On a television interview Programme 60 minutes with Angela aired on MITV, controversial former minister of the FCT, Malam Nasir Elrufai, made the following boast “I challenge any one who has given me bribe to come out and say so“.
Malam Elrufai after condemning the present administration as a corrupt government which is responsible for much of the problems in Nigeria then went on to portray himself as a squeaky clean saint. There have been media reports that Elrufai who is nursing a Presidential election hopes to succeed Muhammadu Buhari as the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change.
But the whistle blowing site, wiki leaks has punctured Elrufai’s claims to incorruptibility. In one of several cables mentioning Elrufai wiki leaks revealed how Elrufai then Director General of the BPE attempted to award a contract to a company in which he and his brother had substantial interests until he was stopped by the then vice President, Atiku Abubakar.
By his own admission Malam El-Rufai was brought into government by Atiku Abubakar, as a protege, to head the BPE in 1999 yet within the first few years of the Obasanjo first term he had already began backstabbing Atiku to President Obasanjo and the American ambassador by claiming that he was pressured by Atiku Abubakar to award a major telecommunications contract to Ericsson rather than Motorola. When the U.S. Ambassador to whom Nasir El-rufai had told this tale met with the then Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, as well as Stephen Orasanye, the Principal Secretary to President Obasanjo, both men revealed that the contract was not awarded to Motorola not because of underhand dealings as alleged by El-rufai but because El-rufai had been suspected of manipulating the process to favor Motorola after Ericsson wrote a petition to the government alleging that El-Rufai suppressed the information that his elder brother allegedly owned 10% shares in Motorola and that he himself (El-rufai) once worked for Motorola. Upon investigation by the U.S. embassy directly with Motorola, it was established that it was true that El-Rufai had worked for Motorola only two years before he took on the BPE job and that indeed his elder brother was a distributor for Motorola. But even while he was telling the President and the Americans that Atiku was manipulating the NITEL contract award to suit Erricson, he was unaware that both the President and the Americans knew of his interests in Motorola. The details of the contract are contained in this wikikeaks cable http://www.cablegatesearch.net/cable.php?id=01ABUJA1679&q=el-rufai%20nasir and http://www.cablegatesearch.net/cable.php?id=01ABUJA1957&q=el-rufai%20nasir
Also, it is on record that Malam Nasir Elrufai as Director of the BPE awarded a consultancy contract to a “Dutch” firm known as Pentascope to manage the affairs of the nations flagship telecommunications firm called NITEL. But pentascope, a scandalized nation would learn later, was a hastily formed asset-grabbing front whose central address was traced to an empty warehouse in the Netherlands! We would also learn to our horror when the deal unraveled that the contract papers for the sale was written in Dutch!! All told, Nigeria lost close to N40 Billion on that transaction. Some argue with good reason that the failed transaction, which saw NITEL stripped of its valuable assets by the PENTASCOPE predators, doomed the company to date. NITEL is still a cesspool. Because PENTASCOPE and subsequent private managers stripped the company bare, it now has few, if any, suitors willing to pay reasonable money for it. It was for this reason that the House of Representatives banned Ekrufai from holding political office for life.
And for Elrufai who now nurses Presidential ambition, perhaps the words of Simon Kolawole in his back page column will suffice “I have strong reservations about his (Elrufai) ability to lead a country like Nigeria, especially in a democratic setting. He will make an excellent military administrator because of his soft spot for arbitrariness. He was once said to threatening to revoke some Cs of O. Reminded that the Cs of O were obtained legally, he allegedly retorted, what does it take to cancel a C of O? Is it not for the minister to just say so?”
Transcript of Links Below;
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: MOTOROLA’S BID FOR GSM EQUIPMENT CONTRACT:
AMBASSADOR DISCUSSES COMMERCIAL ADVOCACY CASES WITH VICE PRESIDENT ABUBAKAR
——– Summary ——–
¶1. (SBU) Summary. Following up from his meeting with Motorola representatives on July 9 (following septel from Lagos), Ambassador Jeter met the Principal Secretary to President Obasanjo, Stephen Oronsaye, on July 10 and with Vice President Atiku Abubakar on July 11. The Vice President confirmed that the technical evaluation committee had recommended the Motorola bid because it was better qualified on all aspects including price, project financing, technical qualifications, and delivery time. However, the Vice President said, alleged improprieties between Motorola and Director-General Nasir El-Rufai, who chaired the Financial Restructuring Committee, invalidated the evaluation committee’s recommendation and caused the President to decide in favor of Ericsson. Both Motorola and Nasir El-Rufai dispute these allegations and claim they are completely unfounded. El-Rufai is threatening to take the issue to court. End Summary. ———– Background ———–
¶2. (SBU) In May 2001, the GON established the Financial Restructuring Committee (FRC) mandated with refinancing NITEL debts and seeking long-term financing for the GSM roll-out and transmission network expansion. To conduct the actual tendering process, the FRC established a five-man technical committee comprised of representatives from NITEL (state-owned telecommunications monopoly) and the Bureau of Public Enterprises. There were two rounds of bidding and a third round of reassessment to include prices for all omitted items according to standard World Bank methodology. After the final reassessment, the evaluation committee submitted its report, which recommended Motorola be awarded the contract, to the President and Vice President for the final decision.
