BFIGroup Corporation, the Nigerian-American consortium declared winner of the bid for the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON), Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom State, in 2004, has alleged unrestrained pilfering and stripping of assets at the plant since the September 30 ruling by the Federal High Court, Abuja.
Justice Abubakar Abdul-Kafarati, who delivered judgment in the suit brought before the court by BFIG seeking compliance with the July 6, 2012 Supreme Court ruling against BPE, had ordered the privatisation agency to reverse its decision to revoke the consortium’s win and reinstate it as the bonafide onwner of ALSCON.
Justice Abdul-Kafarati had also directed BPE to immediately retrieve ALSCON from UC RUSAL and invite BFIG to open negotiations towards the final takeover of the plant based on the agreement reached by all parties to the bid on May 20, 2004.
To expedite action in compliance with the court’s directives in its ruling, Vice President, Public Relations, BFIG, Frank Scherer, said in a statement on Tuesday that BFIG got in touch with the Director General, BPE, Benjamin Dikki, to intimate him and the agency on the need to act swiftly to give effect to the judgment.
BFIG writes BPE
“Dear Mr. Dikki,” Mr. Scherer quoted a letter sent to BPE by BFIG Chairman, Reuben Jaja. “In view of the time sensitive nature of the Court Order, and the need to move expeditiously. I sent an electronic mail to you on October 1, 2014 requesting a meeting pursuant to the Federal High Court Abuja Supreme Court enforcement judgment of September 30, 2014.”
According to Mr. Scherer, when no response was forthcoming from Mr. Dikki, BFIG, on October 3, 2014, contacted one of the elder statesmen from Akwa Ibom state, where ALSCON is located, urging him to help contact Mr. Dikki and plead with him to endeavour to facilitate the said meeting.
BFIG said the elder statesman confirmed that on getting in touch with Mr. Dikki on telephone, he did not only acknowledge the receipt of the previous message from Mr. Jaja, but he also promised to arrange a meeting with BFIG as soon as he returned from his trip.
Mr. Scherer said the purpose of the meeting was made clear to Mr. Dikki, particularly the need to commence the execution of the share purchase agreement (SPA) as well as confirm arrangements for the payment of 10 per cent offer price ($41million) as directed by the court.
He said the meeting was also to discuss plans for the KPMG audited accounts as of September 30, 2014 in line with the directive of the court, on which the second tranche of the payment of the balance of $369million bid price by BFIG would be based.
Accelerated asset stripping
According to Mr. Scherer, BFIG had, in the letter, drawn Mr. Dikki and BPE’s attention to the alarming incidents of “accelerated stripping and carting away of ALSCON property”.
Since the September 30, 2014 judgment, BFIG said it has documented evidence of the allegation, including pictures and videos of 20 feet container trucks with registration Nos. KJA68XE, XQ528, AGL726XF and AGL 724XL used in moving equipment and materials from ALSCON to undisclosed locations.
The massive pilfering and vandalism at the plant, BFIG spokesperson said, were uncovered by vigilant members of the community who undertook to monitor activities around ALSCON following a meeting with the traditional rulers and the people on October 8 and 9 preparatory to commencement of enforcement of the judgment.
Mr. Scherer said BFIG was shocked to read of a statement by BPE spokesperson, Chigbo Anichebe, on Tuesday describing as an “error” the Federal High Court judgment that ordered the full enforcement of the July 6, 2012 Supreme Court ruling in favour of the consortium.
BFIG expressed dismay over BPE’s statement, particularly when the agency was yet to schedule a meeting with the consortium to discuss SPA as mandated by court.
“Since October 1, BFIG had asked for audience with BPE without response,” Mr. Jaja told PREMIUM TIMES in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “Please, please tell me how can BFIG pay without the SPA executed by BPE in line with the directive of the court?”
The court had directed that BFIG be granted full, uninterrupted and unrestricted access to ALSCON to conduct a firsthand assessment of the business affairs of the Company, including engineering, technical, financial, accounting, facility, environmental, personnel, dredging and legal records pursuant to the decisions of the NCP (National Council on Privatisation).”
However, Mr. Anichebe said BPE would not recognise any group’s right to ALSCON, other than the present managers of the plant, UC RUSAL.
RUSAL, which was disqualified by the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) during the bid exercise in 2004 for violating the bid guidelines, was later in 2006 handed over the management of the $3.6 billion plant in controversial circumstances.
“It is important to note that the Bureau only hands over Federal Government assets to those who bid and fully pay the bid consideration. BFIG has not paid a kobo,” Mr. Anichebe said.
Playing old games
Following the July 6, 2012 Supreme Court judgment, the BPE, ostensibly in an attempt to enforce the judgment, had on January 29, 2013, issued a controversial offer letter to BFIG entitled: “Offer to Purchase 77.5% shares of the aluminium shelter company of Nigeria, ALSCON.”
The letter was accompanied by a 16-page share purchase agreement, SPA, dated May 20, 2004, for execution by BFIG, rather than the 58-page agreement ordered by the court, which was earlier transmitted to BFIG on October 8, 2012 for review and approval.
The 58-page agreement captured detailed issues jointly negotiated with RUSAL in 2004 and later executed on February 3, 2006 after ALSCON was transferred to them by BPE.
Consequently, on receiving the letter, BFIG wrote to BPE seeking clarifications on the discrepancies in the unilateral “invitation to acquire aluminium shelter”, instead of the aluminium smelter it bidded for and for which it was declared the preferred bidder.
But rather than address the discrepancies in the offer letter and SPA and comply with the Supreme Court order, the BPE, like it did in 2004, opted to revoke the offer, a decision that compelled BFIG to return to court to seek the enforcement of the 2012 ruling.