For President Muhammadu Buhari, the claim that one of his predecessors, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, pumped about $16 billion into efforts to ensure that Nigerians enjoy uninterrupted supply of electricity without any significant improvement in access to energy for Nigerians has become like a cane occasionally brought out from where it is hidden to whip a recalcitrant child into line. AKANI ALAKA WRITES
For President Muhammadu Buhari, the claim that one of his predecessors, former president Olusegun Obasanjo, pumped about $16 billion into efforts to ensure that Nigerians enjoy uninterrupted supply of electricity without any significant improvement in access to energy for Nigerians has become like a cane occasionally brought out from where it is hidden to whip a recalcitrant child into line.
The allegation that the Federal Government spent such a huge amount on power projects between 1999 and 2007 when Obasanjo was in government without anything to show in terms of improvement in electricity supply to homes and businesses across the country was first made in 2008 by the House of Representatives under the leadership of Dimeji Bankole. Bankole, who made the allegation, had subsequently set up a committee, led by Ndidi Elumelu, who has just been re-elected into the Green Chamber to probe the allegations.
But the work of the committee got enmeshed in controversies over allegations of bribery. Though the Committee submitted its report, there are only snippets of its findings in the public domain. However, President Buhari has held on to the claim, which he has also tacitly employed to depict Obasanjo’s lack of integrity whenever he or his government come under attack from his most outspoken predecessor. The President has also used the allegation to deflect criticisms from the former president.
Such was the case when the former president wrote an open letter, detailing why Buhari should not seek re-election just before the 2019 general elections.
“The previous government mentioned on their own that they spent $16 billion on power but you are better witnesses than myself. Where is the power? Where is the money? We will follow them, eventually God willing, we will catch them and get our money back,” Buhari told excited members of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, on February 13, 2019 in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, during a presidential campaign rally.
The President had also raised the issue of the waste of the $16 billion in at least, two meetings with his supporters in Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Therefore, when President Buhari repeated the claim in Bayelsa, Kehinde Akinyemi, the media aide to Obasanjo said it was not strange. “It is no more news. We are already expecting that. Since last year, Baba (Obasanjo) had said he would make himself available for the probe,” said Akinyemi.
The Elumelu Committee set up by Bankole had in its controversial report said that about $13.278 billion was spent on power projects between 1999 and 2007. Also, the committee had recommended termination of 13 contracts and review of 10 projects.
Excerpts from the report had also indicated that the committee recommended the interrogation of some former government officials, including Obasanjo; the then governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Agagu (now deceased); former Cross River State governor, Liyel Imoke; the then governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Prof Charles Soludo; former accountant-general of the federation and immediate past Gombe State governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo, among others over their involvement in the award of the contracts for the power projects.
The committee alleged in the report that Agagu and Imoke, both former ministers of the Ministry of Power and Steel, awarded contracts to non-existing firms, and must be made to account for their actions.
The committee, also in the report, advocated for the intervention of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to compel the indicted officials and institutions to account for their roles in the award and execution of the multi-billion naira contracts.
It also indicted former minister of state for energy, Alhaji Abdulhamid Ahmed, over indiscriminate approval of waivers for some contractors among others. In all, the committee made 88 recommendations, which, however, became contentious when it was tendered for consideration during the House plenary session.
To prevent the report from being thrown into the dustbin, following vehement opposition against it during the consideration, the House went into executive session. At the end of the session, the House resolved to form a seven-man committee, to be headed by Aminu Tambuwal, who was then the deputy chief whip to fashion a way forward on what to do with the report. Thus the report was literarily consigned to the dustbin. Obasanjo refused to honour the invitation of the Elumelu Committee during the probe in 2008. Instead, he wrote the committee to disprove the claim that he spent $16 billion on the power sector when he was president.
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Buhari instigated power probe
Yet, another opportunity for Obasanjo to clear himself of the allegations may come up in the next few weeks as the House of Representatives resumes for plenary. Going by the items on their plate just before they adjourned for their long holidays, one of the issues that will certainly occupy the attention of the lawmakers will be a renewed probe of the alleged $16 billion spending by Obasanjo and other contracts executed in the power sector by the successive governments of the late Umaru Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and even the incumbent President Buhari.
