Bala Mohammed, minister of the Federal Capital Territory, discusses his ambitious land swap projects, other signature projects, security and governance in the territory in this interview with Anayochukwu Agbo, general editor, and Tajudeen Suleiman, senior associate editor. He says what drives him is for President Goodluck Jonathan to leave legacies. Excerpts:
Congratulations on the recent ground breaking of the Centenary City. What does the flag-off of the Centenary City mean to you?
The ground breaking of the Centenary City is the climax of what we have set out to achieve and we have achieved it by creating an enabling environment for private sector development to thrive in the Federal Capital Territory, whether we are there or not. That is taking private sector initiative to a point of no return. We are getting about N2 trillion investment that is purely private sector, with us only providing the access for land across the framework that we started. That is the land swap for infrastructure.
What highlights of the Centenary City excites you?
The highlight of it is the equity structure, the way it is packaged; the new framework that has been developed away from the general mass housing structure, the accelerated development structure, even in addition to the land swap which is a purely private sector development. Where you create an environment, people come and set up equity for themselves and of course build a city within a city that has all the components of a smart city, a friendly city and of course it has a statue that is supervised by the Federal Capital Development Authority in terms of making sure standards are followed. Again, the biggest excitement is that it will create opportunity for employment because only about 40 per cent of the land mass is going to be developed for real estate development. The rest are for the development of mixed used facilities, education, health, hotels, work and play, and so on and so forth, so that we create huge opportunity for employment.
What role exactly is FCT playing in the development of the Centenary City?
The role we played is to widen the Centenary City. The President wanted to bring something new; it deepened our existence for the last hundred years. What is there is to be left as a legacy, a landmark for us to remember. It started like a district for 350 hectares and now it grew into 1,300 hectares. In resettlement and compensation, our framework or guidelines must be followed, in the sense that you must settle the rights and privileges of the original people in the territory before you embark on any major development. It is a complete shift from the previous arrangement where district development were done without taking into cognisance the cost of resettlement and compensation, and therefore giving us a lot of community relations problems.
So essentially, the role played by FCT is to midwife it and to make sure that we are still part of it so that it will form a part and parcel of our component of growth of IGR (internally generated revenue). We still maintain a minimal relationship in terms of equity, taking care not to be there in total so that we don’t impinge the project. We have taken five per cent of the equity; that is monetising our own premium of land, and that is land per square metre. We have given them certificate of occupancy and therefore we must be paid but because we have not been paid, we have decided to allow them use the money that they would have paid us for premium and development charges to have them in equity.
When will it be fully developed?
Six years, according to developers. We thought it was going to be four years but because of the huge capital outlay that is required, it has to take longer. They have to do the procurement of the contractor that would do two-legged development; first the primary infrastructure, the provision of roads, water, sewage, electricity and secondary investment which is the development of the land use that is embedded in the structure. That is to say, the hospitals, the schools and there are some portions of government presence there. Because residential arcade is going to be built by the developers and like the President said, it is going to live forever. It is not just going to be two plots or three plots; it will be growing with every president. Certainly it will take about six years to do and because it is the biggest city within the city investment in the world. So you can now imagine how much it is, but all in all investors are excited. They have already established a sales office that costs about €2.5 million. This means that they mean business.
Is there any difference between the Centenary City and Abuja as a whole?
No, I think there is a lot of misconception. Centenary City is the part and parcel of Abuja. Abuja is the national project of the Federal Capital City (FCC). Abuja is a generic name for Federal Capital Territory that is 8,000 square kilometres with an embedded FCC of 250 square kilometres. So the city is within the embedded 250 kilometres; it is just a small portion in the FCC. So all the rules, regulations, guidelines, master plans, structure plans and of course our land and survey guidelines – that is urban and regional plan – must be applied on the Centenary City. It is just like the parks and the other cities that we have in the FCC. We have Gwarimpa which is larger than the Centenary City. Gwarimpa is over 3,000 hectares and it is still within Abuja although we have a problem with the Federal Housing Authority that we are resolving. We have learnt from that and we make sure that we don’t give any jurisdictional responsibility because constitutionally only the Federal Capital Territory and the area councils are recognised by the constitution. So there is no any special status other than say the Centenary City is a free trade zone, which is an economic status given so that it will attract investments.
