Sina Kawonise, the last Commissioner for Information and Orientation in the administration of a former Governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, in this piece on behalf of his boss, writes on how land administration was handled in the eight years of his government. The full write up, an obvious response to the White Paper based on which the Ogun State Government has seized a number of property acquired by Daniel during his tenure, is reproduced below unedited:
Ordinarily, after 8 years of work, real hard work, in the service of Ogun State, all of us who served in the government led by Otunba Gbenga Daniel, the immediate past Governor of the state, should maintain a dignified silence in order to allow the new Senator Ibikunle Amosun government to settle down to serve the people without distraction. That was precisely what we decided to do as we asked the people of Ogun state to cooperate with the new administration in the overall interest of our people.
This gesture from us, based on the firm instruction of our leader and Governor for 8 years, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, was, from the very first day in the life of the Senator Amosun’s government, not respected, neither was it reciprocated. The stance of Governor Amosun and his government has been adversarial and hostile in the extreme to the policies, actions, legacies and leading functionaries of our administration. We wanted to be silent but we found that impossible in the face of bare-faced lies, obscurantism, revisionism and reactionary disposition of Governor Amosun and his government. We felt compelled to provide clarifications for our people all over the country and across the globe who are daily being fed with lies and half-truths on a daily basis.
We have also been reluctant to reply point-to-point to the misinformation of the current government because most of the issues on which our people are being misinformed are part of the ongoing court processes, especially the 43-count charge for which our leader, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, was arraigned by the EFCC in an High Court in Abeokuta. In recognisance of the law and practice that restrain people from commenting on matters already in the courts, we held our peace even in the face of the massive propaganda, being funded with the resources of the people placed in the custody of the government, against us and the government we ran. The whole purpose of the Amosun government, which has become very clear to all discerning minds, is to confuse the public and tendentiously influence the judiciary concerning the relevant cases before it.
It is against the background of the above stated explanation that we make the following explanation:
On 29th May 2003, when we assumed office, land in Ogun State was WORTH VERY LITTLE. At that time, the most expensive land allocated in any GRA anywhere in Ogun State was less than N1m. The only exception was the Hilltop in Abeokuta opened up by the Administration before us. Although all the available space was already allocated at that time, not a single plot was built up at the Hilltop. It is apt to say that rather than revoke a single plot from all the ones allocated by Osoba administration, we went to a virgin forest and developed what we named Olusegun Obasanjo Hilltop GRA. In other areas such as Ijebu Ode, Sagamu and Ilaro, GRAs existed only in name as there was hardly any infrastructure that defined them as such. The cost of land was between N300,000 and N800,000 per plot and there was very little demand for land in those areas. The usual retort by most people offered land at that time was “what do I do with it?” Real estate business was not very viable anywhere in Ogun State. In fact there was not a single Real Estate development anywhere in the State. That was 2003.
The other major challenge which we met was massive unemployment both at Graduate and other levels. It was commonplace to find graduates of 6 years or more roaming the streets unemployed. To tackle this challenge, we decided that (1) we would not retrench workers in both the civil and teaching services; and (2) we would double the workforce to reduce the level of unemployment. We thank God that we kept faith with these resolutions till the very end even in the face of the terrible cash crunch that beset us in the last three years of our government. During our tenure, there was absolute job security because nobody’s job was under any threat whatsoever notwithstanding his/her political or religious persuasion.
In addition to this, we reasoned that another means to engage the tens of thousands of existing and new graduates in our state was through massive infrastructural development and construction in an ingenious way in order to create a multiplier effect on the economy. This is a time tested macroeconomic concept which several developed countries such as Germany and China adopted to jump-start and consolidate their economies. It was on this basis that we promoted and executed several Housing Estates, some through Public Private Partnership (PPP) and others through direct government funding. We added 37 Housing Estates to the three we met on ground.
Unlike the Ogun State of today which is awash with cash – which we did not have; for example, the total income of the State in the last 8 months is approximately what we had in 2 years prior – the only major revenue source, apart from the allocations from the Federation Accounts, was land, which, again, was not in high demand at the time. Our strategy as a Government was to liberalize Land Administration and make land attractive to would-be investors and potential users who mostly considered only Lagos, Abuja and Port Hacourt as investment destinations. We deliberately made land cheap. We were neither stupid nor foolish. Neither too were we oblivious of what could immediately come into the purse of the government if we put what is now being referred to as the “real value” on the land.
Our strategy was very simple: attract the Developer first, no matter what he/she wished to build – Residential, Commercial, Industrial, Religious etc. – with cheap land, and then recover the initial concession multiple fold with Taxes, Tenement rates and Levies after the investor must have constructed immovable properties in the State. We were well aware that the income would not be immediate but we were certain that in the medium and long terms, the State would bountifully reap the dividends. We feel gratified and fulfilled that this strategy worked wonderfully well, as confirmed by the significant increment in the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the State in recent times.
The tool for carrying through that innovative policy was the prerogative of the Governor conferred on him by the Land Use Act which gave authority to him to grant generous Rebates, Discounts and Waivers on Land charges and Costs. It must be stated that despite these Rebates, Discounts and Waivers, which, unfortunately, are now being presented as crime against the state, the monthly IGR of the state from land administration actually tripled on the pre-2003 levels.