¶3. (SBU) On July 5, Embassy advocacy assistance was requested on behalf of Motorola in its USD 39.3 million bid for the NITEL GSM equipment contract. The other companies competing for the bid are Swedish company Ericsson whose final bid was USD 49 million and Shangai Bell of China bidding USD 39 million. On July 6, the Department of Commerce informed the Embassy that Ericsson, not Motorola, had been awarded the contract. End Background.
¶4. (C) On July 10, Ambassador Jeter met with the Principal Secretary to the President Stephen Oronsaye and, on July 11, SIPDIS with Vice President Atiku Abubakar to discuss Motorola’s bid for the GSM equipment contract. In the meeting with Oronsaye, Ambassador Jeter emphasized that it was hard to understand how Ericsson could have won the bid given Motorola’s lower bid price, best technical specifications, and fastest delivery time. While Oronsaye was not clear on all the details of the tendering, he was comfortable that the decisions made were in line with the desired transparency and integrity of the process. Oronsaye did mention a possible conflict of interest between Bureau of Public Enterprises Director-General Nasir El-Rufai, who chaired the Financial Restructuring Committee, and Motorola. This point was further elaborated on by the Vice President.
¶5. (C) From the outset of the July 11 meeting, the Vice President made it clear that he felt no obligation to explain the reasons behind the Presidency’s decision to award the contract to Ericsson, but that he would explain in the interest of transparency and fairness. In considering the contract award, the Vice President said, he and the President looked at the credibility of the exercise, the petitions and their desire for Western technology. Based on these considerations they decided to offer the bid to Ericsson. Vice President Abubakar confirmed that Ericsson had been awarded the contract under the condition that it deliver the services at Motorola’s lower bid price and within 4 months, not 5 months as it had proposed.
¶6. (C) The determining factor in the decision in favor of Ericsson appeared to be allegations, brought forth by Ericsson, against Motorola. Vice President Abubakar commented that he had received two petitions from Ericsson that alleged Nasir El-Rufai was biased in favor of Motorola and questioned the validity of the tendering exercise. Specifically, Ericsson complained that El-Rufai had a conflict of interest because he had worked for Motorola in the past. The Vice President also said that the petition claimed that El-Rufai’s elder brother was a 10 percent-shareholder in Motorola. According to the Vice President, El-Rufai’s failure to respond to these petitions in a timely fashion led the Presidency to award the contract to Ericsson.
¶7. (SBU) Motorola Regional Sales Director Karen Johanson, who was in Nigeria seeking resolution of these issues, disputed Ericsson’s allegations on July 12. Johanson asserted that El-Rufai’s brother does not hold Motorola stock, although he is part-owner of Intercellular Nigeria Ltd., a small fixed wireless company in Lagos that distributes Motorola equipment. She said that although El-Rufai worked for Motorola for two years prior to his GON employment, he did not offer assistance to Motorola during the tendering process, “squeezing us just as much as the other companies.”
¶8. (C) Ambassador Jeter asked the Vice President hypothetically that even if El-Rufai were biased toward Motorola, given the technical committee’s unanimous vote in favor of Motorola, how much influence could one man truly have on such a diverse collection of officials. The Vice President argued that if you know El-Rufai personally, you would know that “he could sway an entire crowd to agree with him on almost any issue.” (Comment. Since the meeting, Embassy has received a copy of El-Rufai’s written reply to the President regarding Ericsson’s allegations. His letter clarifies that he was not, in fact, on the evaluation committee itself, but rather the chairman of the Financial Restructuring Committee that oversaw the three evaluation committees established for three separate contracts of which the GSM equipment contract was one. End Comment.)
