The Nigeria Guardian
By Laolu Akande (Washington DC)
DETAILS of the N450 billion ($4.5 billion) debt buy-back deals of the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida administration were unearthed at the weekend in Washington DC, United States of America, with the then government's principal partner, Bob Minton admitting that the transactions were not totally transparent.
The deals, similar to the Ajaokuta debt buy-back scheme of the late Gen. Sani Abacha administration were blown open recently by former football star, John Fashanu.
At a forum held by the U.S.-based Nigerian Democratic Movement (NDM), at Havard University, Washington DC, Minton also conceded that if the deals were done in the open market, they would have fetched higher prices for Nigeria.
The American businessman, with two others - Jeff Schmidt and Celine Louis - bought back debts and resold to Nigeria between 1988 and 1993.
Minton, who expressed readiness to testify before the Nigerian Senate, if summoned, noted that by the disclosures, he was violating the term of agreement with the Babangida administration that the transaction would be kept secret.
Fashanu and his Canada-based investigator, Robert Clarke, who were also billed to address the forum were, however absent.
Minton, a stocky caucasian who came to the venue with packets of files and his personal staff, said he had nothing to hide and refuted reports that his accounts were frozen as alleged by the Fashanu report.
He called for an independent auditing of the transactions. But the audience queried him on the propriety of the deals, especially as it was done in secret, or if such was in line with market standard and fair public bidding process. Minton said it was the decision of the Nigerian government to enter into the deal and not his.
He, however, said he would not got into such a deal again because he was now concerned in his life with other things apart from money-making.
According to him, what he and his two other partners did, for which they made $45 million in five years, was to buy back debts some of which were already being sold at secondary markets. They then resold to Nigeria, in that way reducing the debt load of Nigeria at that time. Minton said in his opening remarks that some of the debts were being written off already by the creditors before the buy-back scheme began, adding that if Nigeria had continued to ignore the debts, she would have had difficulty in securing credits and faced possible seizure of her property abroad.
In all, Minton said they bought three levels of Nigerian debts between 1988 and 1993. These were $1.1 billion in CBN promisory notes, $3 billion in Federal Government public debts and $564 million in multilateral debts. Asked if he knew these debts to be genuine, Minton said the debts were simply designated as general purpose loans, adding that he knew that some of CBN's promissory notes were litigated upon and cancelled, but that those they bought were valid.
Minton added that he and his partners under the business name of Greenland Holdings held a total of $2.8 billion Nigerian money, a break-down of which is; reserves - $1.1, buy-back proceeds $1.2 billion, $60 million from NNPC and $464 million in interests that Nigeria was paying while they bought the debts.
On the expenditure side, Minton disclosed that they spent $1.5 billion on the debt purchase and another $1.2 billion on buy-back proceeds to the CBN. Buy-back interests to CBN was also put at $3.5 million. Other expenditures were $4.5 million bank debt holding fees, $3.7 million bank debt exit fees, $14 million in payments to the NNPC, $60 million in promissory notes repurchase from NNPC, $138,688 in interest paid to NNPC and $658,278 transfer to Federal Government of Nigeria.
In trying to defend his involvement in the deal, Minton said he did not do anything criminal as Nigerian lawyers in New York had already given clearance for the buy-back. But he said the deal was indeed not in the spirit of the loan agreements that Nigeria entered into with the creditor banks.
As to the steps he would take on the accusations levelled against him by the Fashanu report, Minton said he had retained a counsel in Nigeria, sued Fashanu in Italy and would also sue him in Germany and the United Kingdom.
Minton alleged that Fashanu was being used by the Church of Scientology with which he has a three-year running battle over the church's alleged human rights violations and murder of certain persons which he is trying to expose.
Members of the audience, some of whom were international economists and scholars, told Minton that such lending practices that was used to do the deal had in fact been condemned by the Bretton Woods institutions.
Those present at the forum included Mr. George Noah, a London-based journalist who has been involved in widely reporting the Fashanu report, Mrs. Chris Anyanwu, Mr. Ademola Oyinlola of Tell magazine. The group also honoured Anyanwu with a presentation of the NDM's first June 12 award for her "grace and courage in defence against tyranny".