An investigation by SaharaReporters has unearthed a scam in Abuja in which officials of the late Umaru Yar’Adua government as well as the Goodluck Jonathan administration colluded with a shady property developer in a deal where a government-owned land was bought and sold at a scandalous profit for the private developer (A Group Properties Ltd.).
At the center of the deal is Alhaji Abubakar Aliyu (boss of AA Oil), a close friend of the ex-convict former governor of Bayelsa state, D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha. Former Governor Alamieyeseigha was prosecuted for money laundering by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) – and convicted.
The highly questionable land deal also involved the Central Bank of Nigeria, which was used as a conduit to buy back a piece of land that had earlier been sold to Mr. Aliyu by the Yar’Adua regime.
The high-priced piece of land, located in the central business district of Abuja across from the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), originally belonged to the Nigerian Telecom Company (NITEL).
A source at the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) told SaharaReporters that when NITEL was about to be liquidated, the large piece of land was put aside as an asset to be applied to the NITEL pension fund. The pension fund had a deficit running into billions of naira. However, before handing over to Umaru Yar’Adua, the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo decided to hand the land over to the Ministry of Communication, which was then headed by John Odey, a former secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Once Mr. Yar’Adua took over, Mr. Abubakar Aliyu, the owner of AA Oil, began to lobby top members of that government to persuade Mr. Yar’Adua to approve for the property developer to buy the land from the Ministry of Communication. Our sources disclosed that officials of the ministry protested, arguing that it made more economic and strategic sense for the ministry to develop the land on its own.
Besides, at the time that Mr. Aliyu was bargaining to acquire the land, he and his company were deeply indebted to several banks and had defaulted on several loans, the highest being one from Skye bank. Despite his shady corporate profile and huge debt burden, Mr. Aliyu was able to secure Mr. Yar’Adua’s approval of the deal to buy the land.
Several sources told SaharaReporters that the rogue businessman bribed his way to Mr. Yar’Adua’s approval. And then, since the approval came just before Mr. Yar’Adua took gravely ill and was flown away to a hospital in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Aliyu manipulated the process of the land deal, including fixing the evaluation of the property, a task that ought to have been done by the Federal Government. “Alhaji AA Oil bribed officials in President Yar’Adua’s government, and they let him use his personal evaluators to value the land,” said a source.
Our sources revealed that Mr. Aliyu’s evaluator did not assess the value of the land, but focused on an uncompleted building on the land. A legal wrangling during the era of former General Sani Abacha had led to the freezing of the uncompleted building. The legal tussle arose when Nasir el-Rufai, who acted as a quantity surveyor on the development, dragged the Abacha regime to court over contractual services offered to the government. Mr. el-Rufai was later to handle the botched privatization of NITEL, which included the land.
Our sources disclosed that the land area was 80,000 square feet. They also revealed that the going rate of land in the area at the time of the evaluation was N100,000 per square feet in the area. Going by that rate, the government could have easily negotiated to sell the land for at least N8 billion naira. However, in what was the first phase of the scam, the evaluator hired by Mr. Aliyu focused entirely on the uncompleted property on the land, ignoring the value of the land itself.
As a result of Mr. Aliyu’s fraudulent moves, he got the government to sell him the land for less than N1 billion. A few years later, he attempted to sell the land to several businesses, including a firm belonging to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. A source said Mr. Atiku reportedly offered to buy the property for N3.5 billion, but Mr. Aliyu rejected the offer, asking for N4 billion to enable him to offset one of his bad bank loans. He could not find a willing buyer.
As several banks increased their pressure on the debt-burdened AA Oil, threatening to take over the company’s assets, Mr. Aliyu approached more buyers, including banks, but none put together an offer that the company considered acceptable.
However, Mr. Aliyu’s troubles ended when the Goodluck Jonathan administration came into office. Attorney General Mohammed Bello Adoke, who is reportedly from the same area as the owner of AA Oil in Kogi State, started working directly to help AA Oil market its landed properties.
One source said Mr. Aliyu recruited Mr. Adoke to speak to Goodluck Jonathan, who was then completing the remainder of Yar’Adua’s presidential tenure.
With the attorney general on his side, AA Oil saw a quick swing in its fortunes. The company had two properties for sale. President Jonathan approved a deal for the Central Bank of Nigeria to immediately buy one for N4.5 billion on behalf of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON). Sources within the Presidency and the Central Bank told SaharaReporters that the six-story building was over-inflated. Even so, payments were promptly made to AA Oil.
Soon after the conclusion of this property sale to AMCON, Mr. Adoke again approached Mr. Jonathan with a proposal to ask the CBN to buy the controversial NITEL property from Mr. Aliyu. One source said that President Jonathan found the deal too good to disregard when Mr. Adoke suggested that the sale would be a good source of campaign funds for the Jonathan presidential campaign.
As soon as Jonathan gave his approval for the deal to proceed, the CBN corralled an evaluation committee to value the land. The evaluators reported returned with hugely over-inflated evaluations. One group claimed the property was worth N21 billion while another group put the value at N17 billion. The CBN did not only speedily approve the deal; it also quickly paid Mr. Aliyu through two banks. One of the payments to Skye Bank reportedly wiped out AA Oil’s debt to the bank. A second trance was paid through another commercial bank. It was from this second payment that several officials involved in the deal, including Mr. Jonathan, received a share of the loot. Our sources confirmed that Mr. Jonathan’s campaign received $7 million (approx. N1.2 billion) in December 2010 through the treasurer of the then Jonathan Campaign team, Stella Oduah-Ogiemwonyi. She is currently the Minister of Aviation.
Our sources said CBN staff members who processed the deal shared N1 billion. Attorney General Adoke was also handsomely rewarded. Mr. Aliyu, whose property business specializes in building and furnishing homes for sale, built and donated two houses to Mr. Adoke. One of the buildings is reportedly located on Gana Street across from the Hilton Hotel while the second house is on Ikogosi Street, near the official residence of the Inspector General of Police in the Maitama section of Abuja.
A source, who once worked in the Presidency, said he was shocked that the government would dole out approximately N20 billion naira for a piece of land it sold just a few years ago for less than N1 billion. “This is the kind of deal that makes Nigerians look at people in government as crooks,” said the source.
An official at the Central Bank of Nigeria, who asked not to be named, claimed that the bank relied on evaluations provided by professional real estate valuers in arriving at a price for the property. The Central Bank also stated that an international conference center that meets “global standards” is to be built on the land acquired from Mr. Aliyu.
But a source in Abuja described the CBN claim as “both curious and spurious.” “Look, the Federal Government has in recent years been selling properties owned by it at greatly discounted prices. It has also begun a policy of monetization for public officials instead of building new government buildings in Abuja. In fact, it was with this pretext that most government-owned properties, including this NITEL property, were sold a few years ago,” said the source.