[Wikileaks] “Atiku Manipulated $40m NITEL Contract to Ericsson” – El Rufai


During the 2001 period when Nasiru El Rufai served as the Director of Bureau of Public Enterprise [BPE] under the 1st term presidency of the then President Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo, he shared a contact with the the American Ambassador to Nigeria, Howard F. Jeter where he shared his views on the corrupt tendencies of the then vice president of Nigeria, Abubakar Atiku.

In the recently released SECRET diplomatic documents by Wikileaks, Nasiru El Rufai opened up on how the then vice president manipulated a NITEL GSM Equipment Contract valued at $40million to suit him and his partners. He also detailed the sharp practices engaged by Atiku and his boys in office. He pointed to the then President as being aware of the dirty practices by Atiku.

Nasiru El Rufai, frustrated by Atiku’s antics, offered to resign. But the then President refused to accept his resignation.




REF: (A) ABUJA 1679 (B) LAGOS 1933

Classified by Ambassador Howard F. Jeter for Reasons 1.5 (B)

and (D).

1. (S) Summary.  Ambassador Jeter hosted Nasir El-Rufai,

Director-General of the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE),

for lunch on August 1 to discuss the current status of the

NITEL GSM Equipment contract.  EconOff attended as notetaker.

 El-Rufai was very candid about his relationship with the

Vice President, the Vice President,s stake in awarding the

GSM contract to Ericsson, and his own intention to leave his

position as head of the GON privatization agency.  El-Rufai

claimed that the Vice President had manipulated the contract

award in favor of Ericsson and that this case is just one

example of what is commonly practiced in the Executive

branch, e.g., cushioning or manipulating contracts for

personal and political gain.  He stated that because the

President believes him capable of manipulating the tendering

process, as alleged by Ericsson, he has no other choice but

to resign his position at the BPE.  End Summary.


2. (C) On August 1, Ambassador hosted a private lunch for

Nasir El-Rufai to candidly discuss the NITEL GSM Equipment

contract, valued at approximately USD 40 million.  (See

reftels for background on this issue.)  In the intimate

setting of the Ambassador,s residence, El-Rufai stated that

NITEL/Ministry of Communications was continuing to negotiate

the contract terms with Ericsson.  According to El-Rufai, the

GON asked Ericsson to deliver the products and services at

Motorola’s bid price, which was USD 10 million less than

Ericsson’s bid of USD 49 million.  El-Rufai did not believe

Ericsson could fulfill the contract provisions at that price,

commenting that conclusion would only be reached if the two

sides agreed to cut 25 percent of the contract, through, for

example, reducing the number of proposed base stations.  But,

El-Rufai said, “that 25 percent would have to be paid for by


3. (C) When asked whether the President and Vice President

might reconsider the contract award, El-Rufai replied no,

despite the difficulties over negotiations, the Vice

President would “lose face” if Ericsson did not receive the

contract.  However, El-Rufai did feel that a compromise could

be found that would allow the Vice President to save face and

allow Motorola to participate.  He suggested that Ericsson

and Motorola split the contract: Ericsson could provide the

switching network and Motorola could provide the base

stations.  He noted that this would allow each company to

provide the service in which it specializes.  Because the

base stations represent a greater portion of the contract, he

recommended offering Ericsson some of the sub-contracting

work, such as the air conditioning towers and power

generation units, where neither company has specific

expertise.  (Comment.  El-Rufai’s suggestions may not carry

much weight, as he is not currently participating in the

negotiations with Ericsson.  End Comment.)

4. (C) El-Rufai expressed his deep displeasure with events

immediately preceding the contract award to Ericsson.  In a

recent meeting with President Obasanjo, the two discussed

Ericsson’s allegations that El-Rufai had manipulated the

tendering process to ensure Motorola’s success.  (Note.

El-Rufai had written a lengthy letter to President Obasanjo

on July 8 defending his role in the tendering process and

pointing to the questionable activities of the Vice

President’s Aide-de-Camp, who acted on behalf of Ericsson.

At the time of El-Rufai’s meeting with Obasanjo, however, the

President had not read this letter.  End Note.)

