Some public advocacy groups and individuals have reacted to a recent statement by Nigeria’s First Lady, Patience Jonathan, denying the existence of a business partnership between her and a businessman, Emeka Offor. In an investigative report over the weekend, SaharaReporters had disclosed that, in exchange for substantial financial stakes in Mr. Offor’s Interstate, both Mrs. Jonathan and Vice President Namadi Sambo have illegally intervened on several occasions to ensure that Mr. Offor’s firm received undue, preferential treatment in the ongoing controversial privatization of the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC). The report also named Secretary to the Federal Government, Anyim Pius Anyim, as one of the government officials using his powerful influence to garner favors for Mr. Offor’s Interstate, which Nigeria’s privatization agency had rated very low on a test of technical competence.
In an angry reaction to our report, a spokesman for Mrs. Jonathan denied that the president’s wife was embedded with Mr. Offor and his firm, Interstate. The statement further attacked the report that had indicted her for the debacle of the EEDC, one of the 18 firms created out of the state-owned Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) now being privatized.
But the First Lady’s statement has ignited reactions from several groups, including transparency advocates and members of two major Igbo organizations.
An Abuja-based source told SaharaReporters that “Emeka Offor tells everybody that he is in partnership with the Vice President and the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan.” He added; “So thorough investigations should be carried out by the police and the EFCC because of Chief Offor’s constant use of the names of the First Lady and that of Vice President Namadi Sambo.”
An official of the Nigeria Renewal Movement (NRM) stated that her group was disturbed by many questionable aspects of the current privatization process.
“Why is it that Interstate [owned by Mr. Offor] was declared to have terrible technical ratings and did not make its payments within the deadline, and it is still in the running? And not only that, it is obviously favored among more technically qualified competitors?”
SaharaReporters has obtained documents showing that the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE), the agency charged with the privatization of state-owned enterprises, had bent the rules for Mr. Offor’s company and engaged in a pattern of preferential treatment towards Interstate.
“These documents show that Offor has benefited from high-powered, illegal intervention by the First Lady, Vice President Sambo, and Chief [Pius] Anyim,” said the government official who provided the documents.
One of the documents shows that the BPE revised itself within 72 hours of disqualifying Mr. Offor’s Interstate from the bidding process. Interstate’s original disqualification arose from the firm’s extremely poor ratings on technical tests conducted by BPE. Later, Interstate also failed to meet a strict deadline for payment. In a curious development, the same BPE extended the deadline for Interstate, a privilege that was not offered to any other firm.
The NRM spokeswoman said she agreed that Mrs. Jonathan should subject herself to investigation over her alleged links to Mr. Offor’s businesses.
“If the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, wants her denial to be taken seriously, then she should demand that a team of investigators, including trustworthy lawyers, investigate how Offor and Interstate have been able to get the BPE to bend the rules for them.” She added, “That’s the first condition for the public acceptance of her denial of being in business partnership with a controversial government contractor, Emeka Offor, who is also flamboyant member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).”
SaharaReporters spoke to a source who disclosed that Mr. Offor had approached “some individuals and businesses asking them to pay $24 million for their shares in the Interstate Electrics consortium, which should ordinarily entitle them to 20% of the firm’s shares. But Offor told them point blank that they would rather be given 6% shares each because part of their contributions would be used to pay for shares for the First Lady, Vice President Sambo and SFG Anyim.
“All the prospective investors are alive and known, and they are ready to cooperate with fraud fighting agencies in this matter,” said the source.
A member of Aka Ikenga, an Igbo advocacy group, stated that he was worried that some interests seemed determined “to hand the South-East’s electric power needs to a man [Offor] whose track record is one of incompetence and failure.” He added, “Have we forgotten that Emeka Offor is the same person who received a turn-around maintenance contract from [the] late General Sani Abacha? What kind of maintenance did his company do? Nothing! He killed the refinery.” He cautioned the Goodluck Jonathan administration against dooming the South-East’s prospects for electric power by handing its operations to a man “who knows how to spend money to get contracts he is simply incapable of executing.”
The view was echoed by a member of Ohaneze, identified as the apex Igbo socio-cultural and political organization. He stated that he was in no position to accuse Mrs. Jonathan and Mr. Sambo of “sharing business with Chief Offor.” Even so, he said he was aware that Mr. Offor boasts openly to prospective investors that key government officials and their families are secretly working in cahoots with him. “Our people have suffered for too long and they deserve better electricity services. If Chief Offor cannot deliver, why then is the government trying to give him the job to do?”
