For some months now, there has been uncertainty once again in the country and at the Bureau for Public Enterprise, BPE, over the sale ofNigeria Telecommunications Limited, NITEL.
First it was sold to ILL which could not meet its obligation and Transcorp which could neither manage or revive the comatose but once vibrant national carrier. Today Nitel has been sold yet to another company which capability to revive the moribund former national carrier is in doubt.
Two weeks ago the immediate past Director-General Dr. Chris Anyanwu of BPE, did what became a silence breaking, as he spoke to BOSE ADEBAYO and BASHIR ADEFAKA, about his experience as the helmsman of the BPE.
Since you were disengaged as Director-General of the BPE, you have been silent. Why?
We are all witnesses to what has been happening. After the conclusion on the last privatisation of NITEL, trouble broke out in the Presidency and the BPE. I mean there was the issue of suspension and I was disengaged. Ordinarily, such general events might have been misinterpreted if I started talking; that was why I allowed silence to be the order of the day.
Because, silence, they say, is golden…(Cuts in)
You see, I was silent for sometime because I felt it was good to be evaluated. However, I decided to break the silence after three investigative panels have submitted their reports and the President has finally endorsed it. The first panel was headed by former Attorney-General, Adetokunbo Kayode, which was made up of about 13 people and before they concluded sittings, Kayode was moved to the Ministry of Defence and another panel headed by Muhammed_Bello Ajoke was set up. The Muhammed-Bello panel sat for about fifteen months and gave a report.
I have access to the reports of the three panels but I do not need to bother about the report of Adetokunbo Kayode because it was not a crucial report. That of Ajoke was extensively deliberated upon and unanimously passed in spite of the fact that I had told the government to hand over NITEL to the winners.
Since your disengagement was first by suspension, If you are eventually recalled, what will be your first port of call in the BPE?
The first thing I shall do will be to hold those who have been responsible for the stagnancy of public enterprise in Nigeria to account. I shall ask them to account for whatever has gone wrong in the system and if they can not do this, I shall look for people who have the technical know- how about what the BPE was set out to do. Only this way we can get the institution to work so that our economy can grow. There will be no room for those who lie against their bosses in order to be in power or remain relevant.
How would you go about this, revoke their contracts or sack them?
Such people will be redeployed. I shall make sure that those that those institutions will be handed over to, through sales, will be those that mean well and make them work for the good of both the country and well-being of the people of Nigeria. As a result, Nigerians will enjoy regular power supply, there will be good roads and transparency will be the order of the day regarding how I carry out my duties. I was never taught to put public assets into private hands without following the due process. As far as I am concerned, transparency should be the order of the day. I can say that the privatisation of NITEL was duly made and the process was strictly followed and all approvals required were obtained.
Let’s talk about the allegations levelled against you that led to your suspension. What is your own angle of the whole scenario?
I want to state categorically that all the allegations made against me were malicious. The allegations were: that I altered and reversed the sale of NITEL to Transnational Corporation of Nigeria (Transcorp); that I also changed the advertisement when it had been published in the newspapers; that I wrongfully advised late President Umar Yar’Adua to issue a bond/promissory note to the banks that funded Transcorp’s acquisition of NITEL.
These allegations were malicious. If they were not, they should have backed them up with proofs. The revocation of sale of NITEL to Transcorp was a decision taken by the late President after due consideration of a petition sent to him by the banks that gave loans to Transcorp.
Could you let us a little into the detail of that petition?
The banks wrote in the petition to Mr. President that the sale of NITEL to Transcorp be cancelled since they were not capable of managing it so that they do not lose their investment. On my own part, I was barely two years in office and I examined and saw everything about people who were giving alms simply because they wanted to acquire NITEL at all costs; they purported that after three years, the government should not look into the affairs of NITEL.
How did that now lead to the revocation of the sale of NITEL?
I wrote a memo through the Vice President to Mr. President that, if by one month you do not know what to do about NITEL, the people should be refunded their money. So, what the late President did was to summon me and the bankers and sought for a way out. After due consideration of my own advice, he ordered the revocation.
The Vice President was not there when the decision was taken to revoke NITEL. Also, the Chief Economic Adviser reasoned that if we could privatise NITEL effectively, we could raise the money to pay off the bankers and also have a balance to resuscitate the nation’s telecommunication company. I also supported the idea because, if you allow almost N 80 billion to go down the drain, the economy would have collapsed because of the wrong investment.
What happened was that those, who wanted NITEL sold as scrap, were thinking of giving it to an indigenous investor for about $100 million. They did not want us to bring out the true value of NITEL.
Could you explain the mode of the checkmating you did?
I sought for good advice from both local and foreign telecom operators and we thought of unbundling the NITEL to give the required potentials; since it has several business unit that can thrive on their own. We discussed the unbundling option at the management meeting of BPE and gave it out in an unbundling form. There were two interest groups from the high places including the Presidency who did not want NITEL to come out under the unbundling arrangement. They asked series of questions about this. After this, we embarked on a road show in Europe, America and Asia to advertise it. After the road show, we had tremendous interests unlike before because about nineteen companies signified interest.
