Supporters of the incumbent and former president spoke as the House of Representatives distanced itself from President Buhari’s assertions of indolence by legislators, saying the President only asserted his opinion.
However, stakeholders in labour and civil society welcomed the face-off between the two generals, saying it could bring about the much-needed probity and accountability in the power sector.
Also, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP) on its part, urged President Buhari to refer the allegations of mismanagement of fund meant for the power sector to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, for further investigation
Spokesmen of the two major parties, the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, distanced themselves from the controversy sparked after President Buhari alleged that a former president had spent $16 billion on power with nothing to show for it.
Dr. Obasanjo, under whom the country’s power sector reforms and National Integrated Power Project, NIPP, scheme were initiated immediately fired back, charging Buhari to read his explanations from his book, My Watch and if not, have his aides read it and break it down for him in a language he could understand.
Okechukwu, Omokri, Fani-Kayode fire salvoes
Among those who reacted yesterday were the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, Mr. Reno Omokiri, who served as a presidential aide in the Goodluck Jonathan presidency, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, who served as campaign spokesman to the Jonathan 2015 Presidential Campaign, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria, VON, Mr. Peter Esele and Comrade Issa Aremu, both labour leaders.
In his reaction to the development yesterday, Omokri in a tweet flayed President Buhari for being ignorant of the facts and being ungrateful.
He said: “Buhari is ungrateful for saying he is paying Obasanjo’s debt. Obasanjo did not spend $16 billion on power. Obasanjo actually paid ALL our foreign debt and left a total reserve of $67 billion. It’s Buhari who has borrowed more in three years than PDP borrowed in 16 years.”
He also flayed President Buhari for praising late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, saying it ridicules the President’s anti-corruption war.
“What type of anti-corruption crusader chooses Abacha, a proven thief, as his mentor? When I schooled in England, my university had a module on Abacha’s thievery. This is the man Buhari aspires to be? The man who exiled Tinubu and NADECO!”
Fani-Kayode, on his part, also questioned Buhari’s moral basis of throwing issues at Obasanjo, saying: “The greatest mistake President Obasanjo made was not to prosecute and jail President Buhari over PTF funds,” he said.
“I saw the report, and it was shocking. Obasanjo summoned him and showed him the damning report. Sadly Obasanjo let him off the hook.”
Abacha had appointed Buhari as chairman of the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund (PTF), in 1994, but the agency was disbanded by Obasanjo after he became president in 1999.
Okechukwu in his response to the face-off yesterday said: “Let me state that President Muhammadu Buhari, from my knowledge of him, adheres strictly to the best military tradition of esprit de corps, meaning that he has tremendous respect for his colleagues.
“But when ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, a man he has tremendous respect for, for no just cause, descends into the arena, serially splashing mud on him; naturally being human, he has no option but to open his underbelly. For in our local parlance it is only a tree that they want to hew down which stood still.
“This reminds one that if it was an extrovert like Rt. Hon. Chuba Okadigbo of blessed memory, Obasanjo will by now be explaining to the world the gulf between his penury in 1999 and the stupendous wealth post-presidential villa.”
Probe $16b power spending — CNPP, SERAP, AFRICMIL
The CNPP on its part has urged President Buhari not to stop at throwing jibes at Obasanjo as he did yesterday, but go a step further by instituting a public probe of the power spending and other expenditure during Obasanjo’s tenure.
CNPP Secretary-General, Chief Willy Ezugwu in a statement yesterday said: “We expect President Buhari to institute a full-scale public inquiry into the spending on power by former President Obasanjo’s administration. This will give teeth to his anti-graft war.
“His administration’s concentration on one particular administration, while leaving the ones before the former President Goodluck Jonathan government has been the reason for our doubt of the sincerity in his war against corruption.
“Although President Buhari did not mention any name, he was widely quoted as saying that a former Nigerian leader was bragging at a time that his administration spent $16bn on the power sector, yet there was nothing to show for it.
“Therefore, if the President knows what we don’t know, it is time to prove to Nigerians that he is really fighting corruption. We now call on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately begin the probe and assure all Nigerians that he is not selective on his anti-graft war.
“Mr. President must equally probe members of his cabinet fingered in corruption cases to make his war on corruption total,” the CNPP said.
SERAP on its part in a statement by its executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni, called for the probe of the N11 trillion allegedly lost to corruption in the power sector since 1999.
“We welcome the focus by President Buhari on the massive allegations of corruption and mismanagement in the power sector and urge him to expand his searchlight beyond the Obasanjo government by ensuring accountability and full recovery of the over N11 trillion squandered by the three administrations.
“It is only by pursuing all the allegations and taking the evidence before the court that the truth will be revealed and justice best served. This is the only way to conclusively address the systemic corruption in the power sector and an entrenched culture of impunity of perpetrators.”
