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How govt lost N355bn from privatised firms

By Henry Umoru & Inalegwu Shaibu
ABUJA—THE Senate, yesterday, commenced debate on the report of its ad-hoc committee on the privatization processes of the Federal Government as it emerged that only N146 billion of the N501 billion realized from the sales was paid into government treasury.

While majority of the senators contributing to the debate on activities of the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE, expressed concern on the non-implementation of past reports of the Senate, a couple on the minority benches demanded the indictment of former President Olusegun Obasanjo over the botched sales.

Senate Minority Leader, Senator Abu Ibrahim and Senator Olubumi Adetumbi, ACN Ekiti North, who directly flayed the role of former President Obasanjo in the past privatization exercises were repeatedly stopped by Senate President David Mark, who presided at yesterday’s session, each time they veered towards denunciation of the former President.

President Goodluck Jonathan presenting the 40% Cassava flour-baked bread to the public during the weekly meeting of the Executive Council of the Federation at the State House, Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida 30/11/2011

The report of the Senator Ahmed Lawan led ad-hoc committee indicted all former directors-general of the BPE including Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, Dr Julius Bala, Mrs. Irene Chigbue and recommended the sack of the incumbent, Mrs. Bolanle Onagoruwa.

The report also recommended that “Presidential interference in the privatization process should be avoided in the future.”

Leading the debate on the report, Senator Lawan insisted that the report was thorough and transparent, affirming that all the recommendations were in tandem with findings by the Committee.

He said: “The DGs all of them, without exception had faults in running several accounts instead of one as specified in the Public Enterprise Act of 1999. About eight of them starting with Mallam Nasiru El-Rufai because he was the first. They were not supposed to do that. N501 billion was realized from the sale.

Only N146bn remitted to treasury

There is only at the moment N146 billion that was paid into the privatization account. They are holding N8 billion at the moment. They used such funds with impunity. They do not go for any appropriation. We cannot tolerate this. In fact the current DG lied under oath. The Eleme Petrochemical was sold to Indorama for $225 million. The amount remitted was less than 30 per cent of the total proceeds.

“We are not questioning the low rate yet because there was higher rate. By the law, the core investor is entitled to only 75 percent of the shares of Eleme petrochemical, but the current DG of BPE fraudulently wrote Indorama to ask if they were interested in only five percent that was for us the people of Nigeria.”

Senate Minority Leader, Senator Abu Ibrahim, CPC, Katsina; was critical of the report arguing that it failed to recommend punishment for Obasanjo but indicted those that took orders from him. He said: “Many persons who signed the law have been left unpunished. Former President Obasanjo, I believe should be reprimanded. This Senate should have the courage to indict the former President. We should not shy away. If the former president is involved, he should be prosecuted.”

Senate deputy leader, Abdul Ningi, observed that the report provides avenue for the Senate to answer some of the observations raised by Nigerians and labour organisations on fears of such reports not being properly investigated and implemented. He noted: “The entire privatisation scenario is a global phenomenon and a welcome development. It is saddening that the government, through the BPE, has betrayed the trust reposed on them. If we have compromised as an institution before, I can confirm this committee did not compromise.”

Contravention of the processes

Senator Olubumi Adetumbi, ACN Ekiti North, in his contribution also made a case for the indictment of the former president. He said: “We must point really to where the issue lies. A former leader of this country, who under oath swore to defend the Constitution and the laws of this country is the same person, who in an imperial manner, took decisions to issue executive directives and approvals in contravention of the processes that are enshrined in the privatization act which he signed. That is the really the thrust of this report. The findings of this committee are revealing of the executive recklessness.”

The Senate President, David Mark, drawing a curtain on the debate assured that the Senate will be thorough in the consideration of the report. He said: “We pray seriously that between now and when we take the recommendation, we will be steadfast and transparent. We will ensure that we do not bring partisan politics into this so that we do not derail.”


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