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Needless Alarm Over N100BN Enugu State Palm Plantation Deal

By Samson Ezea

Undoubtedly, the country’s economy is in dire straits, which requires that certain pragmatic actions must be urgently, rightly, and extraordinary taken to salvage the situation before it collapses completely. This is time for both the leaders and the led to put on their thinking caps.

That is why, for example, the crusade has been for the country and its people to move from consumption and importation to production. This is in order to revive, rescue, and strengthen the economy and create employment for the teeming unemployed citizens.

Clearly, Enugu State Governor, Barr. Peter Ndubuisi Mbah has since assuming office demonstrated his belief and understanding of the above clarion call which is in sync with his campaign promises of moving the state economy exponentially from the current 4.4bn dollars to 30bn dollars through private sector investments, reviving and repositioning of the state-owned moribund and abandoned industries, assets and public utilities.

This Governor Mbah has already done by awarding contracts for the completion of the age-long abandoned International Conference Centre and the immediate rehabilitation of the moribund state-of-the-art Hotel Presidential, Enugu. Not resting on his oars, Governor Mbah has moved to revamp NigerGas Limited, NigerSteel Limited, Aluminium Smelting Company Ohebe Dim, and others.

For the fact that these bold economic moves and efforts of Governor Mbah’s administration are unprecedented in the history of governance and leadership in the state since its creation, it deserves the support of every discerning person. This is considering the quantum of jobs and economic boom it will bring to the state after completion.

Knowing, believing and practicalising the axiomatic saying that a country could be said to be economically prosperous, buoyant and stable by producing in abundance what her people eat and export as well as earn revenue, Governor Mbah, has apart from commencing the revamping of the Ogrugru Jetty and establishing many hectares of cassava plantations across the state, recently sealed a N100BN Public Private Partnership deal with the Pragmatic Palms Ltd to revive the dormant Enugu State-owned United Palm Products Ltd.

The deal which was commended by many, even beyond the state, was ignorantly and mischievously described as fraudulent and conduit pipe to divert public funds by the struggling opposition Labour Party in the state and other armchair critics, social media alarmists, traducers and scaremongers, who usually pontificate and misyarn on matters and issues they are not knowledgeable or conversant with or have not done due diligence on.

Enugu Labour Party’s misleading statement on the deal was contained in a press statement issued and signed by its state chairman, Barr. Casmir Agbo and Publicity Secretary, Mr. Onuora Odo.

Clearing the air and puncturing the Enugu Labour Party’s misleading information and armchair strictures against the N100BN deal, the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to Governor Mbah on External Relations, Mr. Uche Anichukwu, in a media statement titled “FACTS OF THE N100BN DEAL TO REVIVE MORIBUND ENUGU STATE UNITED PALM PRODUCTS LTD” laid bare the incontrovertible facts about the deal.

Parts of the statement read: “The Enugu State United Palm Products Ltd., UPPL, is one of the numerous initiatives of the former Premier of the defunct Eastern Region, the late Dr. Michael Okpara, and had lain fallow for decades.

“Enugu State Government IS NOT releasing N100bn or any dime to Pragmatic Palms Ltd. Instead, Pragmatic Palms Ltd, a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for the partnership, will finance the revitalisation of UPPL. Pragmatic Palm Ltd. will provide finance for 60 per cent of the transaction value, while the Enugu State Government will provide the plantations valued as 40 per cent equity.”

On the incorporation of the Pragmatic Palms Ltd, the statement read:”Because several parties/investors are involved, it became imperative, as is the best international practice, to register a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) as the platform to transact the deal. Pragmatic Palms Ltd. was duly incorporated before the signing of the agreement.

“For the avoidance of doubt, however, although it is not the case in this instance, it is apposite to also note that the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), 2020, provides for Pre-incorporation Contract. Section 96 (1) of CAMA, 2020, provides: “Any contract or other transaction purporting to be entered into by the company or by person on behalf of the company prior to its formation may be ratified by the company after its formation and thereupon the company shall become bound by and entitled to the benefit thereof as if it has been in existence at the date of such contract or other transaction and had been a party thereto.”

