Under fire over planned sale of public companies


The decision by Benue state government to privatise some non-functional public companies is causing furore in the state as Governor Samuel Ortom has cone under attacks. JOHN SHIAONDO reports.

Criticisms have continued to trail the proposed sale of 25 companies owned by Benue state government as most of the citizens faulted the move on the ground that it is ill-timed. This is more so as the decision is coming prior to preparations towards political campaigns.
On Monday, August 16 2018, the state government advertised bids in one of the national dailies for sale of companies it deemed moribund.

The companies included Taraku Mills Ltd, Mega Foods and Beverages Processing Company Ltd, Tomatoes and Mango Factory at  Wannune, Benfruit Nigeria Ltd Makurdi, Benkims Plastics Nigeria Ltd Makurdi, Katsina Ala Yam Flours Ltd, Agricuture Development Company Ltd Makurdi, Fertilizer Blending Company Company Ltd, Benue Burnt Bricks Ltd Otukpo, Benco Roof Tiles Ltd, Abinsi, Benue Links Ltd, Makurdi Mordern Market, Makurdi International Hotel and  Benue Tractor Hiring Agency.
Others are Benue Hotels and Resort Ltd, Star Cement Company Ltd Igumale, Benue Printing and Publishing Company, Ikwue Wildlife Park Igbor, J. S Tarkaa Foundation, Maimona  Kontagora Hostel, Benue Cattle Ranch Ltd Ikogen, Benro Packaging Company Ltd Gboko, Benue Fruit Juice Company, Ultra Mordern International Market Makurdi, Benue State Pharmaceutical Oufit, Makurdi and Mbatyav Cement Company Ltd, Akpagher.

APC kicks

The decision of the government was greeted with a lot of criticism by citizens of the state  particularly the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC).

Most people kicked against the action, maintaining that it was a wrong step by the government to have decided at this time to sell those public assets.
Some of the critics opined  that the planned sale is a ploy by the state governor to turn back and acquire them.
Others questioned whether the state government is just waking up now to its responsibility.

The opposition APC particularly questioned why the Ortom-led administration usually make the move to privatize companies belonging to the state when political campaigns are around the corner.
According to the APC, the decision is simply a way to raise money for campaigns, noting that there are more serious issues to tackle at this time, especially the huge salary arrears that have been the biggest albatross of the administration.
Others still opined that though the decision was good, the timing particularly is wrong considering that the governor is left with less than two years in office and may not be able to achieve the needed result or purpose for the sale.

The APC also warned its members not to attend the stakeholders meeting held by the government to discuss sales of the companies and other issues affecting Benue.
The APC also said while it has shown understanding with the Ortom administration in the past, even as an opposition by donating for free, it was now dazzling that such good ideas were not implemented. It insisted that the administration is purely fixated on trivialities that are by and large programmed to fail such that nothing on earth could alter its course.

Ortom explains reasons

However, Governor Ortom, while addressing journalists in Government House recently, explained that some public companies currently put up for sale became necessary as they have been wasting away.
He said the decision to sell the property is best since the private sector is regarded a better manager, noting that it would assist better in driving the economy.

According to the governor, his reactions to the furore that trailed the planned sale of the 25 public properties became imperative to clear the erroneous impression.
The governor said that the step taken by his government to sell the property was however in line with the state’s privatisation law established in 2010, adding that most of the companies put up for sale have never worked for a day, as only a few of them are operational.  

“The fertilizer plant and plastic industry that were concessioned had been operational, otherwise most of those companies listed for sale are not working, rather they are draining government and public funds. Most of the equipment are obsolete and wasting away.
“It is out of mischief that they (opposition) are saying I want to buy some of the companies,” he noted.

It could be noted that 11 companies were earlier in April 2018 placed on sale by the state government, a situation that also generated heated arguments and criticism which made the governor to halt the process.
The governor said he had to heed Benue people’s advice hence his decision to stop the sale.
Several explanations by the then commissioner for commerce, trade and investment, Dr Tersoo Kpelai, to convince the people also did not yield any fruitful result.
With the recent uproar following the August 16  decision to sell the companies, a similar situation seems to replay itself.
The question on the lips of many Benue people now is whether the governor would defy the wide criticism and go ahead with the sale.

Stakeholders bare their mind

In the recent stakeholders meeting which was held on Monday August 30, 2021, varying views riddled the issue.

A professor of Economics Ode Ojowu, who spoke for Benue South Senatorial District advised the government to fix the companies before selling them, saying it is wrong to advertise companies in their moribund state.
He said the way the people reacted when the government advertised the sale of those companies was because of the lack of presentation and timing, adding that government would have properly enlightened the people on why it decided to sell the companies before advertising them.

The former chief executive of the National Planning Commission/chief economic adviser to former president  Olusegun Obasanjo between 2004 and 2005, urged the government to imbibe the culture of hiring people with expertise in the various areas to assist in policies that would help develop the state.
He said many companies in the state failed because of ill advise, which eventually resulted to the crash of the machines in most of the factories.

The Tor Tiv, HRM Professor James Ayatse in his advice urged that the privatisation should take into cognisance the interest of Benue people by ensuring that those enterprises remain domiciled in the state to provide employment and other benefits to the people.
He advised the government to sell some companies and use the funds raised to fix others.
Also an economist, Mlu Tsavza, who spoke to Blueprint in an interview said there was nothing wrong privatising those companies.
“In my opinion privatising these enterprises would bring efficiency and effective performance as investors would bring in capital, new technology, skills and better management expertise, among others, that will make them more profitable.

“These enterprises, if run profitably, would provide job opportunities for our teeming youths, create wealth, boost the state’s internally-generated revenue and create value chain across sectors of the Benue economy.
“I understand the fear of most people but we must disabuse our minds  and understand that economic policies are driven by facts and prevailing societal challenges and not only on the basis of sentiments or assumptions,” she added.

A staff at the University of Agriculture, Fekis Manger, in his comment on the planned exercise said, “Privatisation is a good thing when it’s done transparently with sincerity of purpose. Another better way to do it is by concession, where the government still retains about 30% stake.

“However, I’m a bit worried about the timing, this should have been his first move. By now, we would have seen some progresses.”

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