It was perhaps the greatest heist in the history of 419. At $750 million for 51% of a company valued at $260 million, it must have been a bargain. But wait o. 419 is about advanced fees. Nobody knows exactly how much was paid in advance. Do you? Maybe we will call it 'Reverse 419'.
When the Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc (Transcorp) was launched on July 21st 2005 as "a Nigerian world-class mega-corporation managed by Nigerians and wholly owned by Nigerians" at the Presidential Villa, Abuja by Obasanjo - who owns 200 million shares of the company, the company had no operating office.
When it launched an IPO in 2006, it had no product or track record or histroy to analyse. The prospectus was full of typographical and design errors. Obviously even the directors did not see it before it got out. Its share pricing was based on projections. Yet the Nigerian Stock Exchange allowed it to go to market and Nigerians bought it. Of course, Madam Do Good also chairs the Transcorp board.
Transcorp was supposed to be the Nigerian equivalent of the Daewoos, Chaebols, Misubishis, Sumitomos, Toyotas, Toshibas and the other mega-corporations that raised the economies of the Asian countries. Its a strange analogy as these companies did not start out as mega-corporations, but rather as started as SMEs. Talk about leapfrogging.
Strange things started happening. Third term whispers and all that.
Obasanjo tried to stifle possible competition to Transcorp (he is the major shareholder). Ask the Ibetos how long a shipment of cement can stay in port. The Bull became a refugee in Ghana and that usually astute wheeler-dealer, Jimoh Ibrahim, almost lost his fortune but for GOD and his mother's head.
Gen-gen! they bought NITEL.
Gen-gen! they bought the NICON NOGA Hilton.
We siddon dey look, action dey go.
It was like a man who has a confirmed gold mine in his backyard but decides to plant ugwu on the land instead. With all due respect to Tom Iseghohi and his band of technocrats -with their much touted pedigrees (as if they were dogs), they did not know what they were doing in Transcorp.
Buying NITEL is like marrying a king's widow. You don't complain about her tastes in food, clothes and jewelry, you simply gird your loins and work harder to provider for her. Managing NITEL required more than Harvard MBAs or experience working in the safe corporate environments of the mutlinationals, you need a lot of street smarts. Unfortunately, the Transcorp board lacked that.
When Transcorp took over NITEL there was a deafening silence from the major telecoms industry players. It was like there was a conspiracy afoot. Indeed there was a conspiracy. A conspiracy of silence. Transcorp should have been worried but they probably felt they had won. If they could run The Bull out of town, who dem be?.
After all, how many refugees could Ghana take?
They forgot that there may be a day when Obasanjo would not be in power. They forgot that the same people you pushed off the ladder on your way up, you will meet again on your way down.
They forgot that kaka ki eku ma je sese, a a fi sh'awadanu ni. Mice may not eat salt, but they can waste it by making it unpalatable.
They forgot that there is honour, even among thieves.