“As demanded by the Enugu State Government, Pragmatic Palms Ltd. provided a guarantor, which is Diamond Stripes Ltd, a reputable and huge company that has done investments worth over $20bn spanning power and renewable energy sector, port sector, and agricultural sector since 2013. Diamond Stripes Ltd. is the sole investor in Onitsha River Port and has invested heavily in the agricultural sector, where it is the largest owner of silo complexes in Nigeria. It was involved in the acquisition of 600MW Shiroro Hydroelectric Power plant in 2013, concessions of 30MW Gurara Hydroelectric Power Plant in 2019, and establishment of 300MW Shiroro solar power project in 2021.

“The state’s interest in the N100BN UPPL deal is well secured, benefitting from Governor Peter Mbah’s experience as an investment finance expert and an entrepreneur who has handled multi-billion-dollar projects himself. Besides asking for and getting a corporate guarantor on the part of Pragmatic Palms Ltd, the government also demanded for and got bank guarantors from Pragmatic Palms. Importantly, performance targets and timelines were equally set in the Agreement for Pragmatic Palms Ltd. failing which the Enugu State Government is free to revoke the deal and reassume total ownership of United Palm Products Ltd., UPPL.

“In addition, the Enugu State Government is represented on the company’s Board, including the Chairmanship of the Board, as part of the steps taken to secure the state’s interest.”

In addition to the above explanations by Enugu State Government is a trending video speech of the MD of Pragmatic Palms Ltd., who is also the MD/CEO of Diamond Stripes, George Nwangwu, a professor of Project Financing Law, who has led transaction teams that have participated in the consummation of over 100 privatisation or Public Private Partnership (PPP) transactions worth over $20 billion across Africa.

Prof. Nwangwu was the Head of Infrastructure Finance at the Ministry of Finance under the leadership of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, during which he led the team that delivered the Second Niger Bridge deal.

With these elaborate explanations and substantiated evidence about the deal, the companies and the actors involved, what else will anyone including the roving Enugu State Labour Party and their hired social media hirelings will say or criticise again? Is it not obvious and legal that the difference between the mother and child in this case is that of age and experience. The lack of experience and qualifications being complained about the child are in her mother, who is also his guarantor.

Just as it has been observed that since the issuance of the public statement on the deal by the Enugu State Government, the Enugu State opposition Labour Party and their social media cohorts have neither punctured nor commended it. They have remained silent and probably ensconced in their propaganda cocoon, even on social media platforms, where they have been running riot on the matter before now. This is at a time when silence is not golden because it invariably means acceptance.

This has once again clearly shown that Enugu opposition parties, especially the Labour Party, need to get its act right by doing due diligence before going public with media statements against state government programmes and policies.

Propagating falsehoods and lies in the name of media statements against state government’s policies and programmes is not virile or vibrant opposition politics. It is simply false alarm, scaremongering, and misyarning.

While it is the responsibility of the opposition to question, criticise or interrogate government’s policies and programmes, they should do so without sounding judgmental and conclusive, especially when they are bereft of knowledge, ideas and incontrovertible evidence to espouse thier positions, claims or points.

Meanwhile, what should be of utmost concern and importance to the people of the state and the opposition is to support Governor Mbah’s move to revive the state’s dormant and moribund industries, assets and public utilities through Public Private Partnership and monitor closely the spate of work on them to ensure their completion for the benefit of the state economy and its people, irrespective of party leanings and status.

There is nothing wrong with the government entering into (PPP ) provided the terms and conditions are genuine, legal, altrustic, and transparent. It is in line with the international best practice. This is considering the fact that most of these state owned companies went moribund and dormant because of negligence, nonchalance, unhinged bureaucracy, and corruption by government appointed persons who manned them.

Governor Mbah’s expertise and knowledge in this aspect is not in question, considering his exploits, achievements, and experiences in the private sector as an investment lawyer, renowned entrepreneur, investment, and financial analyst. He knows and understands it better. Governor Mbah and his government deserve benefits of doubt and unalloyed support of all and sundry in their determination to grow the state economy astronomically and exponentially by revamping the state’s moribund industries, assets and public utilities through Public PrivatePartnership (PPP ) model.

After all, the NigerGas Limited Emene Enugu started in May 1962 as partnership business between the former Eastern Nigerian Government and Siad Machine Implanti Italy, who supplied the plant and managed it until the civil war broke out in 1967. Enugu State later retained the ownership. If our founding fathers and leaders could toe this path shortly after the country’s Independence and it worked successfully, who says such partnership, cannot work well now that the country and the state are in dire need of solution to the myriad of economic challenges bedevilling the country.

Finally, there should be a limit to politics because development can not be compromised, sacrificed, or politicised on the altar of petty opposition politics.

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