¶9. (C) The Ambassador then raised the concern that, in light of irregularities surrounding Ocean Energy’s and ABB Lummis’ bid for government contracts, the GON’s decision to go against the technical committee’s recommendation would create the perception that the tendering process in Nigeria is not transparent, and, in fact, would be construed as a bias against companies from the United States. Ambassador Jeter stressed to the Vice President how critical it is that the GON avoid sending a signal to U.S. companies that Nigeria is not a friendly place to conduct business. The Vice President responded that he also is anxious not to create the impression that U.S. business investment is unwelcome in Nigeria. As a compromise approach, Ambassador Jeter suggested that the contract be split regionally with Motorola providing equipment for the southern half of the country and Ericsson for the northern half. The Vice President did not respond directly, but left the idea on the table for further consideration.
¶10. (C) Vice President Abubakar claimed that the Minister of Communications had signed the contract with Ericsson on July ¶10. However, as of July 16, Motorola Nigeria representative Raphael Udeogu asserted that although the Minister had signed two related contracts with Siemens and Alcatel, the contract with Ericsson had not yet been signed. Udeogu reported that Ericsson had not yet responded to the GON’s contract offer at Motorola’s significantly lower bid price of USD 39.3 million as compared with Ericsson’s bid of USD 49 million.
¶11. (C) Comment. The fact that the President and Vice President would believe allegations of corruption brought to bear by Motorola’s competitor without verifying their accuracy leaves us questioning the efficacy and transparency of the tendering process. Nasir El-Rufai is a close Embassy contact and has a reputation for honesty, fairness and transparency, particularly in his official capacity as overseer of the GON privatization program. The Vice President’s claim that El-Rufai could have easily influenced the technical committee’s evaluation seemed to ignore the fact that El-Rufai himself was not on the technical committee. Moreover, in his letter to the President, El-Rufai strongly refuted Ericsson’s allegations. He also described the involvement of the Vice President’s Aide-de-Campe who, El-Rufai says, attempted to influence the Vice President and him in favor of Ericsson. The Embassy is unable to verify the accuracy of these statements.
¶12. (C) Comment Continued. Ambassador Jeter will send letter to President Obasanjo this week forwarding a Motorola statement addressing Ericsson’s allegations of impropriety. The letter will request that the President reconsider Motorola’s disqualification, which we believe was based on erroneous information. Post will continue to advocate on behalf of Motorola. End Comment.
SUBJECT: (C) NIGERIA: PRIVATIZATION DIRECTOR TO QUIT JOB OVER GSM EQUIPMENT CONTRACT REF: (A) ABUJA 1679 (B) LAGOS 1933 Classified by Ambassador Howard F. Jeter for Reasons 1.5 (B) and (D).
¶1. (S) Summary. Ambassador Jeter hosted Nasir El-Rufai, Director-General of the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE), for lunch on August 1 to discuss the current status of the NITEL GSM Equipment contract. EconOff attended as notetaker. El-Rufai was very candid about his relationship with the Vice President, the Vice President,s stake in awarding the GSM contract to Ericsson, and his own intention to leave his position as head of the GON privatization agency. El-Rufai claimed that the Vice President had manipulated the contract award in favor of Ericsson and that this case is just one example of what is commonly practiced in the Executive branch, e.g., cushioning or manipulating contracts for personal and political gain. He stated that because the President believes him capable of manipulating the tendering process, as alleged by Ericsson, he has no other choice but to resign his position at the BPE. End Summary.
¶2. (C) On August 1, Ambassador hosted a private lunch for Nasir El-Rufai to candidly discuss the NITEL GSM Equipment contract, valued at approximately USD 40 million. (See reftels for background on this issue.) In the intimate setting of the Ambassador,s residence, El-Rufai stated that NITEL/Ministry of Communications was continuing to negotiate the contract terms with Ericsson. According to El-Rufai, the GON asked Ericsson to deliver the products and services at Motorola’s bid price, which was USD 10 million less than Ericsson’s bid of USD 49 million. El-Rufai did not believe Ericsson could fulfill the contract provisions at that price, commenting that conclusion would only be reached if the two sides agreed to cut 25 percent of the contract, through, for example, reducing the number of proposed base stations. But, El-Rufai said, “that 25 percent would have to be paid for by someone.”
¶3. (C) When asked whether the President and Vice President might reconsider the contract award, El-Rufai replied no, despite the difficulties over negotiations, the Vice President would “lose face” if Ericsson did not receive the contract. However, El-Rufai did feel that a compromise could be found that would allow the Vice President to save face and allow Motorola to participate. He suggested that Ericsson and Motorola split the contract: Ericsson could provide the switching network and Motorola could provide the base stations. He noted that this would allow each company to provide the service in which it specializes. Because the base stations represent a greater portion of the contract, he recommended offering Ericsson some of the sub-contracting work, such as the air conditioning towers and power generation units, where neither company has specific expertise. (Comment. El-Rufai’s suggestions may not carry much weight, as he is not currently participating in the negotiations with Ericsson. End Comment.)
