Obasanjo’s Cronies Finally Grab NITEL

July 6, 2006
10 mins read

When the news broke on Tuesday morning that the deliberately rundown public telecommunications company, NITEL, had finally been sold to die so-called Transnational Corporation of Nigeria (Transcorp), a friend of mine who was reading the day’s newspaper headlines with me had quipped that the newspapers would probably have been closer to the truth in a deeply philosophical sense if they had reported that ‘Obasanjo buys NITEL.’ I couldn’t agree more.


So after more than six years of a well-rehearsed rigmarole, which started with the infamous effort to sell the company to Investment International London Limited (DLL) at a sum of $1.25 billion, a sum that was eventually not paid, but which many experts in the industry even then felt was a gross under-pricing of a company that was actually a STRATEGIC national asset of the Nigerian people. As the saga of the company was played out in the murky waters of Nigeria’s political economy and the dubious privatisation programme of the Obasanjo government, it became clear that an elaborate script had been written which, willy-nilly, was going to reach a denouement, but with the Nigerian people already assigned a role as the losers by the Obasanjo clique.


When the DLL sell-out fell through, a deliberate process of neglect, noninvestment and wilful rundown of the company was embarked upon. NITEL, which had declared dividends for government, was already investing in its future development just before the advent of the Obasanjo administration, all of a sudden was deliberately undervalued. And at almost every outing of the members of the regime who had a part in the conspiracy against NITEL, we were reminded that the company was in fact close to becoming of scrap value.  Pursuit to the determination to destroy NITEL so that it can eventually be sold cheap in 2003 against the protestations of broad circles of Nigerians, the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) under a very arrogantly unrepentant Nasir el-Rufa’I contracted a firm whose offices were an abandoned church in Holland to manage NITEL ‘profitably pending privatisation. PENTASCOPE did a hatchet job, ran the company into even greater mess, just as those who wrote the script had planned. Nigerian people were left bemused when el-Rufa’ I declared that he owed nobody an apology for his actions. He was obliged only to Obasanjo, who was so happy with the job he did that he was promoted to the position of Minister! Billions of naira went down the PENTASCOPE drain, but the ‘anti-corruption’ regime of Obasanjo took all that in its stride because the agenda remained on course: run down the company in order to sell it cheap to favoured cronies eventually.


By December 2005, it became even clearer that the Obasanjo clique was reaching the height of its conspiracy against the best interest of the Nigerian people in respect of NITEL. That month, ORASCOM presented a bill of $256.53 million to buy NITEL. It led to indignation and patriotic out cry around the country; with hindsight, we can now in fact interpret the ORASCOM episode as a finale, and the penultimate piece of an elaborate jigsaw of preparing the ground for Obasanjo’s cronies to pick the juicy national fruit called NITEL. Why did I say that?


Well, the company that they have always described as nearly worthless was all of a sudden given a new positive imprimatur and glowingly described by TRANSCORP in a statement issued after they had grabbed our national patrimony “as having the most extensive network with the ability to provide telecom services nationwide,” according to Daily Independent of July 4,2006. Such an effusively approving statement stands in sharp contrast with the doom that was deliberately associated with the name ofNITEL when the desperate effort was being instituted to destroy it, because a decision had been made to sell the company.


The TRANSCORP statement went to the heart of the reason why the Obasanjo clique was desperate to sell the company; and that is the fact that the strategic national asset will now be owned by a few capitalists. “In addition,” according to TRANSCORP, “NITEL has shares in the following companies: 7.33 percent in the South Atlantic Telecommunications/West African Submarine Cable Organisation (SAT3/WASC); 6.91 percent share in International Maritime Satellite Organisation (INTELSAT) and 0.07 percent in Ico Global Communications Limited (I-Co).” Now the Nigerian people have lost these assets to a handful of Obasanjo’s beloved cronies. If we remember that Obasanjo’s farm is allegedly a part owner of TRANSCORP, then the big picture has become clear in the public place. The wind has exposed the hind place ofthe chicken, as the African proverb



In the past seven years, Obasanjo’s regime has made a commitment to the development of a capitalism that has depended not on a genuine entrepreneurial ability, but a most dubious privatisation project that offloads national assets into the private hands of a few chaps around the president himself. Nigeria has been the loser in this shock therapy capitalism that has not worked in the areas of productivity, jobs creation and efficiency that the supporters of the sale of national assets have always argued as the strengths of privatisation.


