The ongoing probe of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) by the Senate has exposed nauseating rot and high level of profligacy in governance. UCHENNA AWOM and CHIBUZO UKAIBE in this analysis, give an insight into the mind boggling expose of how the nation’s commonwealth was fleeced by a privileged few.
Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo is used to being in the news, either in his capacity as a very famous Nigerian or a notorious one, depending on individual perception. Whatever, he seems to be heading fast into the far end of Nigeria’s negative history. The irony of it all is that Obasanjo, who is perhaps, the most capped Nigerian in terms of benefit and goodwill, may end up becoming the worst manager of Nigeria’s commonwealth.
The on-going probe of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) has psychologically challenged the mind of hapless Nigerians. It has exposed the deep-rooted rot in the handling of the wealth of our nation. The probe opened an avenue for further questioning of the essence of government in our clime, just as it had provided the bases for doubt and continuous mistrust of every Nigerian leader.
At the last count, nothing positive had emerged in the manner the BPE and the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) handled the commercialisation and privatisation of Nigeria’s public companies since the commencement of the policy in Nigeria. So, how can Nigerians continue to trust and support the true intention of their leaders?
That being the case, the problem that announced itself via the current probe was how to chronicle the champions of the fight against corruption, if President Obasanjo and the pioneer director-general, BPE, Nasir el-Rufai could not make the list of Nigerian leaders who stood their ground to end the looting of the collective wealth of the people.
Obasanjo’s government gave hope of a possible new way, and transparent manner of doing things in Nigeria. But as the one who presided over the government that supervised the worst heist by the privileged few in the BPE and NCP, his actions madfe him vulnerable to chroniclers of the nation’s socio-economic development. He may be excused at the long run, but how about his vice, Atiku Abubakar, who not only chaired the NCP, but practically recruited el-Rufai to head the bureau. Today, the chicken has come home to roost, and Nigerians are being treated to the plot, the heist and the associated fraud perpetrated in the theater of absurd called BPE.
These day-to-day revelations at the Senate Ad-hoc Committee, chaired by Senator Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan (ANPP, Yobe) were as mind-boggling as they were bizarre.
The BPE informed the Senate that only the sum of N146bn was realised from the sale of public companies since 2000.
They also revealed that the Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria (ASCON), Ikot Abasi which is worth $3.2 bn (N460bn) was sold to Russell, a Russian company by the BPE, for only $250m in 2006, though the company was asked to pay $130m by the bureau and use the balance ($120m) to dredge the Imo River for the movement of their goods.
Worried, the Senate asked Russell to refund the $120m to the Federal Government, since rather than dredge the river, they opted to route their goods through the Onne Port in Rivers State.
These were the high points of disclosures made at the public hearing on the Commercialisation and Privatisation activities of the BPE organised by the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee investigating the process.
Speaking on oath on the first day of the hearing, director-general of the BPE, Ms Bolanle Onagoruwa, also said the BPE was not responsible for the concession of the Ajaokuta Steel Company, as it was done by the ministry of power and steel in 2006 by fiat.
She informed the senators that the sum of N146bn was computed after deduction of labour liabilities. Her submission came even against the backdrop of major protest at the National Assembly complex by the Association of Contractors owed by NITEL/M-Tel. President of the association, Kabiru Musa, and secretary, Sylvanus Onwuna, submitted that investors must stay off NITEL/M-Tel, until their debt was paid in accordance with a subsisting law suit seeking there liquidation.
On ALSCON, Onagoruwa explained that the valuation of the company took into cognisance the over-inflation of the contract for its construction. This meant that the $3.2bn spent to set up the gigantic project may not have reflected the actual value of the company at the point of sale.
However, she told the lawmakers that, currently, the problem of the company was gas supply by the Nigeria Gas Company (NGC).
Nonetheless, the deputy managing director of Russell, Mr. Vitali Kuznetsov, submitted that since 2008 the ALSCO witnessed six stoppages, which resulted to complete loss of production, and added that in every case, restoration of the situation to its state required total re-conditioning, howbeit at a huge investment. He further stated that the company had, so far, invested about $91m in the project, which is yet to operate at full capacity.
