Obasanjo Responsible For BPE Failure, El-Rufai Tells Senate

Source: EMMA UCHE, THEWILL. - thewillnigeria.com
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* Senate Orders Arrest Of Transcorp Chairman, Funso Lawal

ABUJA, August 11, (THEWILL) - Former President Olusegun Obasanjo Thursday received knocks from one his main acolytes Mallam Nasiru el-Rufai, who accused him of being responsible for the seeming failure of the commercialization and privatisation of public companies as implemented by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE).

El-rufai, who was pioneer Director-General of the BPE made the accusation during his testimony at the public hearing organized by the Senate Adhoc Committee set up to probe the entire privatisation process.

Also, the Senate Ad hoc Committee bared its fangs as its Chairman, Senator Ahmad Lawan directed the committee secretary and the Sergeant at arms to issue a warrant of arrest on the Chairman of Transcorp, Otunba Funso Lawal.

The committee's decision was hinged on the refusal of Transcorp management to honour the letter of invitation sent by the committee to Transcorp inviting them to appear on the 6th day of the public hearing on commercialisation and privatisation of public owned companies.

El-Rufai, who was clad in a pair of black suit, alleged that the mess in the BPE kicked off with the appointment of his successor from outside the bureau against his recommendation to the presidency. Based on the request of President Olusegun Obasanjo he said he forwarded three names each from the senior and the junior cadre among his directors in order of preference to the President for appointment.

"I was particularly specific that the appointment should come from within the Bureau because of the huge amount of money spent in training many of the staff for the privatization process and its technical nature.

"But the government employed someone that was literarily fired from the BPE. We have never investigated anybody for corruption. The person we investigated ended up being the DG of BPE. I knew everyone that worked with me, their capability and competence. We have people sent to the best school for training but the government of the day went to appoint someone who was literarily fired from the BPE and brought him back and the institution has suffered for it.

"The public hearing will not be complete without speaking with the staff of the BPE. I met with them and knew each one by name; they were only one hundred and eighty staff. I am very proud of the BPE because my years there are my very best. But unfortunately one of the people we investigated ended up being the DG," he said.

The ex-DG further noted that the legal framed work of the BPE can be improved but the key thing is to have the right people in office and prevent them from political interference. According to him government was losing N265 billion to support inefficient and corrupt enterprises adding that the objective of the privatization in Nigeria was not to create jobs but to make those companies functional.

Nonetheless, El Rufai disagreed with the Chairman of the committee, Senator Lawan (ANPP) on the illegality of deductions from proceeds that accrue to the BPE from the sale of companies. Lawan had said the proceeds ought to be paid into the CBN account according to section 19 of the BPE Act and section 80 of the 1999 constitution as amended in 2010 instead of doing otherwise.

"Everybody is interested because we ask for the gross earnings since 1999 but up till today, we have not seen any record on it. We should rather look at the possibility of making the BPE work easier within the ambit of law," he said.

But el rufai countered saying there is nothing like proceeds within the BPE because government did not participate in the privatization and should not be expecting revenue from it.

"I do not believe we broke the law and I do not believe we have been breaking the law. When we started we came to the National Assembly to appropriate money for us, but they did not see it that we needed money for our operation. I want you to scrutinize all our transactions and you will see that we did everything transparently. But an incredibly cranky person was made the BPE DG and he turned everything upside down. He started promoting people anyhow without due process. I do not believe the cost of undertaken a transaction is a revenue accruable to the federal government if it has not paid for the transaction. I did not abuse the law but may be those after me abuse it," el-rufai said.

On whether he still believes that the exercise was meant to witch-hunt him, el-rufai said he would reserve his judgment until after the committee report is made public adding that there is no doubt in his mind that privatization has served the country well adding that the BPE is more than just selling companies.

"I can understand why some political leaders do not want privatization but it can be improved," he said.

Also at the hearing, the Chairman of Folio Communication, Fidelis Anosike confirmed the sale of three assets of Daily Times of Nigeria Plc in London and Nigeria amounting to £520, 000.00, N600 million and N720 million.

Folio however dismissed the allegations that it has sold most of the DTN assets saying it has only sold the one in London and two others in Nigeria with the assent of the BPE according to the MOU.

BPE Director General, Ms Bolanle Onagoruwa also admitted to the sale of some of DTN assets to settle some liabilities to sort out the balance sheet of the company.

On the use of the company premises as warehouse by a beer company, Anosike said 80 percent of the premises were rented out to get money and there was nothing in the MOU preventing Folio from doing so. He also told the committee that out of 900 staff inherited from the company, only 120 are left operating only the online version of Daily Times.

L-R: BPE DG, Ms. Bolanle Onagoruwa, Mallam Nasiru-el-rufai and Folio's Fidelis Anosike.

However, in another twist another claimant of DTN, Senator Ikechukwu Obiora representing DSV Limited in his written submission accused Folio of illegal and fraudulent asset stripping contrary to the expectations of BPE, the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) and Nigerians.

"It has turned out that Fidelis Anosike and Noel Anosike used their Folio Communications Ltd to gain entry into Daily Times of Nigeria (DTN) with the sole purpose of ridding DTN of its assets and abandoning the company thereafter; it is now obvious that they never intended to see DTN run as a going concern.”

The BPE boss lamented that the bureau has been denied access to the company but Lawan assured her that both the committee and the BPE will go to the Lagos office together. Lawan said the committee will like to establish the real owner of DTN and regretted the downturn of the companies saying it is one of the bad examples of the privatization exercise.

"In most cases, most of our enterprises were dashed out and that is the general belief, “he said.

Former BPE boss, Chris Anyawu said every Director-General of the BPE is under serious pressure from higher quarters. He stressed that it will be very difficult for the privatization exercise to work in that circumstance.

"In this process, individuals go behind to do all sorts of things. There has to be a channel that is legal and possible," he said.

He told the committee that prior to his time, the practice was that the BPE operated many bank accounts including one with the CBN.

In the same vein the stakeholders Forum on the Concession of Lagos International Trade fair Complex accused the Federal Government of conniving with AULIC Nigeria Limited to acquire the entire trade fair at a reduced cost of N10 billion. The stakeholders Forum had already invested about N70 billion in the Trade Fair complex.

Stakeholders who presented petition to the senate Committee investigating BPE on the sales of government properties said despite the court decision ordering AULIC Nigeria Limited not to tamper with the area occupied by the traders, Nick Eze who is owner of AULIC was adamant and has continued to collect rent on the complex in contravention of the agreement.

The hearing continues Friday.