It was debatable if BPE was not a controversial organisation simply because of the privatisation of NITEL. BPE has been the medium that oversees government investment right from the day of independence. Both the President and his deputy were wearing a mask as regards the issue of NITEL but as a lawyer, I have to obey both of them; wether they make the right decision or not. Regardless of what ever is going on, I must be transparent at all cost.
The truth of the matter is that the various interest groups in NITEL conflicted one another in their expectations when they failed to achieve their aims. What was regarded as a coalition of conspirators emerged when they started pointing accusing fingers at Dr. Anyanwun demanding he must go.
It was said that the memo for the approval of the sale of Nitel emanated from you?
They formulated all sorts of lies and fake evidences asking the Acting President to prosecute me before the court of law. Of course, if they were true, there would have been enough evidence.
How do you mean?
These are very highly placed people in the Presidency, who came with investors: they came to my house and told me that they came with a directive from the President that I should write a memo to approve the sale of NITEL to them but I simply told them that Jonathan and Yar’Adua were my direct bosses and that if they should give me the go ahead, I would consent to the directive they were talking about. They said they would give it to me in writing and I waited. But they could not get it done. To be fair to the current President (Dr. Goodluck Jonathan), he called me privately and said if anybody tells you this, do not obey until I tell you to do so.
Can you recall your last conversation with late President Umar Yar’Adua?
The last conversation I had with late President Yar’Adua was when he summoned me and his Chief Economic Adviser. The subject matter was NITEL. Late President Yar’Adua said as regards NITEL, that too many interest of Nigerians were involved and so, that I should not give anybody the impression that I can be compromised. He asked me to be very transparent in dealing with the Nitel affairs.
Therefore, I conducted the process of NITEL sale in the most transparent manner. Its approval, after the consideration of the three panels, was a combination of that transparency. I wanted to see where they can fault this interest of mine but for the past nine months, none of them can come up with a substantial claim of corruption against me.
Since the President has taken his decision, I can now beat my chest and tell the whole world that I am vindicated. I have been a public officer for about eighteen or nineteen years. So if I have been somebody of a questionable character, it is not just the public records they should look at, as a Law lecturer, I handle not less than one hundred thousand students every year: this is enough to prove my character because, character is built over time.
I would have been glad if anybody can come out and say I allowed my personal interest in the sales of NITEL or that I am found wanting in the area of corruption because people like us voluntarily decided not to follow the criminal act that most Nigerian leaders are engaged in. Such a character should not be allowed to be smeared by some unscrupulous elements in the Presidency, who want to use NITEL to raise money for their elections.
As a lawyer, I have the duty to fight injustice, which I did to the best of my knowledge. I even learnt that some of them went to instigate some EFCC officials to see if they could fabricate lies against me but because my hands had always been clean in the sales of NITEL, they failed. I have to break this silence now so that people will not say I have received bribe.
Let pause a while and ask: how did you become the DG of BPE and what were the terms of your appointment?
My appointment was a contractual one for four years and they tended to ignore the statutory tenure. They did not invite me for interview. I just saw my name on the television, which I saw as a national call to put in my best. I moved my family from Enugu State to Abuja because of the job. The purpose of the appointment was to stabilise the system.
What did the panels say about you and did they ever listen to your own side of the story?
No disciplinary offence against me; I am not deformed in any way. Nobody should decide to eclipse the career of a colleague. All the panels have sent in their reports. The rule of law must be followed and observed. They have set up a panel and also they have made recommendations without hearing my own side of the story. This means we are going back to the stone age and I have decided to draw the attention of many people to this.
What is therefore your feeling about Acting President Jonathan about your suspension?
I feel that he jumped the gun because he was misled. The Acting President then now President Jonathan, at that time, was not properly advised. This is conspiracy to portray someone in bad light.
What was your stand on the privatisation of NITEL, may be it was the cause?
I knew I was going to step on toes. When NITEL was active, there was a bid to sell it for a sum of $500 million, which attracted five Nigerian banks. When every infrastructure was down, because of my hard work, we had about nineteen interests and sold it for $2.5 billion (approximately N485 billion), which was to come from abroad.
Meanwhile those guys wanted to reduce it to about $50 million or $100 million to sponsor their elections. Before my appointment, NITEL has been sold on four occasions without luck. Because the people involved were compromised! I saw hidden hands of government officials in the negotiated sales (willing buyers and sellers). I advised them against this and brought the innovation of an open and competitive bidding within one year of my appointment.
SACOL and NITEL were the two privatisation work I did when I was in office. SACOL was valued at N1.8 billion but I sold it for N5.5 billion almost 200 per cent above its value. What I have discovered is that the government usually hands over public enterprises to key individuals, who cannot manage the assets.
As far as the privatisation is concerned, what is your assessment of President Jonathan?
All I can say is that, there is need for President Jonathan to take a look at his advisers so that they do not misguide him.
In all of this what is your regret?
Nobody is paying attention to due process and injustice in Nigeria.