In the same vein, a former managing director of Delta Steel Company, Aladja, Senator Fred Brume, alleged that the company, bought by Global Infrastructure in 2005, did not comply with due process. At that time, the company was valued at $30m. Its board had controlling shares of 80 per cent while the federal Government controlled 20 per cent.
A Senate President’s Worry
When he declared the public hearing open, Senate president, Senator David Mark, lamented the state of the privatised companies after they had been sold.
“It has, indeed, been of great concern to the Senate that most of the privatised companies are under performing. That is our own perception, and that is the perception of so many Nigerians, but let me from the onset say that not every Nigerian is on this wavelength. I have read some articles in which people felt that the privatised companies or privatisation exercise went very well and that everything is working perfectly.
“So, most of you who are members of this committee, please, don’t think that everybody agrees with you. The chairman has noted that the privatised companies have not been working well. It is not a matter of one or two privatised companies that are doing well, the issue is whether the whole privatisation exercise has achieved its intended objectives. I think that is the thrust of the matter. If one or two companies are performing well and about hundred others are not performing well, it means that the exercise has been a failure.
“Nigerians expected that most of the exercise would provide employment opportunities, add to government economic activities and that government would be able to benefit from the functional activities of these companies. The question is; have these objectives been achieved or not? It has also been widely reported that many privatised enterprises are not performing, thereby leading to loss of jobs, financial deprivation to many Nigerian families. I believe that some of the companies have not even taken off.
“May be there was no proper understanding between government and investors or those who purchased these companies. I have been given a list of the privatised companies, the ones assumed to be performing well and those doing otherwise. But take this typical example: Volkswagen Nigeria is privatised or commercialised via the PPP, but the Volkswagen of Brazil works better. I don’t think that Volkswagen Nigeria can even produce a tyre. Have we really succeeded?
“The issue is, if we don’t examine ourselves very well, we would be building our economy on a weak foundation. It is okay for all of us to say Nigeria would be one of the biggest 20 economies by the year 2020, but how are we going to get there if our economy is not built on a sound foundation? Government, truly, has no business in all these commercial enterprises, because it has failed. For every time it had tried, it failed, because the orientation and attitude of a civil servant is quite different from that of a commercial organisation”, he said.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Committee, Senator Ahmed Lawan, directed the BPE to furnish it with the audited account of all the privatised companies, even as he announced that former DG, BPE, Mallam Nasiru el-Rufai, would appear before the committee on Thursday, as he was said to be out of the country for medical treatment.
The senate Ad-Hoc Committee advised the BPE to return the ownership of the Delta Steel Company, Aladja, Delta State to the BUA group of companies who originally bidded and emerged successfull.
The bureau was asked to also return the sum of N4bn, five per cent of the total amount paid to buy Eleme Petrochemical Company Limited by Indorama back to the company, because the extra five per cent was illegal, since it was, by law, reserved for the federal government, who are to own five per cent stake in the petrochemical company. The company already had 75 per cent shares, following its purchase of the company in 2006 at the sum of N3.2bn, but was asked to further pay for the reserved five per cent stake reserved for the Federal Government.
However, the advice was a subtle directive to the BPE to revoke the earlier purchase of the company by the Global Infrastructure Holden Limited, because they neither bidded for the DSC nor emerged the preferred bidder.
According to the director-general of the BPE during the sale of the steel company, Dr. Julius Bala, the preferred winner of the bid was BUA group of companies but the government then preferred Global infrastructures.
“there was a bid and BUA emerged winner. When their name was submitted to the National Council on Privatisation (NCP), they directed that the DSC must not be sold for anything less than $25m.
“A committee made up of the ministers of power and steel, transport and justice to look into the privatisation of enterprises in the steel sector was formed. The ministry of steel took responsibility of the sale which included the Itakpe Iron Ore company and the Ajaokuta Steel Company. The minister of power and steel took responsibility for the sale of the DSC. I was barely involved.
