Privatisation: The criminal auctioning of Nigeria

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WHATEVER might be the reasons for its decision, we must thank the Nigerian Senate for the investigation conducted last week, into the privatisation and commercialisation programme of the government.

Let me state that as early as the 1980s, when the imperialist powers began to ram down the throats of the ruling classes of neo-colonial countries like Nigeria, the mantra of privatising national assets as the cure-all remedy for economic problems, I have been stoutly opposed to the programme.

In 1986, I wrote a piece titled, “Imperialism’s Privatisation Panacea”, for THE HERALD newspaper in Ilorin, warning of the dire consequences for the development of national productive forces and the danger to national sovereignty, of the much-touted advantages of off-loading national assets to the international bourgeoisie and their local appendages.

As it turned out, from the Babangida/Falae Structural Adjustment Policies, SAP, of the mid-eighties, but especially in the freewheeling, neo-liberal banditry of the Obasanjo period, between 1999 and 2007, privatisation was literally turned to the holy grail of government policy in Nigeria.

Ideological garbage

Our ruling class is actually a group of glorified thieves, and privatisation became effusively embraced, because it allowed them to pretend that they were doing something more noble than theft, by privatising national assets, while spewing the ideological garbage that ‘government has no business with business’; ‘only the private-sector can profitably run enterprises’, and such utter tosh!

In truth, what was being done was to uproot Nigeria as we knew it, especially from the 1970s, when import-substitution industrialisation at least created jobs, around Nigeria. The process of privatization which the Obasanjo years foisted on Nigeria, has led to the cheap sales of many strategic national assets; stripping of valuables from these assets; de-industrialisation and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs; and the entrenchment in the economic and political space of Nigeria, of the worst specimens of humans without patriotism, but an obscene gluttony and greed for theft and more theft!

This has been my summary of the criminal process of privatization of Nigerian assets by the political regimes of SAP and neo-liberalism.

Well, last week, we got a confirmation of the worst excesses of the crime of privatization of national assets. In recent weeks, there have appeared all manners of confessions about the failure of privatization. Goodluck Jonathan confessed that the process was a failure; the same line was toed by Namadi Sambo and the Senate President, David Mark, also concurred emphatically. Sambo in fact, said more than 80 percent of companies privatized, failed.

Not only that, most of them were stripped of their assets and left as carcasses! Despite its problems, Ajaokuta Steel Company, for example, had trained thousands of Nigerians in the process of steel production, including hundreds of graduate engineers. Well, the crime of privatization was welcomed into town by the ruling elite and today, Ajaokuta is a ghost complex, and the dream of a national iron and steel backbone for industrialisation, is dead forever!

The revelations from last week’s Senate hearings were truly scandalous. It was revealed that the Aluminium Smelting Company of Nigeria, ALSCON, which was set up with $3.2 billion, was sold to a Russian firm, Russal, for a paltry $130million. Similarly, Delta Steel which was set up in 2005, at a cost of $1.5billion, was sold to Global Infrastructure for just $30million. ALSCON had been given $120million for the dredging of the Imo River, but it was never carried out.

Money for the dredging

The Russian company was asked the whereabouts of the money for the dredging, and a representative of the company, the Deputy Managing Director, Vitaly Kuzrestov, replied that it was used for “Environment Impact Assessment”, whatever that meant in the circumstance.

It was further revealed that Jimoh Ibrahim forged documents and a Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, which he used to acquire 70 percent of the National Insurance Company of Nigeria, NICON. He was accused of “use of false representation, name dropping, multitudinous false claims of representing a highly placed individual” to take over NICON; he subsequently went to “run[…]it aground”.

A financial review of NICON was undertaken by KPMG, and Jimoh Ibrahim was accused of asset stripping: “The total assets taken out of the company either directly or through companies wholly owned and controlled by Jimoh Ibrahim and not properly accounted for amounts to N6.37billion”. We also know what happened to DAILY TIMES of Nigeria, in the hands of the Anosike brothers.

A very central part of the crimes committed against Nigeria, under the guise of privatization, was the way General Olusegun Obasanjo literally dashed away companies, without respect for the processes put in place. Nasir El-Rufai, who was one of the most controversial privatization Czars, told Senate that Obasanjo and Atiku Abubakar meddled and tried to bend the rules.

When El-Rufai exited from BPE, in the context of the bitter struggle between president and vice, Obasanjo literally overthrew the established order of the privatization programme, by directing that Irene Chigbue, then head of BPE, to seek approvals for privatization directly from him, instead of the National Council on Privatization. So unencumbered by rule and procedure, the man turned national assets into a personal fief that could be dashed to whoever pleased him. There were incredible stories of bribes allegedly paid by individuals who took part in the gobbling up of some of our national assets.

By the end of the week, Nigerians had been given a good idea of what has happened to national assets under the watch of those who rule the country. An angry Femi Falana, called on the Senate to summon General Obasanjo over his roles in giving away national assets. But given the nature of Nigeria’s political process, it does not look likely, that such a call will be heeded; the chairman of the investigation committee, Senator Ahmed Lawan, was reported as saying no ex-President will be invited by his committee.

Even if Obasanjo was made to face Senate, it is not likely that much can be done to reverse the crimes committed against our country. The peek we have gleaned from the hearings on privatization, underscore why individuals like General Obasanjo continue to dominate Nigeria’s political life.

They have to ensure a continued hold on the levers of power so that the Nigerian people will be unable to call them to account for crimes committed against our country; and one of the greatest crimes of recent years, is the auctioning of our nation, with the dubious process called privatization. You can bet your last Naira, that there will never be an interrogation of privatization, as a strategic political choice of road to development; no way.

They have promised more of the same! Making the same mistake over and over but expecting to get a different result is called lunacy; but not when it concerns the Nigerian ruling class.

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