Privatisation and the wholesale surrender to the neo-liberal doctrines of the World Bank and IMF have not really profited the African people since the emergence of its original monster incarnation in the Structural Adjustment policies of the 1980s. The technocrats driving these policies do not seem bothered by the social cost of their doctrines and these policies have taken public institutions into private hands all over the continent from the mid-1980s. It is quite clear to me that our people have suffered more than they have gained.


Of course, a few individuals became very rich when SAP ran riot in the 1980s in the same way that a few people can swear that Obasanjo is the closest being to a deity just because he has facilitated their phenomenal riches in the way they have been able to take into their personal possession what belonged to all of us. This is the reality of Nigeria in the seven years of the Obasanjo presidency. The rich have become richer and to consolidate their hold on our economic life, Obasanjo encouraged the stupendously rich crony capitalists (many of whom contributed money to the tainted mandate that Obasanjo claimed in 2003) to combine in TRANSCORP in order to find a bigger umbrella under which they can take rich pickings out of the hands of the Nigerian people. It seems our ‘born-again’ president remembers his Bible very well, especially that place where it is said that from the poor will be taken even the little they have in order to add to the assets of the rich. This is what has been played out with Obasanjo’s sale of NITEL – for years deliberately run down in order to be sold cheap – to the organisation the crony capitalist, TRANSCORP


It is even more significant to point out that Obasanjo did not sell just 51 percent of NITEL to TRANSCORP as has always been advertised, but so bold and daring is the Obasanjo clique that 75 percent of the company was given to the “chosen people” of Obasanjo’s capitalism. It was this daring presumptuousness that shocked Ezekiel Fatoye, a former Executive Director ofNITEL to point out to Daily Independent of July 4,2006, that an offer of $750 million for 51 percent is reasonable and good, but the $750 million paid for 75 percent is strange.” Yet nobody explained to Nigerians why the sale was taken up from 51 percent to 75 percent. We are not supposed to know such details. That is ‘official secrecy’ fit for the wisdom of the ‘all-knowing’ President Obasanjo and his nation-dismantling and selling cheap officials.


I have honestly believed that the Obasanjo regime is arguably the worst in the modem histoiy ofNigeria; it is in my opinion a regime that has severally conspired against the best interests of the Nigerian people. I have a very strongly-held philosophical position against the whole baggage of neo-liberal capitalism, which is really capitalism in its naked nastiness without a human face. Under Obasanjo, our country has harvested the worst manifestations of this anti-people, inhuman system: the loss of sovereignty, offloading of national assets into private hands, the massive retrenchment of woikers, the removal of a social net that only the state can provide, the deepening of the income gap between the rich and the poor, the heightening of social tensions and alienation in our society.


The sale of NITEL to TRANSCORP, the organisation of Obasanjo’s cronies, is one more reason why I believe that no matter how long it takes, a patriotic government must bring Obasanjo and his closest collaborators to judgement for all the crimes they have committed against the Nigerian people. Obasanjo has not even promoted capitalism for those enamoured of that exploitative system. After all, we have the experience of a capitalist system in the Scandinavian countries that provides an elaborate social net for all strata of society. Obasanjo’s regime has actually perfected banditry and we are supposed to accept that as a ‘reform programme’. Nigerians must make a determined effort to reclaim our national patrimony from Obasanjo and his cronies when the time comes.


Abubakar Rimi: Archbishop Akmola’s lacuna The Daily Sun newspaper of Monday, July 3, 2006, reported the  Primate of the Anglican communion and President of the Christian Association ofNigeria (CAN), Archbishop Peter Akinola, as describing the former Kano State governor, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, as “pompous and arrogant and not fit to govern the nation.” Rimi’s crime? Uetold Daily Sun, I think last week, that no Northerner will ever agree to a Southern president in 2007.


Well, Primate Akinola was obviously very incensed that Rimi dared to express his opinion, and he retorted that “whoever said that kipd of thing is most arrogant, Nigeria owes him nothing. Tell Rimi and others like him who make such stupid statements that Nigeria owes them nothing.” Archbishop Akinola was not done. “What is the condition of this country? What has been the contributions of Rimi and his likes to the growth and development of the country over the years?” he asked, and went further: “They should keep their mouths shut. They don’t think before they talk and to use a biblical expression, they are beside themselves, they command no loyalty, they command no votes, we need people who are intelligent and who have something better to offer this country.” This is the ‘gospel’ according to Archbishop Peter Akinola.


