GOVERNOR UGWUANYI vs. PEIWA LIMITED
A group of investors decided to invest in building a new city in Enugu in answer to the clarion call of “Akụ ruo ụlọ”, but the Ugwuanyi government has decided to scuttle the project.
The Enugu Centenary City was conceptualized by Sullivan’s Government, agreements signed, properties developed by individuals. Suddenly, the C of O is being revoked. Anyone from Enugu State would have heard of the acquisition of Government land and re-sale of such to few Government cronies.
See below the Press Release from the real estate development company signed by the Chairman (Prof. Pat Utomi) and the Vice Chairman (Norman Markgraaf). It was published last week in national dailies.
PRIVATE ESTATES INTERNATIONAL WEST AFRICA LIMITED AND THE ENUGU STATE GOVERNMENT: THE FACTS BEHIND THE LIES
Recently, the attention of the Board of Private Estates International West Africa Limited (PEIWA) has been drawn to an online essay that appears to be an attempt to pressure the company by maligning the character of our Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Kingsley Eze. In the said commissioned essay and the follow-ups in various media, facts relating to a real estate commercial transaction between PEIWA and the Enugu State Government, have been twisted and falsehoods deliberately peddled so as to ruin the reputation of PEIWA and destroy a project in which billions of naira, sweat and ideas have been invested for about ten years.
The Board believes that it is necessary to put the true facts in the public domain so that a wrong impression is not created as regards PEIWA, it’s directors and other management staff of the company.
B. ABOUT PEIWA
PEIWA is a limited liability company incorporated in Nigeria and is engaged inter alia, in the development of estates and other sundry businesses and has a reputation which it has established over the past years.
The Board of Directors of the Company consists of local and foreign investors drawn from various states in Nigeria.
C. THE ENUGU CENTENARY CITY PROJECT
The Enugu Centenary City is a partnership between PEIWA and the Government of Enugu State to plan, design, and create a new township with world-class facilities. According to the New Township Agreement, PEIWA would provide the funding, technical, and professional capabilities to execute the project while the government would provide land that is free of any encumbrances and pay appropriate compensation to the host communities.
The Government of Enugu State engaged extensively with PEIWA to scrutinize the plans before executing the partnership agreement. This process included multiple presentations to government functionaries -including the Executive Committee (ExCo) of the State. A government team comprising of the Attorney General, Commissioner for Lands, Special Adviser to the Governor on Housing Development and Special Adviser to the Governor on Public-Private Partnerships made a multi-day due-diligence trip to South Africa to evaluate the capabilities of PEIWA’s partners and review the master plan of the new township. The final version of the plan was presented to and adopted by the Exco of Government of Enugu State on March 25th, 2009
The New Township Agreement envisioned that PEIWA would invest over twenty billion naira in the project and that the new modern city to be built would decongest the old Enugu town and provide accommodation for people with world-class facilities.
Under the terms of the agreement, all the revenue due to the Government of Enugu State from sale of land, (estimated to be over N4 billion) were to the knowledge of the Enugu State Government to be placed in an escrow account domiciled in the then Diamond Bank Plc, now Access Bank Plc for onward transfer to the government.
D. LEGAL BASIS
On November 10th Day, 2009, the Government of Enugu State issued a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) registered as 20/20/1622 in the Lands Registry, Enugu covering the 1,097 hectares shown on survey plan with number EN(A) 594. The C of O was backed by an official gazette and was duly signed by the Commissioner for Lands on behalf of the Governor.
E. INITIAL PERFORMANCE
With the executed agreement and clearly defined responsibilities for both parties, PEIWA to the knowledge of Enugu State Government secured both equity and debt financing and mobilized its combined team of Nigerian and South African professionals to the site.
On April 11th 2012, Diamond Bank Plc. provided a loan of N2 billion as part of an infrastructure development funds for the first phase of the project. To the knowledge of the Enugu State Government and with its consent, a legal mortgage was created over the land, which was duly registered after the payment of huge fees to the Government.
PEIWA took possession of the land in 2009 and has so far invested several billions naira on the project. Some of the investments and developments PEIWA has made on the land since the grant are construction of its administrative headquarters on part of the land consisting of a three-storey building; construction of a 15MVA injection sub-station; construction of dual access main boulevard, internal roads, drainages, culverts and walkways and construction of a golf course, street lights, private water scheme for the city, underground power reticulation, estate Wi-Fi connectivity, etc.
In order to encourage investments in the project, PEIWA also embarked on a massive media and publicity campaign in Nigeria and overseas to encourage individuals and institutions to take up houses and serviced plots in Enugu Lifestyle and Golf City.
The firm has deployed award-winning infrastructure in the city. Developers and land-owners have stated developing their sites. Over 130 homes are under construction, and several families have moved in. A world-class secondary school is already functional, and several commercial buildings – including a shopping mall and hotel have reached advanced stages. In addition, the project has provided direct and indirect jobs to more than a thousand residents of the state.
Some of the interests that PEIWA has created in the land and whose interests have been duly registered after obtaining the consent of ENSG are as follows:
A grant to Ikota Foundation, a Catholic Church group, for the establishment of two secondary schools for boys and girls – respectively.
A grant to the Nigerian Catholic Womens’ Association (NCWA) for the establishment of a vocational training institute.
