Bola A. Akinterinwa
When the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, noted in 2016 that Nigeria was ‘fantastically corrupt, he was apparently looking at corruption at the highest level and not at the lower levels. David Cameron, who was re-appointed the British Foreign Secretary last week Monday, 13 November 2023, cannot but have his view of a corrupt Nigeria further strengthened if he is told that the Governor of Lagos State since 2019, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has been programmed to commission the newly-built Sabo Market in Yaba, in Lagos Mainland Local Government Area. The date of commissioning is yet to be made clear
The Sabo Market, reconstructed to replace the old one built less than 25 years ago by Mr. Timothy Akinniyi, with the active support of Mr. Sanmi Lawal and Bola A. Akinterinwa, is good and welcome a development project. However it is very filthy in design and allocation, most unfortunate in ethnic projection, and very damaging in its international implications, especially for the Government of Lagos which preaches the gospel of Lagos as a State of Excellence. The current major pillars of contemporary international relations include human and humanitarian rights, justice and fairness for all in political governance, maintenance of peace and security, peaceful resolution of conflicts, and promotion of anti-corruption policies.
More important, the United Nations Convention against Corruption is about preventing corruption by criminalising it, promoting international cooperation on it, ensuring asset recovery, and giving technical assistance and exchanging information exchange on it. The Convention was done by the United Nations General Assembly on 31 October, 2003 in resolution 58/4/2003, which came into force on 14 December, 2005. The Convention, which is a resultant of the seven sessions of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Negotiation of the Convention against Corruption held between January 21, 2002 and October 1, 2003, deals with all facets of corruption ranging from bribery, abuse of functions in both the public and private sectors.
Nigeria is a signatory to the 2003 Convention, and, in fact, played an active part in the making of the Convention. By implication, the Government of Nigeria and all the constitutive States of Nigeria are pretty bound to prevent bribery, corruption and political irrationalities that have come to characterise the politics of re-building the Sabo Market, the allocation of shops and the injustice and unfairness on which both the Chairman of the Mainland Local Government, Mr, Kayode Omiyale, and the developer of the market, have based the allocation of the new shops. They adopted the crooked politics of robbing Peter to pay Paul and are asking the Governor of the State of Excellence to come and endorse it by commissioning the market. We vehemently oppose any manu militari commissioning of the market without first addressing all the public complaints.
The Truth and Sabo Market Corruption
As noted above, there were three main stakeholders in the building of the old Sabo Market, Mr. Timothy Akinniyi to whom the building contract was given, Mr. Sanmi Lawal, who left the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs to focus on market business, especially on the extension of Oyingbo Market, and myself, Bola A. Akinterinwa. At the inception of the endeavour, there was no money. I took the first loan from the then Universal Trust Bank, Obalende Branch, Lagos. It was the loan that served as the take-off building capital and that enabled advertorials to be made and for work to commence. Thiss attracted interested market women and men to begin to make deposits.
In appreciation of this financial support, Mr. Akinniyi allocated, not only to himself, but also to me and Sanmi Lawal, some shops facing the main road, Commercial Avenue. All those who assisted in the granting of the loan in the bank, especially my wife, Yetunde, who was then a member of the UTB staff, were allocated shops. Many members of staff of the NIIA were also allocated shops. I paid for the two allocated special shops facing the Commercial Avenue for the purposes of a Francophone Bookshop. My wife also acquired the two shops in front of the second row of buildings facing the Commercial Avenue. I also helped six other Nigerians, including Mrs. Misafola Akinrinbola, a retired seasoned nurse, Olamide Akinterinwa, Mr. and Mrs. Funso and Feyi Olamigoke, Mrs. Adisa, all of whom are Nigerians in the Diaspora. In short, I had nine shops in my care, including my own shops and that of Mrs. Misafola Akinrinbola. The managers of the market never thought it fit to officially inform shop owners about their new policy developments.
