The last time I had cause to write on the seemingly intractable assault on Nigeria’s sovereignty and economic viability by the Vaswani Brothers as shockingly captured in what we must now refer to as VONGATE, it was to express concern and disbelief at the surreptitious manner in which these shrewd Indian businessmen were about to get President Goodluck Jonathan to bestow them tacit endorsement by agreeing to commission one of their projects in the very premises where their excesses are literally on display at the VON factory in Lagos. It is much to the President’s credit that such an abominable event eventually did not take place. But this is hardly cause for cheer considering not just the loud silence and inaction that has enveloped the Senate Investigation into their shady dealings arising from the botched privatization of the company but also the callous launch of diversionary vendetta against the Nigerian victim of the Vaswanis as they doggedly seek to evade imminent justice.
Regular browsers of Nigerian websites cannot miss the planting of several contrived stories supposedly “exposing” the alleged malpractices of Kashim Shettima, whose Barbedos Nigeria Limited effectively check-mated the unpatriotic agenda of the Vaswanis in their desperation to acquire Volkswagen of Nigeria by bringing the matter before the Senate for thorough investigation. The patriotic zeal of this Nigerian entrepreneur is now being rubbished with libelous mudslinging clearly packaged to discredit his acclaimed crusade against the Vaswanis thereby attempting to kill the messenger in order to muzzle the message. When it is recalled that the track record of the Vaswanis in getting enmeshed in acrimonious episodes bordering on economic sabotage began more than a decade ago resulting in their being deported twice, the fact that they are not only back in the country but still unrepentant underscores their temerity.
This is not about “defending” Kashim Shettima even though the context of his latest ordeal deserves nationalistic solidarity. The crux of the matter is that having sustained untold financial trauma inflicted by the Vaswanis’ vicious bid to literally confiscate his legitimate share holding in VON Kashim Shettima remained resolute in raising alarm in appropriate quarters to forestall their ultimate goal of acquiring even the residual German share which was originally earmarked for the Federal Government. Yet, by apparent lack of diligence in acting promptly on the glaring leads in the report of the Senate probe as well as several other investigations involving relevant government agencies, we are witnessing the resurgence of the Vaswanis and consequent relegation of a fellow citizens’ patriotic pursuit of justice and national interest.
It was as if the Senate Committee never made astounding revelations of the antics of the Vaswanis with tacit acquiescence of the Bureau of Public Enterprises or the more recent illegal conversion of the premises of Volkswagen of Nigeria into a dumping ground for the assorted imports of the Vaswani’s numerous companies ranging from rice, vegetable oil to luxury cars and buses, under the “watchful eyes” of the Customs and other security agencies.
Now we are hearing that the Vaswanis are back in government favour as they get waivers of import duty, ETL,CISS and other port charges for their imports such as one granted in a letter referenced BO/B10260/TUB/LA/156, by the finance minister, through the director of finance, Daniel Joel Tayelaiye, to Energy Resources Management Ltd, one of their fronts, on 250,000 metric tons of imported rice, another waiver for 250,000 metric tons of vegetable oil in December and another 250,000 of the same commodity by Connotation Concept Nigeria. As at February this year, the Vaswanis secured duty waiver for another 250,000 tons of vegetable oil, enjoying similar concession. To make a kill, ERM has continued to use the waivers all these years when each could only last a year. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had to come out to lash at them for acquiring over N30 billion worth of waivers illegally.
The latitude enjoyed by the Vaswanis has enabled them to take hostile action within the VON premises against the businesses of Kashim Shettima’s Barbedos Nigeria Limited sealing off his warehouse premises with container and preventing him from taking delivery of his goods while their own warehouses were busy getting loaded with imported items such as rice, fish, iron rods and brand new cars, among others! Meanwhile they have predictably also obtained court injunctions which have effectively paralyzed the Senate Committee on Privatisation and the EFCC as regard the VON matter and halted any attempt to rescind their ownership of VON in spite of their non-performance. Their claim of manufacturing Ashok Leyland has been punctured by the same gentleman whom they had decided to castigate with vociferous attacks on his person, business and his acumen.
My fellow Nigerians, this is exactly why our dear country cannot make progress and develop independently for the benefits of its citizens like other similarly blessed nations of the world have done. It is also the reason why even patriots often give up and join the bandwagon of rapacious exploitation of public resources. It is the reason why foreigners like the Vaswanis can come into the country and do as they like against national interest and get away with it along with the billions of our sovereign wealth which they repatriate to their private accounts outside the country. They have plundered our economy such that Ajokuta Steel and NIAMCO are suffering because of their cannibalization and tripping of our national assets which has place our country n arbitration to which the justice Minister is treading the path of our economic saboteurs instead of protecting our national assets. It is the reason why Kashim Shettima and Barbedos Nigeria Limited may soon be victims of their patriotic zeal in pursuit of corporate justice and national interest. Pity!
Abdullahi Garba can be reached at [email protected]