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PRIVATISATION: PROBE OBJ NOW -COL. UMAR

By NBF News
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Former military administrator of Kaduna State, Col. Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (rtd), urged the Federal Government yesterday, to probe ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo over his role in the privatized federal companies. But Bauchi State Gpovernor, Isa Yuguda, differed, saying Obasanjo should be left alone.

The sale was supervised by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE). However, some of the firms were sold without the alleged consent of the National Council on Privatisation (NCP), which is under the Vice-President's watchful eyes.

Flood of petitions over the shady deals in the sale prompted the setting up of the Senate ad-hoc Committee on Privatisation and Commercialisation to investigate the BPE. The committee, chaired by Senator Ahmed Lawan, rounded off its sittings on Saturday.

During the probe which started on Monday, August 8, there were startling revelations by former and present directors-general of the BPE. One of them, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, who left the agency in 2003, opened the can of worms. He accused Obasanjo and former deputy, Vice-President Atiku Abubakar of influencing the sale and in fact, said both leaders ruined the government's privatisation efforts.

He said that Obasanjo 'practically blocked the sale of Nigeria Airways', among other accusations.

Another former director-general, Dr. Julius Bala, also accused the former president of interfering in the sale of Delta Steel Complex by rejecting the bid by BUA International and promoting the one submitted by Global Infrastructure Company.

Moved by the weight of allegations against the former president, members of the Senate committee were divided over whether to summon him (Obasanjo) or not. But Senator Lawan in an exclusive interview with Daily Sun ruled out any move to invite any former leader. However, the committee's chairman may succumb to the will of majority on the committee to summon Obasanjo as it ended sitting last Saturday.

In a statement issued in Kaduna yesterday, Col. Umar urged the Federal Government not to wait until Obasanjo dies before investigating the ex-president's alleged interference in the sale of the companies.

Col Umar said it was now time to get to the root of the matter. He called on government not to wait till the former President is dead before probing his administration.

The retired Army officer said the public hearing conducted by the Senate on the execution of the privatization programme had made Nigerians to believe that there was little or no chance of reaping its benefits.

'The Federal Government owes it to posterity to order for an investigation into these disasters immediately and not to wait a day longer. To wait until Chief Obasanjo might have died, as all of us will, some day, would expose it to charges of wickedness.

'The revelations from the just-concluded Senate hearings into the implementation of the privatization programme since 1999, has left many Nigerians sick with outrage.

The shock comes not from hearing that mistakes have been made but from the fact that the mistakes were probably the result of widespread conspiracy. Even more telling is the attempt by some of the officials to obfuscate the issues, believing obviously that the public lacks the capacity to tell an honest mistake from a swindle when they see one.

'The Senate should therefore be commended for responding to this outcry even at this late hour. One would earnestly hope that the exercise is not one of the usual gimmicks designed to douse public agitations. For the sake of the present and future generations of our countrymen, this is one enquiry which needs to be carried out to its logical conclusion.

'The situation makes it inevitable that the Federal Government conducts a comprehensive, thorough and immediate enquiry into the causes of these failures. We must identify those responsible and find ways with which the problems can be tackled

'Sufficient information has become available to enable immediate prosecution of any saboteurs of the privatization programme. It is up to the officials that sold off ALSCON, Delta Steel, Ajaokuta, NICON Insurance, Nigerian-Re etc, at insignificant fractions of their true values to convince the courts that they were motivated by a desire to help the motherland and not some other deity.

'Indeed, not a few Nigerians are keen to know why all the major initiatives embarked upon during the eight years Chief Obasanjo ruled the country - privatization, power sector reforms, alienation of Federal Government properties, 2003 general elections, 2007 general elections etc. -have been such spectacular failures.

'No matter how hard they tried to sound civil and non-alarmist, witness after witness that had come before the Senate ad-hoc committee ended up giving evidence that showed our privatization project is all but a fool's errand. Almost without exception, the witnesses stressed one recurring issue: that implementation of the privatization scheme since 1999 had been characterized by bad faith, depredation, embezzlement, fraud, swindle and, at times, outright theft by officials and clients alike,' Umar stated.

But speaking with Airport Correspondents in Lagos yesterday on the crisis trailing the privatisation of many federal companies and the weight of accusations against the former president, Governor Yuguda said: 'It is not right to attack Obasanjo. Those speaking ought to have resigned when they saw that all was not well and that the ex-President did not heed their professional advice'

Reacting to the probe yesterday in Lagos, a social critic, Prince Olusegun Ologbese said the ongoing investigation of the BPE would end up as 'an exercise in futility, a waste of time and nation's resources'.

In a statement, Ologbese said that though the investigation is good-intentioned, the matter about BPE is being scratched on the surface.

'As good, laudable and necessary the probe is, Nigerians are not impressed because its outcome would not see the light of the day, like many of it in the past, if it is not targeted at some former public officers in order to harass and molest them.

'Besides, what Nigerians expect of the probe is to find out how many public companies and corporations were privatized, who and who bought them; what was the market price of each privatized companies and how much was paid for each of them. What was the total money realized from the privatization exercises and what did the government do with the money?.

'As far as the people are concerned, all the noise and publicity about the probe of the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) by the National Assembly are all bravado, as the probe will end up halfway because all the atrocities associated with the purchases of the companies were perpetuated by the Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) bigwigs', he said.