That brings us to land swap, which appears to be a novel idea you are experimenting with in Nigeria. What is land swap all about?
The fact is that the only resource we have in Abuja is land for the moment. It is structured like other big cities of the world. We have 79 district sector areas but for the last 35 years, we only developed 11 districts and three sector areas in Wuse and Garki. We are still moving and it is expected to be completed in 25 years. Now we are 35 years, we have only done one over seven (1/7) of the project. So we had to look inward to see what they can do; innovate, recreate, invent to accelerate the implementation of the Abuja national project using land as a resource. In doing that, there is a complete departure from the usage of the budgetary allocation over the years. So land swap is the utilisation of land as a resource to develop the Abuja master plan. And we have done it successfully looking at our own needs, infrastructure deficit, housing and real estate deficit.
What were the conflicts in terms of appropriation that led you to it?
The complex and inadequacies that we have had in the past are the issue of the budgetary allocation from the federal government. The federal government has done so well for over the years they have spent over N2 trillion on Abuja. But as I said, it is only one over seven of the resources needed. They have brought the seed money; they have made the land successful; it has made the land in Abuja valuable, it is left to us to innovate and recreate and see what we can do within the best global practice to develop the city rather than completely restricting ourselves to what the federal government will give us because it has been decreasing over the years.
What was the decline in the flow like?
When I came, FCT was being given N350 billion per annum from the national budget. But now we are only getting N37 billion because there are other contending needs with it. Government has other very important responsibilities in education, health, employment, in infrastructure generally and roads in the country. They cannot just take everything and give for development in Abuja and abandon others. I understood. I said okay, let us use our brains to recreate and rediscover ourselves. This is a discovery that we have done by trying to leverage on private capital and to achieve about N500 billion in investment. Even the preliminary, that is to say, money that we will get from the budget to do the consultancy, the design, the urban and regional plans and the engineering design is provided by the investor to the tune of N4.2 billion. So right from the onset I discovered that Nigerians, not only foreigners, are ready and they have resources to do it.
What is the sharing structure in the land swap districts between FCTA and the investors?
May be 40/60. We say, you can take 60 per cent of the district and provide the entire infrastructure. We have developable land to be given to Nigerians, away from what we are doing now. We go to Kabusa and allocate land to a district; we don’t know when we are going to provide the district infrastructure. Here the investor is taking 60 per cent and then we are taking 40 per cent. Certainly the investor will take more because he used his money to develop the district, which we would have used our money to develop. So now we are at a point of equilibrium where both of us are happy – the investors and government – it is a win-win situation.
Some people feel that land swap is ‘land grab’ by influential people and people in power. You have 16 to 18 investors, how fair and transparent were the choosing process?
Land swap is a private investment, it is not a procurement done like what you normally do in district development where we at the times follow the guidelines of the people because the government is bringing money. This time, we are running after investors who have the wherewithal. It is a new thing; nobody believed in it. We had to take care and bring stake holding to a level that it will be convincing; there must be creation of conviction and confidence. So what we did was to make sure we did a town hall meeting to explain the framework to Nigerians. The first place was the Economic Management Team of the President – of course they are the major adviser.
The President had to be convinced because what we are doing in the territory is on his behalf. Whatever good or bad we do in the territory, he has 100 per cent; the development, the boom is done by Mr President, not by Bala because he gave me the latitude, the leverage and the opportunity to do it. So we did a brief to him and he agreed that we should do a brief to the Economic Management Team. We did that. Then we called all the investors to Hilton to make sure we connect with investors.
The major thing is transparency, fairness and accountability. You must have the capacity, the financial and technical well-being to do the land swap. You will not just come because you know Bala or you know Mr President or you know Mr Vice President or any other person and get recognised as land swap investor, we will carry out due diligence. Fortunately, we have what it takes to do due diligence through Abuja Infrastructure and Investment Centre that is headed by Farouk Sani. We are also partnering with the Infrastructure and Regulatory Agency set up by the federal government. They carry out a due diligence on you to make sure that your accounts are true, that you have technical capacity, your background and confirm that your antecedents are such that you can do this kind of project.
Many stakeholders are apprehensive about the legal backing for the land swap project because of the instability of government policies. Would you say legal backing is robust enough to guarantee the investors and would-be subscribers security for their investment?
