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THE 2011 SENATE COMMITTEE ON PRIVATISATION AND ALLIED MATTERS.

By Professor Dr. Emmanuel Omoh Esiemokhai 

July 21st, 2011


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At its plenary session, the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria set up a Committee to investigate the privatization of Federal Government companies by the Bureau of Public Enterprises since the inception of the sales of those companies to private companies. Since the issue of investigation was slated for the Plenary Session, this suggests that the Senate feels concerned about the work of the BPE or the operations of the private companies that bought over the Federal Government enterprises. I understand that there had been other instances, when the Senate or other Federal Government regulatory institutions have taken a look in the operations of the privatized entities.

It is pertinent to state that having sold the companies, the Federal Government does not and should not interfere in the operational administration of the companies except in those Federal Government companies in which Government retained maximum or minimum equity interests.

It is also very important to note that the turn-around processes of failed Government businesses take time, imagination, energy, hard work and ingenuity. Members of Senate, who have already become “distinguished” during the plenary session, complained that the work-force in the privatized companies has declined from 20,000 to four thousand. The first turn-around rule after companies’ acquisition is for the new core investor to review the position of the company’s Chief Executive and other cadre in order to determine the company’s way forward.

So, that complaint is convicted of error and shows off some Senate members as not as informed as they should be on Companies and Allied Matters. This was why a Member of Senate suggested that only people with the relevant knowledge in the field should be appointed.

The Senate President’s response that the committee should first start work and later report incompetent members is not very logical and acceptable because in Nigeria, no-one should be seen as putting sand in some-one’s  food, that is if there is food in the process of investigation!

There is a basic assumption that the Core investors in the privatized companies are growing richer. This could be true, but it remains an assumption. Anyone, who has a modicum of inner working experience with these privatized companies, must applaud the boldness and fearless mind-set of their core investors. In some cases, Government has not kept its obligations to the privatized companies. The assets and liabilities of the privatized companies stand on a footing of manifest inequality. Government officials mount all sorts of obstacles in the way of the privatized companies, seeking, at times gratifications, which they do not deserve.

There is this perceived mistaken notion that there is an ELDORADO in the vaults of these companies, which government officials must benefit from or they will stultify the privatization process. This happens and it is miserably unfortunate. It must be recalled that it was as a result of the failure of Government (real or imagined) that led to the privatization of Government enterprises in the first place. Some government companies were protected by laws.

The Nigerian Re-insurance Corporation had the right of first refusal before re-insurance could be placed outside Nigeria, by other re-insurance companies operating in Nigeria. It had a sizeable cessionary advantage. All these had been eroded by powerful, jealous lobbies. When I was the Principal Officer at the Nigeria Re, the Federal Government benefited enormously from the proceeds of Nigeria Re-insurance Corporation. Today, how much does it benefit from other re-insurance agencies, which are not even owned by Nigerians?

Where was the Senate when Atiku headed the privatization programme? Where was the Senate when the BPE law was passed? What has the Senate done to undertake a holistic and total review of the Nigerian economy, where prices are as incendiary as the Militants’ gun-powder? What will the Senate do to pass more laws that are relevant to good governance, democratization and social justice? A Senate that passed the Law on Minimum Wage should  have stood  up and tell the state Governments that they  must obey its laws. The Senate is higher in status that state government, which cannot change laws made by Senate. The Senate should have come out with a terse declaration to that effect. The Senate may wish to examine the fifty-six loop-holes in the laws it already passed during the last session and strengthen them for effective governance. Why are many cases not in motion but in frustration?

The Senate as a law-making body, should jealously protect its integrity and show the seriousness of a legislature, which is in control of legality, judiciousness, state integrity and manifest control of the development of the state through relevant legislation. Pursuing investigations over spilt milk and the operations of sold companies is mundane compared to the serious and overarching societal problems that need legal regulations through the work of the Senate.

As the Senate President, David Mark rightly said that members of the committee must attend dispassionately to their investigation. This excludes intimidation, inquisitorial attitude and accusatory disposition, during their investigations. The good thing is that those, who are called to testify, will report to their Boards and Management, the general atmosphere and style of the Investigating Senators! How the Senate Committee will investigate all the privatized companies, collate information and present their report to Senate in four weeks will remain an evanescent mystique.

We are watching and BOSAS INTERNATIONAL LAW, BUREAU will take a keen interest in the future work of the Nigerian Senate, presenting fair comments on its deliberations, as our contribution to mounting a culture of legislative responsibility, serious devotion to regulatory administration of justice, equity and good governance through the law.

When I served as the Chief Legal Consultant to the Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, rigorous attempts were made to broaden legislation and give them a clear philosophical attribute. That Senate succeeded inexorably, in spite of Executive attempts to conscript the Senate.

The rest of us may not have party affiliations and may not have contested rigged elections, but we are no less Nigerians. We shall not allow the country to be steered in the three Arms Zones  by amateurish and educational under-achievers, who are manifestly bereft of statecraft skills.

Professor Dr. Emmanuel Omoh Esiemokhai, a Writer and Academic is the Academic Chancellor, BOSAS INTERNATIONAL LAW BUREAU, Abuja.