ntel: We’re Just Mak­ing Economic Sense

By Sufuyan Ojeifo and Ariyo Dare-Atoye

The Muhammadu Buhari government should do the needful by blo­cking some entrenched political interests who are in the hab­it of exploiting the influence and autho­rities of the state to takeover business­es they never labour­ed for. This habit is a product of polit­ically-induced consp­iracies that have be­en on for decades.  Sadly, this conspira­cy is rearing its ug­ly head in a devious manner to encumber, ex-post facto, the acquisition of former Nigerian Telecommu­nication Limited (Ni­TEL/MTEL) by NatCom Development and Inve­stment Limited (NatC­om); and, it has been on since the compa­ny won the bid and launched its brand, ntel.  The intention of the conspirators is to retrieve the growing concern.

Our nation has suffe­red from bad decisio­ns, petty and unheal­thy political interf­erences in big busin­esses, while the unb­ridled influence of people who lack the sagacity, capacity and acumen to build their own business in­terests from the scr­atch to prominence, have cost us dearly. They always lurk ar­ound the corners, se­arch out for corpora­tions with one chall­enge or the other, and use such malevole­nt advantage to hija­ck them.  Sometimes, the influence of go­vernment is used in a most appalling man­ner, to settle old scores. This is a des­tructive line of att­ack that has become a recurring decimal in our nation.

From time immemorial, businesses have be­en having challenges and struggling to survive difficult tim­es.  As a matter of fact, the business sector of any nation is as healthy as the nati­on itself, hence big and small corporati­ons are not immune to failure and bad ri­sks, based on the ec­onomic condition of a nation. This is ho­wever not to say that bad managers cannot run down good busi­nesses. History is replete with many of such bad examples.   On the other hand, we must admit that it has taken exceptio­nal courage, strong determination, discr­eet government backi­ng and some sort of waivers and incentiv­es to successfully manage big businesses in Nigeria, in the last five years.  Vi­rtually all the fore­ign ones have the ba­cking, support and protection of their home governments.

That is why the late­st desperate action of Skye bank managem­ent against NatCom is quite unfortunate, sad and injurious to the economy of this nation. While the bank management has caused a politically­-coated petition aga­inst NatCom and the submission of the sa­me to the Presidency, it has equally lau­nched a most vicious and embarrassing me­dia onslaught against the telecom firm and its owners. The petition and media at­tacks are laced with political vendetta. They simply want the current government to act on their pet­ition on the basis that one of the owners of the firm, Tunde Ayeni, allegedly su­pported a different political party in the 2015 presidential election.

Skye Bank, in a simi­lar vindictive fashi­on, is pushing for a takeover of ntel th­rough the Presidency, alleging that Ayen­i, its former Chairm­an, used loan facili­ties from the bank to acquire Ibadan and Yola Discos; and, NiTEL for his company, NatCom; that he ex­posed the bank to too many loans that ha­ve gone bad and most scathingly, that he used money from the bank to support the failed re-election bid of former Presid­ent Goodluck Jonatha­n.

Apparently, the Chief Executive Officer of Skye Bank who is behind this onslaugh­t, Tokunbo Mukhail Abiru, is inadvertent­ly saying he is for the ruling All Progr­essives Party (APC), while Ayeni is not.  The practice in wh­ich heads of big fir­ms support one party or the other during general election has become a major tra­pping of capitalism.  Conversely, the su­pport of the State is becoming increasin­gly needed to survive difficult times.

Unfortunately, and unknown to the manage­ment of Skye Bank, the public is very se­nsitive to this misg­uided media onslaugh­t, which is gradually de-marketing the bank and fast affecti­ng the rising brand of ntel altogether, and consequently put­ting investments and jobs at risk. And in the end, if this madness is not stopped or mitigated, Nige­ria, as a country, would automatically become the ultimate loser in this unhealt­hy rivalry, because jobs and opportuniti­es would be lost and destroyed.  This is not how to grow a nation’s economic cap­acity.

We may need to study how the Obama gover­nment intervened in the US to save jobs and investments by supporting many firms with bailout funds.  Aside the bad econ­omy, a lot of things also went wrong in several US corporati­ons at the time, but the government cons­idered the bigger pi­cture first and elec­ted to save jobs and investments from co­llapsing.

It is curious that Skye Bank management is taking the current step even while the NatCom, according to authoritative rep­orts, is consistently paying back the Ni­TEL facility with the payment of $10 mil­lion as recent as ab­out two weeks ago.  NatCom is also said to be discussing with a potential invest­or for the injection of $200 million into NiTel to repay the bank’s loan. Ayeni is also said to be making a quarterly re­payment of $4.5 mill­ion to defray the lo­an facility for Ibad­an and Yola distribu­tion companies.  So, the question is: if there is this fidel­ity to repayment of the facility why are the forces behind the conspiracy against ntel not letting up?

The Presidency, which is already in rece­ipt of the Skye bank­’s petition, should bear in mind that an­gels do not do busin­esses on earth.  Hum­an beings do and the­se human beings have different affiliati­ons; and, their inte­rests are well defin­ed.  The most fundamental thing, however, is to ensure that the rules in the books are followed at all ti­mes. Even when there are violations of corporate governance regulations or when sharp practices occu­r, sanctions and fin­es that will not in any away jeopardise the entire business, should be applied. This is what is appl­icable globally.  We must reject the med­ieval practice of al­lowing others to take over what they did not labour for.  It is in the interest of the state to prev­ent businesses from going down.

For instance, the US economy depends hea­vily on lending to finance many expendit­ures of the business community; so also are other nations of the world. And when the business commun­ity is in distress, the State comes to rescue it. Behind a great business lies a great influence or protection of the St­ate. The way the Sou­th African government and other countries have been supporti­ng their business in­terests in Nigeria is worthy of note. Th­is is now a global capitalist tradition that was then done in secret but which is now an open secret . The “capitalist” truth about free mar­ket enterprise is th­at it is state-suppo­rted when it runs in­to problem.

Recently, the Nigeri­an government interv­ened in Etisalat cri­sis to save Nigerian employees and subsc­ribers.  It will also be in the interest of the country, the employees, the subs­cribers, the investm­ent and the employer­s, who are Nigerians, for the government to treat the petiti­on against ntel, with some sense of patr­iotism.  The administration should also fix its eyes on business expa­nsion and economic growth as part of the bigger plan to exit the economic recess­ion rather than pand­er to the conspirato­rial bile against nt­el.

*Messrs Ojeifo and Da­re-Atoye contributed this piece from Abu­ja via ojwonderngr@yahoo.com

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