Teddy Oscar, Abuja
Allegations that the ministry of foreign affairs is planning to sell off the official residence of the permanent representative of Nigeria to the United Nations (UN) located at Tarry Town village in New York, United States has been officially denied by the ministry, who said doing so would be nothing, but “reckless and a betrayal of trust and confidence for those, who are in charge of the ministry.”
The official denial was made on Thursday by Ambassador (Dr.) Martins Uhomoibhi, permanent secretary of the ministry, who represented the minister, Viola Onwuluri, and Ambassador Usman Sariki, Nigeria’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations (UN), before the House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs’ investigative hearing on ‘the alleged plan to sell official residence of Nigeria’s permanent representative to the UN’.
In his presentation before the committee, Uhomoibhi said that the ministry has a responsibility to preserve what is Nigeria for Nigerians.
“Pursuant to the above, the following observations are pertinent. First, the Nigerian estate in Tarry Town remains the property of the Federal Government, and in full possession of the permanent mission. It has not been sold, neither is there a contemplation of doing so to the best of the knowledge of the ministry of foreign affairs as is being falsely and mischievously peddled.
“The ministry of foreign affairs is very cognisant of the value of this monument, of the legacy that this monument represents to the entity called Nigeria. The ministry believes that it would be reckless and a betrayal of trust and confidence for those, who are in charge of the ministry at this time to be party to any plan to sell this off without any due process.
“So, we want to reassure this distinguished House that to the best of our knowledge, we have no information about sale or any effort or plan to sell this legacy of a property. We are very cognisant, as you said, madam chairperson, in your statement of the history of sales of government property and the use to which those monies have been used. I will not go into details, but it is nothing to write home about.
“We have a responsibility to preserve what is Nigeria for Nigerians, for our children’s children. The ministry cannot be party to any plan to sell off these legacies without due process,” he added.
Uhomoibhi noted that the aforementioned estate requires extensive strategic renovation and upgrade to bring it up to the standard of similar properties in New York, and befitting of Nigeria’s international image.
On his part, Sariki added that the ministry is not in the business of sale of property.
“Let me be very emphatic, very categorical, very clear. The residence of the permanent representative of Nigeria to the United Nations (UN) located at Tarry Town village in New York has not been sold. It is not under any contemplated sale. At least, as far as the ministry of foreign affairs knows and the permanent representative in whose custody it is, is aware. As I’m talking to you right now, caretakers, staff of the permanent mission, local staff are occupying that building, looking after the ground and what remains of that building.
“I want to reassure the minds of the Nigerian public and the distinguished members of this committee and the larger House that the property is still in possession of the ministry of foreign affairs. I also join my permanent secretary to reiterate that there is no contemplated sale of that property. We are not in the business of sale of property as a ministry or indeed as a permanent mission.
“We are aware of our responsibility, we are aware of our duties, and we know our mandates. If such were to happen, the due process that established the sale of government property must apply. And it cannot be done under the table, under the counter, or in secrecy. We have no cause for that,” Sariki added.
In his observation, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, member of the committee, noted that it is possible that the ministry abandoned the renovation of the estate so as to make its renovation very expensive.
He pointed out that similar buildings belonging to the Federal Government in Moscow, Russia and Washington DC suffered similar fates before they were put up for sale.
Recall that Dogara had on Tuesday, November 5, raised a motion on the alleged plans to sell off the property.
Following the motion, the Hon. Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje-led committee was subsequently mandated to conduct a public hearing on the matter.
The property, which sits over 16.6 acres of land, was raised in 1857, was bought by late prime minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, in 1961 from the famous John Davison Rockefeller family at the sum of $1 million (over N2 billion).