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Ever seen a child born in the palace, over-pampered by his royal parents, accorded all the niceties of royalty including countless aides.....
Ever seen a child born in the palace, over-pampered by his royal parents, accorded all the niceties of royalty including countless aides and security operatives to chaperon him everywhere he goes? Don’t bother imagining what that child would look like. He would look ruddy, full of aristocratic hubris and sometimes would manifest traits of a spoilt brat: incorrigible, rash and a little lawless.
This is the story of Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc (Transcorp), a celebrity mega-corporation conceived by President Olusegun Obasanjo. That makes it a child of privilege and convenience (no puns, please). Transcorp was incorporated on November 17, 2004 as a Nigerian company, run by Nigerians to provide world-class services to a global market. Its scope of operation would span a wide business spectrum from agriculture, oil and gas, information communications technology, power to international trade and free trade zone/industrial park.
On the face of it, Transcorp appears a brilliant and futuristic entrepreneurial machine. But the fact of its peculiar birth – in the cocoon of the presidency and nurtured in its pouch- has raised fundamental moral and ethical questions.
That was the same fate that befell the Carlyle Group of the United States, a global private equity firm with over $41 billion under its management. The Carlyle Group just like Transcorp was the butt of criticisms in America. Many doubted its integrity and ethical rectitude largely on account of its ownership and its style and type of business.
Though seldom on the front burner of discourses, and certainly not as popular as Microsoft, General Electric, Boeing or any of the American dream corporations, but what Carlyle loses in mass popularity, it more than makes up in the size of contracts it gets from…yes, American government. For every war on terror America fights, the group bikes its way to the bank. For every deal, from arms to oil and food, that American government negotiates, it pads the purse of the group.
The reason is not far-fetched. Since 1987 when the group was incorporated, it has more than any known corporation been the proud employee of the world’s most influential people. A checklist of the foundation board members: former US President George Bush (Snr); former Secretary of Defence and Deputy Director of the CIA, Frank Carlucci; former Secretary of State and Secretary of Treasury James Baker; former President of the Philippines Fidel Ramos, former British Prime Minister John Major among other high profile personalities. Add to that list, representatives of Osama bin Laden family. However, following the September 11,2001 bombing of the Twin Tower, the bin Laden family was forced to liquidate its equity in the group when it could no longer stomach the public revulsion and outrage that greeted its romance with the bin Laden’s.
In fact, Dan Briody, author of The Iron Triangle once wrote "as the Carlyle investors watched the World Trade towers go down, the group’s prospects went up". According to Briody, by operating within the so-called iron triangle of industry, government and the military, the Carlyle Group leaves itself open to any number of conflicts of interest and stunning ironies". One of such classic conflicts of interest and ironies is that each time George Bush (Jnr) as president of the US signs the budget, he pads his father’s bank account and by interpretation the family bank account.
In their features titled The ex-President’s Club published in the Guardian (London) of October 31, 2001, Oliver Burkeman and Julian Borger said "since the start of the war on terror, Carlyle has taken on an additional significance by becoming the thread which indirectly links American military policy in Afghanistan to the personal financial fortunes of its celebrity employees, not least the current president’s father".
Put succinctly, Carlyle is that part of US government which vicariously profits from the chaos, anarchy and terror which US adventures overseas have engendered.
It is in this vein that one is tempted to mirror Transcorp as Nigeria’s equivalent of the Carlyle Group. And just like Carlyle which is venturing into all sectors from telecoms to aerospace to healthcare and all, Transcorp has quietly driven its big foot into hospitality, telecoms, oil and gas and many more that would unfold with time.
In a way, Transcorp is just like the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the party of its founder, President Olusegun Obasanjo whose campaign fund in 2003 was heavily padded by corporate Nigeria, represented by the 32 wise men and women that made up its foundation celebrity employees. Don’t forget that it was the same corporate Nigeria that donated obscenely to the presidential library project. And herein lies the moral burden. Were the 32 foundation board members selected on account of residual business savvy or was it a form of compensation to some illustrious citizens for their support over the years to Mr President? Were there no other Nigerians that could have made the Transcorp board on account of their entrepreneurial prowess and not necessarily because of their presidential patronage?
For now, Transcorp may not be the iron triangle that links corporate Nigeria, government and arms deals , but you cannot deny the fact that it is the Potiphar in Pharaoh’s palace, the favoured corporation in renascent Nigeria. And it’s getting all the perks already. No kidding, it may sooner than later morph into an "iron triangle". Just keep your ears to the ground. Very soon, Transcorp may be invited to bid for the purchase of military hardware for Nigeria, a highly secretive and usually lucrative deal all over the world.
And you bet this is possible for a corporation that is already spoilt with presidential concessions from oil blocs, licence to build 400,000 barrels per day capacity refinery and the setting up of independent power plant among others. Just ponder this. Transcorp was offered 75 per cent equity in NITEL for $750 million. Recall that this was the same NITEL that Investment International London Limited (IILL) offered to buy its 51 per cent equity in 2001 for a chunky $1.25 billion.
Recall also that just last week when Transcorp failed to meet the deadline for the payment of an initial $ 500 million deposit for NITEL it did not as much as get a rebuke, rather it got a presidential pat on its back which translated to an extension of deadline. Now juxtapose this with the fate of CIL in 2001. CIL was among the successful companies at the digital mobile licence auction for GSM telephony. But it was adjudged by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to have defaulted in meeting the deadline for payment. And that was how CIL lost its licence. On top of that, it lost the initial deposit of $20 million. Does this not tell you something about our transcendental Transcorp? Indeed, Transcorp is a privileged child that is heavily fed through a presidential umbilical cord. But does it matter? My only fear, however, is how Transcorp would fare when a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph and who may not need the services of a Potiphar takes over the reins of power in 2007. Would he still spoon-feed Transcorp? Would he undo all that had been done, ex-dono and on gratis, for Transcorp? These are my worries.
But no matter, if Transcorp is a fraud, it is a better devil than the tribe of Nigerian generals who stole from the nation’s till and stashed them away in foreign bank vaults to swell other people’s economy; it is better than the colony of roguish governors, ministers and politicians who steal at home and ferret abroad to feather other countries’ economies.
Transcorp is a Nigerian company managed by Nigerians. It is providing jobs and therefore creating wealth for Nigerians. In simple language, Transcorp is making Nigerian money, and sometimes other nations’ money, work for Nigeria and for Nigerians. This should be our consolation – that Transcorp is adding value to our local economy the same way the Carlyle Group is helping to strengthen the US economy. May be, this should compensate for the moral and ethical burden. Just may be.
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