NITEL: Saving Our Collective Patrimony- By Yushau A. Shuaib
It gladdens my heart that at last some of the process of sales of our collective assets as a nation, which have been covertly bequeathed in the name of privatisation to the very few, are being reviewed especially when they have failed in their operations. I once argued that the craze for privatization of our collective patrimony on the excuses of failures of public service if not done cautiously we may end off selling the Central Bank, Minting company, the police and even the army on the pretext that they perform below expectation as government’s funded public institutions.
Some have argued that the present administration has not achieved anything than reversals. While I am not speaking for the government, but as a Nigerian citizen, I must admit that most of the reversals like the present one are in the interest of Nigeria, its workforce and the economy. I wonder what could have happened to the cost of living if the present government did not immediately reverse the sales of refineries, increased fuel price and added VAT charges.
The recent press statement by the Minister of Information and Communications, Mr. John Odey on the recent decision over the sale of NITEL to octopus Transcorp, is a very courageous action taken by the government after series of meeting on the plight of the acquired company and notices for positive changes in NITEL but without any progress from acquirers.
John Odey pointed out that Transcorp failed in core areas of operational Liquidity, Planning and Procurement, Network, Interconnectivity etc based on the purchased agreement with Bureau for Public Enterprises and NITEL/MTEL. These failures of Transcorp, he added has resulted in NITEL/MTEL losing subscribers, unable to attract new investments to build up and maintain the network to increase their market share and demoralized NITEL/MTEL workers. More shocking is that one year after the take over, no staff has been given permanent appointment, a gross violation of our National Labour Act (Cap. 198, Section 7 (i) and (ii), resulting in continuing loss of experienced and competent employees to other operators.
Yet the same conglomerate has stripped off NITEL by selling some of its assets to highest bidders considering the admission of garrison-commander of Ibadan politics, Chief Lamidi Adedibu that he bought one of the properties after an advertisement for bidders. In fact the staff of the organization, who have been expressing delight over the development, stated that the networks have almost collapsed under Transcorp management. It has been discovered that apart from the sales of some NITEL properties, many Nigerian workers have been sacked, salaries of existing staff either delayed or have been withdrawn which further dampened their morale.
As conventional practice all over the world, public institutions, apart from being ran to protect security and integrity of a nation, their staff are motivated with incentives to provide efficient and affordable social services to the public. These incentives in most public institutions in Nigeria are lacking, not even realistic wages are provided that tend to force many into corrupt practices.
One wonders if some of the rich, politicians including retired military generals are not the causes of failures of some of the public institutions.
Their incursions into public service through coups and party-politics, as office holders were influenced to further corner our collective wealth as they engaged in actions that are detrimental to corporate existence of those institutions. They bastardised the service through recruitments of their inexperienced cronies and relations to serve as chief executives of those agencies while awarding arbitrary contracts and sometimes on fictitious projects. Yet they had the gut to abuse the ill-treated civil servants and the service as corrupt. Haba!
While destroying the institutions, in their bid for material acquisitions, they either established their own private enterprises to provide the service at exorbitant cost or on the alternatives used the back door to acquire the so-called inefficient agencies in the name of privatization. The same class of people who want us to pay dearly for social services, when they were young had benefited from free education, free healthcare and highly subsided and affordable social services at the period we had functional and efficient internal security, electricity and especially transportation services provided by Nigeria Airways and Railways. Those public institutions were well managed by Nigerians. Today most of those services are not affordable to the common citizens as they are largely provided by profit-oriented private enterprises.
It is public knowledge that some of the so-called successful private individuals apart from indulging in conspiracy and insiders’ dealings, made their wealth from excessive government’s patronage through inflated contracts, tax rebates, concessions and policies that are sometimes detrimental to government’s responsibilities to its citizens.
Not that one is against an individual owning a business; at least we witnessed a genuine and sincere process where ordinary documents (without a single pin) were offered by NCC as licenses to telecommunication companies and the government raked in millions of dollars without making a contribution. From the scratch the successful bidders have successfully built their structures and infrastructures, recruited large number of our graduates and provide indirect self-employment to million others. Yet apart from engaging in massive corporate social responsibility activities, these corporations return billions of Naira as taxes annually to the government’s coffer.
It was suspected that the unpatriotic leadership in charge of NITEL had engaged in insiders dealing to give leverage to the emerging private telecom operators. At that time with a single dial, calls went into NITEL lines from private networks and vice-versa. No sooner than the operators started getting subscribers through patriotic access facilities of NITEL, than the operators started to block in-coming and outgoing calls to NITEL’s subscribers, a seeming deliberate and business conspiracy that influenced the drop in NITEL customers. Interestingly the so-called incompetent staffs of NITEL who had been frustrated by political leadership, are today some of the experienced and well-paid staff in some of the private telecom operators.
Nigeria’s public institutions can perform better if there are motivation and sincerity of purposes from their leaderships. Today we are living witnesses to success stories of such reputable institutions like NAFDAC, Pencom, NCC, EFCC, VON, SON, RMAFC, CBN amongst several others whose chief executives have demonstrated leadership qualities through political will, competence and unalloyed patriotism. While there are similar successful private companies too ran by individuals, we may lose count of several businesses and corporations ran as private entities that have collapsed due to ineptitude and indiscipline of the owners.
The professed due process and rules of law should not only be restricted to legal terms and strict adherence to constitutionality that may delay the process, but also timely intervention of government to protect its citizens and companies it has stake in from derailing. It is a welcome development the latest decision of the government to bring in new core investors that is an industry player with the requisite focus, technical expertise, managerial experience and financial capacity to take controlling shares in NITEL/MTEL.
We should encourage genuine investors by providing enabling environment by which they can emulate telecom operators who went through bidding for licenses and start from the scratch. If they are desirous of revamping public institutions they can be offered managerial responsibilities at fee and must be reputable not like pentascope management. We must support the latest courageous actions of the government in protecting our collective patrimony.
This article was originally published in Leadership February 25, Guardian February 26, New Nigerian February 27, Thisday March 2, Daily Sun March 3 and Economic Confidential March 2008