Professionals urge Buhari to act on abandoned government buildings in Lagos

General consensus amongst players in real estate sector is that now that the same party is at the federal and Lagos State, it behoves on President Buhari to resolve this nagging issue of abandoned properties by setting in motion a machinery that will make them functional, instead of rotting away.

For years, many properties belonging to the Federal Government have been suffering from either outright abandonment, or underutilisation, thereby constituting danger to lives and property.

Apart from the perceived dangers, most of these buildings are very much suitable for being converted into other use other than the purposes for which they were originally conceived.

All the while, experts in the real estate sector, especially, builders, architects and estate surveyors are at a loss on how a nation could wantonly subject such iconic properties to “unmitigated abuse.”

Prior to the advent of the President Mohammadu Buhari administration, observers traced the unwholesome situation to political differences between Lagos and Abuja. This is because while Abuja was under the control of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Lagos was then under the control of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), which later metamorphosed into the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and now the All Progressives Congress (APC).

“For the sake of posterity, it’s high time President Buhari used his position as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to ensure that these properties are put into proper use. The ones that should be sold should be sold, and those that require leasing or concessioning to private investors should let out,” urged Mr Samuel Odedina, a Canada-based estate surveyor, who spoke with Tribune Property in Lagos recently.

The properties in question include the Independence Building which used to house the Ministry of Defence, and the Glass House by Okesuna Street, Lagos Island.

Others are the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, Ministry of Education Building, the National Assembly Complex at Tafawa Balewa Square and the 37-storey NECOM House at No.15 Marina Street, which was allegedly sold to a company owned by an Ogun State-born politician at a paltry sum of N4 billion.

Others yet are the NITEL Building, former Supreme Court Building, former Navy Headquarters on Marina, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs once used, the NNPC Complex in Ikoyi, NITEL offices at Falomo and Iponri and the uncompleted NPF Building at Okokomaiko, off the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, among others.

This group has amongst them, Chief Femi Okunnu, a former Federal Commissioner in the First Republic, whose argument has been that land use decree that vested land under the federal authority was no longer valid “since Lagos had ceased to be the nation’s federal capital.”

At a point, the immediate past Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babatunde Fashola, who also was not well disposed to the sale of the property, once told his audience at the 6th Town Hall meeting on security, that these abandoned Federal Government properties serve as hideouts for criminals, including armed robbers and miscreants, popularly called ‘Area boys.’

“There are a number of abandoned offices and houses all over Lagos resulting from the movement of federal agencies to Abuja. These buildings attract criminals and miscreants who use them as hideouts for planning criminal activities and sharing their ill-gotten loot,” he said.

According to a security source, there is a 17-storey building constructed in the 70s by the Federal Government in the Okokomaiko area of Badagry Expressway, which was not put into any use.

“The building has become a hideout for criminals of all sorts, who perpetrate evils unabated, until security agencies conducted a number of joint raids on the property,” said the source, adding that as long as it remains standing and unutilised, it will always attract criminal elements.

Besides forum of Lagos elders, which included Oba Rilwanu Akiolu and former Federal Commissioner of Works, Chief Femi Okunnu, had made a strong case for these buildings, some of which are national monuments, to be handed over to Lagos State Government.

Besides, the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS), in the Lagos Island is suffering similar political fate, when genuine investors made efforts to turn it into a profitable monument.

Since 2008, an investor, BHS International, has demonstrated a genuine commitment towards the redevelopment of the square, by introducing several initiatives, such as refurbishing of ligjts*n restoration of water supply and other essential amenities, apart from provision of security that made the complex a no-go areas to hoodlums and other undesirable elements.

“But till date, some powerful interests, based on selfish interest, still constitute a clog in the wheel of our progress by raising one objection or the other, thereby slowing down works,” said a source.

However, it is disturbing that while the owners of similar high-rise buildings on the Island are making huge profits from their investments because these properties are fully occupied, the ones owned by the Federal Government are being allowed to waste away.

Sometime ago, former President of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, NIESV, Mr Emeka Eleh, long time ago, called on the Federal Government to lease such properties to private sector investors. He was, however, quick to point out that some investors may be unwilling to lease such properties because of inconsistencies in government policies.

According to Eleh, government can still go through the private public participation (PPP), noting that why people are shying away from going into partnership is because of policy inconsistency that has been the hallmark of governance in Nigeria.

“If government can give you a 10-year lease today, another government can come and cancel the lease; you may have borrowed money from bank and you are stuck. Nobody wants to be going to court every day, so that issue of government’s policies being consistent is the only way that can create confidence in the PPP arrangement,” he said.

But from structural engineer came a frightened warning over these abandoned buildings. The engineers noted that vacant houses deteriorate faster than the ones in use.

“Vacant houses run down faster than occupied houses. Naturally, once a house is vacant for some time, it tends to run down very fast. Therefore, our advice to the government is, if the houses are not being used by the government, since the capital has moved to Abuja, government should lease the houses to individuals who can use them.

Governments at various tiers will make money because the individuals will pay tenement rates, the person who leased it will also make money and employment will be created because people will work there and society will be better off,” said Dr Bayo Adewale.

Similarly, a onetime NIESV second Deputy President, Dr Bolarinde Patunola-Ajayi, had this say: “What I think is the solution is that there should be a synergy between the Federal and State Governments, because I believe this type of abandoned or neglected projects that are wasting away can even be in some other States, apart from Lagos.

“I believe that the best solution would be to collaborate with the states. When the state needs it, release it to them, if you want to sell it, sell it. Let there be a way by which it should be traded off so that these properties will now be in use. There are demands for  spaces in Lagos.

Another commentator, who is also familiar with real estate sector, Prince Dayo Adesiyun noted that instead of Lagos State government to be erecting new buildings for its offices, while these buildings lying unused and overgrown with weeds is a serious indictment and it portrays Nigeria as a nation that revels in waste of resources.

“In my own view, there should be synergy between the Federal, States and Local Governments on how to utilise these iconic properties and jettisoned politics.

Past President of the International Facilities Management Association of Nigeria, IFMA Nigeria, Pastor Stephen Jagun, decried the practice whereby people treat government-owned property as nobody’s property.

According to Jagun, if these abandoned and under-utilized houses belonged to individuals or corporate organisations, they would have turned them around to make huge profits.

“There is need to set up an estate unit or department in every Federal Ministry, to take inventory of all properties belonging to such

ministries in any part of the country. The unit will determine the occupancy level of each government-owned property as well as what to do with the vacant ones.

“Besides government should then lease such vacant spaces to individuals, even if the rent is low. This way, government can make

some money instead of allowing the buildings to remain vacant and thereby run-down” noting that until Nigerians start running

government business as their own personal business, things like this will continue to occur.

He questioned the rationale whereby a government agency or parastatal is looking for accommodation to lease  in the same city

when another government agency has numerous vacant building spaces in the same city.

He therefore called on the government to take an inventory of such abandoned or under-utilised properties in the country and put them into immediate profitable use.