The decision followed a motion by Sada Soli, entitled: ‘Need to review government expenditure on the power sector to ensure sustenance of the power reform programme in Nigeria’, in which he recalled that an investigative hearing was conducted by the House of Representatives in 2008 over the alleged spending of about $16 billion on the sector.
He noted that spending such huge amount was with a target of generating 40,000MW of electricity from investments in power plants, even while acknowledging that the probe was instigated by President Buhari.
“The House acknowledges the lamentation by the President (Muhammadu Buhari) to the effect that such huge sums of billions of dollars could be spent without commensurate results in the generation, transmission and distribution of power supply in the country,” he said.
Following the motion, the lawmakers decided to set up an ad hoc committee which will conduct a detailed investigation into financial transactions in the sector under its reform programme since 1999. The committee is to conclude its probe within six weeks and submit its reports to the House.
“We would like to commend the House of Representatives for its decision to again re-investigate the power sector spending. It is our belief that what the House is set to do represents justice for the people of Nigeria who have had to bear the burden and pain associated with the poor power situation in the country,” a group, which goes by the name the South-West Peoples Alliance said while supporting the impending probe.
Oseni Ajimomuya, leader of the group at a briefing in Abuja on Friday, August 8, 2019 advised the House to submit copies of their findings to President Buhari and anti-graft agencies in the country for further action after the probe.
“It is our belief that there are known actors that were responsible for overseeing the sleaze that took place in the power sector spending since 1999. The most prominent, as every Nigerian possibly knows, is former president Olusegun Obasanjo who is reported to have spent a whopping sum of about $16 billion on power, with nothing worthy or credible to show for it,” Ajimomuya said.
Other groups, believed to have the support of the ruling party had also addressed the press in Abuja, calling for a probe of spending in the power sector.
Rather than wait for the lawmakers to conclude their probe, the EFCC has also launched a probe into the alleged $16 billion. The probe by EFCC specifically focused on the National Independent Power Projects, NIPP, executed by the Niger Delta Power Holding Company, NDPHC, from the over $8.5 billion cash taken from the Excess Crude Account, under the Obasanjo administration in 2006.
The funds were allegedly disbursed to contractors between 2006 and 2011 during the administrations of Obasanjo, the late Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan. It was gathered that the anti-graft agency is focusing its investigations on two ex-ministers and former top officials of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN.
EFCC, it was learnt, is also relying on the controversial report of the Elumelu Committee, especially recommendations made on prosecution of officials who superintended over the award of contracts in the sector during the period under probe.
According to EFCC, investigations had revealed that various contracts in relation to generation, transmission and distribution of electricity, were awarded to the tune of N22, 297,162; N467.5billion; US$445,244,630.07; €20,105,436.31 and £8,987,322.
The anti-graft agency had also reportedly grilled some Central Bank officials as well as officials of the Rockson Engineering Limited, which was reportedly paid a whopping $2 billion without due process.
In furtherance of the probe, the EFCC about two weeks ago arrested NDPHC Head of Finance, Mr. Marvel Emefiele, and Head of Compensation, Mr. Eze Odigbo, over alleged involvement in bogus payment and diversion of about N850 million compensation to communities where the components of the power project were sited.
Also, the Managing Director of Chris Ejik Nigeria Limited, Christian Imoka, was arrested for allegedly failing to execute the power contract it got, despite receiving N500 million.
EFCC sources said Imoka got contract for Lot 14 Lekki Ajah Transmission Line, but it allegedly did not execute the contract.
Also arrested was the Managing Director of Pivot Engineering, Mr Richard Ayibiowu, a company chaired by businessman, Mr. Oba Otudeko.
Ayibiowu was allegedly arrested because of the failure of his company to execute a N360 million contract.
But even before it begins, move to probe the power sector again by the House, led by Femi Gbajabiamila is facing opposition from other members of the House who believed it is targeted at Obasanjo.
It was gathered that some members of the PDP who believed that the APC members in the House were doing President Buhari’s bidding are getting ready to ensure that their colleagues will not take any action that will embarrass the former president.
This, as was gathered, includes stopping any move to invite the former president to attend the committee sitting to clear himself of any allegation that may come up.
