Lawyers

Authorized tussle might threaten multibillion-dollar Eko Atlantic Metropolis mission

A real estate development firm, Sea Global Energy Company Limited, promoters of the Ocean City Lagos Project, has accused the Lagos State Government and South Energyx, promoters of the Eko Atlantic City project, of encroaching on the geographic confines of land allocated by the Federal Government for the development of its Ocean City Lagos Project.

This is happening at a time the Eko Atlantic City project is gaining traction, with banks and top companies, international organisations as well as foreign governments including the United States Consulate in Lagos acquiring parcels of land in the place.

The Managing Director of Sea Global Energy Company Limited, Adewunmi Osagie, said President Olusegun Obasanjo had on May 26, 2003, given the company the right to reclaim up to 350 hectares of land from the Atlantic Ocean through an extension of Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island, Lagos, by 7km, from the junction of Adetokunbo Ademola Street towards Epe.

This followed an application which was made through the then Minister at the Federal Ministry of Works & Housing, Mr Madaki Alli, to the Federal Government for an allocation.

The allocation, given to the company, was for the development of The Palladium Project (now known as the Ocean City Lagos Project), a coastal city that would be characterised by five districts, cutting-edge infrastructure and technology such as found in model cities in Asia, the UAE and certain parts of Europe.

Following the approval, the government of Lagos State was notified and a series of meetings were held with the then governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the then Commissioner for Works, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the former DG Waterfront, Aremo Segun Oniru, and a host of other civil servants in the state.

However, in 2004 and then again in 2005, by way of a reminder to the President, the Lagos State Government also sought the approval of the Federal Government on behalf of Energyx Ltd. (now known as South Energyx Ltd.) for the allocation of Bar Beach landholding.

A copy of one of the letters written by the then governor Tinubu to President Obasanjo, which was made available to our correspondent, urged the Commander-in-Chief to sign off on the allocation due to the economic benefits that would accrue to the state as a result of the investment.

The letter, titled, “Permanent Solution to the Bar Beach,” said the investor (Energyx Ltd) had shown commitment to finance the project which would convert the monumental liability and danger into a tourist resort that would bring significant tourist revenue, create employment and direct economic growth to the country.

Obasanjo gave the approval on two conditions on April 25, 2005. The conditions were that the Federal Ministry of Works would supervise the project and any prior Federal Governments interest in the area must be respected.

In an interview with our correspondent, CEO of Sea Global Energy Company Ltd, Osagie, claimed that South Energyx, in the course of delivering its Eko Atlantic City project, with the backing of the state government, encroached upon 44.348 hectares of land initially allocated by the Federal Government in 2003.

She also claimed that at least three letters had been written to the office of the Federal Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, for due inquiry to be launched into the matter for the purpose of resolving it equitably and peacefully.

The Sea Global Energy CEO, however, said the letters had yet to be replied to.

She said, “We wrote several letters to the office of the Minister of Works, but there was no reply. The allocation was done by the Federal Government in 2003. The land belongs to the Federal Government, which is why the Governor of Lagos had to seek approval from the Federal Government for a similar allocation to be made for South Energyx. If the state government had the right to allocate the land, why didn’t the governor use his powers to make the allocation to Energyx Ltd. in 2005 without approval from the President of Nigeria?”

Osagie also stated that after several attempts to get the attention of critical stakeholders to resolve the conflict, Sea Global Energy lodged an action at the state high court sitting at the Tafawa Balewa Square before Justice Grace Modupe Onyeabor.

She also sought the intervention of the Vice President after civil servants had done their work and adjudged that there was an encroachment in December 2018.

There were also several memos reportedly written to Mr Babatunde Fashola who had directed that a stakeholders’ meeting be held since February 2019 for the purpose of resolving this impasse.

Osagie claimed that a memo written to the minister on July 8, 2021, had yet to be treated till date.

With the intervention of the Permanent Secretary, Director of Lands, Director of Legal Services, Director of the Cadastral and several other deputy directors in the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, a site visit was carried out and it was proposed that there would be a need to determinate if South Energyx had allegedly trespassed beyond the allocation given to it by the Federal Government for its Eko Atlantic City project.

A letter addressed to Sea Global Energy from the Ministry, a copy of which was obtained by our correspondent, read in part, “I am directed to refer to your letter of July 2, 2018 on the above subject matter and inform you that there will be need to carry out a fresh survey of the site to ascertain the extent of overlap by the activities of the Eko Atlantic City.”