Yes. The guarantee is that the Federal Capital Territory has powers under the constitution to allocate land. It is just the land allocation in this regard is larger and the stakes are such that we will insist on timelines and on provision of guarantees by them in terms of capacity, in terms of technical know-how and so forth. But it is not different from mass housing allocation where we give 20 to 30 hectares and we expect them to provide everything in terms of real estate. This time around, they guarantee and we are signing a legal agreement with them to make sure their own investment is guaranteed.
Resettlement was a problem in the former system. Now how different is the land swap?
Resettlement and compensation in the past were not taken into cognisance when a district development is conceptualised. That is the preliminary in terms of the cost of the district. We built Maitama, we are building Guzape, and we are building Jahi, just taking care of the cost for the contractor. But this time we contracted with the investors and they have to provide the cost of the resettlement so that the whole cost are brought together. Resettlement, compensation, and capital development costs are all brought together to constitute a total cost of the district. In doing that we make sure we carry along the community leaders, the youth leaders and the women so that they are part and parcel of it.
The land swap project is expected to deliver thousands of houses in the FCT. What efforts are you making to ensure these houses are affordable?
Yeah! There are two components, first the houses that will be provided by the investors when they are free to sell the land, and others that will be provided because of the effort we are making to reduce the cost of accessing land. In the past major investors accessed land through the third party by buying the land. We will give it to you for mass housing free of charge but you go and sell it N250 million! That already sets off the target of our affordability to a level where it cannot be afforded by local people.
You did a ground breaking of the Dallas Caraway some time ago but it doesn’t appear to be making much progress. What is the problem with it?
It is an engineering design problem because what we have provided was so expensive and then I had problem with the investor. Later on, after agreeing with us, he came and was bringing one or two things as excuses. We are very flexible, so we said, let’s sit down and redesign the place. So we are redesigning it so that the contours, the thresholds and of course the alignment of the roads will not bring so much cost to the investor. We considered the need to flatten some areas. And some of the rocky areas need to be taken off. The land mass contour is challenging; developing it is going to be costly. But now we are reducing everything or sustaining the topography while reducing the engineering cost and it is more accessible or affordable. But certainly as you can see we have opened most of the arterial roads and we have gone very far. Of course we have given him notice that he has to be there. The issue is the procurement of the contractor. Certainly the project is not moving as much as we wanted; by now they should have done at least 30 per cent but they have only done about 10 per cent.
Apart from the core land swap projects, we also inspected a lot of signature projects coming on stream, like the Abuja Industrial Park, which looks fantastic. What does it mean to you?
It is one of our babies. We have another industrial park, Idu Industrial Park that had been allocated a long time ago, which is not moving very well. We have provided the infrastructure, we have made the allocations, certificates of occupancy have been collected, but when you visit that place, you only see warehouse being built because we have not provided the regulatory framework supervision. People are doing what they like. Immediately I was forced to issue a notice, if they don’t come and develop light industries in that place I am going to revoke it. We can see some minimal activities going on but Abuja Industrial Park we packaged along what is being done all over the world.
After visiting Turkey, we saw what they had done in their industrial park. We now looked for investors, and incidentally one was ready in Abuja because he has established the biggest batching plants here. He has resources and he can build a house in 10 days because of the technology they developed. In Turkey they build any kind of bridge in two weeks; that is the technology. So even the new park that we created for Abuja Mass Transit, he built it. He built it in two months and everything is concrete with minimal cost at only N250 million for the whole place and it is direct labour. So he said he was interested and we gave about 250 hectares and you can go and see what he is doing with his own resources. He is going to bring light and heavy industry in that place. And he is going to have independent power supply and all the facilities and auxiliary services for the park to work. He will create over one million jobs and manufacture products that are needed for the usage of the residents of the territory.
When you talked about the railway, what is the level of completion?
For the railway we have gone about 80 per cent. The light rail is supposed to serve from the city centre to the Airport and Kubwa; that is the major area that we envisage that population will expand, and you can see it is expanding because Nyanya Road is embedded but there is no room for expansion. The expansion is along the northwestern part of the city and that is why that one was done by my predecessors.
