House Kicks against Privatisation of Railway Lines, without Due Process

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Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
The House of Representatives has frowned at what it described as an attempt by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to concession the Western (Lagos-Kano) and Eastern (Port Harcourt – Maiduguri) rail lines, to General Electric (GE), without recourse to the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), and privatisation regulations.

The lawmakers at the plenary yesterday lamented that the action of the FEC is a part of attempts to pander to certain interests who want to see the nation’s core assets sold off.  Accusing the FEC of usurping the powers of the BPE, in the absence of the National Council on Privatisation, the House recalled that the Act which established the Nigeria Railways Corporation (NRC), did not envisage that rail lines may be concessioned.

The House therefore mandated its Committee on Privatisation to investigate the engagement of GE of the United States of America in violation of the Public Enterprises (Privatisation and Commercialisation) Act, 1999.
Hon. Yerima Ahmed (Bauchi APC) who is the Chairman of the Committee on Privatisation said the federal government, in the last couple of months, has been violating several privatisation regulations.

“Section 11 (j) outlines the procedures for privatisation, there are four sections to be followed by the BPE and the agency is not being carried along. The NCP has not been inaugurated, and in its absence, the BPE is the secretariat for any privatisation,” he said.
Yerima warned that to allow the concession of the rail lines to GE, without due process would encourage flouting laws.

His sentiment was echoed by Hon. Sani Zorro (Jigawa APC) who expressed fears on what he said is an onslaught on public enterprises by parasites and agents, for selfish interests.

“They have illegally launched an attempt to take over our refineries, that was resisted, they are now making attempts to take over our remaining public assets. We call them parasites because they have the option of starting same businesses from the scratch,” Zorro said.

The Majority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, however disagreed with his colleagues, saying while he supported the idea to investigate issues with the nation’s privatisation processes, he had reservations with the specification to the rail lines and GE.

He disagreed that the FEC usurped the BPE on grounds that the NCP is comprised of appointees of the executive and therefore a part of the federal government.

But Hon. Nnenna Elendu Ukeje in maintaining the position of Yerima, Zorro and others, said such concession could only be legal, if the National Economic Stimulus bill has been passed.
The motion which queried the concession was sponsored by Hon. Chukwuemeka Ujam (Enugu PDP).

“Recalls that the National Council on Privatization (NCP) had, on 16 April 2015, considered and approved for the Bureau of Public Enterprises to, in collaboration with the Nigeria Infrastructure Advisory Facility (NIAF), commence preparatory works towards the concessioning of the NRC and to develop a roadmap for the process, in accordance with the powers vested in it by section 6(3) of the Act;”

“Cognisant that the BPE, in collaboration with Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), established the Project Steering Committee (PSC) and Project Delivery Team (PDT) for the concessioning and both the PSC and PDT were inaugurated on Friday August 12, 2016, by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo;”
“Aware that the BPE has already engaged the Global Infrastructure Facility (GIF) and World Bank in discussions on accessing funding for Transaction Advisers (TA);”

“Also aware that the federal government had already constituted a task force headed by the Honourable Minister of Finance to drive the transaction process as was approved on Tuesday 16 April, 2015 by the NCP, contrary to the provisions of the BPE Act; Further aware that the Federal Government is already in discussions with General Electric with a view to procuring them as concessionaire for the NRC tracks;” the motion read.