Other off-takers include staff co-operatives of banks and Oil and Gas companies, Igbo professionals in the diaspora, etc., which took portions of the land on which some developments have commenced.
F. HOST COMMUNITIES/ CHALLENGES
While PEIWA has met all the obligations under the agreement, the same cannot be said about the Government of Enugu State. For instance, the government has failed to pay appropriate compensation to the host communities as stipulated in the terms of the agreement. Representatives of the host communities in Suits No: E/437/2012 and E/416/2012 sued the Government of Enugu State and PEIWA demanding their compensation. These actions and many more are still pending in the Enugu State High Court. Though not part of its responsibilities (but in the interest of peace), PEIWA has done everything within its means to pay compensation and assuage the multiple factions in the communities.
G. THE ILLEGAL REVOCATION
On November 27th, 2019, the Government of Enugu State, with no prior notice of any breach whatsoever, issued a Notice of Revocation of the 1,097 hectares of the land granted to PEIWA. Since there was no basis for this drastic act, PEIWA’s solicitors wrote the ENSG giving notice of their intention to go to court. PEIWA also reached out to the ENSG to ascertain the reason for the purported revocation and to complain that no notice of intention to revoke was served on it.
Matters soon escalated when the ENSG despite the peace moves of PEIWA went on the land put up signboards advertising the land for sale. The Board of PEIWA was therefore forced to seek legal redress from the High Court in Enugu State, and on 17/12/2019 an interim injunction was granted restraining the ENSG its agents and privies from taking steps to implement the said order of revocation. The matter is still pending in court.
But inspite of the interim court injunction, various persons claiming to be owners of the land, have invaded the land destroying structures running into hundreds of millions of naira. The impunity with which these acts have been carried on, suggest some official encouragement and protection.
Surprisingly, the ENSG has now “manufactured” a Notice of Intention to revoke the C of O. The notice of intention which is dated 30/10/2019 and gave PEIWA 21 days notice of its intention to revoke the C of O for non-payment of ground rent and premium. The notice of intention was allegedly delivered to PEIWA on 30/11/2019. In other words, by the papers ENSG filed in the case in court, it revoked the C of O, three days before it delivered the notice of intention to revoke. There can be no clearer manifestation of fraud and ill-motivated malice.
PEIWA has also shown that the allegations of non-payment of ground rent have been cooked up to justify the illegal revocation. It is a shame that the same ENSG that stated boldly on the C of O that ground rent was waived – since off-takers will eventually pay the ground rent, turned around to use ground rent as one of the grounds for the revocation. Similarly, with regard to the claim of non-payment of premium both Diamond Bank and PEIWA have sent several letters to the Government of Enugu State requesting the appropriate government revenue account to transfer the escrowed funds. Till date, the government is yet to respond with the account details, so the Bank is yet to release the escrowed funds.
The ENSG has now shifted base. The online media are awash with claims that Mr. Kingsley Eze, the Chief Executive Officer, forged the plan attached to the C of O and that PEIWA is a ”land grabber”. From the insinuations and wild claims in the social media, it is obvious that it is the ENSG behind this campaign of calumny. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of how the Lands Registry operates will know that the claims of forgery now being peddled are not only farfetched but also absurd. If indeed a plan was forged, how has the forgery only now emerged? Who signed the plan? Why is it attached to a C of O signed by a Commissioner for Lands? Has a report of the forgery been made to the police?
Most citizens of Enugu State know who are the real land grabbers in the state and who have turned all empty parcels of land into ill-planned and suffocating mini slums.
PEIWA now knows that the major reason for its current travails is its refusal to withdraw a complaint about a top official of government who is facing a professional complaint bordering on criminal misconduct and forgery.
It is evident to all that PEIWA is not involved in the internal workings of the Ministry of Lands in Enugu State nor the process leading to the acquisition of the land.
PEIWA believes in the rule of law and believes that the judiciary, being the last hope of the common man will do justice in the matter. Documents made by the government and duly executed by it and in its custody, are sacred. When government starts tampering with such documents and casting aspersions on its own documents merely because they were created by a previous government, then businessmen start thinking twice about the security of their investments. By such actions, they are clearly putting investors, banks, the central bank and other stakeholders on notice that investing in Enugu state is high risk.
The online propaganda, which further explicitly suggests that the Enugu State government is in the business of forging documents inflicts serious damage on the image and fortunes of the state.
It is clear that the current Government of Enugu State has not thought deeply of the trauma it is causing PEIWA, Access Bank with 15ions at stake, off-takers who purchased land from PEIWA, particularly those in the diaspora and the image of the state.
PEIWA understands fully the risks of engaging in a legal battle with a government in a third world country. However, we believe that the outcome of this experience will undoubtedly define how Enugu State will be perceived by investors with respect to honouring contracts. Some struggles are more important than their perceived cost. This is one of such struggles. The government’s actions and failure to meet its obligations has become an albatross on the project.
No government should be allowed to bully its partners or act without regard for the rule of law. PEIWA must win this legal battle if the concept of “Aku Ruo Ulo” – that is the clarion call on Ndigbo to invest at home – is to yield its expected dividend.
The Board restates its confidence in the leadership of Mr. Kingsley Eze and its commitment to the legal process.
To borrow from the Persian adage coined as far back as 1200 AD, “This, too, shall pass.”
Prof. Pat Utomi (Chairman)
Mr. Norman Markgraaf (Vice Chairman)