The result of that deliberate strategy and the consequent policy was that Ogun State became the Investment destination of choice and we were able to create relative prosperity right in the midst of a national and global recession. China, probably the most sought-after investment country in the world, chose Ogun State as her main partner in Africa for investment purposes. We secured three Free Trade Zones for Ogun State alone. One of these, the OGUN-GUANGDONG Free trade zone in Igbesa, already employed over 10,000 people before we left government. This is a living testimony of this initiative.
We probably need to state here that these feats did not come easy: they involved sleepless nights, endless strategy sessions, strenuous and tortuous overseas trips, pleadings and indescribable perseverance. For instance, the Chinese had decided to take the Guangdong Free Trade Zone to Imo State before we intercepted it for Ogun State. Others in this instance include The OLOKOLA Free Trade Zone (home to the reportedly biggest Deep Sea Port in Africa and the biggest LNG project in the world), and the Kajola Specialized Free Trade Zone. Let it be noted that one free trade zone was slated for and sited in each of the three Senatorial districts of Ogun State. No other state in Nigeria boasts of this feat. These are the direct results of our liberalized land policy using the instrumentalities of Rebates, Discounts and Waivers, and Tax Holidays. It is our prayer that God in His mercy will give our state
men and women with vision and the capacity to see the larger picture and dream big dreams, so that these initiatives which hold the key to the transformation of our dear state are not lost to parochialism and politics of bitterness.
We need to remind our people that several conglomerates and multinationals were already relocating outside Ogun State and Nigeria to Ghana and elsewhere when we started this initiative. For example, the Giant Coca Cola actually relocated from Ogun State to Ivory Coast because previous administrations were not alert to what was going on in the corporate world. We successfully arrested that trend with our land and industrialisation policy.
And we need to state this also: there was nobody, individual or corporate organization, irrespective of religious or political persuasion, that applied for land in Ogun State that was turned down. This is not a claim that many governments can make in these parts of the world. The sudden increase in the demand for land and the avalanche of applications for same brought great challenges. The Bureau of Lands became overwhelmed and was unable to cope. The dearth of human resource, especially Land Surveyors and Town Planners, who were grossly inadequate, put pressure on the Bureau beyond measure. We created the new and independent Bureau Of Lands under a Director-General, a Surveyor attracted from Lagos, with a view to reorganizing the extant department. Meeting on ground a manual system of land administration in the state, part of his brief was to computerise the Lands Registry and the Survey Process through AGIS. The computerisation process was ongoing as we left office last May. Computerisation became necessary due to several instances of double allocation and the resultant confusion all of which was due to both the manual system and the surge in demand. Incidents of double allocation were routine and a daily occurrence which we authorized the Bureau to resolve as they occurred since we were convinced that they were not deliberate. We hope the current administration will complete the computerisation project in order to eliminate cases of double allocations which are now being projected and treated as deliberate abuse of office to achieve devious political goals and confuse the polity. It is for this reason that we set up The Land Ratification Committee under Mr Niyi Salako, A Special Adviser to the Governor, to resolve all such matters which ran into thousands statewide without apportioning blames nor boring the innocent public with what ordinarily should be a routine government function.
At this junction, it is necessary to cite a few examples of organisations that benefited from this deliberate liberalised land policy, without any conditionalities; Ogun Guangdong Free Trade Zone, OLOKOLA Free Trade Zone, Nestle Foods Plc, WEMPCO Ltd, Leventis Group, UTC group, Dangote Group, PARCO Group, Obasanjo Farms Ltd, Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, Multitrex Plc, Midland Galvanizing Co Ltd, Coleman Wires & Cables Ltd., Ascon, Tayo Aderinokun’s Day Watermans College, Nigerian Turkish International School, Winners Chapel, Redeemed Christian Church of God, Deeper Life Bible Church, NASFAT, Zumratul Islamiyah Organization, The Methodist Church of Nigeria, The Nigerian Anglican Communion, The Church of the Lord, C & S, World Evangelism Bible Church, The Punch Newspapers, Tribune Newspapers, Business Hallmark, Western Publications Ltd, Tell Magazine, among so many others.
There is hardly any new company operating in Ogun State in the last 8 years who did not benefit from either discounts or waivers or rebates or some forms of concession as an instrument of investment attraction to Ogun state. The strategic objective of this policy was to create jobs and develop businesses for our people.
In the course of doing these, the former Governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, in his 8-year tenure, must have signed Certificates of Occupancy in excess of 100,000, sometimes signing up to 100 in a day whenever a backlog existed. Wherever such pressure and excess work load ocurred, errors cannot but happen. The truth, however, is that such consequent errors were not deliberate and there was no intention to profit from them, neither was there any actual personal benefits accruing therefrom. Rather, we did what we needed to do to reposition our dear state, and the state was so repositioned.
What was expected of the Amosun administration is to continue from where we left it, improve on it, and take Ogun State to the next level; rather than the current politicisation of serious development issues, reversal of gains, cancellation of legacies, debasement of the exalted office of the Governor, demeaning government, short-changing the people, and heating up of the polity.