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VON: Presidential rough rod?

ONE of the notorious quirks bedeviling governance in Nigeria is the tendency for what started out as a firm, decisive and desirable government action to unceremoniously fizzle out into blatant back-tracking or abrupt disinterest and lingering inaction, often witnessing a pathetic return to business as usual.

This malady has been exclusively afflicting leaders of government at every level for so long that whenever government makes a show of blowing hot on any issue, nobody sweats because, as one cynical clique maintains, “government law is just for two weeks”.

It is also the reason why the reports of so many public inquiries which were launched with bravado and loud pontification are routinely consigned to gather dust in the offices of their launchers, while the rot they could have uprooted, stinks to high heavens thereafter.

Sadly, even the much anticipated Senate investigation into the decay of the well-intentioned privatization programme of the Federal Government seems headed for such an inglorious end, if indeed President Goodluck Jonathan lends his distinguished presence to the window-dressing “commissioning” of a purported project of the savagely scavenged Volkswagen of Nigeria, VON, even before the Senate investigation into its sleazy privatization has reached a logical conclusion on its many scandalous findings.

The fervent prayer on every patriot’s lips is that God Almighty in his infinite wisdom and inestimable power will divinely divert the precious attention of our dear President from such perfidious misadventure, AMEN!

It should not be difficult to recall that the applauded privatization programme introduced by the Federal Government almost two decades ago has descended to depths of outright economic sabotage through the brazen subversion of its strategic objective by foreign investors and their Nigerian collaborators in government. None of the positively patriotic outcomes promised at the launching of the abused programme have been realised long after monumental national assets and institutions were literally auctioned away.

The government people spewed torrents of rosy reasons to push their self-indicting spins about government being a bad manager of national institutions, especially those established to generate revenue and employment, and there was “no alternative” to selling these institutions and companies to the private sector investors who, we were told, have Midas touch in running businesses profitably.

The privatization policy was packaged to convince us that all the government commercial and manufacturing agencies set up with public money and foreign expertise and investments which had been drained of resources and viability by Nigerian government officials, would be effortlessly revitalized into profitable operations and even expanded once government pulled out and left foreign core investors and Nigerian entrepreneurs to run them as business concerns.

Thus, we watched as virtually all major government companies in manufacturing, industry and related strategic national economic sectors were sold off, even at huge discounts!

Well, we all know better now! It was all one big swindle resulting in the auctioning of several national economic assets, the stripping of their facilities and conversion to various devaluing purposes that served the so-called foreign investors who turned out to specialize in sabotaging strategic national economic assets on the altar of profiteering.

Proceedings of the Senate Committee of Investigation showed that VON was one of the automobile assembly plants set up by the Federal Government in 1973 as a limited liability company in partnership with the German car manufacturer, Volkswagen AG.

The shareholding of the company at inception saw the Federal Government retaining 35% with three other Nigerian investors, including the Lagos State Government holding an additional 14% or total of 49% Nigerian shareholding. The Volkswagen Group and one other German investor held 40% and 11%, respectively for a combined 51% investment.

In 2003 when the Federal Government implemented its privatization programme, its share of 35% went up for sale and was bought by the Stallion Group owned by the Vaswani family of Indian businessmen for N400 million as core-investor. The fact that this sale itself was not in keeping with the letter and spirit of the privatization programme on the issue of indigenous ownership was betrayed when shortly after the sale, the Vaswanis were summarily deported “in the overriding national interest” by the same Federal authorities while investigating some other activities of the Indian businessmen.

Revelations during the Senate Committee hearings indicate that although in the new process, Barbedos Nigeria emerged the successful investor for the 35% shares in the sum of N612, 000,000, this development was however held hostage to a series of flagrant violations of the provisions of the Memorandum and Articles of Association of VON in the sale of shares to the Stallion group (Barbedos Ventures Ltd BVI).

There were also accusations of connivance between the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE and the Stallion Group in the attempts to usurp the 35% shares of Barbedos Nigeria under the guise of a purported sale and purchase agreement of unknown origin.

But the most brazen was the conversion of the VON premises into a bonded warehouse for the importation of rice, vegetable oil, fully built up cars and buses instead of the automobile assembly plant it had been which infuriated the Committee members during their visit to the site.

Mr.  ABDULLAHI GARBA, a commentator on national issues, wrote from Abuja.


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