At the point I inherited it, the railway was only 20 per cent done. As you can see we have done over 80 per cent – all the rolling stocks, even the locomotives have been ordered, the slipcases are all available. The corridor is being developed almost 90 per cent. So I envisage because of the packaging of the financial plan with the booster from the Chinese EXIM Bank loan of $500 million and the provision of our counterpart funding by the federal government, we will be able to finish it. Recently, the SURE-P has been a huge support to us; they gave us N10 billion. The project is $820 million. And it is not only the $500 million that EXIM bank is giving us; we have to provide $320 million. So far, we have paid N28 billion to the Chinese as counterpart funding. Out of the 44 billion that we are supposed to provide, we have provided almost 80 per cent. When we inherited the project there was no consultant; the Chinese were just doing what they wanted. So we brought in some consultants to make sure we get the best.
Some council chairmen said there is great synergy between the area councils and FCT but they want to see the whole access in terms of transportation infrastructure in FCT within the area councils and the city. What are you doing to facilitate this?
Since I came I make sure there is nothing that we do to violate the autonomy of the area councils by taking their money in the name of joint account. We make sure that their Federation Account allocation goes straight to them. In addition to that because of what the constitution says, 10 per cent of the IGR generated by the Federal Capital Administration is given to area councils monthly.
Another exciting project is the Abuja City Centre project. What does it mean to you?
To me Abuja City Centre is the heart of Abuja; there can’t be a city without a heart centre. We have seen what our predecessors have done already in terms of development but it was very ambitious, like the way we are doing this land swap but he didn’t have time. The Abuja Centre District development is intended to provide the heart for the city in terms of mixed-use development, city centre development and all the mixed-use developments required like downtown. We felt we must carve out an area where you have hotels, mixed use development for the provision of restaurant, provision of nightclubs, for the provision of shopping area where tourists will come and visit like the Oxford Street of London. So in the Abuja City Centre we are recreating Abuja with about $2.7 billion. Certainly it will blossom and grow and cascade to all the areas of the Central Business District.
We set up hectares of land including the area that is the most valuable in any part in Africa because it is closer to the parade ground, closer to the federal secretariat, and certainly the value of that place is over N50 billion but we have given it to an investor. And he is spending $2.7 billion and we are taking equity for him so that we can increase our IGR index. It is not that we are going to be part of it; we don’t want to collect the money and spend. We made a mistake in 2004 when they gave away the World Trade Centre project. We don’t have any control over that place because the investors paid us N2 billion and we spent the money. But what I said in my own case, I know I don’t have money, I don’t have to be collecting the money and then [lending it to] the FCT Administration and then at the end of the day you will have gigantic infrastructure without anything being under FCT.
This time I said whatever we have from investment, FCT must have equity. In the Jabi Lake project, FCT is not going to get anything because as at that time, the investor paid the premium and collected the certificate. But the entire one that I am doing during my time, I make sure we don’t just collect the money and use as IGR and pay salaries and ‘stomach’ it. We must make sure it is a seed investment for FCT so that by the time we leave and this project grows, you can just imagine FCT having five per cent of $2.7 billion. That is just the investment; even if we sell it, it is going to be in trillions of naira.
Though you didn’t start the Jabi Lake project, we spoke to the investor and he said the project was unable to take off properly until you arrived. Why did you buy into the project?
When I came, it was just to entrench the integrity of our entitlements. This investor was asked by a former president, [Olusegun] Obasanjo, to go and get investors from the Middle East, other developing countries, and he used his resources. We keyed in and entered that place. Government at that time gave them the place and they paid for the premium and got the certificate of occupancy over the 27 hectares with the shore line to do a mix use development – in terms of world-class shopping mall, exquisite housing for the developing community, hotels and so on. But at the end of the day, somebody (a former minister) came and changed it and then took half of it. There were a lot of problems so they went to court. When I came I discovered that it was unfair. It is not advantageous to us and with all humility and respect to whoever changed that, I explained to the person and I explained to those people and I was able to resolve this thing out of court and then I returned everything to them. That is why they are where they are today.
And you are also doing something ambitious with the Utako Motor Park?
Yes, Utako! When something happened at Nyanya the President gave us a marching order to reform the motor parks. Of course parks are under the local government or area councils but because of the plans that we have set, we had to make sure we supervise and we collaborate because they may not have the knowledge to do the kind of park that we want – a park that will be safe and secure and will be of standard quality. Like Nyanya Park, we built it for the area council but we are now rebuilding it.