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Aside Obasanjo, the name of former president Jonathan will also surely come up during the probe of the power projects.
It will be double trouble for Jonathan, who the Buhari government has vowed to probe over the $9.6 billion (N3.5 trillion) Process and Industrial Developments Ltd (P&ID) judgment debt.
Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture, told journalists at a joint press briefing in Abuja about two weeks ago that a probe of criminal conspiracy behind the failed contract has been ordered by President Buhari.
According to the minister, the contract, which led to the judgment debt, was signed during the administration of ex-president Jonathan.
At the joint press briefing were the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, and CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele.
According to Mohammed, EFCC, the National Intelligence Agency, NIA, and the Inspector General of Police, IGP, will be conducting the probe.
“The judgment that was delivered on Friday, 16 August 2019 is a fallout of the contract purportedly entered into in 2010 between the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources and P&ID.
“Please note that in the 20-year Gas Supply Processing Agreement, GSPA, purportedly entered into with the P&ID in 2010, the company never performed as agreed,” Lai Mohammed said.
In his contribution during the press briefing, Malami said: “The contract was designed ab initio to fail. We are investigating the criminal conspiracy.”
Malami had in an earlier press conference on Thursday, August 22, the first day of his resumption at the Ministry of Justice vowed that the Federal Government would prosecute everyone linked with the contract.
This was in spite of statement by some former officials of the Jonathan administration that the contract with P&ID was signed when the late president Yar’Adua’s cabal was holding sway at the presidential villa.
Already, the Buhari administration is prosecuting former officials of the Jonathan administration over alleged withdrawal of $2.1 billion to prosecute the 2015 general election.
EFCC versus Atiku
Also, under the radar of investigation by the anti-graft agencies was former vice president Atiku Abubakar. Atiku, the presidential candidate of the opposition PDP and major contender against Buhari in the 2019 presidential election was put on the defensive recently when EFCC claimed that one of his associates donated N50 million to the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library.
The allegation was part of the anti-graft agency’s investigation of alleged laundering of €150 million cash-for-poll by associates of the former vice-president. Atiku’s son-in-law, Abdullahi Babalele is being investigated alongside others for allegedly laundering the €150 million.
EFCC was carrying out the investigations with the belief that the money was meant to influence the 2019 election in which Atiku was a candidate.
The former vice president confirmed that some money was indeed donated to the Obasanjo Presidential Library, but insisted it was a normal donation because the library is a not-for-profit organisation and that the donation was made via a bank cheque of $140,000 and not cash.
“For the avoidance of doubt, Mallam Babalele Abdullahi, Atiku Abubakar’s son-in-law, did not donate any money in cash to the Olusegun Obasanjo Library.
“Yes, he did facilitate a donation of N50 million to the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, but so did many other individuals, including civic-minded traditional rulers, state governors, bankers and captains of industry,” said the former vice president.
Atiku also accused the commission of trying to “cause disaffection and bad blood” between him and the former president.
The former vice president claimed that the action is part of the “desperation on the part of the current administration to rope in Obasanjo into crime as a way of silencing his voice, which they see as the preeminent critical voice against the misrule that they have foisted on Nigerians.
“This is why they asked the Federal Inland Revenue Service to falsely and ’libelously’ include his name in a published list of tax evaders, along with the names of other Peoples Democratic Party sympathisers, such as prominent international singer and pride of Nigeria, Davido, who played a prominent role in PDP’s gubernatorial campaign in Osun State, for which he is being punished.”
In spite of such protestation, EFCC is currently prosecuting Babalele for the alleged laundering of $140,000.
The anti-graft agency has also arraigned Uyiekpen Osagie-Giwa, said to be Atiku’s lawyer, over allegation of laundering $2 million meant to influence the outcome of 2019 general election in Lagos.
Babalele and Osagie-Giwa, who were arraigned in the Federal High Court in Lagos pleaded not guilty to the charges and are currently on bail.
However, Presidency sources denied having anything to do with the ordeal of the former leaders as President Buhari was not in the habit of giving instructions to the EFCC.
In the same vein, the EFCC had repeatedly said its probe of the power sector was part of the fight against graft.