Why Jonathan fired BPE DG, Bolanle Onagoruwa

FG sacks the Director General, Bureau for Public Enterprises, BPE, Bolanle Onagoruwa

The Federal Government on Tuesday finally hit the hammer on the Director General, Bureau for Public Enterprises, BPE, Bolanle Onagoruwa, with President Goodluck Jonathan approving her immediate sack from office.

A terse statement signed by Umar Sani, the Senior Special Assistant (Media & Publicity) to the Vice President, Namadi Sambo, did not give any reason for Ms. Onagoruwa’s sack.

She was directed to hand over to the most Senior Director in the Bureau, Benjamin Dikki, who would hold the position in an acting capacity.

Ms. Onagoruwa took over the reins at the privatisation agency following the sack of Christopher Anyanwu on March 9, 2010, in the wake of the failed privatisation of the national carrier, Nigerian Telecommunications Limited, NITEL.

Last year, the Senate ad-hoc committee investigating the privatisation and commercialisation of public companies between 1999 and 2011 in one of its 45 recommendations contained in its report called for her immediate sack from office for “gross incompetence in the management of the BPE” and “illegal and fraudulent sale of the five per cent Federal Government’s shares in the Eleme Petrochemical Company Limited, EPCL.”

The reason

Though it was gathered that Ms. Onagoruwa’s ouster was a culmination of a number of issues, Presidency sources, however, confided in PREMIUM TIMES that it may not have been unconnected with the poor handling of the recent Supreme Court order on the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria, ALSCON.

Following the Supreme Court ruling on July 6 removing the Russian firm, UC Rusal, as owners of the $3.2 billion smelter located in Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom State, the Presidency had pointedly directed Ms. Onagoruwa as DG of BPE to take immediate steps to give effect to the apex court’s order by ensuring that the plant was transferred to its rightful owners, BFIGroup Corporation.

BFIG, which emerged the preferred bidder for ALSCON since 2004, was manipulated out of its win by BPE following directives by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo that the company be sold to the Russians.

After the annulment of the bid, BFIG proceeded to the court seeking the enforcement of its rights to the ownership of the plant, culminating in a landmark ruling by the apex court in its favour.

Curiously, almost six months since the ruling and the presidential directive, the Russians are not only having a stranglehold at the plant, recent media reports uncovered that since they took over the management of the plant in controversial circumstances in 2007, its fixed asset have been devalued systematically by over N101.2 billion, almost 90 per cent.

An audit report by PriceWaterHouseCoopers Limited showed that ALSCON’s total fixed asset as at December 31, 2003 stood at about N127.7 billion, though the value dropped marginally to N127.3 billion at the beginning of 2004 prior to the bid for the plant.

However, it was gathered that following the handing over of the plant to UC Rusal in 2007, its management conducted a comprehensive re-evaluation of the assets and marked down their value by over 76 per cent, from N129.9 billion at the end of 2006 to N30.98 billion.

Another audit conducted by KPMG chartered accountants in 2011, showed that the company’s net asset value underwent further massive decline from N30.98 billion in 2007 to N25.2 billion in 2008; N19.4 billion in 2009 and N14.9 billion in N2010. The report for 2011 is yet to be published.

The Presidency on reading the reports was said to have been angered that the plant was subjected to such massive devaluation under the watchful eyes of Ms. Onagoruwa, who by virtue of her position in BPE, sits on the Board of ALSCON as the Federal Government representative.

The Visit

In the wake of the startling revelation, the National Council on Privatisation, NCP, planned a three-day visit to enable stakeholders conduct an assessment and ascertain its current state of the plant pursuant to the Supreme Court’s order.

But the visit scheduled for last Wednesday was aborted at the last minute, because the Russians had told Ms. Onagoruwa in a response to a letter she sent to intimate them of the impending visit that they would not be ready to receive any delegation which included persons other than BPE and National Council on Privatisation, NCP officials.

It was gathered that the Russians’ response was sequel to indications that representatives of BFIG, the Nigerian-American consortium that the Supreme Court declared the authentic winner of the bid for the plant, would be part of the visiting delegation to ALSCON.

The company was initially declared the preferred bidder by the NCP, at the end of the financial bid in 2004 following an offer of $410 million for majority stake in the company, as against the $205 million by the Russians, but was upturned in controversial circumstances.

Though, following a protest by BFIG, which had already mobilised a 14-man team from United States and South Africa to Nigeria, BPE reportedly apologised for the sudden abortion of the visit, PREMIUM TIMES gathered that it was not enough to placate the Presidency, which was miffed at the audacity of the Russians in defiance of the Supreme Court ruling.

Since the controversial cancellation of BFIG as the preferred bidder in 2004, stakeholders had consistently accused the BPE of being in bed with the Russians, as successive leadership of the agency hardly betrayed any pretence to their commitment to ensure that the outcome of the widely acknowledged flawed process was sustained.

Until her appointment, Ms. Onagoruwa, a lawyer by profession, was a Director (Electric Power) at the BPE.

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