Fresh facts have emerged on how Pentascope International destroyed the Nigeria Telecommunications (NITEL) Plc under the watch of Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai when he was the Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE).
The revelations came from the Chairman of the Sub-committee on NITEL Management Takeover Committee in the House of Representatives, Malam Nasir Garba Dantiye.
Dantiye, who accused El-Rufai of killing NITEL, insisted that under El-Rufai’s leadership as the Director-General of the BPE, he collaborated with Pentascope International BV to swindle Nigeria of over N100 billion in the name of privatising the former telecoms giant.
In an interview with journalists in Kano at the weekend, Dantiye alleged that due process was not followed during the transaction.
He said: “I want you to note that during our investigation, the committee established that about N100 billion had been lost due to the management takeover of NITEL by Pentascope; and we recommended that Malam Nasir El-Rufai should be banned from holding any public office up to the end of his life because he cannot be trusted with public funds and responsibilities because of his unpatriotic nature in the management takeover of NITEL.”
The former lawmaker, who gave a graphic account on how NITEL was allegedly killed and buried by El-Rufai and his accomplices said: “Let me give you a brief picture of NITEL before it was taken over by Pentascope; as at March 31, 2003, NITEL had account cash balance of N17.678 billion in its account; it had treasury-based investment of almost N15 billion.
“In that year, NITEL was able to pay the Federal Government of Nigeria N1 billion as dividends of owner’s investment; and in the pension account, NITEL had a balance of N5 billion.
“But after the takeover, in less than a year, as at March 31, 2004, in the accounts of NITEL, there was a deficit of N600 million; from that N17.6 billion. As at November 2004, just a year and some months after, the N15 billion treasury investment of NITEL was recalled and they spent it, and the N5 billion pension account was also spent.
“It didn’t end there, they had syndicated loans from various banks worth N4 billion. Also, at that time, they were processing another loan of N40 billion from Citi Bank because they could not pay salaries! Part of these loans had been taken to pay salaries.
“So, that is what happened, I don’t agree with El-Rufai. He put the problems of liberalisation of the telecommunications sector on the shoulders of NITEL officials then, and I don’t want to agree with him now calling NITEL evil. If NITEL is evil, then the operators and the BPE, I don’t know whether to call them satanic or whether to call them evil geniuses,” Dantiye said.
The former lawmaker from Jigawa State, who represented Garki/Babura Federal Constituency between 2003 and 2007, on the platform of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), asserted that El-Rufai killed NITEL through his unprofessional engagement with Pentascope.
At the Nigerian Day during the recent International Telecommunications Union (ITU) celebration, El-Rufai had said that, “Nigerian NITEL was an evil company and I am glad it died because NITEL had taken N7 billion of Nigeria’s resources to give just 400,000 lines. It was the most expensive phone network in the whole planet.
I believe that NITEL was an evil company and had to be dismantled. But I didn’t know how to go about it then.”
But Dantiye, who insisted that El-Rufai’s hands were not clean, stated that as the sub-committee chairman in charge of NITEL, who was also saddled with the responsibility of investigating the management-contract-takeover of NITEL by Pentascope International BV, he had the opportunity of knowing so many things.
He said that the ad-hoc committee was set by the House of Representatives and “I was the chairman of that investigative committee.
“We did our job to find out the circumstance that led to the management-takeover of NITEL by Pentascope. By the special grace of God, we did our job and established a lot of abnormalities in the management-takeover because it was centred on fraudulent misrepresentation, corruption, unpatriotism and greed because it was discovered that due process was not followed by BPE during the expression of interest by Pentascope.”
He further stated that, “what NITEL needed at that time was a company that had the technical-know-how; that has the financial capabilities to turnaround NITEL because about 80 percent of mobile connectivity by Airtel, MTN and all these telecommunications companies in Nigeria were on the backbone of NITEL.
“Nigeria needed a company that would turnaround NITEL so that we can have very cheap tariffs and at the same time to have a very effective service by the telecommunications companies,” he said.
When contacted the Special Adviser on Media to El-Rufai, Mr. Samuel Aruwan, for the governor’s reactions to Dantiye’s allegations, he declined comments. He did not pick calls and text messages sent to his mobile phones.
Dantiye alleged that Pentascope did not have an office in Nigeria and queried its technical competence and financial base to transform NITEL.”
According to him, “after the time NITEL was taken over by Pentascope, BPE had set a target of one million telephone lines within three years; BPE under the leadership of El-Rufai set a target for Pentascope to provide one million telephone lines within three years.
“At that time, the Federal Government had approved for the management of NITEL to provide 1.2 million telephone lines within four months. So, when he is talking about $7 billion gulped by NITEL being very costly, I don’t see how he is going to answer certain questions! The government had set up a target of 1.2 million lines within four months, and El-Rufai and Pentascope had set up a target of only one million lines in three years!”
Dantiye accused Katsina State Governor, Aminu Bello Masari, who was Speaker of the House of Representatives then, for frustrating the committee’s recommendation that El-Rufai should be banned from holding public office.
He said: “Somebody will ask me why is El-Rufai still holding public office even as the governor of Kaduna State? The answer is this: The Speaker of the House of Representatives then, Malam Aminu Bello Masari, now the governor of Katsina State, refused to fund the lawyers to take the matter up in the court when El-Rufai went to the judiciary to have what he called enforcement of his fundamental human rights. Because of this, our case was struck out for lack of merit! And that is why El-Rufai is holding a public office today.”