BPE dismisses allegation
By Ndubuisi Francis
The President of BFIG, the company in the centre of the protracted legal tussle over the acquisition of Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON), Mr. Reuben Jaja, has alleged that some unnamed federal government officials offered him $35 million compensation to drop his bid to acquire the controversial plant.
Jaja alleged at an interactive session with journalists in Abuja at the weekend that since 2004 when BFIG won the bid to acquire the Ikot-AbasI, Akwa Ibom State-based plant, successive government officials, particularly the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), had fed Nigerians with lies.
According to him, “Let me prove this to you with facts. We won ALSCON in June 2004. Apparently, we were not the preferred choice, but God Almighty made us the preferred choice. Immediately we won ALSCON, there was an effort to take it away from us right from the closure of the bids.
“So, from 2004, the BPE summoned the media and what did they tell you? ‘They told you that BFIG couldn’t pay. That was why we cancelled and nullified them’. They told this blatant lie in 2004. They summoned you again in 2005, and shared this blatant lie. They did the same thing in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012, for a period of eight years. They served you nothing but lies.”
Jaja said the BPE had gone to town with the story that BFIG could not pay the $410 million bid sum, noting that in 2012, the Supreme Court on a vote of 5-0 put the matter into context.
He stated further that the apex court ruled that the BPE had not even gotten to the point of demanding payment, noting that the five justices, including the current Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Muhammad Tanko, unanimously declared that the issue was for the BPE to first provide BFIG a mutually agreed Sales Purchase Agreement
Jaja noted that by that verdict, the Supreme Court vindicated his company, adding that after the judgment, BFIG was given the SPA which was executed, and that it was a 58-page agreement.
The agreement, he stressed, was exactly the one that the BPE gave to UC RUSAL of Russia.
The BFIG president said: “Now the 58 pages contain almost all what we agreed to as bidders at a special meeting of BPE and the bidders, and it was laid out there that when you win, you would come and negotiate the SPA. After you have finished that, you would have 15 working days to pay, and that was when the Supreme Court said you have not even given them the SPA, why are you saying that they are unable to pay?”
He disclosed that his company signed the SPA and returned to the BPE with a transmittal letter requesting the privatisation agency to provide an account in which BFIG could deposit the money.
This agreement, he noted, was signed in October 2012 and transmitted to the BPE in the same month, adding that from October 2012 to January 2013, nothing happened.
Jaja said: “Suddenly in January 2013, they abandoned that agreement of 58 pages, and gave us another one; this time 16 pages.
“There is no commercial bank that will give you a penny, and we had already submitted the other 58 pages to our Board of Directors, investors, bankers, lawyers in the United States; they had all reviewed and concurred, and we signed and we gave it to you, and you assured us all these while in writing. That was where the new fight after the Supreme Court judgment started.”
He noted that at the point, BFIG bided for ALSCON; its assets stood at $1.3 billion, but regretted that the last financial report by KPMG put the assets of ALSCON at $89 million.
However, while reacting to Jaja’s claims, the Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Mr. Alex Okoh, described them as totally false.
In a WhatsApp message, Okoh said: “That is totally false. He had already signed the agreement as ordered by the Supreme Court. Why did he sign it if it was the wrong one? He signed in December last year. We have a copy of the agreement and we can show it to the media if he wants. The agreement he signed stipulates that he makes payment within 15 days. He has not made any payment. It is very unfortunate that we can allow this kind of irresponsibility from a Nigerian who has done everything to castrate such a vital national asset with no intention to change his behavior. It is very unfortunate. I will not condone it.
“By the way, why would I offer him money? It is ludicrous. I am the seller of the asset not a buyer. Why would I offer him money? Where do I get the money to offer him and for what purpose? This fellow is desperately trying to muddle up the truth. If he has money to pay in line with the Supreme Court judgement, let him just bring the money. To use cheap blackmail to acquire such a strategic national asset for free or through the back door is dishonest to be frank. It’s not going to happen. No amount of cheap blackmail will make that happen.”