The NRM source pointed out that, when Interstate was bidding for both the Abuja and Enugu electricity distribution companies last September and October, 30% of its shares were not allotted. That curious development prompted Thisday newspaper to publish that the shares were reserved for top public officers.
“It is so easy to investigate this situation,” she said, “because the records are still with the Corporate Affairs Corporation (CAC)” which registers corporate bodies in Nigeria and their shareholders.
Documents available to SaharaReporters show that Interstate did poorly in the technical and commercial tests conducted by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE). Said the NRM source: “It is instructive that in its report of October 17, 2012, the BPE stated unequivocally that Interstate had to be disqualified for failing ‘consistency tests.’ Yet, within 72 hours the BPE announced Interstate the winner of both Enugu and Abuja discos [distribution companies], and was later asked to choose between the two.”
A former employee of Mr. Offor’s company told SaharaReporters that the businessman “has been informing his partners and others that the First Lady, Architect Sambo and Chief Anyim are responsible for the BPE changing its first evaluations of Interstate’s bids” for the PHCN successor companies.
An experienced analyst of the power sector disclosed that, “At the National Council of Privatization (NCP) meeting which looked into the bids, I heard that Anyim told participants not ‘to embarrass my good friend, Emeka Offor.’” He stated that Mr. Anyim’s statement came in response to eyebrows that were raised when a decision was made to give Interstate its bid document to change the bid figure.
“Needless to say, [Vice President] Sambo was the person who presided at the meeting in his capacity as the NCP chairman.”
In a document dated August 21, 2013, and signed personally by the BPE Director General, Benjamin Dikki, the privatization agency told Mr. Offor that it would not grant Interstate’s request for the extension of the payment deadline.
Yet, sources at the BPE told SaharaReporters that the agency was under intense pressure to accept the payment made by Interstate weeks after August 21, 2013, whereas the bids of Dangote Holdings and Rockson Engineering for PHCN generation companies were rejected for being only five minutes late in July, last year.”
The source at Aka Ikenga stated that it was in Nigeria’s “overriding national interests” to unmask “the very powerful people now forcing the BPE to accept Interstate’s very belated payment.”
The NRM argued that the best way that Nigeria’s First Lady could exonerate herself from involvement in the shady manner in which the Enugu Disco sale transaction is being done “is to invite the police and the EFCC to investigate the grave allegations against her, even though all Nigerians are fully aware that the Nigerian police are highly corrupt and compromised and the EFCC far from efficient and inspiring since Nuhu Ribadu’s unceremonious exit as its founding chairman.”
The group added that “Mrs. Jonathan has yet to regain the confidence of the Nigerian people a year after she flatly denied that she was being treated in Germany for a grave illness and even continued with the same line of story at the airport on return to Nigeria last October 17 until her thanksgiving service at the Presidential Villa chapel on February 17, 2013, where she declared before some 5,000 guests: ‘I actually died. I passed out for one week. My intestines and tummy were opened.’”
She added: “We don’t want a situation where [Mrs. Jonathan’s] association with some shadowy characters could cause her to be the first wife of Nigeria’s president to be charged with massive corruption once she leaves office.”
In a related development, SaharaReporters has learned that Eastern Electric, which is the reserved bidder for the Enugu Disco, has gone to court to demand that it be invited to pay the $126 million reserved bid price for the utility, which is the sole electricity supplier to the Southeast geopolitical zone and some parts of the South-south.
The suit was filed on Monday at the Federal High Court in Abuja by Wole Olanipeku, a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association. The legal action is meant to stop an NCP meeting being hurriedly convened by Vice President Sambo for Friday, this week, to take a decision on the sale of Enugu Disco and nine others.
According to a source in The Presidency, “The vice president last night fixed the meeting when he realized that President Goodluck Jonathan, Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Petroleum Resource Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke, Power Minister Chinedu Nebo and other key NCP members will be in faraway United States of America to participate in an investors’ forum organized by the Nigerian government.” The source added, “Some of these key government officials are not favorably disposed towards bending the rules for Emeka Offor and his group.”
The source also disclosed that last October when the NCP took the decision to upturn the BPE report on evaluations of bids for PHCN successor companies and consequently passed Interstate’s bids for Abuja and Enugu Discos, the meeting was fixed when the key ministers who could object to the NCP’s action would not be available.
“In fact,” said the source who is a senior aide in the Presidency, “the meeting was held on a Monday which was declared a public holiday in Nigeria and on a day the Finance Minister was in a West African nation to represent Nigeria in a crucial body.”