“By immediately pursuing justice and recovery of any stolen assets in the power sector, the Buhari government would be acting in the public interest, and consistent with the spirit and letter of the constitution, particularly Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution dealing with Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, and providing that high-level public officials have a clear obligation to “eradicate all corrupt practices and abuse of power.”
Meanwhile, a civil society organisation, the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), has called for a full scale and wide-ranging investigations” into the administrations of all former Nigerian leaders and bring those who breached public trust to account.
The organisation in a public statement signed by its coordinator, Chido Onumah, and made available to Vanguard on Wednesday, argued that the federal government had a duty to probe all grey areas in every administration beyond the alleged $16 billion power sector expenditure.
It will be recalled that while addressing his supporters on Tuesday, President Buhari said that former president Obasanjo had questions to answer for spending $16 billion on power without commensurate result. President Obasanjo promptly responded by accusing Buhari of being ignorant of the facts on the matter. He also said he was ready to be probed again on the matter, which was first investigated by the House of Representatives.
Onumah said: “This challenge the former president throws at the federal government presents a unique opportunity for us as a country to revisit our past and bring all our past leaders to account. Reopening the power sector expenditure probe would be a step in the right direction for the country, but that should be the beginning”.
A welcome face-off, says Issa Aremu
Aremu, a member of the Nigerian Labour Congress, National Executive Committee (NEC), on his part described the faceoff as a welcome development for the polity.
“My take is that it is remarkably healthy that the political contestation between Buhari and Obasanjo now touches on a critical issue such as accountability on power supply in the country.
“It is good for our democracy if disagreements among politicians are based on policy issues, not personal diatribes. OBJ should answer the question Buhari asked which indeed all Nigerians are asking; where is power supply despite the amount that has been spent?. I think it is uncharitable and arrogantly cheeky for OBJ to refer Nigerians to read his book on how he was acquitted by the 7th assembly on the accusation of corruption and profligacy.
“The truth is that many Nigerians lack electricity to read his so-called book, My Watch, whether he spent One kobo or $6 billion or $16billion as alleged. OBJ should demonstrate statesmanship and express regret that he met Nigeria in 1999 in darkness and left the nation in perpetual power failure in 2007. It is also unacceptable for OBJ to put the blame on late Yar Adua for not pushing power projects to the logical conclusion.
“Between Buhari and OBJ diatribes on the power supply the point cannot be overstated that Nigeria is still miserably energy poor compared to South Africa and even Ghana. There can be no industrialization without electrification. Nigeria should stop any action plan that will further give monies to non-performing Privatized electricity distribution companies (Discos) in Nigeria. The government should massively invest in the energy mix of hydro, solar and nuclear to drive Industrialization. This task of nation building and wealth generation calls for cooperation and seriousness on the part of all leaders and all Nigerians.”
Also, Peter Esele, former President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and also former President of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) said: ‘’I think the bottom line is that if Buhari feels Obasanjo spent N416 billion for power that is unaccounted for, it is Buhari’s responsibility to now set up a probe and ask how that money was expended. Was it actually $16 billion? We need to get to the bottom of this figure; some figure say $16 billion, some say $12bn, some say $10 billion. We need to get to the bottom of this figure and that will also now set up a standard for us.
“One thing that is very clear from all of this is that our system is not working; our procurement policies are not working; it also means there is no transparency. If there was transparency, it would have been easy for Nigerians to know how much was expended in the process of generating power.
“It is not rocket science. Every megawatt cost about a million dollars, so if you are talking about $16 billion; when you divide it by $1 million, you would know that you would have generated over 10,000 megawatts. Even if you now add the fact that it is Nigeria, so many things can happen, but the international standard of generating one megawatt of electricity is $1 million.
Buhari on his own — Reps
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives yesterday distanced itself from President Buhari’s charge of indolence saying the president spoke his personal opinion on the issue.
Briefing journalists yesterday after plenary, House spokesman, Abdulrazaq Namdas said “as for the president’s remarks, we believe that the president can hold an opinion as regards the performance of individual members of the National Assembly.
“In fact, our constituents have been doing just that, members of the National Assembly have been replaced by their constituents as a result of such opinions.
“However, we want to believe that the President was not questioning the role of the National Assembly as an institution of democracy because that will be a worrying sign that our democracy will be in peril but we believe he was not referring to that.
The House spokesman also used the opportunity to explain the fact that the National Assembly did not deliberately frustrate the 2018 budget.
“We want to state again clearly that on the issue of budget, the 2017 budget was meant to run for 12 months. I want to tell you that we have not short-changed anybody. If we had passed this budget earlier, I could tell you that the level of performance will not be here at the moment.
“The budget is a law, even this 2018 budget that was just passed by the National Assembly, we stated clearly that it should run for 12 months. So even if we had passed the budget earlier than now, it could not take effect until we mend that aspect of the 12 calendar months.”
He said that whatever glory the President takes from the high appropriation to capital projects must be shared with the legislators who he said approved the budget.