeadi Augustine, the officer in charge of such landed properties punched Umeadi’s name in the computer system where he spotted his details but said there was little he could do, unless the complainant comes with his letter of offer to the ministry.