Nigeria’s Minister of Trade, Industry and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, has for the first time opened up on the alleged illegal repatriation of $13.92 billion out of Nigeria. Enelamah spoke to some journalists in Lagos recently.. Excerpts:
“For me, it’s been one of the most interesting surprises in government. People tend to make an issue even when there is none. The first thing is – What is my connection to the story and why is my name being mentioned? The allegation is three-fold which are all false. First it says, I’m a director and stakeholder in MTN and I own a company called Celtelecom. So by reason of all of the above I facilitated MTN taking money out of the country. I was never a shareholder of MTN. There was a company called Celtelecom, it was made up of all the reputable investors in the world and my company was an adviser to it. Secondly, I wasn’t on the board of MTN. I do not own Celtelecom. I served as the CEO of Capital Alliance Nigeria Limited (CANL) between 1998 and 2015.
CANL is a wholly owned subsidiary of African Capital Alliance (ACA). ACA is a leading pan-African investment firm sponsoring funds and managing investments in Sub-Saharan Africa. Celtelecom belonged to blue-chip names – the World Bank Group, European investors, CDC, international and some local banks. People who invested alongside MTN when it started in 2001. MTN aggregated all those investments in dollars in Mauritius and brought them into the country and got the CCI for everybody. MTN always handled CCIs and those guys got paid their money whenever dividends were declared. They were never involved. The documents that I signed – a form A in 2008 was when some of their interests were sold to Nigeria. There was a 10% sale of MTN to Nigeria .
MTN also disaggregated the ownership and I signed whatever form I was given for that disaggregation, so that it will be clear who owns what. At no time was I in a position to transfer funds out of Nigeria on behalf of MTN Nigeria and at no time did I transfer funds out of Nigeria on behalf of MTN Nigeria. As it relates to Celtelecom’s investments in MTN Nigeria it is important to note that the entire process for applying for and using CCIs was done by MTN Nigeria. A fund managed by ACA, alongside other minority shareholders invested in MTN Nigeria through Celtelecom. I was never the owner of Celtelecom, neither was I a Celtelcom shareholder. Instead I was a director of the company representing the ACA managed fund. Such allegations are quite unfortunate and they are common in Nigeria.
Initially, I felt it was not worth reacting to. People must not be allowed to get away with issues like this. You just assume it’s a joke and before you know it goes on and on. Nobody bothers to check. How can someone say you’re a shareholder of MTN when you’re not? You own a company you don’t own? And that you’re a director in MTN when you’re not? And these people(who make such allegations) have never been called to account. Can you understand the level of impunity? You can get away with anything in Nigeria. There’s no consequence for saying something that’s not true. There are no retractions. Initially, I thought that nothing would happen, because it was factually baseless. But I was surprised that it kept spreading – on social media, in the senate. I wrote the senators and gave them all these facts as a submission….
On the last story reported by some dailies that I walked out of the senate hearing, the true situation is this: I was invited about two days before the hearing. I cleared part of my schedule to be there. They were supposed to start by 12noon. They started late around 2.30. I even offered to give my submission first, it was flatly denied. I had to attend to other official matters. Why people are able to get away with stories like this is something we need to do something about. I’m saying this for the sake of Nigerians. I’m a fighter when I have a good cause to fight. I’ll still talk about this 20 years from now. I want to use this opportunity to say we must all rise up as a country. Initially, I just thought the issue was so baseless it won’t stand. I think at the end of the day, if the people (MTN) brought their money in, why all the noise? I believe it’s politically motivated, though I might be wrong, but that’s the only thing that can explain this. Maybe, it’s ignorance, but it just re-enforces the importance of the fourth estate (media).
Commitment to service
As for me, I view the opportunity to serve in the government as a privilege. When the president was swearing us in, he said they picked one person from each state. I was picked from Abia. I don’t take it for granted. I do not deserve it from the point of view of being a politician or national service. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not a small thing to be asked to serve your country. You have to give it your all. I can’t be discouraged, it’s impossible. I’m going to give it my all while I’m there. It doesn’t matter the name-calling.
It’s an opportunity of a lifetime to do something for your country. When I finish, I’ll go back to my work. Remember, I built a very successful business in the private sector, so it’s not as if I won’t have something to do when I leave. I’ll not relent and I assure you, there will be no laziness. I believe the best thing we can do for this country is to make it easier to do business. It’s not easy but very important. This country will thrive if we do that because Nigerians are entrepreneural. If you give Nigerians the right climate, they’ll do well. Nigerians do well abroad.
Boosting investors’ confidence in Nigeria
Confidence is a very important factor when dealing with investors. Let me refer to the story of the children of Israel and the Promise Land. Spies were sent out to view the land and they all brought back negative reports, except for two. The ones who said there were giants in the land were correct and the two who said they saw a land flowing with milk and honey were also correct. The question now is – whose report do you believe? The same is true of Project Nigeria. People who are saying we have issues are not wrong. Those that are also saying we have the potential to be great are also not wrong. We know that people keep projecting that negative report. We should, in spite of all these negative situations and reports, choose to do for our own sake what inspires us. I agree that we need to restore confidence, but I also believe that there’s substance to confidence. There’s a lot of work to be done and my commitment is that the work must start now. You need to tell those positive stories of Nigeria in order to restore confidence and rebuild the economy.