“The National Council on Privatisation never gave approval for the bid by the BUA. The document of the BUA was submitted to the then chairman of the NCP and later to the president. The bid was very low, at $25m. Subsequently, a committee was setup. BUA participated in the negotiation with the power and steel minister and they subsequently made an offer of $25m which was rejected by the committee, because there was a $30m bid by the global Infrastructure”, he said.
Though Bala admitted that he signed the Share Purchase Agreement (SPA) for the purchase, he however, denied signing the letter which gave the BUA approval to pay for purchase of the DSC.
“Before the DG signed any agreement, there had to be approval from the chairman of the National council on Privatisation. So, there was approval given to me to sign by the NCP. I signed the agreement as the DG, against the background of the political situation, despite the fact that it was made known to me that I was leaving. I was made to sign the agreement, but I was not blackmailed.
“I never signed the letter giving the BUA approval to pay. I am seeing it for the first time; the signature in this letter is not mine, though in this computer age anything can happen”, he declared when he was shown the letter to confirm if he was the one who signed the letter.
Bala, nonetheless, added that his removal from the office shortly after he signed the SPA still remained a mystery to him.
On the Eleme Petrochemical Company, a breakdown of ownership of the company revealed that the Indorama had 75 per cent shares, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) 10 per cent, host communities 7.5 per cent, workers 2.5 per cent and the Federal Government 5 per cent.
The committee however directed the BPE to suspend further transactions on the sale of federal government shares in Eleme Petrochemical limited.
Any Conflict of Interest between Sambo and Mark?
Senate president, Senator David Mark, swiftly denied any rift or conflict of interest between him and the vice president, Arc. Namadi Sambo, over any business transactions.
A statement in Abuja by the special adviser on media to the senate president, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan said, “ it is a huge lie to impute that Vice President Sambo is interested in selling the NITEL to a nameless foreign investor that is prepared to pay $968m while Senator Mark has a preference to sell the NITEL to an indigenous operator, Globacom, for $450m.
“Senator Mark and Alhaji Sambo are mutually working together for the success of the transformation agenda of President Jonathan and have no frosty relationship of any kind between them.
“Senator David Mark is neither a member of the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) nor the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE). He, therefore, has no input in the day-to-day activities of these privatsation agencies.”
According to him, contrary to a report in a national newspaper, Senator Mark did not order a probe of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE). The motion to investigate the collapse of some privatised federal government companies was moved by Senator Ahmed Lawan (ANPP, Yobe) and carried by the whole house.
“The investigation of the sale of these privatised companies is, therefore, to further the economic interest of our nation in tandem with the pledge of Senator Mark to engender legislations that will benefit the ordinary Nigerian.”
He reiterated again that there is no tussle between Senator Mark and Vice President Sambo over the sale of the NITEL or any other matter.
Startling revelations were made on the controversy surrounding the sale of the National Insurance Company of Nigeria (NICON) to Global Fleet Oil and Gas Limited, as petitioners flooded the third day of the public hearing on the commercialisation and privatisation activities of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) where petitions alleged that the sale was enmeshed in fraud and dubious presentation of false documents by the promoters of the current owners.
Also, the BPE director-general, Ms Bolanle Onagoruwa, confirmed that the current management of the NICON had refused to address the issue of the N2.3bn unpaid pension fund which elicited another petition by former employees of the apex insurance firm, despite several letters to the managing director, NICON, Mr. Emmanuel Ajibade Jegede to that effect. She added that the NICON management had severally denied them access for a post-sale monitoring.
Swiftly, however, Jegede told bewildered committee members that he was not aware of any unpaid pension fund worth N2.3bn.
Apparently irked by the revelations, the chairman of the ad-hoc committee, Senator Ahmad Lawan, directed the BPE to furnish them with the total earnings of all government enterprises year by year.