¶4. (C) El-Rufai expressed his deep displeasure with events immediately preceding the contract award to Ericsson. In a recent meeting with President Obasanjo, the two discussed Ericsson’s allegations that El-Rufai had manipulated the tendering process to ensure Motorola’s success. (Note. El-Rufai had written a lengthy letter to President Obasanjo on July 8 defending his role in the tendering process and pointing to the questionable activities of the Vice President’s Aide-de-Camp, who acted on behalf of Ericsson. At the time of El-Rufai’s meeting with Obasanjo, however, the President had not read this letter. End Note.)
¶5. (C) El-Rufai commented that he would have preferred to wait until the President had read his letter before discussing it with him. During the meeting, President Obasanjo told El-Rufai that he had total confidence in the BPE Director-General, but that he believed El-Rufai was clever enough to have manipulated the tendering process from the outset to ensure Motorola’s success. The President then said that El-Rufai had three problems: first, that there was a popular perception that El-Rufai is “too clever”; second, in fact, he is “too clever”; and third, his attitude towards Ministers and the Vice President is not sufficiently respectful or deferential.
¶6. (C) El-Rufai asked the President for permission to sue Ericsson for defamation. Obasanjo reportedly refused this request because of the negative political repercussions on the Presidency. The President then asked El-Rufai what else he could do for him. El-Rufai requested permission to leave his position as Director-General of the BPE. El-Rufai argued with the President that he could not oversee the country’s privatization program if Obasanjo believed that El-Rufai was capable of manipulating the tendering process. However, El-Rufai said, the President refused to allow him to quit.
¶7. (C) El-Rufai confided to the Ambassador that despite the President’s refusal, he still intended to leave the BPE after a 2-3 month period. He said that he would not leave too soon after the GSM Equipment tendering in order to avoid speculation over the causes for his departure. El-Rufai added that over the next few months he would expose his deputy, Tijjani Abdullahi, and the Legal Department Head, to his contacts at the Presidency in hopes that the President would choose one of them as his successor. However, he admitted that neither of them had political connections or a close relationship with the Presidency. El-Rufai asked for the support of the donor community in advocating for the new BPE Director-General to come from within the agency’s ranks.
¶8. (C) Ambassador Jeter expressed sincere regret that El-Rufai had decided to leave public service. The Ambassador believed that the privatization program would severely suffer and so would Nigeria. While El-Rufai seemed to appreciate these sentiments, he did not soften his position on leaving the job.
¶9. (C) El-Rufai also showed a great deal of resentment toward Ericsson and promised to “get them” at a later time. He said that “time is on my side” and that he was sure that sometime in the future Ericsson would need his help and he would be able to refuse them.
¶10. (S) The Ambassador asked about the quality of El-Rufai’s personal relationship with the Vice President, noting that in public their relationship had always appeared close. El-Rufai replied that, yes, he had believed their relationship was good. He commented that the Vice President had never asked him to do anything unsavory or to “bring him deals.” He said, however that a friend heard from former Senate President Chuba Okadigabo, who is close with the Vice President and helps him to “raise money” for the campaign war chest, that the Vice President was unhappy with El-Rufai’s performance because El-Rufai had never brought him a single “deal” (read kickbacks).
¶11. (S) El-Rufai explained that the Vice President worked through the Ministers, particularly the Minister of Works and Housing, to manipulate public contracts for both building the campaign war chest for the 2003 Presidential elections and, he assumed, for personal gain. El-Rufai said that the President was not a wealthy man and would not likely receive campaign support from his supporters during the last election. (Comment. The PDP party itself is barely solvent and would not be able to offer the President much financial support. End Comment.) Therefore, El-Rufai said, the President was tacitly complicit in the Vice President’s “fund raising” activities, but never involved himself directly so as to “stay clean.” El-Rufai commented that the Vice President came from a “dirty” background in the Customs Service and had continued these practices in the Villa. El-Rufai implied that the NITEL GSM Equipment contract was an example of such activities.
¶12. (S) Comment. Many in the international community respect Nasir El-Rufai for his integrity and forthrightness. El-Rufai’s departure from public service would be a devastating blow to the GON’s image of transparency and good economic governance. Embassy officers have heard many times from many sources that the Vice President is directly involved in corrupt activities. El-Rufai’s testimony provides more anecdotal evidence supporting these sources. With El-Rufai gone, the Vice President will be more able to manipulate the country’s privatization process for personal and political gain. End Comment.