When some of the owners of the shops travelled out of the country and were not available in their first year of absence to pay the annual dues required by the Local Government Council, some officials of the Council fraudulently changed ownership of two shops and sold them to new people. When I challenged the new buyers, I was told that the shops had been sold to them by some Local Government officials, whose identities were not revealed. Rather than use force to tackle the problem, I sent a letter to the incumbent Chairman, Mr. Omiyale.
In my letter to him, which was officially acknowledged, I raised the issue of two shops fraudulently acquired by some of his members of staff. He responded that he was not there by then and that I should not bother much about that, since a new structure would soon be put in place, and that the two shops in question would surely be replaced as all the shops would be sold. I agreed in the spirit of a gentleman. I and my group had nine shops in the market. When the reconstruction of the market began, four people, Mrs Comfort Adelosoye, Mrs Kemi Oni, Mr and Mrs Niyi Aina, and Mr. Idris Musa, who was occupying my two special shops facing the Commercial Avenue, paid for shops through me. My wife also made a deposit through me. Thus I made an initial deposit of N21m for the shops.
The genesis of the fraudulent practice began with the non-official notification about all the allocation processes to all shop owners in the market. It was alleged that the Market leader was in charge of that responsibility. I never related with any market leader on shop demolition and re-allocation. The Local Government Council was collecting all legal dues from me and relating directly with shop owners. The Council never related with me through any market leader when collecting various taxes from me as a shop owner. In other words, the Local Government Chairman, Kayode Omiyale, and the market developer, Mr. Chris Onyekachi Simon of the Total Value Nigeria Integrated Services, consciously disregarded my fundamental right to be first considered for allocation of shops. The developer wrongly ignored the law of the land by selling to chronies without any due regard to existing shop owners.
Secondly, the developer first put in place two rows of blocks and sold the shops to existing shop owners at N3m if on the ground floor, N2.1m if on the first floor. It is important to note here that it is with the monies paid by potential buyers that the developer was able to develop the market. However, the developer opted to sell shops on the basis of highest bidder, to politicians and ethnic relations. This is an area that researchers should turn their torchlight to.
The critical problem here is that when the other two rows of blocks were completed, owners of shops who could not be accommodated in the first two rows of completed blocks were asked to pay the new cost price of N5m for shops on the ground floor and N4m for shops on the first floor. I vehemently opposed any payment of money above what the old owners of shops paid. The developer argued the case of increase in the cost of building materials. I responded that should not be my own headache because he should have given me priority in the first instance as a shop owner, and more interestingly as the first financier of the demolished market. My arguments meant nothing to the developer. The developer simply made use of depositors’ monies. For the nine shops demolished by the developer for the purposes of the so-called ultra-modern market shops, which truly cannot be so described, I made a deposit of N21m which has been in the possession of the developer for more than two years now. The developer took advantage of my deposit and that of many others and still have the effrontery of not giving me priority. This is political recklessness cum a very fraudulent practice.
Thirdly, as noted above, I have nine shops and I refused to pay any new rate. I raised this issue with Mr. Kayode Omiyale in his office. I requested for a tripartite meeting to comprise myself, himself and the developer to deal with the issue. At least, four times in his office, he promised to invite the developer but he always promised to no avail. I never for once doubted his excuses since from 8am till after office hours, people are always waiting for him. If you are a visiting party man, you can always be lucky to be quickly received in audience. Occasionally, when his assistants, who were always very friendly and receiving people with warmth, consider that I had been waiting for too long, they often go in to draw the attention of Mr. Omiyale to it and I would be called in, but calling me is only to be told the same excuse of inability to get the developer. In a nutshell, no tripartite meeting ever took place.
Eventually, Mr. Omiyale, to whom my 12 applications for shop allocation (nine for me and three fresh allocations) were submitted, was kind enough to give me the bank particulars and account number to which I should pay. I refused to pay the new rate of five million but promised to make deposits in anticipation of a meeting with the developer. Mr. Omiyale promised to do something about it and I accepted to pay the new rate for the fresh applications channelled through me.
