Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Strong PIMP Hand

When President Yar'adua was sworn in, many pointed to the manner of his emergence, and the overwhelming influence of Baba on that process as evidence that Yar'adua would be a mere marionette, and Baba would be pulling the strings. I must admit that part of me shared this view. Then I ran into a certain paramount ruler from the northern part of Nigeria, and in the course of talking polictics, he told me things about Yar'adua which made my jaw drop. I am now seeing some of these things manifested.

President Yar'adua is not a tough-talking, rambunctious, hard-as-nails, general-who-never-fires-blank like his predecessor, but he's certainly demonstrated a capacity for independent thought since he took office. The list of policy positions he has taken in direct contrast or even glaring opposition to Baba is growing daily.

First, he repossessed the refineries in the wake of deafening public outcry, an action Baba would never even have contemplated for a nanosecond. This demonstrated that President Yar'adua was cut from not just a different cloth, but came from a different textile factory entirely. At that time, I rubbed my hands in anticipation of what would come next.

When Ettehgate occured, inside gist had it that Baba prevailed on Yar'adua several times to use his office to save her job. Yar'adua not only refused, he flared up whenever anyone suggested he was going to act to save Etteh. Again, this was a marked departure from the norm under Baba, during whose tenure the very idea of an independent National Assembly would have had the originator of such a perfidious idea immediately sent to pasture. Indeed, the emergence of Senator Ken Nnamani as Senate President was not Baba's idea, and he balked at it, but the Senators, for once, stood up to him and insisted on having their own President for once. And we all know how that turned out for Baba.

Now, Yar'adua is begining to re-examine the entire privatisation process. It started with a Ministerial investigation into the sales of NIOMCO, Delta Steel and Ajaokuta Steel to Gbenga Obasanjo (yes, the same one), and though the full findings of the panel are yet to be revealed, a sneak peek reveals several irregularities, and downright illegalities. This means the "sale" will have to be scrutinised even deeper, and maybe repudiated.

The most recent event involves the "privatisation" of NITEL/Mtel and subsequent takeover by Transcorp. Now, that particular takeover has been plagued by more problems than a pastor in a whorehouse. First, the whole IILL mess cost Llonge his job at First Bank, and the process was stopped. Then the process was restarted, and Baba refused to include the value of Mtel's mobile license ($250 million) and NITEL's considerable equipment and property holdings nationwide in the valuation of the company as it was sold at a knock-down drag-out price to Transcorp.

Then Transcorp came in, brought BT to operate NITEL, and in record time, BT pulled out. Since then, NITEL/Mtel have not had an operator. Salaries have been unpaid, and now the government has gotten fed up with all the delays and excuses, and has passed a resolution ordering Transcorp to make 27% of it's holdings in NITEL/Mtel available for sale to an investor with proper qualifications and experience.

Okereke-Onyiuke, Chairman of Transcorp's Frankensteinian board, has come out to say nothing can be done with NITEL until 2009 under the terms of the privatisation agreement. I think someone should whisper in her ear that she should keep such ideas to herself if she doesn't want to piss off the Federal Government.

A pissed off Federal Government will simply nationalise Transcorp, boot out the board, including herself, and then do what it wants with the assets of the company, including one 5-star Hilton Hotel. And if she doesn't think it's possible, she should talk to Jimoh Ibrahim.

In any event, President Yar'adua is certainly showing us all that his PIMP hand is strong. Very strong.

Monday, February 11, 2008

$16 Billion?!

When the National Assembly began sitting on President Yar'adua's first budget, everyone expected they would be done in time for the Christmas/New Year break. However, this was not to be. This National Assembly refused to simply rubber-stamp the budget, and began exercising their oversight functions for the first time. By using their legal powers, they began making startling discoveries. They found out that there were some secret government accounts containing several hundred billion Naira, which were not reflected in the budget. This was hastily rectified. They found out that there were states who had monies illegally deducted from their allocations to pay off Nigeria's debt by Obasanjo, and ordered the CBN to promptly refund the money. They raised the benchmark crude oil price proposed by Yar'adua. Then they began looking at past expenditure, perhaps merely expecting to get a feel for what their predecessors were prone to doling out. Talk about opening up a barrell of worms.

When it was revealed that Obasanjo's administration had blown $10,000,000,000.00 (Ten Billion Dollars) on the power sector with no results, Nigerians were outraged. For that kind of money, we expected to see some drastic improvements in 8 years, not a steady and accelerating decline. For that kind of money, every bush path in Nigeria should have had a row of working streetlights. For that kind of money, we ought to have consigned that all-time favourite expression of NEPA/PHCN, "load-shedding" to the rubbish heap of archaic expressions. For that kind of money, Nigerian generator importers ought to have started looking for another country to set up shop. For that kind of money, Nigerians should have been smiling.

Last week, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Dimeji Bankole, revealed that Baba had actually blown $16,000,000,000.00 (Sixteen Billion Dollars) on the power sector. He also revealed that the extra 6 billion was in "extra-budgetary expenditure". Now, perhaps Hon. Bankole was still smarting at the disrespect he was shown at a recent PDP meeting, during which he was told to stay outside while PDP had its caucus meeting and was thus getting his own back, but there have been no denials of his statement. If anything, the silence has been deafening.

$16 Billion is a huge amount of money, and there have so far been no explanations as to where it went. Furthermore, the fact that there was 6 Billion in "extra-budgetary expenditure" must raise our eyebrows for it means 6 Billion unbudgeted dollars were spent on power. This from a government that always cried poverty when told to spend money on education, health and roads.

These revelations add more fuel to the steadily growing clamour for the probe of Baba's tenure, despite the recent clean bill of health handed to him by Uncle Nuhu, who has himself been axed, and banished to Kuru.

How long can President Yar'adua continue to ignore theses calls, especially given his Rule of Law posture? Surely, the Rule of Law doesn't rule out probing a previous administration even if only to ascertain where these huge sums of money went. Or does it?

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I love my country, enjoy a cold beer once in a while, rabidly support Arsenal FC, but I don't get Diet Coke...