5. (C) El-Rufai commented that he would have preferred to

wait until the President had read his letter before

discussing it with him.  During the meeting, President

Obasanjo told El-Rufai that he had total confidence in the

BPE Director-General, but that he believed El-Rufai was

clever enough to have manipulated the tendering process from

the outset to ensure Motorola’s success.  The President then

said that El-Rufai had three problems: first, that there was

a popular perception that El-Rufai is “too clever”; second,

in fact, he is “too clever”; and third, his attitude towards

Ministers and the Vice President is not sufficiently

respectful or deferential.

6. (C) El-Rufai asked the President for permission to sue

Ericsson for defamation.  Obasanjo reportedly refused this

request because of the negative political repercussions on

the Presidency.  The President then asked El-Rufai what else

he could do for him.  El-Rufai requested permission to leave

his position as Director-General of the BPE.  El-Rufai argued

with the President that he could not oversee the country’s

privatization program if Obasanjo believed that El-Rufai was

capable of manipulating the tendering process.  However,

El-Rufai said, the President refused to allow him to quit.

7. (C) El-Rufai confided to the Ambassador that despite the

President’s refusal, he still intended to leave the BPE after

a 2-3 month period.  He said that he would not leave too soon

after the GSM Equipment tendering in order to avoid

speculation over the causes for his departure.  El-Rufai

added that over the next few months he would expose his

deputy, Tijjani Abdullahi, and the Legal Department Head, to

his contacts at the Presidency in hopes that the President

would choose one of them as his successor.  However, he

admitted that neither of them had political connections or a

close relationship with the Presidency.  El-Rufai asked for

the support of the donor community in advocating for the new

BPE Director-General to come from within the agency’s ranks.

8. (C) Ambassador Jeter expressed sincere regret that

El-Rufai had decided to leave public service.  The Ambassador

believed that the privatization program would severely suffer

and so would Nigeria.  While El-Rufai seemed to appreciate

these sentiments, he did not soften his position on leaving

the job.

9. (C) El-Rufai also showed a great deal of resentment toward

Ericsson and promised to “get them” at a later time.  He said

that “time is on my side” and that he was sure that sometime

in the future Ericsson would need his help and he would be

able to refuse them.

10. (S) The Ambassador asked about the quality of El-Rufai’s

personal relationship with the Vice President, noting that in

public their relationship had always appeared close.

El-Rufai replied that, yes, he had believed their

relationship was good.  He commented that the Vice President

had never asked him to do anything unsavory or to “bring him

deals.”  He said, however that a friend heard from former

Senate President Chuba Okadigabo, who is close with the Vice

President and helps him to “raise money” for the campaign war

chest, that the Vice President was unhappy with El-Rufai’s

performance because El-Rufai had never brought him a single

“deal” (read kickbacks).

11. (S) El-Rufai explained that the Vice President worked

through the Ministers, particularly the Minister of Works and

Housing, to manipulate public contracts for both building the

campaign war chest for the 2003 Presidential elections and,

he assumed, for personal gain.  El-Rufai said that the

President was not a wealthy man and would not likely receive

campaign support from his supporters during the last

election.  (Comment.  The PDP party itself is barely solvent

and would not be able to offer the President much financial

support.  End Comment.)  Therefore, El-Rufai said, the

President was tacitly complicit in the Vice President’s “fund

raising” activities, but never involved himself directly so

as to “stay clean.”  El-Rufai commented that the Vice

President came from a “dirty” background in the Customs

Service and had continued these practices in the Villa.

El-Rufai implied that the NITEL GSM Equipment contract was an

example of such activities.

12. (S) Comment.  Many in the international community respect

Nasir El-Rufai for his integrity and forthrightness.

El-Rufai’s departure from public service would be a

devastating blow to the GON’s image of transparency and good

economic governance.  Embassy officers have heard many times

from many sources that the Vice President is directly

involved in corrupt activities.  El-Rufai’s testimony

provides more anecdotal evidence supporting these sources.

With El-Rufai gone, the Vice President will be more able to

manipulate the country’s privatization process for personal

and political gain.  End Comment.




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