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Liquidator Insists on Transparent Sale of NECOM House

By on May 1, 2011

More light was thrown on the controversy surrounding the sale of the 37-story NECOM House on Marina, Lagos  Island that used to belong to NITEL, with the revelation by the liquidator of the NITEL/MTEL Pension Fund, Otunba Olusola Adekanola, that the board of NITEL approved the sale of the head office building.

Some members of the board of NITEL recently kicked against the sale of NECOM House for N4 billion, accusing the liquidator of selling the building which warehouses its SAT-3 submarine cable and transmission switches.

However, the board has been less than truthful as investigations show that its submarine cable and transmission switches are warehoused in a five-storey building directly  behind NECOM House, which was never sold since it was identified as a core asset.

NECOM House was sold in 2008 by the liquidator to West African Aluminium Products Plc, following the transfer of NITEL’s non-core assets to its pension fund just before the telecom firm’s sale in 2006 to Transcorp Plc by the Bureau of Public Enterprises.

Adekanola, who spoke through his media adviser, Mr.Kazie Uko said the list of NITEL’s non-core assets, which were transferred to the NITEL/MTEL Staff Pension Fund, were prepared by a team of professionals working with NITEL’s management.

“The list of such non-core assets was prepared for the BPE by a professional team that worked in conjunction with NITEL’s management and was approved by the company’s board before being handed over to me.

“Upon the receipt of the list of assets so transferred, I advertised this list for sale in national newspapers on May 2, 2007,” he explained.

Justifying the sale of NECOM House and other non-core assets that used to belong to NITEL, Adekanola pointed to the various publications in the national newspapers advertising the sales as a testimony to the fact that the exercise was devoid of any underhand

According to him, “I would not have publicly advertised the buildings for sale, if the intention was to clandestinely sell it to some private parties.

“As can be easily verified, NECOM House was the number one item on the list of non-core assets prepared by NITEL. I did not prepare this list and had no direct control on the composition of the list. I also had no interest whatsoever in whatever assets were
classified as core or non-core.”

Adekanola, who had successfully handled similar assignments in the past such as the liquidation of the National Fertiliser  Company of Nigeria and the Nigerian Newsprint Manufacturing Company, expressed disappointment that people who participated in listing the NECOM House for sale and supported him for protecting and funding the interest of the pension fund, had turned round to allege
unwholesome dealings, after collecting their terminal pension payments.

He noted that perhaps he could have avoided the blackmail being unleashed on him had he agreed to a satanic proposal to sell off the sky-scraper for a paltry N100 million against the eventual princely sum of N4 billion realised from the sale.

He added that the process leading to the sale of NECOM House was transparently done and the N4 billion offer was the highest received for the property.

“As a court-appointed liquidator, I exercise a carefully defined mandate, and my singular objective was to maximise the income to the NITEL/MTEL Staff Pension Fund.

“All my activities on the assignment are in the public domain, and I have not contravened any law, guidelines or directives in the conduct of this assignment.

“I had naturally expected to be praised, not blackmailed or vilified for optimising the returns to the government from the assignment.

“I, however, have no regrets whatsoever, and I am proud that I have vindicated the court for entrusting me with such a sensitive assignment,” he stated.

Adekanola said it would be unfair for anyone to accuse him of secretly selling a national asset such as the NECOM House, since the building along with other properties on the list of non-core assets as prepared by NITEL’s management, was advertised for sale in
national newspapers on May 2, 2007 and was not sold until August 2008, 16 months later.

According to him, there was no record anywhere that NITEL at any point objected to the advertisement and subsequent sale of the NECOM House.

“Were this (objection) to be the case, it would have been deliberated upon at the committee of inspection (COI) meetings, and the record of the meetings did not indicate anything of such,” he disclosed.

The federal government was said to have set in motion, moves to revoke unauthorised sale of NITEL’s assets.

A government source disclosed that those who purchased the non-core assets of the struggling entity would have themselves to blame because the government did not give its approval to the purported sales.

The source said those who bought some of the assets of NITEL are dreamers that would soon wake up to the reality of their folly.

The 37-story building is said to be worth over N75 billion, but was said to have been hurriedly sold under controversial circumstances to West African Aluminium products Plc.

The unauthorised sale is said to have pitched the BPE, the buyers and the board of NITEL against each  other and has led to a cry for help from NITEL to stop the attempt by the new owners to eject its workers from the building.

The government is said to be looking into the issue surrounding the sale before it takes a decision.

But those conversant with the deal have advised that the government should be mindful that when the non-core assets were hived off from NITEL, they were transferred to its pension fund in order to fund NITEL’s pension liabilities running into several billions
of naira.

The board of NITEL, according to sources in the National Council on Privatisation, has no claim on the non-core assets that were hived off as they no longer belonged to the telecom company.

“They were transferred to the pension fund, it is this fund that owned them and ordered the court to appoint a liquidator to sell the non-core assets so that the pension gap can be funded and pension benefits of retired NITEL staff can be paid.

“The board is being insincere. They are crying foul because they have been asked by the new owner to pay the commercial rent like any other tenant, which they probably can’t afford, so they have twisted the story to suit them.

“Even the SAT-3 cable and the transmission switches are not in NECOM House. They are terminated in the five-storey building right behind NITEL, which the company still owns,” revealed sources in the NCP.

They added that even before NECOM House was hived off from the books of NITEL, the telecom firm was unable to pay the construction firm, Costain West Africa Plc, which was contracted over a decade ago to repair and rehabilitate the building after it was gutted by fire in the 1980s.

As a result, Constain took over most of the floors in the storey-building and started to lease them to private sector tenants as office space in order to recover the money it had spent rehabilitating the building, the sources revealed.

Source : Thisday