TRANSCORP PLC – Another White Elephant Project?
The other night I stumbled on the live coverage of the formal inauguration of the Transcorp Plc (Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc) by the President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo on the popular ‘Bisi Olatilo Show’ on AIT. As usual, as is always the case at any function being attended by the President; the hall was jam-packed with the crème de la crème of the Nigerian public and private sectors, as well as the diplomatic corp. There is no doubt about the quality of the Nigerians in the hall that night – bankers, business moguls, seasoned economists and administrators, accountants, lawyers, and, to borrow a popular coinage after the demise of the “super permanent secretaries” in the Gowon military administration, all the ex-this, ex-thats. And, of course, the atmosphere was colorful as all the participants, including Mr. President, were gorgeously dressed to suit the occasion.
My first reaction was that why is Nigeria in the mess it is today in spite of the experienced, wealthy, and talented citizens on parade at the occasion? The list was like the “Who is Who?” in all spheres of life in the country. These are men and women who have been tested and have proven performance records in their chosen areas of endeavor. As the cameras zoomed on individual faces and groups at the inauguration, I felt the adrenalin rush pushing me to the edge of my seat, thinking, if we have such talents in abundance, why is our political and socio-economic focus haphazard, misdirected and blurred? Something serious must definitely be wrong – either something is wrong with us as a people, or the system we have chosen does not suit our purpose, or both. Most of the participants and the executive management members of the company interviewed described the initiative as “revolutionary”, “visionary”, the “brain-child” of the President, etc. In all honesty, that is all it is, “a brain-child”, without sounding pessimistic! Some of the executive members of the board of the company at the inauguration included Dr Ndidi Okereke Onyiuke, the Chairman, Tony Emelu, the MD/CEO of Standard Trust Bank, now UBA Plc, Jim Oviah, the erstwhile MD/CEO of Zenith Bank Plc, who is getting more involved in government than running the bank he pioneered, and the household-name business mogul, Alhaji Aliko Dangote. Hear Dr Onyiuke, the Chairman, “… this will mean that our people both here as well as in Diaspora can invest their savings in Transcorp and make superior returns. In the process, they will be part of the New Nigeria.” “… that the President Obasanjo administration has shown clear determination that they are committed to total redevelopment of Nigeria’s economic environment and the private sector.” With the resolve of the President to privatize all companies owned by the Federal Government by 2007, what economic or business sense is it making for the government to sink our foreign reserves into this company? Will this company be an exception to the rule? Or is Mr. President trying to launder our petro-dollars to float a company that he and his cabinet and retinue of advisers will feed fat on after 2007? How is the President sure that his “brain-child” will not be consigned into the dust-bin of abandoned projects or initiatives just like he did to PTF and the rest? Out of political, personal and tribal differences, and in spite of the physical performance of the PTF that cut across the whole country, Mr. President went ahead and dissolved the PTF with military fiat. Nigerians are very well aware of this as one of the first executive decisions of Obasanjo on assumption of office in 1999. What informed Mr. President’s decision in mooting out this project in an atmosphere of decayed infrastructure, run-away double-digit inflation, sky-rocketing exchange rates and foreign exchange policies that defy all economic theories, in addition to insecurity of life and properties, pervasive corruption and bad governance that gave the country the unenviable top position of the most corrupt country, not only among the oil-rich nations, but in the whole World? Is he trying to add to the infamous legacies he is leaving behind – including the Presidential Library, the richest poorest Nation on earth, bad governance, etc. Not surprisingly, none of the participants and executive management members criticized the project or even highlighted some of the problems the “brain-child” of the President is likely to face given our socio-economic problems as a Nation, some of which I enumerated above. The list of failed projects, corporations and public utilities in Nigeria today is legion. What is the present situation of Nepa, Nitel, Federal Housing Corporation, Nigeria Airways, Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill, NAFCON, the four Refineries, NNPC, and of course the Bureau of Public Enterprises, the privitasion outfit that auctioned, sorry, “privatized” some of these government companies to top government officials and their fronts at peanuts? If Mr. President does not have the genius to come up with a blueprint that will resuscitate any of these government companies what guarantee is he giving us that TRANSCORP PLC will be any different? Resuscitating our refineries and making NNPC a profitable business not only within the country but in the whole of Africa and beyond would have made more sense and become an enduring legacy for Mr. President since he is desperate for one. If the performance of this administration in running the economy of Nigeria since 1999 is anything to go by, Nigerians will be blowing away their life savings if they follow the advice of the Chairman, Dr Ndidi Okereke Onyiuke, and “invest their savings in Transcorp” because the “superior returns” will never crystallize.
Going from the inaugural speech of Mr. President that night, Transcorp Plc may end up being the largest company in Nigeria, considering the amount of foreign exchange the government intends to pump, the company’s divergence in the key sectors of the economy, and its foreign connection. How it will make the desired impact on the average Nigerian that is finding it difficult to eat once in a day, send his kids to primary school, afford a rented single-room apartment that his whole family can cram into, or the civil servant that is homeless, earns a salary that lasts half the month, or the pensioner that will wait for three years, counting every day, to collect his pension that will never come in this World, was mentioned. Instead, Nigerians were advised to blow their savings away – how many Nigerians can boast of a “savings” today is left to your imagination. Transcorp Plc is being floated to siphon our hard-earned foreign exchange (the oil windfall?) which the same cabal that corners the Nigerian economy will invest in for their benefits. And since they all have foreign accounts, laundering such funds will be a child’s play. I was disappointed that none of the executive members of the company (in spite of their wealth of experience) was able to make a case for the company on the impact it will make on the life of the average Nigerian – short-term or long-term. And that is exactly the anomaly of our political economy – sycophancy, eye service, and the fear of losing out. The executive members, from the Chairman to other directors will only try to maximize the benefits they can derive for their outfits – either through the sale of shares of the company, banking relationship, outsourcing of services, foreign technical partnerships, consultancy, etc. As is always the case, the average Nigerian will end up being the loser at the end of the day. It is a vicious circle that by now he is familiar with and has somehow managed to learn to live with.
Whatever arguments that either Mr. President or the executive directors of Transcorp Plc will proffer, the fact of the matter remains that it will have no effect whatsoever on the life of teaming Nigerians who are wallowing in abject poverty, hunger, unemployment and disease without portable water supply or basic drugs in local dispensaries. When he insisted on dissolving the PTF, the President was given the challenge of coming up with a replacement that will have a direct impact on the lives of Nigerians like the PTF did. We all know what the performance of FERMA was, or the $300m Tony Anenih, the erstwhile Works Minister and a confident of Obasanjo converted into re-election campaign and lied to Nigerians that he constructed new roads with the money. The present administration today cannot boast of a single company that the federal government owns that is doing well and impacting positively on the lives of Nigerians. Such companies can easily be found in other countries of Africa such as South African Airways, the Mining Corporation in Botswana, the Kenyan Airways, and the viable tourism industry in Egypt.
There is no doubt TRANSCORP PLC will end up just like other federal government companies that are a shadow of them and are now being auctioned. Our legislators will do well to block this venture that will only end up being used as a conduit pipe to siphon our foreign reserve. Teeming Nigerians today still have hunger, illiteracy, disease, and unemployment to contend with which the government is not addressing. Should Mr. President insist on having things his way just like he is used to since he assumed office, then the EFCC, ICPC, NDLEA, must direct their searchlights on the activities of the company because definitely there will be stories to tell beyond 2007.