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OPINION: Nigeria is still for Sale, By Owei Lakemfa

BALTIMORE, MD (AFRICAN EXAMINER) – Whenever I look back at the last thirty years of selling our national assets and privatization, I see a litany of lies, cathedrals of falsehood, labyrinths   of trickery, monuments of treachery,  systematic    asset-stripping and serial   deception.

This infamous heritage has an equally infamous origin in the 1985 National Debate  on the  International Monetary Fund (IMF) Loan and its CONDITIONALITIES which included removal of subsidies, sale of national assets, floating of the currency and trade liberalization. Nigerians overwhelmingly rejected this contraption. In his December 13, 1985 address to the nation, then Head of State, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida said that “This is clearly the will of the majority of our people on the issue”

However, the regime proceeded to impose its own will by implementing the same IMF Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP)  it acknowledged the people had rejected. It started by selling off the flour mills. Then the distilleries, textile companies and the steel rolling mills in Oshogbo, Katsina and Jos were sold with the buyers closing them down for decades. Obviously, the motive for buying was asset stripping as was in the case of the media conglomerate, the ‘Daily Times’  group of newspapers which had choice property in London, Lagos Island and Mainland.

In these barefaced seizure of national assets, most of  the phantom stories that their sales will lead to Foreign Direct Investment, injection of expertise, efficiency and national economic recovery, never materialized, nor was the Naira allowed “to find its level”  Worse, is the fact that the funds realized from the sale of national assets from the Babangida regime through the Obasanjo  to the Jonathan administration, CANNOT be accounted for.

By the time the Abacha regime settled down to its own racketeering, many assets had slipped out of our hands. In one of its infamous cases, that regime sold the Nigeria National Shipping Line  (NNSL) with its 21 sea-going vessels and all it could account for was the controversy that trailed the sale, not the funds.

I am not here interested in the bogus debate that we need to sell national assets to shore up our economy because if we sell them today what do we sell tomorrow if we have another of the seasonal financial crises? Obviously the only ‘national assets’ we will have to sell will be selling our people into slavery.

What interests me are  not theoretical postulations  or the noise of the market place, but our practical experience; it will indeed be an unwise people  who will not learn from their three-decade experience but  would rather chose to be bogged down with impotent debates and infantile hypotheses.

The Nigeria  Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) was a money spinner for government.  Even at its low ebb in 2002, it collected a revenue of N49.18 billion; that was when the Naira was N125 to the dollar. Supposedly to raise foreign exchange, the Obasanjo administration sold NITEL to a bogus company, the Investors International London (ILL) for S1.2 billion. The company paid only 10 percent and this was sourced in Nigeria especially from the First Bank.  When this gambit failed, rather than reverse the process, the administration handed NITEL to another questionable group, PENTASCOPE supposedly to privately manage it.

PENTASCOPE  did so well that NITEL lines fell from 553,471  to 291,000 in the two years it ran NITEL from  March 2003. Also within the period, NITEL  revenue fell from N53.41 billion to N21 billion. PENTASCOPE carried out no new installation or upgrade and left the company with  a N19 billion liability.  Again, rather than allow NITEL to recover, Obasanjo placed  it under the management of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) from February 2005 to November 2006 which not only failed to  pay salaries, but also sank its teeth into the NITEL Staff  pension fund, eating it to the bones.

Then the administration handed NITEL to a new company in which it had vested interests called TRANSCORP then headed by the Director General of the Nigeria Stock   Exchange, Ndidi Okereke-Onyiuke; the regulator who also turned player. TRANSCORP played the undertaker auctioning NITEL’s choice property including its expansive training school, exchanges and offices. Its GSM arm with 1.3 million subscribers, was wiped out.

The Jonathan administration auctioned off lots of national assets without tangible benefits for the country. The largest being the Power Holding Company (PHCN) which it broke into one  Transmission Company, TCN, six generating companies (GENCOs) and 11 distribution companies (DISCOs) It sold  the generating and distribution companies and handed them to the new ‘owners’  in 2013 even when some  of them had not perfected their briefs. For instance, government  handed over the Yola Power Company without the so called investor, IEC, paying a substantial part of the money. Given this fact and the so-called investor’s management challenges, the electricity staff seized the facility and started running it until now.

In the case of the AFAM   Power Station with a 115 MW capacity, TELEVARAS, the core investor paid only 25 percent  of the transaction value and has been running it without even paying salaries. As for the Transmission company, TCN, it was handed over to Manitoba Hydro International of Canada. Manitoba’s  managerial competence can be gleaned from  its multiplication of offices. Whereas the PHCN before it  was split into 18 parts had one Managing Director/CEO and six Executive Directors, the TCN  alone has three Managing Directors, six Executive Directors,  eight Directors and various General Managers.

Government also decided to place  public funds at the disposal of the private energy companies by establishing a special fund in the Central Bank of Nigeria while also increasing tariff for them to the detriment of the  consumer. When the courts ruled these arbitrary tariff increases illegal and ordered their reversal, even the Federal Government’s  Nigeria Electricity Regulatory  Commission (NERC) joined in telling the courts to go to hell. As part of the costs of ‘privatization’ of the energy sector, N1.5 billion was allegedly paid by government to Messrs. J.K. Gadzama as ‘legal fee’

The sale of the energy sector brought no foreign exchange, no  Foreign Direct Investment, no efficiency, no improved power generation or distribution and no end to crazy bills. Almost no new operational vehicles or transformers have been bought   and consumers now  pay more for darkness. With post-paid meters, consumers need pay only for what they consume, so the companies are not enthusiastic to make them available even at the exorbitant rates they impose on hapless consumers. This way, they impose ‘estimated bills’ or refuse to read your meter. Sometimes, to cut costs, the DISCOs refuse to  evacuate power for distribution.

When the rich start preaching on the need to sell national assets, they already have the funds or consortium to buy them at grossly undervalued prices. That is our collective experience.


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