By Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief
FORMER Minister of Finance, Dr. Shamsuddeen Usman, has said the current challenges plaguing the nation’s petroleum sector would have been a thing of the past had late Gen. Sani Abacha not halted the privatization of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, after taking over power in 1993. Shamsudeen who spoke in Abuja, yesterday, at the inauguration of a study group on giving voice and voting power to retail shareholders in the country, said, “The biggest problem of this country is lack of continuity. What happened was that Abacha came and put a cutlass and just cut it off. The reforms of NEPA, the reforms of NNPC all these NITEL, Nigeria Airways, SwissAir had actually paid for it. By today, we would have had a national carrier. All these reforms that you are seeing would have been concluded long ago.
“For NNPC, if you see the fight that we fought even with the Minister of Petroleum who was one of the most powerful ministers that were closest to Babangida. We insisted that the Minister of Petroleum should not be the chairman of NNPC and that was approved by the National Executive Council. So we removed him as the chairman of the NNPC because NNPC was to be restructured as a full commercial entity. But I was surprised that when I came back to government, the Minister of Petroleum had gone back to become the chairman of NNPC.”
Dr. Usman said the study on how to give retail shareholders voice and voting power became important because it has been discovered that leaders of the various zonal associations were using the association in their personal interests, and not serving the interests of the small investors in stocks.
He lamented that some of the leaders of the associations had remained in office for 18 years and had abandoned the code of conduct as designed at inception which provided that one could hold office for only two terms of two years.
His words: “Following the privatization of some of the public companies, we went to a number of AGMs and saw how they were being conducted and we told ourselves that we had to do something to protect the small shareholders from the sharks – because there was one key group of shareholders at a time. It was hotly debated at the meeting of the TCPC.
“Consequently, we went to the zones across the country for awareness creation. We even facilitated the establishment of the Zonal Shareholders Associations across the country.
That was how shareholders associations were established in Port-Harcourt, Lagos, Ibadan, Kano Onitsha, Kaduna and Jos. It was actually the TCPC that funded the establishment of these associations because we thought we were trying to establish democratic capitalism. So the retail shareholders should have voice and votes and their votes should count in the corporate democratic process. That was the idea.
“We had code of conduct which we expected all the leaders to be subject. The question is, are the representatives of the shareholders associations observing that code of conducts? Yes, the retail shareholders have a voice but the voice is not being used for the purpose for which we designed it. One of the key provisions of the code of conducts was for democratic elections into the executive positions. I was amazed to come back after about 18 years, to find that some of those people that we had when we established the Zonal Associations are still the leaders of the same associations. So clearly, there was no democracy at all.
“There is supposed to be elections every two years and you can serve only two terms of two years. Yet when I look at the leaders of the associations, they are still the same people up till