Nigeria’s First Lady, Patience Jonathan, as well as Vice President Namadi Sambo, are responsible for the ongoing sordid drama over the sale of the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC). In recent months, the sale has pitted Eastern Electric against Interstate Electrics in a fight to a finish, an investigation by SaharaReporters revealed.
A major source in the Presidency disclosed that Mrs. Jonathan is the unseen hand behind the constant bending of rules for Interstate by both the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and the National Council on Privatization (NCP). The reason for the First Lady’s meddling is that Emeka Offor, leader of the Interstate consortium, has convinced her he would protect her secret business interest in the consortium. Mr. Offor runs Interstate in partnership with the Metropolitan Electricity Authority of Thailand.
Of all 15 preferred bidders for the Power Holding of Nigeria (PHCN) generation and distribution companies for privatization, only Interstate failed to make any payment for the outstanding 75% of the reserved prices by the August 21, 2013, deadline. Yet, the firm managed to pay $93 million last Friday, more than two weeks late.
SaharaReporters learnt that the late payment has polarized the privatization officers. On the one hand, Atedo Peterside, chairman of the NCP technical committee who is also the chairman of the IBTC/Stanbic Bank, has been waging a spirited battle against, on the other hand, Vice President Namadi Sambo, who is chairman of the NCP, and the BPE director general, Benjamin Dikki, a protégé of the vice president. At issue is Mr. Peterside’s insistence on “upholding justice, equity, fairness and the rule of law” in the Enugu Disco sale.
Mr. Offor confided in associates early this week that he had advised Mrs. Jonathan, who hails from Rivers State as Peterside, to put pressure on the NCP technical committee chairman to “take it easy because this is Nigeria, and not America or London.”
Interstate had failed both technical and commercial tests when the consortium’s bids were evaluated, but Vice President Sambo and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, a very close friend of Mr. Offor’s, compelled the BPE to change the rules for this bidder.
Sam Amadi, an erstwhile activist who now heads the Nigerian Electricity Commission (NERC), publicly defended allowing Interstate to alter their bid document. Mr. Amadi told the media, “we merely changed one decimal in the amount offered by Interstate.”
Both the public and the Eastern Electric, Interstate’s competitor, have been critical of Mr. Sambo and Mr. Dikki for their undue interference in the privatization of the Enugu Disco. But they have naively left out Mrs. Jonathan, failing to realize that she is perhaps Mr. Offor’s most potent tool and an interested party in the outcome.
As if to confirm reports of her interest in Interstate, Mrs. Jonathan’s agents are now working in cahoots with Mr. Offor’s media team unofficially led by a top editor at Thisday.
Since the late 1990s, Mr. Offor has consistently had a close relationship with top Nigerian government officials and their families, but often falls out with them when they leave office.
In the twilight days of its days in office, the Olusegun Obasanjo government in 2006 awarded oil blocs to Mr. Offor’s ERHC company on sweetheart terms, but the former president is now not on speaking terms with the businessman. Mr. Offor tells friends and associates he capitalized on “Obasanjo’s greed to deal with him full-time.”
Mr. Offor’s fight with erstwhile Vice President Atiku Abubakar was even more dramatic. In 2000, the former vice president helped Mr. Offor to win the contract for the Yola-Abuja electricity transmission line for an incredible 10 billion naira, in addition to a power project around Enugu executed under the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP). But two years ago, when Mr. Atiku visited Mr. Offor in his home in Abuja for “settlement” and mentioned specifically the oil blocs in Sao Tome and Principe, with which Nigeria has a Joint Development Zone (JDZ), Mr. Offor came close to physically attacking the ex-vice president with a weapon, according to reliable sources close to Mr. Atiku.
When Mr. Atiku heard this year that Mr. Offor was experiencing a profound business crisis following dry holes which his firm struck in four oil blocs in Sao Tome and Principe at the cost of almost $500 million, he reportedly expressed joy, attributing Mr. Offor’s problem to “nemesis.”
There are other instances of Nigerian businessmen refusing to part with funds kept in trust for government officials when they leave office. Navy Captain Adekunle Lawal died heartbroken shortly after retirement because Clarkson Majomi, the late flamboyant public relations practitioner and publisher of The Mail newspaper, blatantly refused to bring out any money out of the millions of naira he got from Adekunle which the latter looted as a state military governor.
Mr. Offor habitually breaches his shady agreements with serving top government officials offering huge shares of his companies to them. A source close to him stated that Mrs. Jonathan is in for a rude shock if she expects Mr. Offor to honor his financial pledges to her once she and her husband cease to be Nigeria’s First Couple.