Abandoned Federal Government Properties in Lagos:

The politics and legal complexity of Urban Renewal

Lagos, Africa’s ‘first city’ is one the fastest growing megacity of the century, a city where the challenge to house the ever-increasing population is a nightmare. Regardless of the population pressures for housing and commercial space, this mega city surprisingly a couple of grand, abandoned and underutilised dilapidating buildings still exist in the city. Such underutilisation might surprise a first-time visitor when so many Lagosians are house seekers.

When the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) of Nigeria moved from Lagos to Abuja in December 1991, so many urban challenges were being cushioned. The increasing traffic woes in then capital city, Lagos. The FCT relocation to Abuja nevertheless, left several federal government properties abandoned and because of lack occupancy and maintenance they have been dilapidating continuously.

A City in Dilapidation

Formerly vibrant in the late 1980s and early 1990s, most federal government buildings in Lagos have deteriorated due to the relocation. More than 60 federal government buildings are abandoned in Lagos. For example, the building that housed the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing was abandoned, later handed over to the National Dental Council until the council also related to Abuja. The Federal Secretariat complex, Ikoyi, the Independence Building which housed Ministry of Defence, the Glass House which housed the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing. Even the National Stadium, Surulere is also in dilapidation.

Most of these buildings have become hideouts of criminals. Visiting the Federal Secretariat Complex, Ikoyi and the National Assembly Complex, you are welcomed with auto workshops and food hawkers, abandoned vehicles and makeshift shops. These are the complexes that used to house federal agencies such as the Nigerian Broad Casting Corporation (NBC). Some urban dwellers without accommodation have found the abandoned buildings as accommodation. These urban dwellers pay between N100, 000 and N150, 000 to be tenants to people who might perhaps have influence over the buildings or acquainted with the building owning institutions.

In 2005 when former President Obasanjo signed the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Bill into law, many of the buildings were sold to corporate organisations. Some were concessioned while others were left unutilised. The Lagos International Trade Fair was concessioned to Aulic Nigeria Limited for N40 billion for 30 years; development of FESTAC Phase II to Messrs New FESTAC Property Development Company Limited for N30 billion for 30 years. Many of the concessioned assets however, are in still dispute. The concessioning of the Federal Secretariat Complex Ikoyi in 2006 by federal government to Resort International Limited (RIL) to redevelop the complex into residential apartments for N7.2 billion triggered the confrontation that followed between the State and the Federal Government.

Several millions have been lost in revenue since the refusal of the federal government to concession or sell the properties it is not using in Lagos State. During his inaugural lecture in August this year at University of Lagos, Prof Adenuga shared some of the losses incurred from the abandonment. He estimated, N126.2 billion in revenue to have been lost since 2006 because of abandonment of federal government properties in Lagos State alone. The cumulative loss of the abandonment of the National Stadium alone since 200 is estimated to be N52.6 billion. The Federal Secretariat could have earned more than N72 billion if the proposal to convert it into luxury apartments by Resort International since 2006 had succeeded. Properties such as the NET building is estimated to have attracted more than N1.6 billion annually in rent if it was well maintained.

Several economic benefits could have been realised through revenue generation, increasing housing supply and improve the state of city. The federal government nevertheless, has been refusing to sell or concession these properties. Other than selling the buildings, several federal agencies such as Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Immigrations Service (NIS), the police in Lagos could have moved to these abandoned buildings as they are currently scattered around.

The politics and legal complexities of the Commercial Capital

The legal challenge nevertheless is the lack of law that compulsorily obliges the Federal Government to hand over the federal government assets to Lagos State Government. While the Federal Government can solve this complexity, the lack of political will over the years by the Federal Government has been a challenge. Until the assumption of office by Governor Akinu Ambode, the Federal Government and the Lagos State Government had never been governed by the same political party concurrently. So, political friction has been always a barrier.

In June 2017, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, called for return of disused real estate and properties the Federal Government acquired in the state. This called followed submission of a report by the Special Committee on Federal Government Assets in Lagos State that he set up to determine the state of these disused assets seeking to end the jurisdictional disagreements over the assets.

Mr Babatunde Fashola a former governor of Lagos State and now the Minister of Works, Power and Housing is now challenged by Governor Ambode to push the federal government to resolve the jurisdictional disagreements over the assets, a cause he also fought when he was governor. The challenge comes when Mr Fashola is also a representative of Lagos State in the Federal Executive Council (FEC)

The challenge to the federal government assets, the ownership of some of the land on which they occupy is contested. The Special Committee that was appointed by Governor Ambode also identified, majority of the federal government properties are situated on land that is vested in Lagos State. Officials in the Lagos State Government argue, the ownership of land on much some of the federal government buildings occupy is vested in the State. When Lagos became a Crown Colony, the title to the whole Lagos Island became vested in the Lagos State that also include Ikoyi, Osborne Foreshore, Banana Island, Festac Town.

The Lagos State claims title to land such as that host the International Trade Fair Complex (now being used as a market). Lagos State official argue, Lagos State acquired the land on behalf of the federal government which promised to pay compensation and the compensation is still outstanding. This entails, the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) is a tenant of the Lagos State Government. The Land Use Act (LUA) vest all land in any Nigerian state in the Governor of the State, giving the Governor discretion over rights of occupancy. The LUA also grants the Federal Government of Nigeria power to grant Rights of Occupancy to land within the Federal Capital Territory or any land vested in the Federal Government even in states territories (a reason they have rights in Lagos).

Seeking to advance the negotiation with the Federal Government over its abandoned properties, the Lagos State Government requested leaseholders of Federal Government properties to obtain new Certificates of Occupancy issued by State Government. The request was regardless of whether the Federal Government gave title deeds. This request was objected by the Federal Government as it was inconsistent with the Land Use Act regarding effect to land held by the Federal Government or its agencies.

In a 2003 court action against the Federal Government nevertheless, the Supreme Court of Nigeria held the State Governments to have physical planning and development control within their jurisdiction. Hence it also ruled, while the development permits issued by the Federal Government in Lagos since 1999 until the court ruling subsist, owners of such properties now must obtain relevant permits from the State Government. As a result, the Lagos State Government has been able to impose various levies charges and regulations on Federal Government Lessees.

The ownership complexity of federal government properties in Lagos proves the power of political will to change the face of Nigeria’s commercial capital. The ownership complexity of federal government properties in Lagos demonstrates lack of law obliging compulsory acquisition of the properties. Therefore, the prospects for a change in ownership of these properties lies in strong political will by the Federal Government. The past political tenures Lagos State Government has always been governed by a political party different from the Federal Government’s. As now both governments are governed by President Buhari and Governor Ambode who both belong to All Progressive Congress (APC), this is the short political window for improving the state of relations regarding the dilapidating federal government buildings in Lagos.

Cover Photo: Abandoned Federal Secretariat Ikoyi Building in Lagos. Credit: Bobby Azuka-Okoch

Archimedes Muzenda
Archimedes Muzendahttps://archimuzenda.com
Archimedes Muzenda is an urbanist who researches on urban development and land use planning in Sub Saharan Africa. His thematic areas of research include new towns development, urban redevelopment, urban transport and regional integration. He is a Senior Research Associate at the African Urban Institute.