Following the open endorsement of the Abuja Centenary City project by President Muhammadu Buhari amidst allegations of corruption in the entire process that led to the city being conferred with the status of a free trade zone, there are indications that the President may have been hasty in endorsing the project.
Petitions have been flying around in the past months about how the Export Processing Zone Authority Act was serially breached in the Centenary City and how the government had lost huge revenue through evasion of taxes and excise duty by the promoters of the project.
Perhaps, following series of petitions and negative media reports against the promoters of the centenary city some officials of the Nigeria Export Processing Zone Authority, NEPZA, the board of the controversial Centenary City visited President Buhari led by former military Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, supposedly to clarify gray areas on the project.
During the visit, President Buhari appeared to be carried away when he was told that the Centenary City’s main development partners from the United Arab Emirates will be investing about $18.5 billion in the project, while the project will create about 250,000 more direct jobs in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT and about half a million indirect jobs.
However, no mention was made of how much Nigeria is already losing if the private project had not been granted the export processing zone status, which is the main kernel of the petition to President Buhari about the Centenary City project by the former chairman of NEPZA Board, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh.
In the petition, Dr. Ojougboh had made startling revelations to the effect that the processes leading to the establishment of the Centenary City in Abuja were, “an elaborate scheme, cunningly conceived to defraud the Federal Government and the good people of Nigeria.”
Ojougboh, who is a former member of the House of Representatives, said as the then NEPZA Board chairman he got a petition from MC Pal Consult, an Abuja-based law firm on October 24, 2014, accusing NEPZA of misappropriation of funds, corruption and impunity.
Some of the allegations, according to him, were the alleged misappropriation of $5 billion paid to NEPZA, that the entity called Centenary City was an affiliate of NEPZA, and that it (NEPZA) failed to disclose the interest of the promoters of the project to Nigerians.
Ojougboh said on December 21, 2014, he also received another petition from the Anti-Corruption Network led by Senator Dino Melaye alleging, “The idea of certifying the Centenary City as a free zone was to give import duty waiver to the owners of the project through the backdoor.”
He said that his initial response was to ignore the two petitions thinking they were frivolous and lacking merit, but he recognised the severity of the matter and immediately got in touch with the Managing Director of NEPZA, Gbenga Kuye, for his response to the allegations, when Senator Melaye later addressed a world press conference. “When Mr. Kuye feigned ignorance of the issues raised I asked the board of NEPZA to convene a meeting.”
He said the Certificate of Occupancy of the free trade zones are kept in the custody of the Federal Government via NEPZA but that it was not the case with the Centenary City, which he alleged was used as collateral to obtain loan from banks.
Ojougboh added that after a thorough investigation he carried out on the various substantive issues raised by the scam, he raised an internal party memo to former President Goodluck Jonathan in April last year denouncing the scam and elucidated on its ramification to the nation.
“I also informed the President that Senator Pius Anyim had been in clear breach of the extant civil service rules on procedure and ethics as he was the sole owner of the Centenary City Project and operated the scam through his surrogate company, Messrs Company First Nigeria.
“Also worthy of note is the obfuscation implicit in the scam by Senator Anyim of the names of prominent individuals and organisations e.g. General Abdulsalam Abubakar, Abubakar Kayode, etc, as nominal directors of the company while warehousing the entirety of the equity of the companies in the names of the two principal aides of namely Messrs Esther Onaji and Jonathan Onah.
“The role played by Julius Berger Plc in the whole shenanigan was confusing as one of its staff by name Mr. George Marks, was conspicuously listed as a director to further lend credibility to the farce of the investment vehicle being a reputable corporate entity.”
Dr. Ojougboh’s position that the classification of the Centenary City as an export processing zone illegal, was collaborated by the former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke.
In a letter to the Chief of Staff to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Chief Mike Oghiadomhe, dated January 17, 2014 with reference number HAGF/SH/2013/Vol.1/, the former Attorney General said the designation of the Centenary City as export processing zone runs counter to the NEPZA Act.
Former AGF’s letter was in response to a letter by the former Chief of Staff with reference number SH/COS/70/A/9538 dated October 21, 2013, with the caption, “Re: Submissions of the Chairman, Abuja Centenary City Board.
Part of the former AGF’s letter reads, “This however, is not advisable in view of the concept of the proposed city which appears to be outside the purview of the Act. For example, the proposal indicates that the city will accommodate a residential population of about 1, 000, 000 people which implies that the city will be partially residential.
“On the contrary, this is not one of the approved activities that may be carried out in an EPZ by virtue of Section 6(1) and third schedule of NEPZ Act.
“This apart, the application of NEPZ Act may make it difficult for the private sector to participate in the manner envisaged in the proposal as the actual control and management of the city is the statutory responsibility of NEPZ. Consequently, I am of the view that the project is not appropriate for the application of the NEPZ Act.”
There are several unresolved posers over the legality of the free trade zone license issued to the Centenary City. Among the posers is the true ownership of the company that is in charge of the project. Records show that the General Abdulsalami Abubakar and other members of the Board of Directors are not shareholders and subscribers of the Centenary City.
According to records in the Corporate Affairs Commission, the shareholders/subscribers are Company First Limited with 125 million shares and Basic Start Limited with another 125 million. One Esther Onoji represents Company First Limited while one Esther Jennifer Onah represents Basic Start Limited.
Company First Limited was incorporated on September 18, 2009 with Mr. Paul Oki and Mrs. Boma Ozobia as Directors, but a change of Directors of the company was effected on May 1, 2013.
Curiously, the new directors of the Company First Limited were listed as Jenifer Onah and Esther Onoji.
Basic Start Limited was incorporated on September 18, 2009, curiously again with Mr. Paul Oki and Mrs. Boma Ozobia as Directors. There was also change of directors and shareholders on May 1, 2013.

READ ALSO  Why I can’t seal Kogi Assembly – Arase