While making a presentation at the hearing, the solicitors to the preferred bidder, Assurance Acquisition Limited (AAL), Dickson Osuala of Dickson Osuala & Company, told the senators that, ‘one Jimoh Ibrahim of Global Fleet Oil and Gas Limited, has, by use of false representations, name dropping, multitudinous false claims of representing a highly placed third party (name withheld), taken over NICON Insurance Plc with diverse illegal acts, and have been running it aground, contrary to management proposals pursuant to which the AAL was acclaimed the preferred bidder, and the Share Purchase Agreement (SPA).
“As evidenced by Oceanic bank’s letter dated October 7, 2005, all funds for the bid including the Bid Bond, the 10 per cent initial payment of the value of the bid and the final payment were to come from Oceanic bank Plc. We later became aware that part of the funding came from a foreign account in Israel. The AAL was no party to any fund not emanating from Oceanic Bank. Every effort by the AAL to discuss Jimoh Ibrahim’s unsatisfactory and bewildering actions was evaded and often rebuffed by him.
“The AAL had on-going negotiations with the Oceanic bank to fund it’s bid for the NICON before Jimoh appeared from the blues and confirmed to the consortium that he is a director of the Oceanic Bank, and then offered to assist the AAL get the funding through Oceanic Bank Plc. Jimoh then addressed a letter to the coordinator of the AAL. Formulated and headed “Acceptance of Offer”.
“What was discussed was that Oceanic Bank will partner with an option of equity participation with AAL in considerations for the funding of the bid. It was further discussed that Jimoh would be compensated if he successfully pushed the loan application. Jimoh’s offer, dated 10th day of October, 2005, was outside the contemplation of what was discussed with him. No member of the consortium agreed with Jimoh to take 51 per cent of the AAL.
“Jimoh illegally proceeded with a purported board resolution, unapproved and unauthorized by the AAL to hijack AAL and has been running the NICON outside the principles and premises predicated upon which AAL won the NICON bid as the preferred bidder. There is verifiable evidence that Jimoh has been collecting the certificate of occupany of NICON’s properties and selling them off.
“He has also drawn on NICON’s over US$15m foreign accounts. All these actions are contrary to the Insurance Act. It is our client’s position that Jimoh’s activities be immediately investigated. Our clients rightly believe that meaningful and transparent investigation can only be possible by removing Jimoh and his management to get to the bottom of the problem.
“The group of companies represented by Jimoh Ibrahim were neither appraised nor scored by the BPE/NCP, before the bidding on the 11th day of October, 2005.
In his presentation, secretary, board of trustees, NICON disengaged staff and pensioners, Mr. Awa Nmaju, told the lawmakers that the N2.3bn staff pension fund seized by Jimoh Ibrahim be retrieved with the balances in the staff pension fund current and fixed deposit accounts.“Same goes for the staff pension contributions which Jimoh Ibrahim refused to pay back to the sacked staff”.
However, the MD, NICON, Mr. Jegede who acknowledged that the NICON had not made any profit since its takeover denied any knowledge of N2.3bn or any other funds accruing to the sacked staff, but claimed that the involvement of the NICON Insurance and Global Fleet extinguished liabilities of over $250m at the time of acquisition.
Nonetheless, the committee chairman, Senator Lawan, ordered the BPE to make available all details of total earnings of all federal government enterprises year by year. All proceeds of lodgments in the CBN and commercial banks, as well as the interest accrued. Same for all consultancy provided in respect of the privatised enterprises, handover notes of all privatised enterprises and addressees of liaison offices.
Besides the Daily Times of Nigeria drama between the Anosike brothers and Senator Obiora, Day four presented the star submission by El-Rufai when he accused former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, of the rot, for employing a corrupt person to succeed him as the DG. “He re-appointed someone he had investigated for corruption and even sacked from the BPE to come back to head it”. He told the lawmakers that the genesis of the failure of the programme was the interference in the activities by the appointment of incompetent persons to head the bureau.
“At the end of my tenure, former president Obasanjo ignored my recommendation that somebody from within the BPE succeed me. He went outside to appoint a very incompetent person”, he said.
el-Rufai also alleged that the former president prevented the privatisation of the Nigeria Airways and that was the only time he allowed interference from the government.