Privatisation was a cardinal policy of the neo-liberal reforms advocated by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, IMF, for ailing third world economies in the 1980s.
It was a process of transferring public-owned enterprises especially, those charged with providing social services, to the private sector in the belief that the private sector was more equipped and better motivated to manage the enterprises to make profit. The cardinal objectives of Privatisation were to.
1. Enhance macroeconomic efficiency in the management of human and material resources.
2. Expand the base of wealth creation by increasing the role of the private sector in the commanding heights of the nation’s economy.
3. Improve the financial status of public services by unbundling them to proficient management and save government the funds wasted from subsidizing ailing public enterprises.
4. Increase the productive capacity of the economy but above all, to save the nation the huge financial waste associated with bailing out terminally ailing public corporations but above all to make the private sector the engine of growth and development of the economy.
Nigeria embarked on the Privatisation programme in 1988 when the Babangida military administration promulgated the decree that gave teeth to the Technical Committee on Privatisation and Commercialisation Committee, TCPC, under Alhaji Hamza Zayyad. The TCPC was charged with selling off 111 public enterprises and commercialise 34 others. By 1993, TCPC had privatised 88. The ruling military establishment and their cronies in the bureaucracy and political circle exploited the absence of any oversight institution, by scrambling for public enterprises set up with public funds which they bought with peanuts. Foreign companies also cashed in on the observed weakness to fleece Nigeria of its plumb assets. But the discontents associated with the process, especially, in areas of retrenchment of staff, lack of transparency in accounting for the proceeds of the sales marred the credibility of the programme.
The Abacha administration promulgated the Bureau for Public Enterprises Act of 1993, which repealed the 1988 Act and set up the Bureau for Public Enterprises, BPE, to implement the privatisation programme in Nigeria, but the turbulent political situation in the country delayed its activities until 1999, when the Obasabjo administration enacted the Public Enterprise (Privatisation and Commercialisation) Act, and created the National Council on Privatisation which was chaired by the former Vice-President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
Needless to say that laudable as the objectives of privatisation may have been, the exercise in Nigeria has been characterised by corruption in high places, lack of oversight by the National Assembly and consideration for the betterment of Nigeria. The belated and politically motivated probe of the activities of BPE may seem welcomed but it is totally diversionary and offensive to the sensibility of Nigerians.
The public were fully informed of the corruption that attended the sale of Daily Times of Nigeria, the Ajaokuta Steel Complex, the failed Pentascope purchase of NITEL, the controversial sale of Asaba Textile Mill, Asaba, and many more. Nigerians have been stripped of their national assets by unpatriotic political leaders and bureaucrats.
While it is proper to further expose the atrocities that were committed to the Nigerian people by men and women who swore on oath to defend its interest at all times, we have seen so many of such probes that ended up as futile exercises and waste of public finds.