To all intents and purposes the behemoth “privatisation” has been variously described, differently practised with geocentric connotations and generally abused and exploited in varying degrees from country to country across the globe.
Often referred to as a “reform agenda” of any nation supposedly desirous of global relevance, growth and sustainable development, “Privatisation” is a calibrated economic liberalisation phenomenon that first saw the transfer of Chilean public assets/business to private operators in 1973 before about 120 other nations including Nigeria joined the fray that is still as fresh as when it began.
The calibration of “Privatisation” takes off with cocooned state monopolies (often used as political patronage) that are shrouded in secrecy under the guise of protection of national security, to a “Corporatisation” scheme that obliges downsizing or rightsizing of these large monopolies towards commercialisation for profit-making, market responsiveness and accountability. Then comes the “Deregulation” phase in which free participation in running corporations and enterprises is encouraged – as in consessionning of relevant public enterprises to private establishments before the eventual claws of “Privatisation” become the economic livewire and modus vivendi of the immediate environment through private ownership and control of many corporations in the economy.
The above definition of “Privatisation” in its full ramification illustrates and underscores its complexity, expansiveness, involvement, essence and the designed impact on the economy of any nation. Given the seriousness of the “Privatisation” process as described above, it is therefore incumbent on the government that whilst establishing such bodies as BPE and NCP, sincere and concerted efforts should have been made to involve only men and women of impeccable character, unflinching integrity and immutable pedigree. The revelations from the probes on BPE are all explicit and instructive. After all, if public service or establishments are not known to create wealth due to political patronage, level of waste, inefficiency and dependence on national treasury, then “Privatisation” that is designed as a tool for economic growth, prosperity and sustainable development should be seen and evaluated on that premise. Again, the sprawling but unfortunate results of the public enterprises that were privatised by BPE and NCP are not in contention.
The Nitel Story
In fairness to the government that in 1984/5 saw the evolution of NITEL /MTEL from her progenitors – defunct P&T and NET, the correct (through and thorough) paths towards “Privatisation” as defined above were followed to the letter unlike in the petroleum industry today where the government seems to prefer revolution to evolution. The “race” to privatise NITEL/MTEL started since 2001 when Messrs’ Investors International London Limited (IILL) in spite of her “enhanced position” failed to acquire NITEL /MTEL by defaulting in paying the bid price of $1.317billion. Apparently, in the midst of the ensuing confusion a decision to revamp NITEL /MTEL before sale was reached. And subsequently, the unknown, inexperienced, unqualified, incompetent but “powerful” Pentascope of Netherlands came up in May 2003, as a management contractor whose due diligence was very suspect.
Jolted by my crystal ball with adequate extrapolation, I unabashedly saw a collapse of NITEL /MTEL on its way and since government was bellicose at that point and seemed inconsistent and insincere by my own understanding and projection, on the 7th of April 2003 at 11:27hrs, I tendered my letter of voluntary retirement after 27.7years of a very diligent and honest service (verifiable) at the age of 53years – just so I could avoid the touted new managers – Messrs’ Pentascope. Thereafter, I was neither amused nor flummoxed by the various scenarios of the mercurial unbundling, re-bundling and unbundling of NITEL /MTEL with the long and tortuous odyssey that raised some deserving suspicion in the entire “Privatisation” process that became repetitive and seemingly unending. This included the apparently non-stellar process that threw up Messrs’ Transcorp in 2006 and rightly so, the contract was eventually revoked or terminated. I recently gathered that unwholesome deals and payments were however, allegedly discovered in July 2012 in spite of the earlier formal disengagement of Messrs’ Transcorp. And also of note, as at July 2012, some shares in NITEL /MTEL were alleged to be currently owned by Messrs’ Investors International London Limited (IILL) – the very first winning bidder for NITEL /MTEL but could not pay up the outstanding balance after the initial non-refundable 10% deposit, thereby forfeiting the contract in 2006.
The Pentascope irremediable misfortune has a resounding and phenomenal impact on the life and times of NITEL/MTEL more so, her former staffers especially the pensioners who have been dying one after another due to no pension for years – from episodic to epidemic levels. Every available record and other indicators point to the gargantuan and immeasurable destruction Messrs’ Pentascope unleashed on NITEL/MTEL and former staffers. I recall without equivocation, that a probe was instituted by the then House of Representatives that indicted the then invincible Mallam Nasir El-Rufai who bestrode the NITEL /MTEL “Privatisation” terrain like a colossus or czar and apparently an apologist of Messrs’ Pentascope, in a report that revealed that a wanton N100billion was squandered during Pentascope’s stint besides the deep and growing loss of revenue due to no additions to subscription and uncontrollably soaring defective telephone lines. In the long run, the courts dismissed all the charges preferred against him. So, is it the dog wagging the tail or the tail wagging the dog? Thus, in this whole matter both the executive and the judiciary still have questions to answer. Anyway, even the earlier probes on NITEL /MTEL itself and the Siemens scam that sent some Siemens staffers in Germany to jail with the Siemens Company itself incurring huge fines, have been swept under our “unassailable and impregnable” carpet. The most disturbing and irreverent impertinence is that in spite of the entire catastrophe unleashed on NITEL /MTEL and erstwhile staffers, BPE had the temerity and obliquity to appeal against the favourable court judgement pronounced in respect of the deserving life pension of retired staffers. It is even more ridiculous and ludicrous that a court entertained such an appeal after the expiration of the validity period of the judgement within which an appeal is permissible.
It is relevant to mention here that before the entire “Privatisation” bewilderment was heaved on NITEL /MTEL by the various interest groups parading in different garbs, NITEL /MTEL through her internally generated revenue, paid her bills, transferred dividends to government, funded her various humongous projects and equally made profit that was impressive even by private sector measures.
It is memorable as it is remarkable to unremittingly refer to the transformation in the telecoms industry having experienced a phenomenal and exponential growth in teledensity – from 0.44% in 2001 to about 74% (unconfirmed due to churn) today. However, under intense intellectual and detailed scrutiny, the authenticity of this touted achievement would collapse, as a lot of wastes and unaccounted funds have swamped – resulting in very poor and unsatisfactory services, unacceptable Quality of Service (QoS) and a Quality of Experience (QoE) that leaves much to be desired. This lacuna brought about by the lack or inadequacy of appropriate regulation of the deregulated telecoms subsector resides in the purview of the regulator (NCC) – directly and vicariously.
The malaise that the extant cornucopia of brazen graft, greed and egregious corruption and impunity has precipitated is unquantifiable – having grown from episodic to epidemic levels. These unwholesome attributes combine forces with contrived bureaucracy and stage-managed judiciary to harm society, undermine democracy, and weaken the rule of law – thereby crippling growth and sustainable development, irretrievably.
Kunle Bello is former MD/CEO of Nigeria Mobile Telecoms Limited (Mtel)