BFIGroup, the Nigerian-American company, whose bid to acquire the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON), Ikot Abasi in Akwa Ibom State, was cancelled by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) in controversial circumstances in 2004, says it is awaiting the government’s team that would work with its lawyers to effect last Friday’s Supreme Court decision to restore its mandate.
BFIG emerged the preferred bidder for the $3.6billion plant with a $410million offer, after UC Rusal, the Russian co-bidder, was disqualified by the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) for breaching stipulated privatization guidelines and conditions.
Curiously, after being proclaimed bid winner, the BPE announced a cancellation of the bid, alleging that it had no valid contract with BFIG to sustain the win, despite meeting all required bid conditions, including the payment of $1million cash bid bond.
Irked by the privatization agency’s decision to set aside its win and open negotiations with the Russians for the takeover of the plant in 2006, BFIG instituted a legal case against the BPE that was resolved at the Supreme Court last Friday.
BFIG President, Reuben Jaja, said in an exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES in Abuja on Saturday that although getting the Supreme Court judgment was sweet victory after eight years, there is still much to do to retrieve the plant.
“Eight years of a man’s life pursuing a very frustrating case against a nation and its corrupt elite who connived with a multinational with huge resources that was so determined to deny the facts and bury the truth about our victory was not easy,” Mr. Jaja said.
“The vision of ALSCON was about the empowerment of the poor and the less privileged. The Federal Government designed the plant to help the marginalised people of the Niger Delta region; to support their industrialisation programme; enhance their economic empowerment; improve their lives and those of the future generation.
“As far as we are concerned, our focus now is on justice, and taking time to ensure that our rights are enforced, and that we have an opportunity to take over the plant, develop it, create jobs and opportunities for the people of this country, particularly those in the immediate area in the Niger Delta that the plant is located, to ensure that Nigerians benefit from their investment,” the BFIG president said.
He said re-assembling the technical partners BFIG mobilised at the time it bided for the plant in 2004 would be difficult. Mr. Jaja said the consortium would take the critical first steps of working with the joint review team to assess the state of the plant and arrive at an agreement acceptable to all parties.
The Supreme Court victory is a legal one,” he said, adding that there are other issues that have to be dealt with by the company’s legal experts in conjunction with the Federal Government.
“Our lawyers would examine most of the issues carefully and prescribe the right course of action on the best way to reclaim the plant. We would come up with a team as soon as the government meets with us as the Supreme Court judgment stipulates for us to come up with a mutually acceptable agreement for both parties.
“One of the important segments of that arrangement would be a joint review team to assess the technical readiness of the plant. The team would determine the state of the plant as at April 2004 and the condition today. This would be presented to the government and factored into the agreement before any action is taken,” Mr. Jaja said.
He held that all other plans will come after an assessment of the plant has been done. Mr. Jaja said BFIG will then revert to the original business plan that was submitted as part of the bidding process.
He identified some specific issues the Supreme Court alluded to in its judgment, saying government must bring the agreement it signed with BFIG in 2004 for exhaustive deliberation, review and, modifications to establish a commercially reasonable agreement for implementation to move forward.
UC Rusal, the Russian co-bidder said on Friday that it would abide by the apex court’s ruling. However on Monday, the organization said its stakeholding in the smelter would not be affected.
“Last Friday’s ruling of Nigeria’s Supreme Court neither changes, nor can change, the owner of Alscon,” the Moscow-based Russian firm, said in a statement to Reuters. “The Nigerian government must “bear responsibility” for the Supreme Court’s ruling. It cannot have an effect on Rusal’s ownership. ”