Solomon. O. Ogundele
The Nigerian Newspapers, hard copies and online, and several web blogs and social media were awash on Tuesday April 2, 2013 with reports and comments, on the claims and counterclaims by the former Vice President of Nigeria, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Malam Nasir El Rufai the former Director General of the BPE on who or what ran NITEL aground.
Nigerians will not forget in a hurry that the Nigerian Telecommunications Ltd. (NITEL) was Nigeria’s only telecommunications provider for almost half a century and by the time it was run aground more than $6 billion that was invested in NITEL by the Nigerian tax payers through various governments went down the drain.
Since NITEL became comatose, the Federal Government has behaved as if nothing has happened! Nigerians were left to be entertained by two of the dramatis personae in the NITEL saga dancing naked in the market place.
I wish to emphasize without any fear of contradiction that despite the irregularities that may have surrounded the appointment of Messrs. Pentascope to manage NITEL or the competence of Pentascope to undertake such an assignment at a point in time, Pentascope was not responsible for the bankruptcy of NITEL as being widely orchestrated to undiscerning Nigerians and divert attention from the real culprits, the criminal gang in the Nigerian telecoms sector.
The bankruptcy of NITEL was initiated by the criminal gang in the Nigerian Telecommunications sector long before the Management Contract of Pentascope to manage NITEL.
Members of the criminal gang are mainly in the Nigerian Communications Commissions (NCC) and NITEL with some of them being failed NITEL Contractors.
Their paymasters are the private telecommunications operators especially MTN. NITEL was already on the path to financial bankruptcy since 2001 because of the acts of commission and omission of this group.
Professor Bajoga the former Managing Director of NITEL and I were actually retired from service mainly because the criminal gang in the Nigerian telecommunications sector wanted us out of the way for refusing to play ball in allowing NITEL networks to be used free of charge by the Private telecommunications operators the same way Nigeria Airways was destroyed when Private Operators were introduced into that sector and used Nigerian Airways call sign and other aviation service facilities free of charge until Nigerian Airways went bankrupt. The NITEL saga is however more serious because the criminal gang in the telecommunications sector knew that they were deliberately undermining National security in the process.
International financial institutions are aware of the way and manner the Nigerian telecommunications criminal gang was scamming NITEL. This was why the consortium, International Investors Limited of London (IIL} and Transcorp had difficulties in raising funds to pay for NITEL transactions.
The irony however is that the consultant to Transcorp was the same consultant that produced the misleading and unintelligent report for NCC equating Interconnection as Termination for a reported fee of N10million in late 1999 which formed the bedrock of the criminal gang’s scamming of NITEL.
I was the NITEL Deputy General Manager / General Manager (Operations) heading NITEL technical team on regulatory issues with NCC from 1994 until April 2000.
I was fully aware of the criminal intent of the criminal gang against NITEL in flagrant violation of explicit Nigerian Laws and International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Recommendations on the issue of Interconnection.
With my direct participation on the telecommunications regulatory issue I could predict NITEL’s bankruptcy since 2001. It is therefore morally reprehensible for anybody to blame Pentascope for an event already preprogrammed.
Pentascope or their sponsors merely walked into the trap. A forensic analysis of the so called N100 billion that Pentascope is being called to account for will be found to have been spent in part to settle the Private telecommunications Operators fraudulent invoices that NITEL was not in a position to certify albeit forced to pay against all the norms of commercial transactions.
The GSM operator, MTN was reported to the former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki for corrupting the Nigerian Polity by Chief Obasanjo. Of Course, Thabo Mbeki insulted Nigerians and Nigeria by giving the former President Chief Obasanjo the diplomatic cold shoulder.
Unknown to Obasanjo, at about the same time, MTN submitted a controversial bill of N3 billion to NITEL for settlement. NITEL correctly refused to settle the fraudulent so-called traffic exchange bill based on call termination. Lo and behold, MTN rubbed salt on injury of Nigerians with Thabo Mbeki’s rebuff of Obasanjo’s complaints by making Nigeria’s Presidency MTN’s marketing and debt collecting officer!
MTN routed the same bill that NITEL refused to settle through the Presidency which promptly acted like MTN debt collecting agency by sending the bill through the Ministry of Communications to compel NITEL to pay.
