Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

SALES OF NITEL TO OBJ: Real Meaning of Privatisation

SALES OF NITEL TO OBJ: Real Meaning of Privatisation

By Lanre Akinola

Recently, the Obasanjo led PDP government finally sold NITEL to Transnational Corporation, otherwise known as Transcorp. The sale of NITEL, one of the national heritages, is a continuation of neo-liberal policies of commercialisation and privatisation of the commanding heights of the economy that has been embarked upon by this government with an unprecedented zealousness since its inception in 1999.

The sale of NITEL and its subsidiary MTEL to Transcorp owned by President Obasanjo and his cronies buttresses the fact that the so called privatisation of public corporations is a way of enriching very few individuals at the expense of majority and the society in general. Worse still, not only that President Obasanjo sold NITEL to himself, it was sold at a ridiculous price of $750million.

It should be recalled that, Investors International of London Limited (ILL) had, in 2001, emerged as preferred bidder when it offered $1.3billion for 51 per cent of NITEL (MTEL not inclusive) but was denied the purchase on account of delayed payment, a rule that Transcorp also broke but escaped sanction. Curiously, too, while ILL offered $1.3billion for 51 per cent of the Federal Government’ share in NITEL (MTEL not inclusive), Transcorp bought 75 per cent of the Federal Government’s share both in NITEL and its subsidiary for the paltry sum of $750million.

The Chairman of Transcorp, who also heads the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), Dr. Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke said, “Everything about NITEL has ended up in the hands of Nigerians. There are 2,300 shareholders in Transcorp now”. The question to pose is who are these shareholders? The truth of the matter is that President Obasanjo and his cronies are owners of the Transcorp. This fact was recently confirmed by Dr. Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke when she appeared before the House of Representatives and stated the idea and formation of Transcorp was mooted by President Obasanjo himself in 2004 and that President Obasanjo has about 220 million shares in Transcorp through Obasanjo Farms Limited. This fact has also been further confirmed by the so-called trustees of Obasanjo Farms Limited.

Prior to the sale of NITEL, other commanding heights of economy such as Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) had been sold outright or partially at give away prices to individuals within and outside the government. The reasons being given by the Obasanjo government and its town criers for privatisation of these corporations are that they are ineffective, inefficient, corruption-laden and thus failed to meet the yearnings and aspirations of the vast majority of Nigerians.

Yes, these allegations are correct. But the question to ask is what are the factors responsible for the failure as these institutions had worked effectively before? The truth of the matter is that these public institutions are only public in name but are being run undemocratically by bureaucrats appointed by corrupt political ruling elite. Views of workers don’t count, as they are not being democratically run and controlled by workers or their representatives. The appointed bureaucrats over-inflate contracts, siphoned resources of these institutions to their private pockets etc. All this cumulatively led to the collapse of these public institutions. Under the guise of privatisation and commercialisation, same set of people that have benefited and contributed to the ruins of these public utilities are clamouring for the sales of these institutions to themselves and their imperialist masters at give away prices.

However, disturbing development is the unprincipled approaches of top labour leaders to the unwholesome privatisation of the public utilities. They limit the agitation to the demand for severance pay and do not question the propriety of the privatisation exercise. They have no qualms about the overall adverse effect of the privatisation exercise on the poor working masses or the fact that the collectively owned property of the society are being appropriated by a few thieving elite at the expense of the majority as long as the severance is paid to the workers of the companies set to go under the hammers.

The privatisation exercise will only enrich few individuals at the expense of the majority of Nigerians. Privatisation means laying off of most workers under the guise of “right sizing”, making essential social services like education, health care, etc exclusive preserve of the rich and making life generally miserable for the majority of the people. The Nigerian poor working people should therefore kick against these neo-liberal policies. They should demand public ownership and truly public control of all these public corporations along with all the major sectors of the economy, under a democratic control and management of the working masses themselves. It is only under this arrangement that poverty and penury that majority have been subjected to can be a history and the public corporations truly serve their purposes to the benefit of workers and poor masses.