The former minister of federal capital territory (FCT), Mallam Nasir el-Rufai has said the former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, approved the Pentascope contract.
Muyiwa Adekeye, media adviser to el-Rufai, in a statement issued yesterday said: “It is understandable that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar would be enduring some unease at the disclosures made in The Accidental Public Servant, Mallam Nasir El Rufai’s recent book.
“The former vice-president’s media team has tried to engage in obfuscation about their principal’s serial interference with contract award processes that were detailed in the book. Against this, they have reproduced el-Rufai’s assertion that Atiku did not meddle in privatisation processes, which are very different and distinct in nomenclature and substance from seeking contracts for friends.
“Now that Atiku himself has spoken on the controversial NITEL GSM contract involving Ericsson and Motorola, it is obvious that the attempt at confusing issues persists. It is untrue that the NITEL GSM contract in question was split.
Rather it was awarded to Ericsson, but at the lower price submitted by Motorola, because of Atiku’s intense lobby and smears deployed to advance Ericsson’s bid. Atiku and Abdullahi Yari, his then ADC, at different times spoke to el-Rufai to favour Ericsson.
“It is Atiku’s responsibility to explain why he became an Ericsson salesman, although the investigations conducted by Motorola after the debacle makes clear he was not engaged in an altruistic mission.
This incident had diplomatic repercussions as the American government wrote to protest this loss by an American company that had submitted the cheaper bid. Atiku persists in his laughable assertion that El-Rufai’s brother is a shareholder and member of Motorola’s board – something any person can research and confirm to be an outright falsehood.
“On Pentascope, we see the same pattern of muddying the waters with falsehood. As chairman of the National Council on Privatisation (NCP), Atiku gave his approval in writing on February 21, 2003 for the management contract with Pentascope to be signed.
The memo on which Atiku wrote his approval, BPE/I and N/NT/MC/DG/280, is dated February 20, 2003, and was initiated by the director of BPE that was covering the director general’s duties at the time.
By the virtue of the high office he then held, Atiku knows that Pentascope was not foisted on NITEL but emerged from a properly advertised and competitive selection process.
After the failure of the first attempt to sell NITEL, it had been decided that there was need for a management contractor to keep the momentum of preparing the company to operate like a private entity and to preserve its assets. Pentascope resumed in NITEL on April 28, 2003, shortly before el-Rufai left the BPE to become a minister.
“The Pentascope contract terms included obligations by the BPE to monitor the contract, and for the NITEL board to set up an executive committee to supervise day to day operations in NITEL.
Between the new BPE leadership that neglected its responsibilities, the NCP which Atiku chaired and which failed to supervise the BPE and the bureaucrats and politicians around the ministry of communications, the management contract was frustrated and terminated in 2005.
“When a former vice-president asserts that NITEL was making N100 billion in profit annually, the mind must boggle that someone so unconstrained by fidelity to facts had once been saddled with significant responsibilities. NITEL never made such profits. NITEL had never paid a single dividend to the Federal Government until the BPE forced it to pay N3 billion in 2001.
While the politicians and bureaucrats were fighting to reclaim ministerial control of NITEL (and the inflated equipment contracts that came with it), the company was fast losing market share to the new kids on the block, the GSM companies that understood how to create and sustain value.
“It is to be hoped that Atiku will respond to the other matters concerning him in the book, but this time he must ensure that facts trump the braggadocio.” The former vice president while fielding questions during an interview had told his interviewer that it was expected that the questions on Pentascope would have been directed to el-Rufai and not him. Atiku said: “On Pentascope, one would have expected your paper to direct the questions to el-Rufai himself.
The Pentascope scandal was one of the issues investigated by the National Assembly and it accused el-Rufai of ignoring wise counsel by imposing the company on NITEL. Despite proven allegations that Pentascope was not financially capable and technically competent to handle NITEL management contract, the former Bureau of Public Enterprise director general ignored public outcry and forced the Dutch company on NITEL.
“Before the coming of Pentascope, NITEL was making an estimated N100 billion profit annually. “However, as soon as Pentascope took over, NITEL’s profits were nose-diving incredibly.
With telecom stakeholders, the National Assembly and the Nigerian public insisting that the imposition of Pentascope on NITEL was ruinous to national interest, the Federal Government eventually cancelled the management contract against El-Rufai’s desire.
I had no hand, absolutely, no connection or knowledge of how that company was brought into Nigeria. “Curiously, El-Rufai avoided the Pentascope issue in his book, The Accidental Public Servant. “Therefore, if there is anybody to explain the details of the Pentascope scandal, it is El-Rufai himself.
The fact of the contract are like this: Obasanjo agreed with the NCP that the former BPE director general was wrong not to have disclosed his interest and that he had failed the test of transparency by not disclosing that his brother was on the board of Motorola. I know you are very familiar with the laws of the federation.
You know, for instance, that it is a very serious offence to fail, refuse or neglect to disclose your interest whether directly or through someone else, in dealing with such an important transaction. But, the president in his wisdom decided that the contract be split into three, with each of the contenders, Motorola, Ericsson and the Chinese company – I think Huawei – taking a portion.
As if to vindicate the NCP, by 2007 when we left office, the two others apart from Motorola had completed their own contracts. You can go and find out if they (Motorola) have finished.”
“Personally, I dislike the idea of exchanging words with the former FCT minister over this issue. But for the sake of your question, I would like Nigerians to be smart enough to read between the lines.
Why does the former FCT minister treat the Motorola issue with such persistent personal bitterness? Why is he making it a heavy matter? Anybody can play to the gallery and deceive the people.
Transparency is a key issue of conducting any business, including privatisation. “Conflict of interest is inconsistent with transparency. If you are a privatisation head and you have a relationship with a particular person connected with one of the companies making bids, it is a moral and legal duty to disclose that relationship or interest.
“Pretending that you have no relationship with the person who is rooting for a particular bidder is not altogether tidy and transparent. If he had no interest in a particular company for sentimental reasons, why is he making too much fuss about Motorola losing the bid? “Did El-Rufai accuse me of promoting Ericsson because I had any connection with the company directly or indirectly?
If, indeed, I had promoted Ericsson for personal interest, Obasanjo wouldn’t have let me get away with it. He would have exposed me and disgraced me, and even ordered my prosecution.”