Revisiting sale of NITEL, others
It is re-assuring that the searchlight being beamed on the sale or management of some government-owned entities over the years may soon focus on the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) and its subsidiary, Mobile Telecommunications Limited ( MTEL).
The report that President Muhammadu Buhari is not opposed to privatization but interested in how NITEL’s sale was undertaken to determine if the country was shortchanged is welcome.
The country’s interest must be paramount at all times in all transactions and the people of Nigeria must get good value for their money. The President’s desire to revisit the transactions following his request for a guiding memo from officials of the Communications ministry is also indicative of his resolve to uphold due process and enthrone transparency.
It is pertinent to say that in the course of the proposed investigation, the Consortium to which the telecommunications giant and national carrier has been sold must not be denied its right if it is not found wanting, but at the same time fairness and justice must be seen to have prevailed.
Given the backdrop that the national carrier’s eventual sale to the latest buyer came after about three or four untidy and controversial earlier processes, a resolution of any grey areas should be comfort for all parties.
The constant restatement of the present administration’s resolve to enthrone a due process regime is quite commendable and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s submission the other day at the 55th yearly session of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) that official corruption and privatization of public enterprises led to massive losses in public revenue remains a very reassuring signal that the end has come to business as usual.
From recent disclosures by government about sleaze in public agencies being investigated or likely to be probed, Prof. Osinbajo’s comment on revenue leakages should stir Nigerians to action on accountability.
However, the Buhari government has the mandate from the people to tackle all the mess and enthrone proper corporate governance in public and private dealings, promote integrity, attract investors and also give the country a new image in the international community.
The National Council on Privatisation (NCP) had on April 26 this year directed the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) to hand over the assets to the preferred bidder who had paid the $252.251 million total cost of acquisition. If indeed the due process was followed this would seem alright.
NITEL has been one big sore point in a warped system of managing public enterprises and eventually destroying them. Before the last exercise, the Nigerian people had endured sales or privatization exercises done in suspicious manner from the first attempt in 2001.
Pentascope, once NITEL’s buyer which was partly funded by a consortium of indigenous banks, first acquired 51 per cent of equity but barely three years after, the deal snapped.
The company and government traded accusations, one claiming the other party was still too interested in the running of NITEL and that government impaired every good move it made as a core investor while the government in turn claimed incapacity of the bidder to manage the company competitively in a growing market.
In 2006, in another transaction, Transnational Corporation (Transcorp), acquired 51 per cent of the stakes for $500 million but this too was to implode sooner than later.
That set the grounds for another blame game between the two parties. Government eventually voided the sale and appointed a technical board to manage the carrier.
For NITEL, the mess that has characterised its sale, privatisation, commercialisation or even liquidation, depending on whatever interpretation can be given to the sorry pass such a behemoth has come to, is a shame too much for a country like Nigeria.
As each of the transactions went on, its assets declined in value or got stripped. Therefore, the new government’s interest in the sale of the organisation must not wane until Nigerians get answers to how the national edifice was taken down through criminal neglect and corruption.
Nigerians deserve a full disclosure, not only on the sale of NITEL or MTEL but on every other part of the national patrimony that has been supposedly sold or privatised.
The current momentum to sanitise the system must be sustained and there should be no hiding place for the locusts that have destroyed Nigeria till date. At this point, a template for transparency must be created for the sale or management of the nation’s investment or national institutions.