Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana, has kicked against suggestions that Nigeria should sell off its national assets to raise funds for the country’s ailing economy. Nigeria’s business mogul and Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, had suggested that the federal government should sell off some national assets like the multi-billion dollar Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited, NLNG, and use the proceeds to pull the country from the current economic recession. “If I had challenges in my company, I would not hesitate to sell assets to remain afloat, to get to the better times. It doesn’t make any sense for me to keep any assets and then suffocate the whole organization,” Mr. Dangote, who is the chairman, Dangote Group, told CNBC Africa. “We have a lot of assets to sell. We can sell part of the joint ventures, or part of the shares. My suggestion before was that they should even sell 100 percent of NLNG. I don’t think government should be in any business of investing in sectors like LNG.” Mr. Dangote’s suggestion, backed by notable figures like Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and Governor of Central Bank, Godwin Emefiele, has generated intense debates among Nigerians.
Mr. Falana said that the suggestion was “in total conflict with section 16 of the (Nigerian) Constitution which has prohibited the concentration of the nation’s wealth in the hands of a few people or a group. “Indeed, by virtue of section 44 of the Constitution, the nation’s natural resources shall be held in trust for the Nigerian people by the federal government.” Falana said that senators would have been expected to kick against Dangote’s suggestion, since they had sworn to protect the constitution.
But for selfish considerations, a few legislators who may be queuing up to participate in the purchase of the nation’s assets are not prepared to defend the Constitution. “If the senate is genuinely desirous to contribute meaningfully to the debate on the economy, it should, as a matter of urgency, propose a substantial reduction in the jumbo emoluments of federal legislators which are said to be the highest in the world.” Falana said the country’s privatization programme in the past was discovered to be a rip off on the nation and the people, but that nothing was done about it, despite a senate resolution, under the leadership of the then senate president, David Mark, that the government should recover such assets.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration could still implement the resolution of the senate for the interest of the national economy, Mr. Falana said. The lawyer advised the government to also go for the official quarters that he said were “illegally sold” to the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Katsina-Alu, the then Senate President, Mr. Mark, and the then Speaker, House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole.“It is on record that whereas the Federal Government had spent billions of Naira to renovate the properties, each of them was fraudulently sold for about N50 million,” Mr. Falana said. “Many other properties of the federal government in Abuja, Lagos and other cities were undersold to many public officers and their cronies. Apart from the recovery of the NET building in Lagos which was sold to the father of a legislator for N4 billon instead of the market value of N75 billion, the sale of the other 531 properties of Nitel and other agencies of the federal government located in the various parts of the country have not been accounted for.”
Mr. Falana said, instead of selling the nation’s remaining assets, the Federal Government could liquidate “over N5 trillion” of toxic debts and also recover huge funds that were given as bailouts to banks and other private companies during the eras of Sanusi Lamido and Chukwuma Soludo as CBN governors.