Following a recent investigative report by SaharaReporters that exposed a scheme by top officials of the Goodluck Jonathan to transfer $470 million in government-owned communications assets to OpenSkys Limited, a firm owned by Emeka Offor, our investigators have unearthed more details about the ongoing scam.
Our initial report had disclosed that Vice President Namadi Sambo worked as the key political facilitator of a scam whereby the Federal Government would surrender its $470 million National Public Security Communications System (NPSCS) network to OpenSkys Limited, a firm owned by Mr. Offor. Two highly placed sources in the Jonathan administration told our correspondent that Mr. Sambo was known for always aggressively backing and pushing through any business deals linked to Mr. Offor. The two sources added that, in the words of one of them, “the VP is known to be a financial beneficiary from Sir Emeka Offor’s businesses.”
NPSCS, the subject of the current controversy, is a highly sophisticated communications system designed and built by a Chinese firm, ZTE Corporation, to boost the capacity of the Nigerian police and other security agencies to battle crimes, especially terrorist acts.
The project was funded with a $399.5 million loan obtained from the China Exim Bank, as well as $70.5 million in direct cash invested by the Federal Ministry of Finance.
An investigation by SaharaReporters revealed that Mr. Offor’s OpenSkys Limited was one of several Nigerian private firms invited to bid for a contract to operate Nigeria’s
Upon the completion of the state-of-the-art communications network, the Federal Government invited several Nigerian companies, including Mr. Offor’s OpenSkys, to bid for a contract to handle the day-to-day operations. But rather than bid, like the other firms, for the management of the system, Mr. Offor introduced a dramatic twist by seeking to hijack and own the system. According to government and police sources familiar with the affair, Mr. Offor claimed that the frequency band on which the network was built belonged to his firm. “Based on this spurious claim, he essentially made a bid to have his company take over the network as a majority stakeholder in a partnership—with the government having a minor stake.”
Even though police authorities provided ample proof to show that Mr. Offor did not own the band on which the Chinese firm built the network, Vice President Sambo, Secretary to the Government of the Federation Anyim Pius Anyim, and the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Police Affairs, James Obiegbu, conspired to steer the deal in the direction of handing the $470 million security infrastructure to Mr. Offor.
Our sources said Mr. Obiegbu, who was known to fraternize with Mr. Offor socially, virtually hijacked the chairmanship of the inter-ministerial committee set up to supervise the completion of the security network.
Sources within the inter-ministerial committee told SaharaReporters that Mr. Obiegbu routinely ignored the recommendations of the group. “Dr. Obiegbu was known to write totally different reports that did not reflect the consensus of the committee,” one source asserted. He added, “Yet, he wrote the reports as if they were what the members of the committee agreed on.”
SaharaReporters learned that, at one stage, the police representative stopped attending the meetings of the committee because it was clear that the permanent secretary’s agenda, backed by Vice President Sambo, was to transfer the network to Emeka Offor’s OpenSkys.
A source told SaharaReporters that Mr. Obiegbu was likely behind a recent report on the NPSCS saga in The Nation, a Nigerian newspaper. Our source said the newspaper report gave the misleading impression that the committee presented two options to President Jonathan, but the president chose the option of transferring the government-owned asset to Mr. Offor because of problems with funding the system.
“First of all, it is not true that two options were considered. Dr. Obiegbu and his sponsors wanted the system transferred to OpenSkys. It was as simple as that,” said one source, familiar with the affair. On the question of transferring the network to Mr. Offor’s company because the cost of maintaining it can be prohibitive, several of our sources described that as nonsensical and fraudulent.
One of our sources underscored the point that the Nigerian government had committed $470 million to the network. “The government has to repay the loan secured from Exim Bank of China. In addition, it has sunk $70.5 million in cash. Yet, the plan supported by Dr. Obiegbu, the SGF and the vice president—and of which President Jonathan was misled—is for OpenSkys to now start charging fees to the police and other security agencies for their use of the network. That method will actually cost Nigeria far more,” said one source.
In addition, the network comes with close to 1.5 million mobile phone lines. “Other potential management companies had proposed a self-sufficient, self-financing model. Their plan is to commercialize about a million of the telephone lines, and then use the proceeds of that commercialization to service the loan and finance the security aspects of the network,” another source disclosed. He added: “The model recommended by Dr. Obiegbu and pushed by Emeka Offor and Vice President Namadi Sambo amounts to hijacking a public asset and taxing its original owners twice.”
One source in the Presidency told SaharaReporters that the report presented to the president was meant to mislead him into thinking that Mr. Offor’s OpenSkys owns the frequency in which the network was built. The report concealed the fact that this frequency has always been used by the police.
According to another source, “The whole idea of handing this crucial security network to OpenSkys is ridiculous. It’s like buying a very expensive vehicle and then deciding to transfer ownership because you cannot fuel it! If you could buy that car, fueling it is not likely to be too much of a problem. And we have a system that can pay for itself just by selling off its [mobile] lines that the security agencies don’t need.”