Reports from Abuja indicate that Dimeji Bankole, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, having been allowed to “buy” the palatial official residence of the Speaker, for a meager N45 million, wants to let the property to the current Speaker, for N40 million per annum.
Vanguard newspaper reported today that the current Speaker, Mr. Aminu Tambuwa, has not enjoyed the official residence since he assumed that position, apparently because Mr. Bankole would not let it go.
But strangely, it is Mr. Tambuwal himself who recently informed members of the House of the rental proposal.
On November November 30, 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan gave leave to the Senate President, the Deputy Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, to “purchase” their official quarters. Reporting that story, NEXT newspaper said that N1.5 billion had been made available in the 2011 budget for the construction of replacements for those properties. The largesse, which was denied at the time by presidential Special Adviser Ima Niboro, was thought to be Mr. Jonathan’s way of garnering wide-ranging support for his April 2010 presidential bid.
Perennial “palatialization” and privatization of official quarters is a popular government game in Abuja. In 2007, Patricia Etteh, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, awarded mouth-watering contracts of about N628 million for the renovation of her official residence and that of the Deputy Speaker. The uproar which arose eventually forced her out of office
Months later, in 2008, President Umaru Yar’Adua approved N200 million in the budget of the Federal Capital Territory for renovating the renovations that were begun under Mrs. Etteh.
In 2009, the sum of N200 million was again provided in the budget to renovate the accommodations being occupied by her successor, Bankole, and Deputy Speaker Usman Nafada. The excuse was that the 2008 provision meant for the upgrade had not been “accessed”.
Jonathan’s November 2010 decision to allow the official occupiers of federal property to convert them to private ownership meant that the Senate President, Mr. David Mark, would be enjoying such largesse for the second time since he became a Senator in 1999. He was one of those Senators who benefitted from the sale of the Apo legislative residence quarters of Senators between 2003 and 2007.
As a member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Bankole had also benefitted from that sale, and it was in that Apo house he lived until he moved to the massive official residence of the Speaker last year.
It would also be recalled that in December 2009, the Federal Government awarded a contract for the construction of a N7.5 billion “permanent residence” for then Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan.
His predecessor, Abubakar Atiku, had occupied the official residence of the Chief Justice of Nigeria during his years in office. Upon assuming office, Mr. Jonathan took up the same residence until he acquired the sumptuous Akinola Aguda House, previously a Presidential Guest House. It was in that residence, on February 26, 2010, that Jonathan as Acting President hosted United States Ambassador Robin Sanders following the sudden return of President Umaru Yar’Adua to the country and made his famous declaration, which was exposed this year by WikiLeaks: “I lack administrative experience.”
It is not yet clear how Mr. Bankole, who is facing a 15-count criminal charge at the Federal High Court in Abuja brought by the EFCC, managed to swing the deal to “buy” his former official residence.
In addition to those charges, Bankole, who was arrested a few months ago as he allegedly prepared to flee the country, also has issues relating to inflated contracts, money-laundering, and a controversial N10 billion bank loan he arranged without authorization as Speaker with which he bought the NITEL House in Lagos for peanuts. Prior to that, he was also involved in a N2.3 billion car scandal in the House.
In May 2011, a SaharaReporters’ investigation found that Bankole also owned an astounding $1 billion in a United Bank of Africa domiciliary account being operated for him by his Principal Officer, Maurice Ekpeyong.
When things were rosy for Mr. Bankole, real estate was one of his special thrills. He also owns a N7 billion hotel resort being built in Akodo, near the highbrow Lekki in Lagos. In addition to properties in South Africa, the United States, Abuja and Abeokuta, he bought the 32-storey NITEL building in Lagos for N4 billion, allegedly in cash.
Two weeks ago, Mr. David Mark, a former Minister of Communications, accused the Jonathan government of doing nothing about NITEL.
“NITEL has just simply died and nobody is saying anything about it,” he said at the launching of the Senate Committee on Communications. “That is tax payers’ money that has gone down the drain and nobody is doing anything and we will just fold our hands and people will still talk nonsense.”