Nigeria’s warped privatisation programme

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Privatization, which transfers ownership of production and control of enterprises from the public to the private sector, is largely viewed as a good model for Nigeria to accelerate its economic development.  Basically, the privatisation programme is meant to make the country a private sector-driven economy where the government regulates but leaves business to those who can run it effectively.  But over the years, it has been very controversial because it has turned out to be an exercise by some influential Nigerians to “personalise” the nation’s wealth.

However, experts contend that privatisation may not be inherently good or bad. It is the mode of implementation that determines its effectiveness.  It is therefore widely believed that the problem with Nigeria’s privatisation programme is the shoddy manner it is being implemented. One of the most important issues in privatisation is the concern for transparency and accountability. Sadly, in Nigeria, the privatisation programme has not been carried out with sincerity of purpose and transparency. In most cases, the rules have been bent in the privatisation exercise in favour of investors with close ties to government. Succinctly put, those in authority almost always sell off the public assets to a few privileged Nigerians who are their cronies, thus making a few people rich at the expense of the vast majority.

One eminent Nigerian who is not happy with Nigeria’s warped privatisation programme is Etubom Anthony Ani, elder statesman, quintessential chartered accountant and Minister of Finance during the administration of the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha. It is on record that during the Abacha administration, Etubom Ani and his economic team had initiated a well thought-out privatisation model under the Public Enterprises (Privatisation and Commercialisation) Decree 1998 which provided that since the assets being privatised belong to Nigerians, every Nigerian had a right to participate in it, not only in its ownership but also to benefit from the privatisation. It was against this background that the decree provided that not more than 40 per cent of the shares of the enterprise shall be held by the Federal Government, not less than 20 per cent to be held by Nigerians, and not more than 40 per cent by strategic investors. Besides, to ensure that the entire Nigerian society benefit from the privatised assets, the Nigerian Trust Fund was to be established so that all the proceeds of privatisation will be kept therein and this was to be administered by seven trustees of whom four would be former presidents.

However, this privatisation model could not be implemented before the demise of Abacha on June 8, 1998.

As controversy continues to trail the ongoing privatisation programme in Nigeria, the editorial board of TheEconomy decided to have an exclusive interview with Etubom Ani during which he bared his mind on such contentious issues as the privatisation policy, the alleged Abacha loot, the Ajaokuta Steel Complex which has remained a drain pipe, oil subsidy and the vagaries of the Nigerian stock market.  Throughout the duration of the more than three-hour interview with the editorial team of TheEconomy, the former Finance Minister in his characteristic candour dwelt on all the issues raised. It was quite revealing. Happy reading.

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