Playing politics with government’s privatisation policy

President Muhammadu Buhari


This is my humble contribution to the raging controversy over the recent pronouncement by the Federal Government of the revocation of the Lagos International Trade Fair Complex concession. Since the news of the government decision to revoke the concession agreement became public, there have been talks at different fora adducing different reasons for the government decision. The government on its own has stated that the concessionaire, Aulic Nigeria Limited, breached the terms of the agreement while Aulic claims that it was the government that reneged on its agreement from the onset by not properly handing over the total area of 322 hectares complex to it as contained in the concession agreement.

The general feeling especially among the people of South East is that of persecution and continued marginalisation of the Igbo ethnic nationality by the present government. It is believed that the owner of Aulic Nigeria Limited, Prof. Nick Ezeh being an Ibo and a strong member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is being punished for being a staunch supporter of the erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan. It is worthy of note that among the Igbo the cry of marginalisation has become very strident since the advent of the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari.

There is also an insinuation among observers that a key political heavy weight in the South West who had earlier opposed the idea of privatising the complex had latched on his position in the present regime to influence the annulment of the concession agreement in order to pave way for him to acquire the complex. Recently, the Ibos in Lagos have cried out alleging harassments by the agents of the state government and of a grand design by the state government to rob them of their investments in central Lagos and pushed them to remote locations to start afresh and develop. And the revocation of the Trade Fair Concession agreement is seen as a continuation of the said plot.

Yet, another view is that those who lost out during the competitive bid for the complex are working clandestinely with the old Trade Fair Management Board and some officials of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment to acquire the complex through the back door. It is said these are the people that have frustrated the full implementation of the concession agreement using traders as mere fronts and have misled the National Council on Privatisation into taking the unpalatable decision to revoke the concession agreement without following due process of consultation and arbitration.

Undoubtedly, the government’s decision to unilaterally revoke the concession agreement duly entered into with the concessionaire smirks of oppression and official high-handedness. Methinks that as a government that has come with a mandate to fight corruption, it would have launched a thorough probe into why the concession agreement signed about ten years ago was not fully implemented and get the right things done instead of jumping at revocation.

Why was the LITFC concession singled out for revocation being about the only one of about the whole assets privatised by OBJ acquired by an investor of Igbo extraction? Was revocation the only option left for the government? Have they tried other means of resolving the issues around the troubled concession? Is that the only privatised asset having issues? While the concession agreement empowers the government to do period reviews of the said concession and appraise the performance of the concessionaire, does it empower the government to unilaterally revoke the concession agreement without the input of a competent independent arbitrator?

Clearly, there are obvious cases of insincerity and corruption in this matter. Why were the presidential directive given by late President Yar’Adua, the Senate resolution and the subsisting court order to revert to status quo not complied with if not for corruption?

The consequences of this revocation decision are clear. First, it portrays the government in bad light as one that cannot keep its contractual obligations. This notion is capable of scaring potential investors away from the country given the fact that the country is rated abysmally low in the cost and ease of doing business index. The prevailing economic condition in the country now has not been too favourable for business as some firms have closed shop and left the country and foreign direct investment has declined due to low investors’ confidence on the economy.

Secondly, the revocation decision is capable of fuelling ethnic tension and separatist agitations. Already, there are unpalatable cases of tension and restiveness in the South East occasioned by the claims of marginalisation and exclusion by the Ibos. Therefore, this decision to annul the Lagos International Trade Fair Concession which appears to be only benefits they have gained so far from the government Privatisation Program may not go down well with them. The timing of the revocation appears very odd and provocative coming at a time when there is palpable fear and fragile peace in the polity.

It also gives an indication of insensitivity on the part of the government to make decisions affecting individuals without recourse to its obvious consequences. Our investors should be supported and not frustrated by those who are supposed to encourage them.

Moreover, the government would be setting a false precedence if it did not probe into the circumstances militating against the full implementation of the concession agreement and those found culpable dealt with properly to deter future occurrence. Public office holders are expected to allow public interest override personal interest in their decision making in order to avoid ethical dilemma. Questionable decisions like this cast aspersion on the sincerity of the government in its hyped crusade against corruption in the country.

Without doubt, a review of the decision by the government would be necessary at this juncture in order to allow the concessionaire opportunity to present its own side of the story. The government can extricate itself from this ethical quagmire by following due process and allow the rule of law. We are still in a democracy. Coercion and the use executive authority are but a fleeting measure; the lasting solution can only be achieved when justice is done through sincere dialogue, arbitration and conciliation.
Akpomedaye, an estate consultant, lives in Lagos.



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