The Said Revocation of the Lagos International Trade Fair Concession Agreement
Sometime in September, we woke up with the jolting news credited to the Office of the Vice-President of the Federation and the Chairman of the National Council on Privatization that the concession of the Lagos International Trade Fair Complex has been revoked. I was particularly outraged because as one of those residents in Satellite Town within the precincts of the Trade Fair Complex, I knew the condition of the complex before and after the take-over of the complex by Aulic Nigeria Limited the Management concessionaire.
Despite the fact that the concessionaire was not given the cooperation needed from the outset to take off by all the parties – the Federal Government, the old Management Board of the Trade Fair Complex and the traders whose leases were still running, the management of Aulic held on with iron determination to perform. There were distractions in various forms – intimidations, blackmail, harassments and many civil litigation cases – but the company held on tenaciously to the admiration of others; a little wonder that it was able to attract investors to the complex.
It is interesting to note that the Lagos International Trade Fair Complex was concessioned to Aulic Nigeria Limited in 2007 under the Federal Government’s Privatization & commercialization Programme. Before then, the magnificent National Edifice was in a sorry state; overtaken by weeds, rodents and wild animals. Drug dealers, rapists and criminals used the place as a safe haven for their nefarious activities.
Then it was a very risky thing to stop at the Trade Fair Under-Bridge Bus Stop for one could be robbed or subjected to any kind of harassments by criminals even in broad day light. As part of the media group who participated in the tour of the complex immediately after the concession, we had questioned Aulic’s courage and confidence for the humongous amount of forty billion Naira it had bided for the complex.
Surprisingly, since the coming of Aulic, things have taken a positive turn. Having paid the required bid amount irrespective of the sorry state of the complex, Aulic is said to have invested billions of naira aimed at transforming the hitherto neglected and abandoned national monument. In furtherance of this objective, they entered into strategic alliance with local and international investors. As a result, the complex has been transformed into a centre for Business, Tourism, Leisure, sports and socio-cultural activities. Let us not forget that it was the staff and officers of the federal ministry of commerce that ran down the complex through corruption and mismanagement.
It is therefore surprising, embarrassing and disheartening to hear the government speak of revocation when it had not fully handed over. It is also questionable if the government has made the required effort to meet with the concessionaire to resolve any issues that may be plaguing the concession but jumped on cancelling the concession. If it has done that, the government would have informed the public that the concession plagues are incurable and this would include all other concessions and privatizations because they have all seen one plague or the other. The trouble with Lagos International Trade Fair Complex is not exclusive so, why does the government want to solve it with cancellation?
Aulic is said to have fulfilled his own part of the obligation by investing billions to reclaim, rehabilitate and restore the lost edifice. Our investigation reveals that it is the Federal Government that has not faithfully fulfilled its own part of the concession agreement as substantial part of the complex is still in the control of entities where government officials have vested interests. So, what reasons will the government give investors to justify its revocation statement and retain their confidence?
Clearly, the government’s words have confirmed the palpable fears in some quarters that the so-called crisis in the Lagos International Trade Fair Complex is being precipitated by the officials of the ministry who have refused to watch their vested interests in the complex drift away. We gathered that even after the concessioning of the complex, the officials of the federal ministry of Industry, Trade & investment continued to collect revenue that should go to the government through the concessionaire. This was easy for them because they tricked the traders some of who also have selfish interests that Aulic is an enemy who must be resisted. Now, the truth is gradually coming out.
What is more, there are disturbing speculations in the South-East of a grand design to dispose them of their investment across the nation. The Olusegun Obasanjo government privatized about 140 Federal Government Asset out of which not more than 5 were acquired by investors of Igbo extraction. The Anosike Brothers have been robbed of their investments in Daily Times and now this ill-advised move orchestrated by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment to take away the Trade Fair Complex from Aulic Nigeria Limited. The people from that region is said to be prepared to tackle this frontally.
This is certainly not the best time for this kind of show of power by the authority. This government must exhibit dexterity and fairness in handling matters of this nature. I am not holding brief for Aulic or people of South East but events since coming to power of this administration seems to lend credence to the claim by people of South East that they are being marginalized, oppressed and openly excluded from the affairs of the country. The government can allay this palpable fear by reversing the unsavory decision to revoke the Trade Fair Concession.
Clearly, this is a demonstration of high level of impunity. Does a government desirous of promoting investment in its country wake up and cancel an agreement it duly entered into without due process? What message is it sending to prospective foreign investors? The government accused Aulic of breaching the concession agreement and if that is true, does the government have the right under the concession agreement to unilaterally annul the agreement without due process?
Tayo Omoluabi (Business Investment Analyst)
Satellite Town, Lagos