If Mr. Akinniyi, Mr. Lawal, and I had not laid the foundation on which the new market is built, he would not have had it easily to build any new market. He took people’s deposit to make a headway and in the process opted to rob Peter to pay Paul. Based on this, I object to the opportunistic mainmise by politician Kayode Omiyale and contractor Onyekachi. I have nine shops and I insist on nine shops to be allocated. Alternatively, special compensation must be paid to me for the nine shops. This is what Mr. Omiyale and Mr. Onyekachi do not want to do because they have illegitimately robbed peter to pay Paul. When enquiries about the current allocatees are completed, the dirtiness in the allocations shall be clearly shown. Meanwhile, Lagos cannot be rightly described as a State of Excellence if it continues to condone corruption. This is why Governor Sanwo-Olu should make haste slowly in going to commission the market. There are other people in my situation who have left their cases for God to handle but this is not the best approach to building a virile society free from toga of irrationalities, political chicanery and institutional corruption. In the State of Excellence, let the ‘excellence’ be defined by fairness, justice, integrity, honesty and objectivity of purpose at all times.
The International Dimensions
Many of my readers may think that the following corruption narrative is not really a big deal especially in light of the rampant corruption that has become a way of life in Nigeria. It is important to note here that efforts are being made to change the current international economic order and environment. Besides, the likelihood of a change in power structure also appears to be imminent with the heightening of international insecurity. And perhaps more importantly, Lagosians cannot be singing the songs of excellence and at the same time be frolicking around with musical bands of corruption. The need for a State of Excellence is a desideratum.
In ensuring this, it must begin with an investigation of the magouilles surrounding the Sabo Market in all its ramifications.
Good enough, Mr Onyekachi prided himself on April 2nd, 2022 as ‘the billionaire, whose company is in charge of construction of shops in all markets in Lagos State,’ and who is seeking to represent Igboeze North and Udenu Federal Constituency during the 2023 legislative elections (vide tectono-business.com). His quest to represent his people cannot but raise questions: does he have the character and personality of a representative? He may have it as one bad case cannot be enough to make a general conclusion. His company has been the only building market shops in Lagos State. Why is this so? Is this a pointer to institutional corruption? Mr Omiyale was the class teacher of my children at the Auntie Bola Nursery School. His integrity and honesty of purpose was never in question. This actually explains why I have always believed whatever he told me. But foolishly of me, I never see in him that he has now become a typical Nigerian politician. Without any whiff of doubt, however, the corruption in Sabo Market has consequences.
First implication is the likely perception of Lagos State Government as a not reliable government at home and abroad. When the old market shops were sold, there was no specification of time limit. It was a policy of you buy and own. When I challenged Mr. Omiyale on why the demolition of the market at this time, he claimed an approved existence of 25 years which I disagreed with. Even if admittedly, the tenure is for 25 years, why should there be demolition of the market before the expiration of 25 years? Why did the Local Government not make it clear that ownership of the shops would be for 25 years? In the specific case of the new market, what is the policy on tenure of ownership? In the eyes of international investors, the moment the Government is perceived to be no longer reliable, especially conceding land for 25 years and destroying the basis of the concession before the end of the expiration, the image of Government is necessarily tainted and cannot be good for credibility purposes.
Secondly and true enough, ownership of land in Nigeria belongs to the Government. The contents of what is within the land or under the ground also belongs to the Government. However, it is equally true that whatever is put on the land in terms of property belongs to the person that put the property on the land. By implication, if Government wants to do away with any person’s property on its land, justice and fairness demand the payment of compensation, especially when there is a government approval for the placement of a property on its land.
In the context of the new Sabo Market, no compensation was contemplated, not to say payment. Even if we equate the reduction in the cost price for the old shop owners as an expression of compensation in another form, the problem still remains the faith of people who had shops and are neither considered for allocation nor for compensation. Political governance in Lagos must stop oppressing the law-abiding people of Nigeria, in general, and people of Lagos, in particular. The Local Government Chairman and the developer are apparently frolicking around, wrapped up in the glory of their political connections and believing that nothing would happen since they believe that they enjoy governmental support. Time will tell, to borrow from Jimmy Cliff.