With all we have seen it will be difficult to say this one is most dear to you, but you should try.
The one that is most dear to me? All of them are dear to me. However, the one that is very dear to me is the land swap because the land swap is not only restricted to development of districts. Even our parks and recreation we are now doing land swap in the manner that we say okay you can take only 10 per cent or 15 per cent, put a permanent structure; the rest of the park will now be converted into other uses like restaurant or things that are strictly for recreation. So land swap is now being applied everywhere and you can see the whole world is now passing accolades and praises on Nigeria and FCT for land swap. Our own idea is to bring good governance up to the level where we will be a copy of the world. If you remember, even the United Nations gave us an award for the kind of good governance we are doing in FCT in the area of parks. There are a lot of things that we are doing that we are happy with and of course at the end of the day it is going to give us a lot of good name, it will put us on the map.
Another major project that I am happy with is the World Trade Centre. We inherited it as just a shopping mall but now because of our vision we and the investors were able to take it to a height where it will contain four buildings. And of course it will change the skyline of Abuja. It will put us on the map and the business portfolio that is normally the case in the world, where you will carry brief case and do business in billions and trillions of naira. Abuja will be doing that and of course we are inviting other jurisdictions in Nigeria and Africa to know that we have a world trade centre here. And it is accredited by the World Trade Centre in the United State of America by the global body. And of course by the time we finish, it is going to put us on the map and it will be used as an icon where Abuja will be identified even in the whole world.
Another project that is good is the Centenary City because we have embedded the new Abuja city centre inside the Centenary City area. The City Gate is going to move there and we have been able to do it by creating international competition and you need to see the architectural design of the new city centre and new city gate that is going to be incorporated. Other areas where we are happy about is the partnership we have with TUC and NLC to build real estate and districts that will reduce the cost of housing for working class. We have given them two districts and they are building.
Your transport policy appears to be having initial hiccups?
We have a lot of challenges. Even in our enforcement in the city the demography is against us. You can see the okada is still there; you can see the unpainted taxis after we have brought a new programme for new taxis and high capacity buses. Banks are approaching us; they want to float 5,000 of them, like we see in Dubai, on their own. We are going to just give the minimal encouragement by giving subsidy; subsidy to do the registration, to do the tracking facilities but the best the drivers can pay within two years. And so this is the first time the Territory is doing that, away from the patronage system where you have the Abuja leasing company giving taxis to people on patronage. This one you will pay. You will bring a guarantor and we will give you subsidy and you will know that government is responsive and responsible – giving you subsidy, encouraging you to bring the best out of yourself.
The investors in the land swap programme are bringing in a lot of money. Do you think the state of insecurity in the country will be a setback for this project?
Insecurity is a setback, I must agree, but despite it we are still doing very well. I must thank our investors for showing confidence in us because this is not just coming out of nothing, it is deliberate and it is planned. Our investors are not entirely foreigners; they are a mixture of foreigners and Nigerian investors. Most of the investors like the A&M Global, Balumus, Urban Shelter, Dangote Group, Gilmor, Hiatong Group, their core investors are Nigerians who are bringing 70 per cent. So they don’t have any problems about Nigeria. Of course they have co-investors coming from outside. They have no option but to be with the companies. So you can see they are going along with same intensity as if nothing is happening.
You have seen what is happening at the Jabi Lake investment; it is because our brother, Bello Osagie, is the core mover of the project. We are not just going to America to bring investors. I said we will not do that, of course if you go to Abuja Infrastructure Investment Centre, you will see over 100 applications for land swap from foreigners. We said no. You must have Nigerian core investors to protect the integrity of Nigerians and at the same time ensure that there is sustainability; and that you will not be sabotaged one day. The idea is for Mr. President to leave legacies and land marks; the idea is to make sure they have been given their honour because honour must be given to who honour is due.
