Whenever I look back at the last 30 years of selling our national assets and privatization, I see a litany of lies, cathedrals of falsehood, labyrinths of trickery, systematic asset-stripping and serial deception.
This infamous heritage has an equally infamous origin in the 1985 National Debate on the International Monetary Fund Loan and its conditionalities, which included removal of subsidies, sale of national assets, floating of the currency and trade liberalisation. Nigerians overwhelmingly rejected this contraption.
In his December 13, 1985 address to the nation, the then Head of State, General Ibrahim Badamasi 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 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 Osogbo, 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 bare-faced seizures 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 realised from the sales 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 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 threedecade experience but would rather choose to be bogged down with impotent debates and infantile hypotheses.
“IN THESE BAREFACED SEIZURES 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”
The Nigeria Telecommunications Limited was a money spinner for government. Even at its low ebb in 2002, it collected 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 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, 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.
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.
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.