A new survey map, a copy of which also was made available to our reporter, showing the allegedly encroached area, was issued by the Director of the Cadastral on behalf of the Surveyor General of the Federation to Sea Global Energy.

The survey map was distinctly different from the earlier survey map issued to Sea Global in May 2003, prior to the alleged encroachment by the Lagos State Government/South Energyx.

Osagie also stated that the Office of the Surveyor General, in delineating the geographical locations of the two allocations, advised on March 10, 2020 that both allocations were in different locations. While the allocation to Sea Global in May 2003 placed the Ocean City Project in the Kuramo Beach area with different coordinates, the allocation two years later to Lagos State in April 2005 placed them at the Bar Beach as requested by Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu with different coordinates. Copies of the relevant documents were made available to our reporter.

Although there was a pending suit filed by Sea Global in Lagos State High Court, Lagos State Government on December 21st, 2021, lodged a fresh suit at the state high court before Justice Ogunjobi, seeking legal backing for the encroachment on the ground that the land was duly allocated to the South Energyx by the Lagos State Government.

Meanwhile, it has yet to be determined if only the Federal Government alone holds the right to allocate coastal land, by virtue of several laws, including the Land Use Act 1979, Supreme Court Judgement 2003, Glover Settlement Treaty 1908, Lands (Title Vesting, etc) Act 1975 and the Nigeria Gazette (published in Lagos) on, May 18. 1944, No. 24, Vol 31.

The state government, which also named South Energyx as co-applicants in the suit, sought to maintain the ‘legality’ of its allocation to South Energyx.

However, The Sea Global CEO believes the state government and South Energy are seeking to use the court to outsmart her company.

“They wanted to get a ruling behind our backs. They cooked up a suit against us but did not serve us properly. No principal officer of my company was served. My address is not a secret, but they chose to go to our former place of business, without finding out if that was still our base of operations, claiming to have ‘dropped’  the notice with an unknown person, just so they could go back and get a ruling behind our backs. My lawyers found out and we stopped it,” Osagie alleged.

When contacted, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, declined to make comments on the ground that the matter was still being arbitrated on by the courts.

Efforts were also made to reach South Energyx Limited. However, the company’s representative hung up the phone after our correspondent had introduced himself.

Further attempts were made to get the company to react to the issue, but all attempts proved abortive as the company’s representative declined further calls put across to the company’s official line.

When our correspondent reached out to the Director of Press and Publicity, FMWH, Mrs Blessings Lere-Adam, she demanded for a written letter to be sent to the ministry’s Abuja address before any response could be issued to the inquiry.

A visit was also paid to South Energyx Limited’s office at Plot 1684 Sanusi Fafunwa Street, Victoria Island, Lagos. However, when our correspondent sought audience with the company’s hierarchy with a view to hearing the company’s side of the story, the company’s representative, who insisted only the company’s Managing Director could speak on the matter, declined giving our correspondent contact information through which the company’s MD could be reached.

Asked if some other official had the authority to comment on the matter, the representative said the company’s attorney was also in good stead to speak on the issue, but again declined giving our correspondent contact information of the company’s lawyer.

Initially conceived in 2004 as a solution to environmental hazards that arose from the flooding of the Lagos Bar Beach, the Eko Atlantic City project has snowballed to play host to one of the most expensive real estate locations in Africa, with a square metre of land now selling for almost $2,000.

Eko Atlantic is an entire new coastal city being built on Victoria Island adjacent to Lagos, Nigeria. It is a focal point for investors capitalising on rich development growth based on massive demand – and a gateway to emerging markets of the continent.

In 2016, the Eko Atlantic City was commissioned by then Lagos State Governor, Akinwumi Ambode.

Standing on 10 million square metres of land reclaimed from the ocean and protected by an 8.5-kilometre-long sea wall, Eko Atlantic City is projected to be the size of Manhattan’s skyscraper district. Self-sufficient and sustainable, it includes state-of-the-art urban design, its own power generation, clean water, advanced telecommunications, spacious roads, and tree-lined streets.

The project is privately funded by South Energyx Nigeria Limited – the developers and city planners, a subsidiary of the Nigeria-based Chagoury Group of companies – working in strategic partnership with the Lagos State Government and supported by the Federal Government of Nigeria.

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