Rage Of Retirees Over Satellite Town Homes

by MajiriOghene Bob Etemiku

Frederick Adubi, 75, was a journalist before the lure to contribute his bit to his fatherland took him to the National Library of Nigeria, NLN, in 1975 as public relations officer, PRO. When he retired in 1999 as deputy director, PRO, he had put in more than 20 years. As a public servant, Adubi made two investments that made him look back with nostalgia – his children and the house he lives now in Satellite Estate, in Lagos. According to him, he spared no expenses in developing both investments. His children are graduates but Adubi constantly feels some apprehension that the house he bought off the government in the owner-occupier scheme in 1976 from the administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo may be taken from him any moment from now.

Other retirees from 17 other companies also have this fear. The companies are, the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Agip, Flour Mills, First Bank PLC, Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, Nigerian Telecommunications, NITEL, Nigerian National Petroleum Company, NNPC, Union Bank, United Bank for Africa, UBA, Doyin Group, UNIPETROL, National Bank and the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, NSITF.

Emotions began to get charged when management of the 16 companies asked the retirees to retire from the homes they currently occupy. In a letter dated October 14, 1994 to Abdulkareem Adisa, the then minister of Works, Housing and Environment, management of Union Bank accused him of trying to revive the special housing scheme of 1976, which the company alleged was moribund. The letter said that ‘we believe that the only authentic document which concretized the allocation of the relative site to us is the lease agreement dated 11th June, 1993 which does not contain conditions touching owner-occupation of the housing units’’.

But the retirees are not budging. They insist that houses allocated them when they were employees with these companies under the special housing scheme of the Obasanjo regime in 1976 were allotted under an owner-occupier scheme. According to them, most of them have completely amortized the full cost of the buildings they currently occupy by 300 per cent, based on the cost range recommended by government. They claim that their former employers fraudulently collaborated with public officers of the lands decision of the ministry of works and Housing to obtain leases and certificates of occupancy without clauses noting the owner-occupier status of the scheme.

In 1976, the Federal military government, as part its housing policy set up Satellite town to encourage low income Nigerians own homes through the companies they work for. Wing Commander Mouktar Mohammed, the then Federal Commissioner for Housing, Urban Development and Environment, on behalf of government provided 20 hectares of land to companies with staff strength of 500, and a 47 per cent contribution for the cost of building the units. At inception only four companies, Daily Times, Flour Mills, Standard (First Bank) and Barclays Banks (now Union Bank) took advantage of the scheme and contributed the remaining part towards the cost of building the housing units. To own and occupy the units, members of staff of the participating companies were required to pay a maximum of 20 per cent of their gross annual income.

The situation now is that the seventeen of the companies, apart from Chevron, Mobil, ITT, and WEMABOD Estates, are unwilling to let go the houses to the potential owner-occupiers. They claim that the satellite housing scheme became irrelevant with an adjustment by Decree No 54 of 1977 which had special provisions for a mandatory employee housing scheme to be allocated on rental basis. The retirees challenge this. Under the aegis of the Association of Satellite Town Residents, ASTR, they have petitioned the Commission of Inquiry for Investigation of Federal Government landed Property, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Senate Committee on Housing and the United Nations, UN, Human Rights Commission. Even with the Archdiocese of Lagos wading into the matter, mum’s been the word from the government and the companies involved.

Perhaps that may have been the reason why the retirees went to court. But even that has been an arduous task for the aged retirees most of whom cannot raise the kind of monies to wage a legal war on their former employers. In fact, some of the owner-occupiers who have joined in with the retirees to press home their demands have either been transferred, sacked or had their terminal benefits held. One of the companies, the National Social Insurance Trust Fund, NSITF, (formerly National Providence Fund, NPF) dismissed 29 of its staff on October 24, 1997 who were residents of the Satellite town and ordered them to vacate the premises they occupy. Those sacked included drivers, supervisors, administrative officers, security officers and typists. Solomon Iweh, chairman of ASTR, told the magazine that they attended meetings with representatives of some of the companies but the meetings broke down because the companies required them to pay for the houses at the current rates decided by estate-surveyors. Iweh said that when they were confronted with the figures which ran into millions, their calculations revealed that over the years, their remittances had exceeded the costs suggested by the estate-surveyors employed by their former employers. One of the companies, The Nigerian General Insurance Company, NGIC, a subsidiary of the Oodua Group of Companies in 2000 said that it wanted to settle the matter out of court only if beneficiaries withdrew the case from court. The company also said that it was prepared to make refunds to beneficiaries who overpaid their contributions but that the estate must be renamed, ‘NGI Satellite Town Housing Estate’.

That was not the same case for Adubi. Before the NLN board was dissolved, it wrote to him, asking him to pay another three million naira for the house he said he had already fully amortized. But Festus Keyamo, his lawyer is adamant and wants to know the rational behind that request. Satellite town residents allege that the companies are unwilling to let go the houses because property value in the estate has gone up by 2,000 per cent. Implementation of the owner-occupier policy would mean that they have lost out in a deal.

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