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 21 February 2003 for the management contract with Pentascope to be signed. The memo on which Atiku minuted his approval, BPE/I&N/NT/MC/DG/280, is dated 20th February 2003, and was initiated by the director of BPE that was covering the DG’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 28 April 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 FGN until the BPE forced it to pay N3bn 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.
Media Advisor to Mallam Nasir El Rufai
01 April 2013