Privatization, Atiku and the tales before

Two former Directors-General of the BPE, Malam Nasir el-Rufai and Mrs. Irene Chigbue, stole the show when they revealed how former President Obasanjo was frequently interfering in how they should carry out their duties, dictating how and to whom government enterprises should be sold in open breach of due process. In particular, el-Rufai alleged that he was always quarrelling with former President Olusegun Obasanjo who didn’t want to allow him the free hand to do his job. The former FCT Minister, who was once regarded as a member of former President Obasanjo kitchen cabinet, shocked Nigerians to the bone marrow with his breathtaking revelations about General Obasanjo’s overbearing attitude, especially on how he was breathing down his (el-Rufai’s) neck about the way to carry the privatization process.

As soon as el-Rufai was through with his testimony, another former Director-General of the BPE, Mrs. Irene Chigbue, dropped another cluster bomb on the integrity of the former President. In her damning account, former President Obasanjo literally hijacked their authority and discretion by asking them to ignore former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who was then the Chairman of the National Council on Privatization, and deal with him directly for guidance on how the BPE should do its job. It is apparent that none of these former BPE Directors General was ready to sacrifice their own reputations and protect Obasanjo for undermining the objectives of the privatization exercise.

Obasanjo’s overbearing interference, which led to the disregard for due process, laid the foundation for the massive fraud and national robbery that characterized the so-called privatization exercise. This was the inference of most discerning Nigerians from their interpretations of el-Rufai’s and Chigbue’s earthshaking revelations. Nigeria has lost billions and still losing more money because of the insincerity and fraud that characterized the implementation of the privatization exercise. While former President Obasanjo was using the privatization exercise to showcase the success of his economic “reforms”, little did Nigerians know until now that, he was after all a hindrance to its successful implementation for selfish reasons.

In fact, the admission by Mrs Irene Chigbue was notably instructive when she revealed that former President Obasanjo directed them to ignore former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as Chairman of the National Council on Privatization and deal with him (Obasanjo) directly. What was Obasanjo’s interest that he wanted to take direct charge of the privatization process and dictating to the Directors General of the BPE?

Former President Obasanjo deliberately encouraged insinuations that his former deputy, Atiku Abubakar was buying up public enterprises through third parties and enriching himself as a result. False accusation is the heaviest stone the devil can throw at you and, unfortunately for Atiku Abubakar, these allegations were swallowed up by gullible Nigerians. Perhaps, encouraged by an uncritical society that rarely asks questions about the ulterior motives of its leaders over certain actions, former President Obasanjo had left Atiku Abubakar to take the bum rap for the perceived failure and fraud associated with the privatization exercise. Having conditioned the public mind to see Atiku as the villain of the piece, Obasanjo removed the former Vice President as the Chairman of the National Council on Privatization.

With Atiku’s removal as NCP Chair, one would have expected the highest degree of transparency from the privatization process because he was alleged to be the obstacle. On the contrary, the take-over was the beginning of the rot in the privatization exercise. Multi-billion dollar public investments were sold at derisory prices to Obasanjo’s cronies. The prized Aluminum Smelter Company, ALSCON Ikot-Abasi built as USD3.2billion was sold for USD250 million of the USD250, USD120 was to be retained by the beneficiary of perfidy to be used to dredge the Imo River but five years down the road, the dredging has not been carried out and money still kept by the Russians. Delta Steel Company was sold to one who did not win the bid. Ajaokuta was concessioned to looters who have been stripping the place. In fact, late President Umaru Yar’adua was so scandalized by the scale of the fraud in the privatization exercise that he had to revoke the sale of Kaduna and Port Harcourt Refineries, which were sold at throw-away prices to his cronies in the private sector.

Originally, many Nigerians would have thought that the Senate investigation was going to expose the perceived skeletons in Atiku’s cupboard. The bad guy image painted of Atiku by Obasanjo was such that the former Vice President wouldn’t have come out of this Senate investigation without his reputation not being torn to shreds. If that is the expectation of Obasanjo’s fans, then the testimonies before the Senate committee investigating the BPE was an anti-climax. The exciting outcome, however, to other Nigerians was the manner the probe exposed Obasanjo’s under-belly, despite the semblance of transparency and accountability, which he preached with hypocritical emphasis.

Who then killed the privatization exercise? The skeletons have come crashing from the cupboard and all eyes are now on former President Obasanjo to defend himself. Did anybody accuse Atiku Abubakar of selling public enterprises to himself or friends? Are the major beneficiaries of privatization Atiku’s cronies or Obasanjo’s friends? Could a man stripped of his powers as NCP Chairman be responsible for the disaster that attended the privatization exercise, which is a rip off on the Nigerian taxpayers?

Recently, while on a foreign visit to Europe, former President Obasanjo accused his successors, late Umaru Yar’adua and President Goodluck Jonathan of lacking the will to fight corruption. Will President Jonathan now tell the world the stuff he is made of by asking former President Obasanjo to defend himself? President Obasanjo is no longer in office and cannot, therefore, claim immunity from accountability.

As the originator of the EFCC and ICPC, the former President has a moral duty to clarify the damning revelations made against him by el-Rufai and Mrs. Irene Chigbue. Such abuses of the privatization process cannot and should not be swept under the carpet.

Lastly, there have been several allusions to the fact that there were motives behind, either the calls to set up this probe of the BPE or in the coming into being of the Senate Committee and Its own set up. We have no evidence of this. Happily, the Senate President, Senator David Mark assured in his inaugural address that the committee was not set up to persecute anyone.  But even if that happens to be the case, the Law of Unintended Consequences has caught up with whoever had those designs. This outcome is beyond Atiku as an individual. The biggest gainer is the country and the former Vice President ought not to gloat over this happy turn of events. If I was in a position to advise Atiku, I will ask him to thank God and keep quiet. Atiku’s destiny is for God to make; it is beyond an individual’s design.

Oluwatosin Abiola, 29, Obafemi Awolowo Street, Ilara-Mokin, Ondo State.

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