The perception of ordinary people like us is that, if the developer and the Local Government chairman act in their manner because nothing would happen to them after all, it cannot but be because government officials might have been settled the Nigerian way. This perception cannot but be so as many politicians were allocated shops without payment as at the time of our research inquiries in the market. Such beneficiaries are therefore expected to give protection. This in itself is a challenge for the anti-corruption agencies.
Thirdly, if we admit that government officials had been settled, would the settlement had included ignoring respect for building specifications? Put differently, has the market been built according to the approved specifications, particularly in terms of security protection? What is the extent of quality assurance? These questions necessarily point to the need for Government not to be used to cover up the inadequacies and in-fighting in the Sabo Market and others. Going to the market to commission it is nothing more than an endorsement by government. We are not unaware of the many cases of government-approved building plans but which have not been complied, and hence, have resulted in the collapse of the buildings and the taking of life of innocent and law-abiding citizens.
Fourthly, bribery and corruption in the manner the handlers of Sabo Market are going about it has the potential to seriously damage the dignity of the Sanwo-Olu administration domestically and internationally apart from damaging the morale and reputation of the Lagos Mainland Local Government. As noted in www.undc.org regarding anti-corruption, ‘people lose trust in leaders, in social systems (public institutions) and sometimes even in society and ethics itself when they sense that corruption is widespread and corrupt actors are not being held accountable.’ Additionally, the UNDC says ‘corruption increases inequality, decreases popular accountability and political responsiveness, and thus produces rising frustration and hardship.’
Fifthly and perhaps more importantly, it is internationally believed that corruption often has little impact on the rich but harms more the poor people. There is no disputing the fact that corruption is unfriendly to new investments and therefore limits economic growth, and more disturbingly, altering government spending. As observed by Paolo Mauro in his ‘Why Worry about Corruption?’ (vide www.imf.org) , ‘among the many disagreeable aspects of corruption is evidence that it slows economic growth through a wide range of channels… Empirical evidence suggests that corruption lowers investment and retards economic growth… Where rent seeking proves more lucrative than productive work, talent will be misallocated… When it takes the form of tax evasion or claiming improper tax exemptions, corruption may bring about loss of tax revenue.’ Paulo Mauro further noted that ‘by reducing tax collection or raising the level of public expenditure, corruption may lead to adverse budgetary consequences… The allocation of public procurement contracts through a corrupt system may lead to lower quality of infrastructure and public services.’ This is precisely the situation with Sabo Market. This is also the caution to which we are drawing the attention of the Governor of the State of Excellence.
Political governance in Nigeria is, lato sensu, driven by oppression of the poor and the law-abiding citizens. The Federal Government collected N260,000 deposit from me for a 3-bedroom semi-detached bungalow in Festac Town in 1994 when Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande was Minister of Works and Housing. The cost of the bungalow was N200,000. N40,000 initial deposit was required. General Abdulkareem Alabi Adisa who succeeded Alhaji Jakande increased the deposit from N40,000 to N200,000 and the total cost from Jakande’s N200,000 to N800,000. As at today, there is no allocation and no refund. In Lagos State, I paid N500,000 for a plot of land under the Isheri North housing project under the military administration of Brigadier-General Buba Marwa. Even though the case of Isheri North project is far from being corruption-driven or fraudulent, the truth is that since 1994 when I paid for the Jakande project and since 1996 when I paid for the Isheri North plot, there has not been any allocation or refund. Today, it is again the case of Sabo Market. Why are Nigerian leaders always wicked and ignoring the protection of justice, fairness, honesty and fear of God? Why should Nigeria remain fantastically corrupt? I had nine shops in the old Sabo Market and I am not asking for less or more. We demand justice and fairness.