In an exclusive interview, the Sokoto State government says the purchase of N650M Abuja home for the Sultan, was a necessary acquisition.
Critics have labelled the Sokoto State government as wasteful and tone deaf for the splurge, given the prevailing economic recession in the State and the rest of the country.
IN THE BEGINNING
Sometime in November of 2016, the secretary to the Sokoto State government, Prof Bashir Garba, submitted a letter to the Governor, seeking approval for the purchase of one of three properties in Abuja for the Sultan.
The properties were: N0 16 Ontario crescent, off Mississippi Street Maitama for N650,000,000; Alawo Close, off Lake Chad, Maitama for N700,000,000 and plot N0 1355, Cadastral zone, A05, Maitama district for N750,000,000.
All the listed properties are in highbrow Abuja--the nation's moneyed capital.
“Your Excellency is aware of the expressed need received from the Sultanate council to have a guest house in Abuja to defray the government of accommodation and ensure convenience of his eminence and entourage while in Abuja for sundry official engagement”, Garba wrote.
He concluded the letter with the following words; “if your Excellency holds no objection, appropriate process will be carried out in line with necessary formalities as provided for in the regulations. We have provision under vote of charge Head/Sub Head 467/131.
“Submitted for your Excellency’s approval consideration and approval please.”
ANGER IN THE LAND
As it turned out, Governor Tambuwal did consider and approve the purchase of the first property on the list--N0 16 Ontario crescent, worth a princely N650M--for the Sultan.
Cue anger and outrage from the land on social and mainstream media, this past couple of days.
“With 6.5 million out of school children in the north, Sokoto state government is "investing" N7000M in a guest house for the Sultan in Abuja. Bravo!”, wrote Diya Adeogun.
For Ejinaka Okwudili: “How can Sokoto state government buy Sultan's house for N700M? This is outright stealing. This is why we need to restructure”.
“Sokoto to spend N700M for the Sultan's guest house in Abuja. I hope His Eminence rejects this misplaced offer or else, Allah Ya Isa!”, vented a commenter who identifies himself as Mr. Ayenigba.
“Nigeria is a joke”, one respondent chimed in derisively.
However, in an exclusive chat with Pulse, spokesperson for the Governor of Sokoto State, Mr. Imam Imam, said the acquisition was necessary for the long term and for the traditional institution in Nigeria.
“The Sultan serves two purposes. He’s a traditional ruler and he’s a religious leader”, Imam said, choosing his words carefully, above the din of a wet and chaotic Lagos morning.
He continued: “Understanding the role of the Sultan is key. The Sultan does a lot of things in Abuja. A lot. With development partners, with NGOs, with government at every level.
“Understanding the complex nature of the work of the Sultanate council as a whole is necessary here”, he lectured.
“The State Sultanate law states that the funding of the activities of the Sultanate--and this is a very old law--should be between the State and the local governments. They agreed among themselves that considering the important role of the Sultanate council, all the funding will come from these sources.
“The Sultan doesn’t have a personal house. The Sultan does a lot of things. The Sultan is head of many inter and intra-governmental agencies. Any time the Sultan is in Abuja, he lodges in a hotel and he’s been the Sultan for some eleven years now. Calculate the hotel bills he’s racked up in that time.
“And the Sultan doesn’t move alone. By our tradition, he has the palace guards that he moves with. He has the entire office moving with him on any occasion.
“So, about three years ago, the government said, ‘Ok, let’s minimise this cost of you going to a hotel. They decided to rent an apartment for him--an apartment that will serve the dual purpose of office and residential”.
‘WE BOUGHT THE CHEAPER HOUSE’
Imam told Pulse that the property settled for by the Sokoto State government was the cheaper alternative.
“We discovered that to continue paying the rent, will cost as much as the Sultan lodging in a hotel; which is something the government wants to avoid, because of the long term cost implication. In those eleven years, it’s unimaginable how much has been paid to the Sultan in hotel bills.
“This was about substituting the means of expending those monies; from paying for hotel bills to paying rent. It was about looking for long term solutions, because the Sultan will definitely continue to have engagements in Abuja. The Sultan will continue to meet with development partners. He’ll meet with virtually all foreign countries who are keen on peaceful and economic prosperity of northern Nigeria, especially.
“For instance, when Nigeria wanted to achieve success in polio eradication during the Olusegun Obasanjo era, a former Governor of Kano State said ‘polio vaccination is against Islam’; at a time polio was endemic and spreading all over Nigeria, West Africa and Africa as a whole...So, one avenue that was used to counter that was, it’s better we use religious and traditional leaders.
“Because if Shekarau as a political leader says polio vaccination is against Islam, the State should deploy religious leaders who should persuade the people, enlighten them and say vaccination is okay. That was where the Sultan came into the picture.
“All the successes recorded in the polio campaign can be attributed to the fact that traditional and religious leaders waded in. It was on account of this effort in containing polio in Nigeria that the Sultan received a lot of international awards.
“The Sultan’s activities in Abuja are very essential. So, the Sokoto government said, let’s save long term cost.
“Ontario crescent is in the heart of Abuja. On the same street where they were renting a house for the Sultan, they asked the owner of the house if he’ll be interested in selling the house and he now said he’s selling it for N3B--the same house Sultan has been renting in the last three years.
“But the government said no, that’s high. So, they now got another apartment that will serve the dual purpose of office and home for the Sultan and all the entourage from the Sultanate council if they have any reason to be in Abuja”.
DUE PROCESS WAS FOLLOWED
Tambuwal’s spokesperson also added that due process was followed in the acquisition.
“The State House of Assembly now said the best thing we are going to do is follow all the processes.
“The House then passed the bill as part of the budget and got in experts in that field who figured that the sum paid for the house was fairly reasonable.
“Yes, there’s poverty in the land, but sometimes as leaders, you have to take decisions that will have long term implications and impact on institutions you are leading.
“To keep spending money on hotels and rent, would have had long term implications and cost more than N650,000,000 or N700,000,000. It was better to just do this once and for all.
“The entire process was followed and captured in the supplementary budget last year, captured in the main budget this year, the State executive council sat down and approved it and payment was done and the Ontario apartment was bought.
“The Sultan was renting 19 Ontario, but 16 Ontario was bought.
“19 Ontario was selling for N3B--where the Sultan was renting. Just down the street, another house was bought for much less.
“The Governor assented to it because this property purchase was geared toward institutional development.
“The State executive council which is the highest decision making body in Sokoto, discussed the issue and gave approval. This was just to make sure due process was followed.
“We had a choice between continuing to spend money on rent and doing this once and for all”, Imam explained.
Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto State was Speaker of the House of Representatives between 2011 and 2015. He is famously remembered for falling out with then President Goodluck Jonathan and his political party, the PDP, ahead of his formal defection to the APC on October 28, 2014.