• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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BPE’s performance and Jonathan’s warning

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At two different forums last year, President Goodluck Jonathan expressed his keen desire to see the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) successfully conclude the privatisation of the successor companies of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), with strict timelines. “We do not want to hear any story again. The BPE must follow issues to the letter and strictly, with the dates. We have agreed that it is only through privatisation that we would get to where we want to go…let me use this opportunity to warn that I do not want to hear that they have been influenced by any politician,” the president reportedly said.

Then in terse words that altogether underscored his earnest wish to get the best or nothing from the bureau, he was also reported as saying: “If you make mistakes, you are on your own, and we will deal with you decisively. We must give to the best. The BPE will never make the mistake to give this to companies that cannot perform. It must follow international best practices…. So I want to assure all Nigerians and all the companies that have indicated their interest that there will be no political manipulation and that everything will be followed professionally and only the best can get it. We are not going to play politics with the power privatisation programme.”

At a different forum, the meeting of the Economic Management Team held in Abuja on April 10, 2012, the president spoke similarly with passion about his commitment to ensuring the success of the power sector reform and the critical role he expects the BPE to play towards that success by consistently doing the right thing by the reform.

Without a doubt, the president’s tone conveyed his dissatisfaction with the result of the bureau’s service under the privatisation programme and his urgent need to witness an irreversible improvement. Unfortunately, it just must be said that the president’s dissatisfaction was not unfounded, and he has since expressed this further by acceding to the recommendation of the Senate to relieve the former director general of the bureau, Bolanle Onagoruwa, of her appointment, whereupon he appointed Benjamin Ezra Dikki in her place as acting director general.

Indeed, transparency is key to the responsibilities of the BPE and to the success of any privatisation programme it superintends. The president suggested as much when he said, with a hint of emphasis, that the bureau must follow the issues “to the letter” and barely fell short of adding, “No shenanigans!”

And for a seeming lack of transparency in some of the privatisation deals it has brokered, the BPE has been severely criticised in the media and through other channels. Unfortunately, such criticisms are usually so skewed as to give the impression that the BPE, like any other agency in Nigeria, is inherently lacking in transparency; for they take a one-sided view that does not take into account those things that the bureau and such other agencies have done well even in superintending a particular group of transactions. For instance, in the privatisation of the telecommunications sector, four robust firms – namely, MTN, Glo Mobile, Airtel and Etisalat – have established highly successful businesses in Nigeria, to the huge advantage of the country and its people, economy- and telecommunications-wise. Hardly did any transparency issues arise from the transactions, including issuing of licences, in which the BPE brought these firms on stream.

But, curiously, it is the controversy associated the privatisation of NITEL that dominates media reports of the BPE’s performance in the privatisation of telecommunications sector, whereas a ratio of 4:1 – which signifies 80 percent success when one compares the problematic NITEL deal with the success stories of the other four telecommunications companies mentioned above – should be seen by any objective assessor as a very good record for the bureau, while urging it to always strive for 100 percent success in all its transactions.

It would seem, in the dealings of agencies like the bureau as in our private lives as humans, that the many things we do well could be ignored while the few we do not do well become the focus of attention, magnified to overshadow the former – especially by our detractors!

Surely, I do not make these observations to hold a brief for the BPE which I believe understands that it needs to improve on its performance in order to fully justify the confidence reposed on it by the Nigerian people and government. Rather, my purpose is to stimulate a change in the way we see and respond to issues as responsible citizens, journalists, etc. By failing to recognise the strengths or achievements of those we criticise while pointing out their weaknesses or failures, we indulge in creating a society governed by despair, and whose despondency could ultimately degenerate to general or systemic failure.

And in the case of the BPE, there are indications that the president’s warning and change of guard at its helm have yielded good results. Both events had been preceded by serial shifts in the privatisation timelines of the power sector, causing much anxiety in all the right quarters. It had also been preceded by the malfeasance in brokering the privatisation bid for Afam Power plc, blamed for the resignation of the former minister of power, Barth Nnaji.

Subsequently, the bureau initiated rebid procedures for Afam Power plc and the equally problematic Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company plc. It also proceeded to set deadlines for private investors whose bids for the PHCN successor companies were successful to pay the initial 25 percent commitment fee as required by the relevant guidelines. The companies have complied without incident, paying a total of $469.03 million for 25 percent stakes in 12 of the 18 successor companies. At the time of writing, one of the companies has also signed a Share Purchase Agreement with the bureau, precisely on April 15, 2013, for one of the generation companies on fulfilment of the necessary provisions prior to the signing.

It would seem, in all, that the bureau has heeded the president’s warning with improved performance in the power sector privatisation as the result. Yet it should be warned, perhaps by the president as well, that it must continue rowing nonstop until the power sector privatisation berths at full and irreversible success. For nothing short of that will do in the present circumstances, especially considering its antecedents and the high stakes for the Nigerian people and their future. 

 

JOSEPH POPOOLA

Popoola, the founder of Nigeria Power Watch Initiative, wrote from Ibadan.

 

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