And of course they have the capacity; they have the financial wherewithal to do the investment. We are looking for something in Sokoto while it is in your sokoto (laughs); that is what Yoruba people say. On insecurity, we are making sure we establish a template, a framework for making sure lives and property are safe and secure in Abuja. You can see what we are doing in terms of internal security; the whole city is lighted. If you travel in the city you can see not only the major corridors but all the nooks and crannies; it will make sure there is no hiding place for the criminals in the city. In the past it was only about 20 per cent illumination that we had; now it is about 70 per cent. We want to take it to 90–100 per cent. When you are going back the outer expressway, you see the kind of light; it is not just the beautification, it enhances the security.
Abuja residents doubt whether the CCTV network in the city works because when there are security breaches, the cameras don’t appear to capture them. Some experts say that what we have now is obsolete and that we need to have surveillance satellite radar-based system. Where does that leave the cameras we have now?
I am not in position to tell you with absolute certainty because the provision of the CCTV was not done by the FCT Administration. They were done by the Police Affairs Ministry and I think you should direct your question to that end. But what I know is that there are so many CCTV initiatives in Abuja; the other CCTV is a national project that is not only restricted to Abuja. It is supposed to cover Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano and other strategic cities in Nigeria. It is a huge and very ambitious project. Of course I was told that it is working and you can get the detail from the minister of police affairs.
I said we are coming with a security protocol, all the public areas must have CCTV so that you can have monitoring, evaluation and then feedback. At the same time you need something that you can resort to in case of insecurity. In the case of Nyanya, there was no CCTV there. We wanted to do something in the past in the balloon system but I was very sceptical of our technical know-how to maintain them, like there are areas we are supposed to create satellite coverage of the whole Federal Capital Territory. Then we will have a monitoring base in the police headquarters where we will be able to see everything in Abuja. We don’t need this platform where you have the cameras on the street, (instead) everything will be in the balloon, it is the in-thing that we want to do if I stay longer.
Again, we want to enhance communication. Abuja is a city that is well structured; we have all the communications, so we want to run fibre optics in all the houses so that we will enhance security in terms of communication and increase the turnaround time for emergencies.
Most of the investors expressed apprehension of business in FCT after your tenure. They pointed out that in places like Malaysia and other Asian Tigers that they developed so fast because somebody who had a vision stayed longer to make sure that those things took root. Their fear is that you are a politician, you have your personal ambition, you have your personal dreams and that you might want to move on. Left to them they wish you could sacrifice personal ambition and keep on building the City. So our question is, are you going to leave all these ambitious projects and, maybe, want to be governor in Bauchi State? What exactly are you looking at?
(Laughs) It is a very difficult question to answer. One, because I have no control over my being here; I am here by the grace of God and at the pleasure of Mr. President. To me, I think I am most lucky and the investors should know there has not been anybody under democracy that has stayed in FCT longer than me. The only person who stayed five years in FCT was General [Jeremiah] Useni. I am now the second longest serving FCT minister both in the military and in the civilian administration. That is what has fetched the minimal achievements that we have done. And this credit goes to the President and Commander-in-Chief, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
In spite all challenges, sometimes you know if you are in FCT because of the visibility of the place, if you are the minister they will go and say everything about you but he managed to keep me here irrespective of what people say or what people report. He has trusted me; I owe everything to him. Even the investors owe everything to him because my staying here for four years and some months is what has given me this kind of confidence.
Of course we cannot take away from him his presidential privileges because he is free to appoint anybody as a minister. But for me I am ready to serve him in any capacity. If he says I should not even go anywhere, that I should stay, as far as he is here in FCT I am ready. I don’t have to go and become governor. But if it is the wish of my people and he has somebody to replace me, I am ready to go because he has done enough for me.
Of course I am happy with the compliments from the investors. What I will assure them is, I have taken some institutional safeguards to make sure we deepen and institutionalise our framework such that whatever we are doing is taken to a point of no return. Whether anybody likes it or not, if he comes to FCT he must continue with the programme that we are doing for Mr. President. After all we are sure by the grace of God Mr. President will continue and because he is passionate about FCT, he will definitely make sure I either continue or he will bring somebody that will continue with his own projects because the projects are not mine. For example, the taxis are not Bala’s taxis. The bus system that I brought in – brand new buses – they are not Bala’s taxis, they are all FCT’s. So we will make sure we will make a distinction between our tenure and the institutions of projects and programme we are doing but certainly if it is the will of God that I will go to Bauchi and become governor, I am ready. But of course it is not a matter of do or die.Follow Us on Social Media