A protracted land dispute between first lady, Patience Jonathan, and her predecessor, Turai Yar’adua, would have been unnecessary if Mrs. Yar’adua had not, with the help of a former FCT minister, Adamu Aliero, cornered a government plot to herself
Months after an Abuja High court ruled on the contentious plot, located in the Central Business District of Abuja, in Mrs. Yar’adua’s favour, PREMIUM TIMES has received testimonies from former senior members of the Umaru Yar’adua administration, and has reviewed a document, indicating that the plot was originally allocated for the construction of an office for the African First Lady Peace Mission, AFLM, as Mrs. Jonathan argued in court.
One senior member of that government, well informed about the allocation, said Mrs Yar’adua’s decision to retain the plot for her personal project against the initial plan, triggering months of legal spat with the current first lady, smacked of “greed”. “It was a well-known fact that the (AFLM) project started under Yar’adua, but when the man died and his wife wanted to leave, she turned the land over to herself,” one former official said.
“How she did that is nothing but greed. It was a government plot that ended up as her personal property like many other things when she realized her husband’s tenure had come to an end,” he said. The court battle that lasted more than a year began after Mrs. Jonathan became First Lady in 2010, annulled the allocation, and reverted the plot to its original purpose, the AFLM, this time, under her supervision.
In court, while Mrs. Yar’adua portrayed herself as a victim of power play, and prayed the court to return the ownership to her organization, Mrs. Jonathan’s team put up an argument highlighting the land’s original tenure. Regardless, she lost the case in a ruling delivered by the Abuja High Court in June. But the officials who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES, citing the document, back Mrs. Jonathan’s claim. “For once, the woman has a good case here.
But since they think everybody is Jonathan’s enemy, they refused to call up people who should be the real authorities on that case; to give testimonies in court,” one of our sources said. PREMIUM TIMES has obtained the original architectural design of the building by Julius Berger dating back to 2009 when Mrs Yar’adua was First Lady. Mrs Jonathan’s husband was vice president at the time.
A spokesperson for Julius Berger, Clement Iloba, said he could not immediately confirm whether the construction company was in charge of the actual construction of the secretariat since the company handles designs for other companies as well. The disputed land was to host the AFLM’s secretariat, an African Union initiative led by Nigeria, which began while Mrs. Yar’adua was first lady. Much of the funding for the project was to be provided by Nigeria.
But the project was speedily converted to host Mrs. Yar’adua’s personal initiative, Women and Youth Empowerment Foundation, WYEF, after it became clear she was leaving office with the death of her husband in early 2010, the officials speaking on the condition of anonymity, said.
For the several months the case lasted, Mrs. Jonathan and her legal team laboured to make that point stick in court, but repeatedly failed, just as administration’s officials, including the current FCT minister, Bala Mohammed, failed to win public opinion over on a case that appears simple and straightforward.
Those efforts appeared to have largely suffered after the Jonathan administration approved a huge N4.2 billion for the construction of the building- a decision that triggered public anger about the project.
“This is a government that builds a house for the vice president for N16 billion but has no money for important things. Approving that amount for the AFLM, which many saw as the First Lady’s personal project, was one suspicious move that made her fail in public opinion first, then court,” one source said.
The National Assembly eventually blocked that spending proposal. Ironically, it was the question of funding that delayed the takeoff of the project under Mr. Yar’adua. PREMIUM TIMES found that the project was initiated by former FCT minister, Aliyu Modibbo, for the AU project, but was delayed after President Yar’adua insisted on sourcing for its financing outside of government.
Months after, when Mr. Yar’adua finally approved a plan for a fundraiser to finance the project as suggested by aides, his health crisis had crept in, eventually ending his presidency.
Mr. Modibbo declined to comment for this story. He simply directed all questions regarding the matter to his successors. Mrs. Yar’adua cornered the plot for herself before leaving office by asking Mr Modibbo’s successor, Adamu Aliero, to re-award the plot for her use.
A close loyalist of the first family, Mr Aliero promptly obliged. After Mrs. Jonathan took charge in May 2010, redressing that illegality became one of her first calls. As well, the new minister, Mr Mohammed, heeded her call, setting off months of a bitter legal spat between both sides.
An attempt at a negotiated settlement out of court failed repeatedly after Mrs. Yar’adua rejected offers to exchange the plot for another in the city, saying the alternative plots offered her were either too small, or too remote from the city centre. One of her lawyers, Innocent Lagi, did not respond to our calls for comment on this new findings on the matter.
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