Bismarck Rewane, the brilliant business economist and chief executive of Financial Derivatives Ltd based in Lagos, has joined the pantheon of seers. Just before Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as Nigeria’s president on May 29, 2015, he said on a program on Classic Radio 97.3 FM that many Nigerian business executives would become ex-millionaires in a matter of months. Rewane’s reason was simple: with Buhari’s creating a new social order based on the rule of law and transparency, many government contractors would be out of business. Truth be told, most of the contractors are just rent seekers, business fronts of those in power.
Since the very day Buhari assumed office, Emeka Offor, perhaps the most controversial government contractor from Anambra State ever, has not paid staff salaries. Not only have his offices in Abuja closed down in the past one year, as SaharaReporters has just accurately revealed, the extremely flamboyant politician has not been able to bury his father who died in February. He is determined to spend a fortune on the father’s burial, as he did on January 3, 2015, when he celebrated his third marriage in his village where very expensive musicians like P-Square and Flavor played. The essence is so as to sustain the façade of a super rich business tycoon, but the resources are unfortunately no longer forthcoming. The simple truth is that Offor is now an ex millionaire. He is not alone in this club of ex-millionaires, which, in fact, is growing rapidly. Offor’s free fall became public knowledge because a lot of people have rather been celebrating his predicament; this owes to his unsavory relationship with not only family members but also most people from his hometown of Oraifite in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State. We will explain shortly why his townspeople celebrate his present acute business crisis.
If it were in the days of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Offor and other Aso Rock contractors, as President Buhari reportedly described him before his chief of staff Abba Kyari, none of them would have been allowed to experience any form of discomfort. The national treasury was practically handed over to the so-called Big Boys by the PDP, which delighted in referring to the rent seekers as party financiers. It was an era of culture of impunity. Here are just a few examples. Towards the end of May of 2014, the National Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) ordered 22 banks in the country where Offor’s Chrome Group had accounts to freeze them because of a 9.2 billion naira debt owed the defunct African Express Bank (AFEX), owned by Offor. The NDIC even went before Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court in Abuja to enforce the order. However, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s “government magic” came into play. The NDIC overnight accepted a paltry N1bn as full and final payment for the N14bn debt. This was on June 12, 2014. No reason was given for the acceptance. But everyone knew that Goodluck Jonathan’s presidency directed the financial regulator to lay off a most beloved son.
In 2013, Offor’s Interstate Electrics was described by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and the National Council on Privatization (NCP) as grossly incapable of doing the business of electric power distribution because it did not possess the technical competence or financial resources. They, therefore, disqualified the consortium from bidding for any of the country’s 11 electricity distribution companies. However, within 72 hours, Jonathan’s presidency directed the NCP to declare Interstate the preferred bidder for not just the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company but also the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company. Interstate Electrics thus became the first and only consortium to become the preferred bidder for two DisCos! The Jonathan government then pleaded with Offor to choose the DisCo it wanted– and it picked Enugu. Does anyone still wonder why the privatization of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) assets under Jonathan remains a big mess to this day, providing the nation more darkness than light?
Despite the blacklisting of Offor following the recommendation of a committee headed by the legendary Aret Adams in the 1990s for the monumental fraud and incompetence exhibited by his company in the turn-around maintenance (TAM) contracts of both the 115,000 per day barrel Warri and the 150,000 barrel per day New Port Harcourt refineries during the Sani Abacha regime, the Jonathan government furtively awarded the TAM contract for both the New Port Harcourt and the Old Port Harcourt 60,000 barrel per day refinery to Offor’s Chrome in 2014 for an undisclosed amount. It is safe to assume that both the government which awarded the contract and the contractor were not really interested in fixing the refineries because no attempt was made to get the job done until Jonathan was defeated in the March 2015 presidential election. With the defeat, Offor quickly mobilized to site and promised that the refineries would come on stream in September, 2015. All the media in Nigeria, both print and electronic, carried the propaganda with flourish. It is almost a year now but there is absolutely nothing to show for it. The rehabilitation was abandoned almost as soon as it started.
But Jonathan is not the only president who empowered Offor with impunity. The Olusegun Obasanjo administration is perhaps more guilty. Obasanjo gave him a ChevronTexaco oil bloc in his last days in 2007 on what The Wall Street Journal called sweetheart terms. The deal became an international scandal. In addition, Obasanjo awarded him the Bauchi-Yola electricity transmission line job for a price that made the World Bank protest openly. The same government handed over to him Nigeria’s interest in the Nigeria-Sao Tome and Principe Joint Development Zone, enabling Offor to become the Lord of the Manor in this small two-island nation. Obasanjo also gave Offor contracts for river channelization in Edo and Ondo states, among other places, which were not executed despite full payments. Obasanjo’s government provided Offor with police support and other forms of state assistance to fight the Chinwoke Mbadinuju government in Anambra State from 1999 to 2003, so that the ground would be prepared for Andy Uba, his Friday man, would become the state governor.
Therefore, it is very strange for Obasanjo to claim in an interview with Premium Times published on August 5, 2015, to be innocent of creating the Frankenstein monster known as Offor. No one is fooled by the claim. It is known to many Nigerians that Offor had been boasting openly how he capitalized on Obasanjo’s greed to deal with him ruthlessly. Offor has a reputation of swindling public officers once they are out of power. When former Vice President Atiku Abubakar went to Offor’s Abuja residence three years ago straight from Dubai to ask for his share of the businesses Offor did on his behalf while he was in public office from 1999 to 2007, the government contractor brought out a machete and threatened to slaughter Atiku. The ex vice president fled for his life in broad daylight! Against this background, political watchers are skeptical that ex-President Jonathan, his wife Patience and erstwhile Vice President Mohammed Namadi Sambo would ever receive anything from Offor who was their business agent when they were in government.
Finally, back to Offor’s relationship with his kinsmen in Oraifite, Anambra State, who have been rejoicing since the controversial government contractor fell on hard times. During in particular the time of Mohammed D. Abubakar as the Inspector General of Police, many of our townsfolk were arrested in a most humiliating manner and detained for months with hardened criminals for having personal disagreements with Offor. Some of these individuals went to court against the police and won. It never ceases to amaze one how M.D. Abubakar reduced the police leadership to a Gestapo in the hands of a barely literate private individual, who was a driver with Julius Berger construction firm. The consolation is that all our people deprived of their humanity by the police are in the process of suing Offor and Abubakar to their last kobo.
It says something profound about the culture of abomination which the PDP imposed on Nigeria for a whole 16 years that so-called business tycoons like Offor could not pay staff salaries from the very day Buhari became Nigeria’s president. We salute Buhari for insisting on things being done properly. The era of the Nigerian state serving as a cow to be milked almost to death by a few rapacious individuals is gone. We are now in a new social order.
Ifeanacho wrote from Enugu