Friday, August 16, 2002

Dozie Ikem Ezeife, Esq.
[email protected]
Oakland, California

Privatization will eliminate the gold pot
from politics and public service in Nigeria

rivatization of government owned corporations and business entities is the way to go for Nigeria in order to turn her economy around. It is evident to every Nigerian that governments are not good business managers. Every business that is government owned in Nigeria has been run aground. Corruption, inefficiency, under-utilization, mismanagement and nepotism have bedeviled these businesses and corporate entities and have resulted in their failure or near-collapse. These companies and businesses includes, Nigeria National Petroleum Company, PPMG, National Electric Power Authority, Nigeria Telecommunications, Nigeria Ports Authority, Nigeria Airport Authority, Nigeria Railways, Radio Nigeria, Nigeria Television Authority, Nigeria Airways, Daily Times, New Nigeria, Nigeria Hotels, Zoological Gardens and Wildlife Parks, Game Reserves, Steel Rolling Mills, Vehicle Assembly Plants, etc. The various governments must quickly and effectively inventory and privatize all these entities.

Privatization will revitalize these businesses and make them work efficiently and profitably. In Nigeria it is not uncommon to see a history graduate running NEPA or NITEL despite the availability of hundreds of thousands of engineers and technologists. Privatization will take the government and bureaucratic gridlock out their operations. There is an Igbo adage that says "efi oha nwe, agu naegbu ya"; the literal interpretation is that a publicly owed livestock often dies of hunger. The real truth is that our corrupt leaders and their cohorts see these government-owned entities merely as personal cash cows. Because they belong to the Nigerian public there is no real sense of commitment by the politically appointed managers of these entities. The net result is that each year, the government budgets money for the running and upkeep of these entities that ought to be making money for the Nigerian people. It is a sad commentary on the past and present state of affairs that potentially lucrative entities such as hotels, power companies, airlines and various manufacturing plants owned by the Nigerian government and its state counterparts are bleeding the national and state treasury rather than injecting financial returns.

Funds realized from the sale of these businesses should be applied thus: the rebuilding of roads, hospitals, schools, provision of clean water; equipping and re-training of the police force; payment of salary arrears to civil and public servants; pensions and gratuities to retired Nigerians who served the country in the armed services and the public service; payment of monies owed to local contractors and suppliers for projects done for the government for which they are yet to be paid.

Privatization will mean less money for the rogue politicians and their military counterparts to steal. It will mean less largesse to share amongst their cohorts and thugs. Privatization will make politics clean and less attractive to desperate economic mercenaries. It will make politics and public service, service-oriented rather than a get-rich quick scam that it is today. Privatization will eliminate corruption in government parastatals and companies since the managers will now be accountable to their shareholders. Privatization will help the nation reduce the size of government and the public service. Privatization will promote healthy competition and ultimately lead to efficiency, productivity and profitability.

Privatization will send out a green light to the world that Nigeria is ready to do business. It will create awareness to foreign investors that investing in Nigeria is a fruitful venture for them. Privatization will bring home Nigerians abroad to participate in the reactivation of Nigeria's ailing economy.

Privatization will build jobs and help re-introduce the middle class that was completely decimated by the corrupt-fest that was the past 30 years. It will also shore up a tax base for the federal, state and local governments. The creation of jobs will see the decline in violent crimes and reduce white-collar crimes, ala, 419. Privatization will inject huge amounts of money into the system for use in improving social infrastructure such as roads, water, health services and education. Privatization is also the surest way of attracting the much-vaunted foreign investors and investment.

Privatization of the government controlled mass media - radio, television and print media - will improve the industry and make their services more readily available to the general public. Privatization of the mass media will bring to a screeching halt the past and present practice of using these publicly funded entities as the mouthpiece of the governments in power. Privatization of the mass media will make it difficult for coup plotters to find a pedestal for announcing their coup.

It has been argued that privatization would lead to the concentration of wealth in a few hands. Although this argument is valid to an extent, the fact is that wealth is currently concentrated in a few hands anyway but none of the country's social infrastructure works. What Nigerians ought to concern themselves with at this time is the efficient, profitable and effective operation of the nation's crucial social infrastructure such as electricity, telecommunication, transportation and water supply. Market forces will naturally regulate the overall control of the nation's wealth. Nigerians, who work hard, innovate, invest prudently and play by the rules, will always buy a stake in the nation's wealth. Wealth is not given to people. Wealth is earned or inherited.

The privatization efforts of the Obasanjo government are a step in the right direction. With better planning, increased participation and more input from Nigerians, the exercise will breed new life into the Nigerian economy and raise the standard and quality of life of Nigerians. Several fundamental flaws have been identified with the present program. The Bureau of Privatization (BPE) under Alhaji El Rufai is stumbling towards the target but they need to be energized. They have left too many pieces unconnected and too many privatization projects uncompleted. The Bureau is yet to tell Nigerians what entities have been successfully privatized. Nigerians have not been told how much the Bureau has realized from their efforts so far. We have also not been told how the money realized from the privatization program is to be used.

The present practice of throwing the proceeds of privatization into the general budget for use by the Obasanjo government in ridiculous projects such as the Abuja Stadium project is terribly wrong. Funds derived from the privatization exercise is a unique asset that must be deposited in a separate account and specifically used much like General Abacha's Petroleum Trust Fund. The fund should be used to revamp and reactivate critical social amenities such as provision of clean water, roads, revamping of local Universities, retraining and equipping of the police, large scale irrigation to expand our arable lands.

The concept of privatization, the benefits and implications has not been drummed into Nigerians. The government has not made enough effort to put out the message with the result that the average Nigerian is left out in the cold. The Nigerian government and the Bureau of Privatization have not shaken off the cloud of suspicion around the privatization or attempted privatization of NITEL, the Mint and NICON Hilton Hotel. The stage seems to be set for a cabal of few Nigerians fronting for foreign concerns to buy up these companies and turn fellow Nigerians into modern day slaves in their own country. Again, for inexplicable reasons the Obasanjo government has concentrated in selling off the few companies, such as the Mint, NITEL, Daily Times, New Nigeria and Nigeria Hotels, that are somewhat profitable while it drags its feet with respect to the dead and near-dead entities like Nigerian Airways, Nigeria Railways, Ajaokuta Steel Mill, to name a few.

The truth is that the Nigerian government is merely paying lip service to privatization because it is not in the interest of the ruling class to privatize. Privatization would obviously eliminate their pot of gold. Thus the government will frustrate all effort to have a genuine privatization scheme. And that is a real shame.

Dozie Ikem Ezeife, Esq. is an Attorney-At-Law in Oakland, California