Of course NITEL staff to please “the Oga on Top” promptly parted with N3 billion. What the Presidency that should lead the nation in patriotic example did not know was that at the time MTN submitted the questionable bill of N3 billion for NITEL to settle, MTN was using 22 E1 (2x2MB) NITEL leased circuits to connect its Radio Base Stations in Abuja to Lagos where it had the Mobile switching Centre (MSC) without paying a single kobo to NITEL for those services. But NITEL provided same services to NNPC and other corporate bodies which they were paying for.
Presently corporate bodies that need the same E1 from MTN are charged N300,000 to N750,000 as monthly rental and there is the distance charge as well. On the basis of current MTN charges which are much less than NITEL charges 10 years ago, the amount that MTN owed NITEL for the 22 E1s from Abuja to Lagos was N(22×300,000x700x24) which amounts to N46.20 billion or N(22×750,000x700x24) which amounts to N277.20 billion assuming Abuja is approximately 700 Kilometers from Lagos and for a period of about 24 months as at 2003 when MTN used the Presidency to collect payment of about N3 billion that should never have been paid to them.
Readers should please note that MTN did not need 22 E1 from NITEL to connect its network from Abuja to Lagos when MTN launched GSM services in 2001. Five or six E1s would have been enough but the criminal gang in NCC did not compel MTN to install a Mobile Switching Center (MSC) in Abuja, the Federal Capital of Nigeria.
Abuja had to depend then and possibly up till now, on remote GSM numbers from Lagos just because MTN was given free use of NITEL E1s and Nigerians can now appreciate the huge loss of revenue to NITEL. ECONET had 18 E1s and Glo 15 E1s for the same purpose from NITEL with NITEL not earning a kobo because of the atrocities of the telecommunications criminal gang in NITEL and NCC.
The example above is just for Abuja to Lagos. NITEL carrier network was used in a similar manner all over the country. Nigerians should appreciate the mind-boggling loss to NITEL which is in excess of N1 trillion!
Sections 17 1 an subsection (c) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Act 2000 states “Any person who corruptly knowingly gives to any agent or being an agent knowingly uses with intent to deceive his principal, any receipt, account or other document in respect of which the principal is interested and which contains any statement which is false or erroneous or defective in any material particular, and which, to his knowledge, is intended to mislead his principal or any other person, is guilty of an offence and shall on conviction be liable to 5 years imprisonment.”
The criminal gang in NITEL and NCC contravened this section of the ICPC act by corruptly:
1. Abandoning the 1997 Interconnection Agreement in 2001 without due process or lawful authority and deceitfully substituting another based on termination only, in flagrant violation of Section 15 (j) of Decree 75 of 1992 with the sole intention of defrauding NITEL having been compromised or corrupted by the Private telecommunications operators.
2. Deliberately misleading the NCC board with Interconnect Rate Determination Memo of 2nd December 2003, The Memo to the Board of NCC clearly and appropriately concluded that the Operator handling SINGLE TANDEM or DOUBLE TANDEM switching of telephony calls, which only NITEL the Dominant Operator was providing, should be entitled to 51% or 96% of the call charges. The Memo however deceitfully and deliberately left out prayers on the areas of benefit to NITEL thereby willfully allowing the Private Operators to withhold the 51% to 96% of the call charges that should have been handed over to NITEL. This created a huge treasure chest for MTN and others resulting in massive capital flight which did not escape the notice of Professor Soludo the former Cenral Bank Governor who raised an alarm in 2003. It is this capital flight that on round tripping the criminal gang in NCC orchestrate to Nigerians as foreign investment in the telecom sector. The criminal gang in the telecom sector really made big “Mugu” of Nigerians especially the Federal Government of Nigeria.
3. NCC was not competent by Decree 75 of 1992 to licence NITEL, a publicly owned company since NCC was empowered to licence only private telecommunications companies. The criminal gang in NCC however blackmailed NITEL into paying $200 million dollars for a National Carrier Licence along with Glo in 2002 with an exclusivity period od five years. Less than six months after NITEL and Glo paid about N20 billion each for National Carrier Licence, NCC unlawfully permitted MTN to install National Optic fiber network thus deliberately and deceitfully making MTN a National Carrier without paying a Kobo! MTN Optic fibre national network is therefore unlawful and illegal. No amount of manipulations by NCC can cure the illegality and Nigeria is the only country in the world where a major telecoms operator flagrantly operate illegally and proud of it. This action of NCC has caused huge loss of revenues to NITEL and Glo and they both have the option of going to court to recoup their losses. It is pertinent to point out the after almost two decades of operations in South Africa the South African Government did not approve of MTN as the Second National Operator when it decided to license a Second National Operator. But the same MTN became a National Carrier in Nigeria within two years of operation as a result of unbridled and barefaced corruption carried out with impunity.
