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Controversy over Rivers termination of state assets sale

It’s non-issue — Cole, APC gov candidate

Fashola doubts right to terminate power assets concessions

No blackmail can stop government — Wike

Governor Nyesom Wike’s termination, last week, of Rivers State government owned  ‘high value’ assets to firms under Sahara Group, a conglomerate previously controlled by Tonye Cole, All Progressives Congress, APC, governorship candidate for the state, has left on its trail a  controversy.

Wike and Amaechi

The Wike administration maintained that its core interest is to recover alleged shadily traded state assets. Recent developments on the saga have, however, played  out more as an aggravation of the rivalry between Cole and Wike for the 2019 governorship in Rivers, just as the Minister of  Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, doubted if the Rivers government had the  power to revoke power infrastructures conceded by the state under the vexed assets sales.

The ‘high value assets’ include power generation infrastructures held by First Independent Power Limited in Omoku, Afam, Trans-Amadi and Eleme Gas Turbines to NG Power-HPS Limited. Also involved was Rivers and Bayelsa jointly owned Olympia Hotel sold to Cenpropsaroten Hotel Management Limited as well as the agreement between Rivers government and Kild Concession Limited in respect of the construction of a toll road.

The state government further terminated the concession agreement with the Kild Concession Limited in respect of the construction of a toll road and secondary developments in Abonnema Wharf, Port Harcourt. The assets were sold by the state government at twilight of the administration of former Governor Rotimi Amaechi to the subsidiaries of the Sahari Group.

The Justice George Omereji Judicial Commission of Enquiry constituted by Wike, upon assumption of in 2015, to probe aspects of his predecessor’s leadership, alleged  improper dealings in the manner the assets were sold. Incidentally, Cole, who headed the Sahara Group at the time of the assets sales, turned out to be Amaechi’s preferred APC candidate to run against Wike in the 2019 Rivers governorship.

Wike

No blackmail can stop termination — Wike

Declaring to be acting on the recommendations of the Justice Omereji’s probe panel, Wike said, “No amount of blackmail will change the situation. The courts are there for them to seek redress. Rivers and Lagos States are not the same. No single man can dictate what happens in Rivers. We have different ethnic groups and culture”

“Rivers State government was not vindictive in terminating the sale of valued state assets to Sahara Energy Limited. One company used three subsidiaries to illegally acquire state assets. If there was any vindictiveness, it was on the part of those who used the state government to deny Rivers people their valued state assets”.

Simeon Nwakaodu, Special Assistant to the Governor on Electorate Media, further quoted his principal as saying, “The godfather of Tonye Cole and Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, lost at the High Court and Court of Appeal when he tried to stop the implementation of the recommendations of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry.”

Tonye Cole

It’s none of my Business — Cole

Cole said it’s no longer his place to determine how Sahara Group reacts to all of the fuss around the assets sale saga. “I don’t know what position they are going to take. Frankly, it is not my fight. I am focused on politics, they would have to focus and deal with it the way every business would when their rights are infringed”, the governorship candidate said.

“The day I decided I was joining this politics, I withdrew, signed necessary documents, removed myself, removed all my shares, signed off everything and left Sahara on the 1st of September completely. I don’t take any decision or do anything with the company I left.

“I made a decision to go into politics, but the company remains, works with everybody. With over 3,000 workforces, you are going to have people of all affiliations, APC, PDP, ADC, all sorts of people working in the company.”

A non-issue

Leaving a formal reaction on the terminated contracts to current drivers of the company, he, however, anticipated the Sahara Group to come out unruffled at the end of the day.

He said, “We don’t do politics that is being said now. What happened few days ago smacks of politics, all politics left right and center and it is sad. The contracts they are talking about are employing people here in Rivers, providing basic services and dealing with things in this economy.

“It was done properly under the law. There is nothing we did, nothing we have done that has not gone under scrutiny. Enough panels have been held in Nigeria, from subsidy to so many others, of which we have been checked, checked and checked and come out.

So, it never worries me because we follow the rule of law. No matter what, the rule of that day, the guidelines of that time, we followed step by step, so that at any point in time when an investigation is done throughout, we would always come out on top.”

Fashola

Fashola’s doubts

With regards to the Rivers assets sales involving power infrastructure, Fashola, confronted with the development, doubted if the state government had the powers to terminate the sales agreements.

Fashola said, “I am not aware of the facts. All I can say from the top of my head is that you cannot revoke the concession you didn’t grant. So long as those concessions are under the larger privatization by the National Council on Privatisation, NCP, acting for federal government on the sale of DISCOS, GENCOS and all that, it will not lie within the purview of Rivers state.

“If Rivers had previously privatized power, it validates what I said earlier that there is no law that inhibits any states. As Governor in Lagos I contracted seven power plants. It wasn’t that we paid to build them. We signed Public Private Partnerships, guaranteed on the back of our monthly FAAC account, that if we default, deduct from our account.

“If Rivers had such an arrangement, and they have cancelled it, they would know why they did so and whether their contracting terms allows them to do so.”

Cole as ‘business partner with Amaechi’

On the Wike administration’s repeated accusation of Cole being business partners with Amaechi to short-changed the state, the Rivers APC governorship flag-bearer, meanwhile,  said, “If I was business partner to individuals in government, I don’t think I would have survived today.

“Think about it. I am your business partner today and I know you are going out of government tomorrow, either by losing or serve out your time. And someone else comes in, then what happens to your investment? I dump you and go to the next person who takes over the government.

“When I go to the next person, he will find out that I dumped you. Then what would happens? I could survive two, by the time I get to the third person, nobody will talk to me again. I always tell young business people, it never had made sense.

“Somebody will say, this person, that’s how he behaves. As soon as you are out of power, he will dump you. Let’s remove him before he dumps us. No business can be sustainable if you become partners with individuals. It is absolutely nonsense. No way.”

De-marketing Rivers

To Cole, terminating the sale of the assets in the manner it is playing out provokes negative vibes for a state begging for more investors to come in.

He said, “If I were an investor thinking of coming to Rivers and I saw this action being taken by the government of the day, I won’t put my money here. What it tells me is that this is a government that does not respect the rule of law. I would search elsewhere for an environment that respects it.

“That’s the way my past, business life would have read the situation, that this government does not respect rule of law. That all I have to do is do something that the Chief Executive of the State does not like and he will cancel anything, cancel any kind of contract without respecting the rule of law. It is not a good sign for investors and Rivers right now needs investors.

“I hear they are asking companies, Shell and others with headquarters outside of Rivers to come back. If I were CEO of these companies and I see this, nothing under the sun would bring me. Shout from today till next year. Once I see that kind of action, I will just stay away. That’s how businesses people relate. Money would always find where it can return itself”.




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