Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and erstwhile minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nasir El-Rufai, have resurrected the ghost of the controversial Pentascope deal through which the federal government tried to privatize Nigeria’s national telecoms carrier, the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited, NITEL.
The two politicians have been throwing verbal missiles at each while also accusing each other of corruption in a deal many believed was fraught with corruption.
Mr. El-Rufai fired the first salvo through his book ”The Accidental Public Servant”, when he suggested that Atiku, as chairman of the National Council on Privatization, NCP, meddled in the privatisation of NITEL which ultimately truncated the process.
Atiku, in his capacity as the Vice President of the Federal Republic, was chairman of the NCP, the government committee entrusted with the responsibilty of managing the privatization programme initiated by the Olusegun Obasanjo adminstration to handle the disposal of public enterprises to interested Nigerians and other categories of investors.
Mr. El-Rufai alleged that Atiku’s meddlesomeness suggested he had pecuniary interest in some of the deals.
But Atiku fired back saying the former minister was bitter because a particular bidder, Motorola, lost out in one of the transactions.
“The fact of the contract are like this: Obasanjo agreed with the NCP that the former BPE DG was wrong not to have disclosed his interest and that he had failed the test of transparency by not disclosing that his brother was on the board of Motorola,” Atiku told The Punch.
“You know, for instance, that it is a very serious offence to fail, refuse or neglect to disclose your interest whether directly or through someone else, in dealing with such an important transaction. But, the President in his wisdom decided that the contract be split into three, with each of the contenders, Motorola, Ericsson and the Chinese company – I think Huawei – taking a portion. As if to vindicate the NCP, by 2007 when we left office, the two others apart from Motorola had completed their own contracts. You can go and find out if they (Motorola) have finished.
He continued, “I would like Nigerians to be smart enough to read between the lines. Why does the former FCT minister treat the Motorola issue with such persistent personal bitterness? Why is he making it a heavy matter? Anybody can play to the gallery and deceive the people. Transparency is a key issue of conducting any business, including privatisation. Conflict of interest is inconsistent with transparency.
“If you are a privatisation head and you have a relationship with a particular person connected with one of the companies making bids, it is a moral and legal duty to disclose that relationship or interest. Pretending that you have no relationship with the person who is rooting for a particular bidder is not altogether tidy and transparent. If he had no interest in a particular company for sentimental reasons, why is he making too much fuss about Motorola losing the bid?”
However, Atiku’s comment has sparked Mr. El-Rufai’s fury. On Monday, Mr. El-Rufai came out firing on all cylinders, pointedly accusing the former vice president of manipulating the deal.
“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”, Muyiwa Adekeye, Media Advisor to Mr. El-Rufai said in a statement on Monday.
According to Mr.Adekeye, Atiku’s media team had made a vain effort to confuse Nigerians about his “serial interference with contract award processes” detailed in El-Rufai’s book, claiming in series of rebuttals that Atiku did not meddle in the privatisation processes.
To Adekeye, such claims are at variance with the substance of established facts that the former Vice President used his position to “seek 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,” the statement said.
“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.”
Mr Adekeye challenged Atiku to take up the “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,” according to Mr. Adekeye, “had diplomatic repercussions, as the American government wrote to protest this loss by an American company that had submitted the cheaper bid.”
On Atiku’s insistence that Mr. El-Rufai’s brother was a shareholder and member of Motorola’s board, Mr. Adekeye denied that it was true.
On Pentascope, Mr. El-Rufai’s spokesman said: “We see the same pattern of muddying the waters with falsehood,” pointing out that as chairman of the 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 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 N100billion in profit annually, the mind must boggle that someone so unconstrained by fidelity to facts had once been saddled with significant responsibilities.”
Mr Adekeye insisted NITEL never made such huge profits as claimed by the Atiku camp, as it had never paid a single dividend to the Federal Government until the BPE compelled it to pay N3billion only in 2001.
See details of their argument at: http://premiumtimesng.com/business/127840-atiku-el-rufai-in-war-of-words-over-controversial-pentascope-deal.html