The BPE after Dikki
The Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) is perhaps the most scrutinised public institution in Nigeria. This is hardly surprising, for an agency that virtually holds the key to clinching ownerships of privatised government-owned companies with the high stakes involved in bidding for such companies.
Also, the BPE can be said to hold the key to the nation’s prosperity, since its decisions to hand over such privatised companies to a particular bidder among others can have far-reaching effects on how such companies are subsequently run and by extension on the general wellbeing of the people and the economy. Such scrutiny of the BPE should be encouraged when it is motivated by a desire to keep the agency on the path of proper conduct; and incline it to discharge its mandate more responsibly.
The recent exit from office of Mr. Benjamin Ezra Dikki as the Director General of the BPE marked the end of yet another highly scrutinised era in the life of the agency. But it was also an era that saw it realise historic successes as a privatisation agency, most notably with the epic privatisation of the power sector in transactions that were widely acclaimed by industry experts as credible, and which the United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Transformation, Dr. Robert Ichord, while speaking at the Nigerian Power Sector Investors Conference held in Abuja on February 14, 2014, specially acknowledged as the most comprehensive and most transparent transaction in recent history, in his over 30 years’ experience in privatisation.
Beyond the successful privatisation of the power sector during the Dikki era, the BPE witnessed a ramping up of its activities in the area of post-privatisation monitoring, which saw a newly privatised power station like Egbin record major improvements in its operations. There have been challenges in the aftermath of the privatisation of the power sector, like other similar undertakings of the BPE before and after it, but these are not necessarily as a result of privatisation or the manner it was executed but due to other systemic problems. For instance, privatisation cannot be blamed for the problem of sabotage as reflected in the vandalisation of power and gas infrastructure that caused a sharp decline in power output and availability nationwide in the post-privatisation era, especially towards the end of the Jonathan administration.
Privatisation, however, well-meaning or well-executed, can only deliver the best results in a country whose citizens consciously work for the common good unlike those responsible for the vandalisation. It is only the activation of a process of improving the management and profitability of former public enterprises as privately-owned companies. That said, the BPE after Dikki may need to consider further strengthening its role in the area of post-privatisation monitoring, which is critical in safeguarding the integrity of its primary achievements in the privatisation of public enterprises such as the defunct successor companies of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). The nature of privatisation entails that public enterprises, its raw material, will continue to dwindle and eventually become depleted as they are converted to private ownership, considering its driving philosophy that they are better managed under private ownership.
But the role of post privatisation monitoring is dynamic, and the BPE can serve as a rather specialised or omnibus government regulator of the activities of privatised companies, enforcing a well-defined but dynamic regime of checks against possible excesses or violations while strengthening the core of efficient service delivery.
Oke, a public affairs commentator, lives in Abuja.
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