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 email@example.com