By Henry Umoru
“We should approach the exercise with an open mind, no witch hunting, there should be no victimization; there should be no playing to the gallery,” Senate President David Mark said penultimate Tuesday as he empanelled a fresh team of seven Senators to conduct a comprehensive probe of the privatization process undertaken by the Bureau for Public Enterprises, BPE.
The probe would be the second comprehensive probe of the BPE’s sale of public assets in under ten years by the Senate having conducted a similar probe in 2004.
The Senate probe followed a motion moved by Senator Ahmad Lawan, (ANPP, Yobe North) drawing attention to what he claimed as the collapse of most of the privatized companies and the failure of the privatization process.
According to the Senate resolution the move was informed by the fact that many Federal government enterprises sold to various Core Investors for over two decades under the privatization programme have failed to make appropriate returns. Many indeed have collapsed with attendant massive loss of jobs.
The Senate resolution was also fired by revelations that Vice President Namadi Sambo who doubles as the Chairman of the National Council on Privatization, NCP that 80% of government companies that were privatized have failed to operate due to what he termed lapses in the privatization process.
The seven- member probe Committee which has four weeks to carry out its investigation, has Senator Lawan, the chief complainant who moved the motion as Chairman. Other members of the committee include Senators Philip Tanimu Aduda, FCT; Babafemi Ojudu, Ekiti Central; Mohammed Ali Ndume, Borno South; Ifeanyi Okowa, Delta North; Hope Uzodinma, Imo West and Mohammadu Magoro, Kebbi as members.
Moving the motion that day, Senator Lawan said:
‘’For example, the privatized companies in steel sector that used to employ up to 20,000 workers, now have less than 4,000 after the exercise. The electricity Meter Company of Nigeria in Zaria that was privatized in December 2002, recently fired about 90% of its workforce.”
With this resolution the chief pilots of the privatization process during the period under review, that is from 2000 to date are expected to appear before the Senate panel.
Among the chief guests would be the erstwhile Directors-General of the BPE during the period. They include Mallam Nasir El-rufai who was the Director-General, from 1999-2003 and his successors including Julius Bala, Mrs Irene Chigbue; Dr Christopher Anyanwu and the present Director- General, Ms Bolanle Onagoruwa.
It is not impossible that the committee could also invite erstwhile Vice-President Atiku Abubakar to appear given that he was the Chairman of the National Council of Privatisation, NCP the final approving authority for the country’s privatization programme.
An invitation to Atiku may, however, trigger political clamour for the appearance of President Goodluck Jonathan who himself as Vice-President was at that time chairman of the NCP.
The Senate resolution remarkably found resonance among many Senators and about fifteen Senators co-sponsored the motion.
Among those who supported the motion on the floor that day were Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, (PDP, Abia South) who noted that Nigeria as a country has been worse off after the privatization process noting that no aspect of the process succeeded with the particular exception of the Transcorp purchase of the former NICON HILTON Hotel
“The point is that our problem in Nigeria is that we start with good intention but at the end of the day, what we see is not what the original intentions were. It was a vice chancellor retiring from University of Ife, who said that all things that are bright and beautiful, Nigeria destroys them. The very serious problem is that not just that we are losing money, but increasing employment problems in Nigeria.
Companies that are doing well, after privatisation fall, something would have been wrong with the initial process of privatisation. ‘’It is corruption. There is absolutely no how someone can take a company, strip it of all relevant machines and export it out of Nigeria and think of moving the country forward,” Senator Abaribe submitted.
Also contributing, Senator Smart Adeyemi, (PDP, Kogi West) noted that the privatisation process was the worst policy of government as he said that it has further expanded the gap between the poor and rich and ‘’succeeded in handing over our collective wealth into the hands of very few Nigerians, agents of oppression and wickedness.”
Senator Ahmed Abdul Ningi, Bauchi Central who described the privatization programme as the biggest fraud that the country ever witnessed, said that there was nothing wrong with the process as defined, but the implementation, adding, ‘’the mind set of the regime that brought it here was not done in good fate. The reason is that Nigerians are benefiting from government patronages and must be stopped.
Ningi who as a member of the House of Representatives at the turn of the last decade had the opportunity to conduct oversight supervision of the BPE said:
“Pentascope was blacklisted in UK in 2001, they left UK for Netherlands. The office we visited it was a church building. Therefore, at the time it came to Nigeria, they had no office in Nigeria and when it was presented to the House, we sent message to the six people that represented the company but they all ran away. It was a monumental loss.”
The outpouring of concern nonetheless concern over a double jeopardy and a political motive for the probe are indeed perceptible. It is easily recalled that El-Rufai the first DG of the BPE under the present democratic dispensation in the past had issues with the Senate.
At one time he accused two principal officers of the Adolphus Wabara Senate of demanding N50 million bribe to ensure his smooth screening as a minister in 2003. About a year later after Senators raised issues on his administration of the BPE he was quoted as saying “I don’t talk to fools.”
The Senate in a riposte in 2004 empanelled a committee headed by Senator Azuta Mbata to investigate the BPE.
The last Senate also conducted an investigation of El-Rufai’s administration of the affairs of the Federal Capital Territory and returned an indictment against him.
With El-Rufai having recently taken up the gauntlet against senior officials of the present administration the suspicion of a political undertone in the fresh probe is indeed bound to reverberate as the Mark Senate commences a second probe of Nigeria’s latest political rebel.