•Presidency appoints acting Director-General
From JULIANA TAIWO-OBALONYE, ISAAC ANUMHE, Abuja and LOUIS IBA
The Federal Government yesterday sacked the Director-General, Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE), Ms. Bolanle Onagoruwa. The Presidency may be implementing a recommendation of the Senate ad hoc committee, which allegedly found her wanting over the privatization of Federal Government’s shares in Eleme Petrochemicals Company and the award of the $23 million (about N3.7 billion) management contract by the bureau to Canada’s Manitoba Hydro Electric Board in July this year.
Immediately the government announced her removal, staff of the BPE jubilated, claiming that they were not happy with Onagoruwa’s handling of their welfare. A two-paragraph statement issued by the Senior Special Assistant (Media and Publicity) to the Vice President, Umar Sani, said she was ordered to hand over to the most senior director in the BPE, Mr. Benjamin Ezra Dikki, who is to hold the position in an acting capacity. “Mr. President extends his sincere appreciation to Ms. Bolanle Onogoruwa for her services to the nation and wishes her the best in her future endeavours”, Sani said.
The Federal Government had validated the Canada’s Manitoba Hydro Electric Board agreement in July this year. In a related development, the government had on November 14 hinted of the cancellation of the contract, saying the correct procedure wasn’t followed. But President Goodluck Jonathan had during his last media chat on November18 said the Manitoba deal “did not follow the law strictly” and initial report of the termination was a “misunderstanding”.
The President had said the Manitoba contract has not been revoked. There were some issues raised due to misunderstanding. In 2006, when it all started, Manitoba and others bid. As at that time, it was the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) that handled the whole exercise. There was confusion and they placed procurement on Manitoba as a consultant to manage our transmission. But with the law we have now, the due process law, it has painted that procurement differently.
It was just concluded as a process of privatisation, but did not follow the law strictly. Every country must keep to its law. “We saw some loopholes that were not properly done and we say look, we should do it properly so that if we leave, after few years, nobody will come and ask questions. We believe that we should rectify what was not properly done, therefore give the relevant section of government up till next Tuesday (November 20) to get all things sorted out, so that if it requires my authorisation, l can do it.
Let me assure you that we did not cancel the Manitoba contract”, the President said. Meanwhile, reacting to the sack, a BPE employee that doesn’t want to be named, commended the President for taking the right step to relieve the DG of her job. “Her time here has witnessed the lowest level of staff morale. There is what is called beverage allowance, which is supposed to be paid monthly, but since she came, we have been having arrears.
Even as at today, we have about five months arrears that she has (allegedly) refused to pay. Even our housing allowance is not forthcoming. Under that woman, staff welfare had been at the lowest ebb. We are very happy that she is leaving”, he said,as he hugged his colleague. The Senate ad hoc committee had in December last year, approved the report of the probe panel recommending Onagoruwa’s sack for alleged gross incompetence, after weeks of delay that raised suspicion of a possible cover-up. BPE is the secretariat of the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) which is charged with the responsibility of implementing the council’s policies on privatization and commercialization.
Vice President Namadi Sambo is by statute, the Chairman of the council. Recall, however, that Onagoruwa had appeared before the Senate committee following a petition submitted by an aggrieved former employee of the BPE, seeking redress for wrongful dismissal. The Senators through a voice vote also endorsed the 44 other recommendations which included a reprimand for three former BPE Directors-General, Nasir el-Rufai, Dr. Julius Bala and Irene Chigbue.
The report, was widely suspected to have gathered dust when it seemed that the Senate was footdragging to take decisions on it. But the Senate later made recommendations to the Presidency. By voice vote, the Senate unanimously adopted all the 44 recommendations including the sack of Ms Onagoruwa for what the panel described as alleged gross incompetence and fraudulent sale of government’s residual shares in Eleme Petrochemicals Company, a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
Among other recommendations were the reversal of the sale of Transcorp Hilton, Abuja Sheraton and Daily Times of Nigeria Plc for failure to keep to the terms of share purchase agreement, which, according to Senate President David Mark. showed the Senate’s sincerity. Recall also that the government worried over the rot in the power sector, had rather opted to concession of the transmission business under a three-year tenure deal to Manitoba to turn the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) into a technically and financially efficient, stable and sustainable company.
The deal was midwived by erstwhile Power Minister, Prof. Barth Nnaji. It was learnt that Manitoba may have been denied the right to appoint or fill all senior or top management positions in TCN as stipulated by the terms of the deal, which designated Nigerians as second in command in all key positions in the company. But the stalemate in the agreement is not without grave implications to the economy as the N3.7billion paid to the Canadian firm had already become operational from September 1, 2012. “The money is running at a loss to the country,” said an official of the BPE who volunteered to explain the implication to the economy
. “I think it is a situation where a force majore would have to be invoked to save the loss,” he added. Nigeria targets a divestment earning of over N400billion from the sales of its power utility establishments to the private sector. But the privatization process supervised by the BPE had been mired in a lot of allegations of graft and favouritism as most preferred bidders are cronies of government or are considered to have links with political office holders.
But Atedo Peterside, Chairman of the Technical Committee for the NCP, has defended the process, saying it was devoid of any graft. Current generation capability in Nigeria stands at about 5,000megawatts and existing transmission facilities are so obsolete to carry even that capacity effectively. And with a fresh target of 10,000megawatts by 2015, the need to pump in fresh investments into the transmission network cannot be overstated.