By Sylvanus Ojeikere
The race was not meant for the lily-livered investor companies. Only the courageous were expected to take a plunge into it. And courage here, under the President Goodluck Jonathan administration, is determined by the emplacement of, and adherence to due process. The Federal Government, through the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE), set the ground rules for the privatization of the 15 Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) successor (generation and distribution) companies.
Immediately that was done and companies put in their bids, the process assumed a life of its own, forcing the BPE and the prospective investor companies to strive to keep up with the pace of the dictates of the privatization process. Given the critical nature and importance of the power sector reforms, the government and the public kept their eyes on the ball of the success of the exercise. If there was anything that parties in the exercise abhorred, it was the specter of failure.
And for the investor companies, the first most important determiner of their courage to bid is availability of fund to pay up for their successful bids. Mobilizing mega bucks of bid prices was not a joke. Some companies and groups of individuals were understandably underrated and thus expected to default in meeting the March 21, 2013 deadline for payment of the initial 25 per cent deposit and the August 21, 2013 deadline for the subsequent 75 per cent balance. Failure to pay the balance would result in the forfeiture of the deposit.
One of the companies that took the exercise by storm was Integrated Energy Distribution and Marketing Company Limited, which was reportedly fronted by Captain Idahosa Wells Okunbo, Mr John Olatunde Ayeni and Dr Olusola Ayandele. Perhaps, the questions on the lips of competing companies were: who are these people and where are they coming from?
The first question was answered at the opening of the bids when their company emerged the preferred bidder for four distribution companies, namely Eko, Ikeja, Ibadan and Yola. But one of the bid rules was that no company could win more than two bids. They were later asked to select two of the four and they chose Ibadan and Yola Distribution Companies. But media reports about former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, being the chairman of the Board of Directors of the company, seemed to accord them some eminence.
The second question was answered when contrary to expectations Integrated Energy promoters were one of the earliest to mobilize and pay up about N8.8 billion representing 25 percent of the mandatory bid deposit for the two discos before the March 21, 2013 deadline; and payment of about N27 billion representing 75 per cent balance of the bid price for both discos before the August 21, 2013 deadline.
A clear message was sent to the investment world in Nigeria: Integrated Energy Distribution and Marketing Company Limited is a story of how to break out from a quiet background into the limelight, nay league of huge power sector investors in the country. The company was able to mobilize funds despite the deliberately orchestrated harsh financial situations in the banks.
It takes the business-mindedness, tenacity and sharp focus of the shrewd duo of Okunbo (the man his friends fondly call Captain Hosa) and Ayeni (the unassuming businessman) to leverage on global connections to drive and realize the dream of Int
egrated Energy Company Limited. Other directors namely Malam Aminu Ibrahim, Dr Haruna Usman Sanusi and Dr Olusola Ayandele have also contributed particularly to the success story thus far.
But it is significant to situate the 55 year-old Okunbo and 46-year old Ayeni in the epicenter of the success story- for their vigor in driving the process of making Integrated Energy Company Limited a solid power distribution company in the overall objective of giving light to Nigerians as part of conscious efforts by the Jonathan administration to transform the nation.
And because of Okunbo and Ayeni’s youthfulness, their mobility across the globe sourcing for and exploring investment opportunities is incredible. On September 30, this year, both men were at the State House in Abuja, together with other bid winners, to receive from President Jonathan share certificate and licence of core owners of their respective discos.
Benin-born Okunbo, a passionate player in business and government circles globally who earned his wings as an airline pilot in the 1970s and achieved the rank of captain at 25 with the Okada Air and International Airlines where he retired in 1988 to venture into private business, relates with the President Jonathan administration positively as a wonder working government, whose Transformation Agenda is pragmatic. The agenda has set the Jonathan administration apart as an achiever who has embarked on bold reforms that its predecessors could not do in the power sector,
Committed and hardworking Okunbo has continued to leverage on the administration’s Transformation Agenda and his increasing experience as a global investor with over three decades of experience in the energy sector of the Nigerian economy to navigate the investment terrains, especially the oil and gas sector as well as marine service industries; and has expanded his influence to partner other collaborators in major environmental, engineering and housing development projects globally. He is either chairman or director in more than 13 companies around the world, including Integrated Energy Distribution and Marketing Company Limited.
Ayeni, his “Siamese twin” in business, who is a seasoned Lawyer, shares a similar business background and vision with him. He is Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of the company. As a mark of his expansive business interests, he is chairman on the boards of several companies in Nigeria, including Skye Bank Plc and Aso-Savings and Loans Plc. As they expand their business frontiers, time will tell which other business terrains these quiet operators with the touch of Midas will break into in the manner they have done in the power sector.
·Ojeikere sent this report from Abuja.