Some NITEL Board members have been using the Pentascope Management contract to orchestrate a campaign of calumny against Malam El Rufai to call a dog a bad name in order to hang it. But the real grudge the NITEL Board Members have against El Rufai was that El Rufai patriotically prevented NITEL from borrowing more than N700 billion under the guise of strengthening NITEL networks which the criminal gang were again to let Private Operators use free of charge in exchange for personal gratification. Where were the same NITEL Board members when NCC allowed MTN to encroach without paying a Kobo on the National Carrier Licence for which NITEL paid more than N20 billion of borrowed money? Where was NITEL Board when Interconnection was being fraudulently interpreted as termination only to criminally shortchange NITEL?
NITEL Board must apologize to Nigerians and El Rufai and admit that it was not Pentascope Management contract that ruined NITEL but the criminal negligence and greed of its members that turned NITEL networks into free handouts to Private Operators for personal gratification. All patriotic Nigerians should support El Rufai for not allowing NITEL Board borrow additional N700 billion only to be used as handouts to Private Operators for personal gratification or bribery and corruption in plain language. Nowhere in the world has deregulation caused a dominant operator like NITEL to go bankrupt. It is the criminal greed and corruption of NITEL and NCC Board members that ruined NITEL. Not Pentascope!
Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as the then Vice President was fully in charge of Parastatals including NITEL and NCC so he should accept responsibly for the bankruptcy of NITEL. It was under his watch the Presidency was used as the debt collecting agency for controversial and questionable MTN bills. It was also under Atiku’s watch that MTN was unlawfully allowed to set up National Optic fibre network free of charge the same Service NITEL and Glo paid more than N20 billion for and was to enjoy exclusivity period of five years which MTN unlawfully and illgaly encroached on and still encroaching!
Dr. Ojeba another former Managing Director of NITEL was retired just when he was resisting the unauthorized abandonment of the 1997 Interconnection Agreement for the fraudulent one.
Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as the then vice president was the Chairman of the National Council on Privatization. On page 32 (PENSION Page) of THE NATION Newspapers of Monday, October 23, 2006 under the Caption “Govt. to pay NITEL’s N60b pension deficit”, the paper reported that the council at its 42nd meeting held on October 10, 2006 decided that the Federal Government will assume all historical and outstanding liabilities of N60 billion arising from Pension Fund Deficit for NITEL and M-tel. It is expected that the BPE should have demanded the N60 billion from the Head of Service of the Federation. NITEL staff did not enjoy any part of the N60 billion. From the recent revelation surrounding Pension Fund Administration it is hoped that the N60 billion was not released by the HOS and diverted by unscrupulous elements in the HOS office or BPE leaving NITEL Pensioners to continue to wallow and die in poverty.
For the record, I have never met Alhaji Atiku Abubakar or Mallam El Rufai.
The current diversion of public attention by NCC from the consequences of the unstructured telecom network Nigerians are saddled with, is the Mobile Number Portability (MNP). Nigerians should note that it is the same NCC that supplied the World Telephone Numbering Guide with the following information about Telephone Numbering Format in Nigeria. Area Code, 1 – 2 digits; Subscriber Number, 5 – 7 digits; Trunk Prefix, 0; International Prefix, 009.
Only the 5 – 7 digits, which are the actual Subscriber Number, can be “Ported”. The Trunk Code and Area Code, which in Nigeria’s GSM network has been turned by NCC into Network Operator Code is actually 3 digits, cannot be “Ported” unless Nigeria wants to become the only country in the world without Area or Trunk Codes. This clarification is essential because the impression NCC has given Nigerians so far is that all the digits in a GSM number can be “Ported” It is for this reason that all other countries that have implemented MNP insist it can only be effected in the Home Area of the Number so that the Area Code remains the same.
A Judicial Commission of Inquiry was set up into the administration of the Nigerian Airways when it was run aground like NITEL. Why not same for NITEL where the loss of public funds are much greater?
Nigerians are watching!
Solomon. O. Ogundele, a former General Manager (Operations} of NITEL writes from Ibadan and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org