But wait a minute, our dear man of God. Why was Abubakar Rimi at the receiving end of your sharp tongue? Apparently, because he dared to canvass a rotation of presidential powers to Northern Nigeria in 2007? Abubakar Rimi did not insult anybody in that interview neither did he hurl threats at Nigeria’s sovereignty. It is political circles and individuals in the South that have been threatening ‘hell, fire and brimstones’ if a Northerner becomes a president in 2007. However, our pious Archbishop neither hasn’t seen the evil nor heard the evil in such threats, since they come from the ‘appropriate quarters’ of the South.  It is only Northerners who become “arrogant” when they ask for their share of the Nigerian space, while it is the birthright of Southern Nigerian politicians, elders and youths to threaten us all and we must not respond or raise an eyebrow, since they have been “ordained divinely” to do so. Otherwise, our dear Archbishop would not see only the “arrogance” of Rimi and “all others like him” (presumably other Northerners who have called for power shift to the North in 2007). Primate Peter Akinola should become more measured and balanced in his comments about national events, because his calling obliges him to rise above the sectional impulses that he ejaculated against Abubakar Rimi. In politics, every individual and every section of the country for that matter stakes claims, which eventually be brought to the arena of elections. The majority perspective then wins out. Where then is the ‘arrogance’ in Abubakar Rimi’s claims, which Archbishop Akinola did not see in statements from Dr Dejo Raimi or the bellicose statements of Chief Edwin Clark? Softly, man of God. Israel’s unacceptable behaviour.


It took the bullying tactics of the United States a few years ago to armtwist the United Nations General Assembly to drop some of its resolutions against the Zionist State of Israel. Up to the end of the Cold War and apartheid in South Africa, the UN General Assembly had described Israel as a racist state; one which collaborated actively with its racist brothers in South Africa. There were extensive collaborations between Israel and apartheid South Africa in nuclear matters, in military technology and counter-insurgency techniques. Painful as it might sound today, Israel was an active enemy of African liberation, especially in Southern Africa. I have made these recollections in the past couple of days as international television stations have broadcast live images of the Israeli army’s assault against the Gaza Strip in the wake of the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants. Israel’s army, the most powerful in the Middle East, and the only nuclear armed army in the region, has continued to rain death and destruction on this most densely-populated region of the world, because of its racist policy of one Jewish life being more sacred than all Palestinian lives.


We have lived through the horror of Israeli massacres of Palestinians whose land it illegally occupies, while it is abetted in these crimes by the major powers of the world. Israel is perhaps the only country in the world without defined borders; it apparently has a veto on even the UN, does whatever it likes with impunity and any criticisms of its actions is immediately labelled as ‘anti-Semitism.’


When the Palestinian people democratically elected a Hamas government, Israel and its international backers promptly demanded recognition of the right of Israel without a reciprocal call on the occupier to recognise the rights of the occupied. It has consistently refused to implement UN resolutions, and in the unjust international order of our world, nobody is expected to comment on this disrespect of world opinion nor ask to enforce those resolutions. Israel is too special and must not be made to conform to international norms of civilised conduct.


Israel has nuclear weapons, but insists no other natioh in the region must possess them. For Israel’s sake, the United States invaded Iraq, is systematically destroying the independent capacities of that occupied land and is even now preparing to invade Iran. Israel has built what is known as an “apartheid wall,” which it says is to protect its citizens, from Palestinian terrorism but has systematically been stealing Palestinian territories and virtually making it impossible to achieve a viable and independent Palestine. It is determined that Palestinians are sent into exile or live in Bantustans.


As I watch the collective punishment and humiliation ofthe Palestinian people by Israel on television everyday, I feel a deep anger and helplessness about the injustice of the international system. Why must the pain of the Palestinian people be allowed to endure? Why must the world acquiesce in the crimes of Israel? Why must all of us be made to feel a part of the guilt of Europeans who need to atone for crimes committed against Jews in European history, when for most of Islamic histoiy, Muslims lived peacefully with their Jewish neighbours? The questions are many, the pains are deep, but I know that most of humanity finds Israel’s actions in occupied Palestine unacceptable, but the gangsters that control the so called  international community sanction such an unacceptable behaviour. This is the nature of our unjust world.


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