TO SELL OR NOT TO SELL

Reminds us of the now illustrious Shakespearean soliloquy, to be or not to be, which unlike the first two soliloquies in Hamlet, seems governed by reason as against rash judgement of impassioned hysteria. Hamlet is shaken by an internal crisis, so profound he stops to ask whether it be nobler to live miserably or end one’s sorrows with a single stroke.

The very same question applies to our cherished National Assets, dallying irresolutely in these dire economic times: are we to sell or not to sell? Are we to find aspirin for the concussion or sever completely our heads from our bodies? Hamlet chose wisely. For us, the reason is plain for all to see.

That we have pursuant to a perennial disregard for economic forecasts, brought this recession upon ourselves is no excuse to strip our nation of monuments that are far from being merely cosmetic, are in and of themselves financial reinforcements helping the nation float through its debt crises, NLNG for example.

Nonetheless, it is short sighted folly for anyone (as I’ve seen so many do) to suggest that sale of National assets by the state is a new phenomenon. China, for example has been selling some of its stakes in banking, energy, engineering and broadcasting while Brazil is selling airports to help finance a $20b investment programme. In fact, according to ‘The Economist’, eleven of the 20 largest initial public offers between 2003 and 2015 were sales of stakes by state owned enterprises, mostly in developing countries like our own. Even giants like Britain, in a bid to reduce the public debt-to-GDP ratio sold the ‘Royal Mail’ through a public offering and was intent on selling URENCO, a state owned nuclear fuel processor (and would have, had it not been for the company’s split ownership structure between UK, Dutch and German interests) and went further to instruct, in the spirit of all things British that it’s chief treasury secretary “not act as some kind of impulsive hoarder” as far as those assets were concerned.

It makes for some wonderful argument as to why we should, without weighing other indices in the gamut of economic matrices like our almost complete reliance on these same assets to save us from our financial woes. After all, our forex charts indicate on a balance of payment basis ex, that crude oil and gas constitute the larger sum of our ports. It is therefore ironic that NLNG and NNPC, corporations that mass produce crude and gas for export, that just last year provided bailouts in the sum of $2.1b to the states and have rescued the country one time too many, are on the verge of departure, albeit with a buy-back clause and a promise that the spirits to whom we sacrifice these cows will make us between $20-$25b, in 50, 60 years? A hundred years!?

While the government through nonplussed media aides and makeshift consultants like the CBN governor has risen to the occasion by seeming coherent for the first time in an eternity, it’s forgotten to tell the public that while the sale of refineries and airports might not linger to spiteful chagrin (it very likely might), the agreements required for the two corporations in question will, through rigorous legal procedures (if at all followed) take ages to conclude and cash inflow will certainly come in trinkets, lampooning the metrological expertise of Mr Emefiele and co.

However, Obasanjo was right on one note, our refineries are better off sold, through a PPA scheme smoothly running in many of the OECD countries. At some point, they were sold and public outcry against the transparency of the process forced Umar Yar’adua, the then head of state, to undo the dubious process. Well here we are; same place at an entirely different time about to mount a donkey that should have been in transit ages ago. What a sad tale.

Now that reputations come to mind, the question is what changes this time? When NITEL was sold off, the only good that came of it was the cheap sale of its every fragment, its quarters in Abuja, remodelled offices and a barrage of all things NITEL. Not to its employees of course but to capitalist profiteers who then re-sold to others interested at proper market value. Good business, I suppose? With NEPA, the situation just as the one hitherto mentioned is unworthy of contemplation. Megawatts were plummeting and power plants were failing. Maintenance was at its clumsiest since independence and we were getting as much power as an assiduous mason at day’s end — nearly none. The reason simply being that just like NITEL, NEPA was gifted to the same crooks through the same treacherous ojoro, truncating PPA’s from the early 2000’s to date. So, except the government is asking foreign companies to buy it all, from presidential fleet to ailing refineries to diseased airports (a gesture I do not expect) we are once again stuck with our own. This time, with a ‘Dangote Pathology’. Perhaps, for his reputation’s sake, he’ll help us clean up these flatulent refineries.

We the Nigerian people, like Sir Walter Raleigh, are yet to encounter the golden city of Eldorado, but we remain convinced that at the end of this unwinding drill, there are fabulous riches to be found; a befitting reward for 17 torturous years of expectation… and counting.

God Bless Nigeria