By Jonathan Nda-Isaiah
After months of maintaining pin-drop silence, President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday, returned the battle to former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s doorsteps when he challenged him to account for the $16 billion expended on power during his administration. As the power play betweenthe duo unfolds, JONATHAN NDA- ISAIAH delves into the intrigues.
“I don’t care what your opinion is about Abacha. I agreed to work with him and we constructed roads from Abuja to Port Harcourt, Benin to Onitsha and so on. We also touched education and health institutions. One of the former Heads of State was bragging that he spent more than $15 billion on power in Nigeria. Where is the power?’’
These were the words of President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday when he received members of the Buhari Support Organisations led by Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Hammed Ali. Soon after the president dropped this bombshell, political observers jumped into the arena to make something out of it. To them, it is apparent that the gloves are off with this comment from the president. It is an indication that Buhari’s patience is now at an end and he is not ready to swallow the constant criticism and attacks from Obasanjo anymore.
Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s president between 1999 and 2007, had been the most ardent critic of the Buhari administration which he describes as inept and abysmal failure. The former president had, in a special release earlier this year, advised the president to not seek reelection in 2019. He cited nepotism, clannishness and lack of capacity on the part of Buhari to govern Nigeria as his reason. He is also currently engaged in a nationwide mobilisation of political forces to stop Buhari’s second term bid, come 2019.
In all these, the president has maintained a graveyard silence, leaving only the minister of information, Lai Mohammed, to respond to the former president’s allegations. Perhaps, President Buhari might have borrowed a leaf from Sun Tzu Quotes contained in his book, ‘The Art of War’, which states: “If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected”.
No doubt, the president, who is an ex-general in the army should be conversant with Sun Tzu’s tactics and methods. This probably explains why he chose the appropriate time to take the war to Obasanjo and hit him where it hurts – the power sector probe.
Analysts have also posited that the political feud between the two senior citizens is now at a stage where the hunter has suddenly become the hunted. The view is that when Obasanjo started out with Buhari, he didn’t take into cognizance, the fact that he who comes to equity must do so with clean hands. It is always found when a hunter tracks down his game with much accuracy and consumate exactitude, but sometimes it becomes horrible when terror is unleashed in the reverse just because the hunter has suddenly become the hunted.
The $16 billion power expenditure by the Obasanjo administration was a subject of investigation by the National Assembly for which he was summoned but refused to appear. It is instructive to note that, the House of Representatives had, in 2007, asked a committee to investigate Obasanjo’s expenditure of over $16 billion on various projects in the power sector from 1999 to May 2007, with minimal improvement in electricity supply. The House Committee held public hearings, visited sites of the various power projects, but ended the task with alleged taints of underhand dealings.
Recommendations of the Probe Committee
According to the report, the committee recommended that some former and serving public officials be interrogated by the country’s anti-graft agencies for their role in the power project contracts. Those penciled down for probe were former president Olusegun Obasanjo, the then governor of Ondo State, Dr Olusegun Agagu, then governor of Cross River state, Mr Liyel Imoke, then Central Bank governor, Professor Charles Soludo, and then Accountant General of the Federation, Ibrahim Dankwambo, among others.
The committee, in the report, expressed belief that the intervention of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in the matter, would compel the indicted officials and institutions to account for their roles in the award and execution of the multi-billion naira contracts for the Independent Power Projects, NIPPs.
The panel also indicted the former MD of Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, and a cousin and Special Adviser to President Obasanjo, Mr Joseph Makoju. It proposed a mass purge in PHCN to enhance its performance and submitted that all the power projects be reviewed.
Agagu and Imoke, both former ministers in the Ministry of Power and Steel, who, according to the committee’s findings, awarded contracts to non-existing firms, must be made to account for their actions. The panel dismissed their explanations on the role they played in the scandal as ‘unsatisfactory.’ It recommended that the indicted persons, if found guilty in the trial, be barred from holding any public office in future.
In the case of the possible culpability of Obasanjo and the former minister of state for energy, Alhaji Abdulhamid Ahmed, the committee was unsparing in its condemnation of the contentious practice of approving waivers for some contractors and, in a damning indictment, observed that in view of their alleged roles in the entire projects, Obasanjo and Ahmed should be cited for economic sabotage.
“The committee identified the brains behind waivers of due process on NIPP disbursements. The Justification at that time was to fast-track the completion of the projects. But rather than fact-track or facilitate the completion of the projects as envisaged, waivers of due process became the major plank that facilitated payments to contractors and consultants that have failed to perform at the expense of the nation and the power industry. These officers need to be thoroughly investigated by the appropriate agencies for economic sabotage to the country,” the report noted.
Referring to Obasanjo, the report said, “In view of the enormity of issues entailed in the findings, it is recommended that former President Olusegun Obasanjo be called to account for the recklessness in the power sector during his time. The committee recommends that EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences, ICPC, investigate him.”
On Ahmed, the committee said, “for his patently willful manipulation of due process, flagrant abuse of due process, gross abuse of financial procedures in the award of contracts and payments, especially during the last few weeks of the Obasanjo administration, exemplified by initiation of requests to the president and procurement of presidential approvals for huge and questionable payments in respect of Papalanto Phase II, Mambila Plateau I, Zungeru Hydro, Omoku expansion, Gabarain Ubie expansion and Egbema expansion (nine additional GE Frame turbines to Rockson International) without due process compliance for contract award and certification for payment, the committee found out that during the tenure of Olusegun Agagu as minister of power and steel, numerous contracts were awarded relying on a letter from the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC.
At the time of Agagu’s tenure as minister in 2002, the committee found out that some unregistered companies were awarded huge contracts. Consequently, there was a prima facie evidence that Agagu awarded contracts without due process. Up till the time of this report, all efforts to the owners of the companies to appear in person before the committee proved abortive. Rather, the committee received some documents containing reports that the companies were registered. The true identities of the owners remained unresolved.
“In view of the huge amount involved, the committee recommends that EFCC and ICPC should investigate the allegations with a view to prosecuting anyone found culpable.”
The report equally hit hard on the CBN and the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation. “The committee is perturbed by the failure of the CBN governor to provide information in respect of Letters of Credit opened and where the money involving over $1 billion dollars had been kept all these years.”
It therefore recommended that: “in view of the apparent unwillingness of the CBN to cooperate with the committee in this matter or provide the committee with a proper account of withdrawals from the excess crude account, the balance on the account, where the money in respect of unutilised letters of credit are kept and interest that have accrued thereto, we recommend that the EFCC be invited to investigate the office of the Accountant –General of the Federation and the CBN in respect of the above issues relating to Letters of Credit opened.”
Calling for a mass purge at the PHCN, the committee said, “the crass incompetence entrenched at the top echelon of management of the PHCN and NDPHC/NIPP must be addressed decisively and with utmost dispatch. In this respect, it would be absolutely necessary to cleanse the Aegean Stable immediately. The committee recommends intensive and extensive purge at all levels of PHCN and associated agencies.”
It is instructive to note that in 2016, transparency group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, had sent a letter to the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, requesting him to urgently “appoint an independent counsel to investigate allegations of corruption in the spending of $16 billion on electricity by the government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo between 1999 and 2007.” SERAP said the request was brought “pursuant to Section 52 of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000, and the letter and spirit of the Act, and the object and purpose of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”
The letter, dated November 24, and signed by SERAP’s senior staff counsel, Timothy Adewale, noted: “A Parliamentary Hearing by the House of Representatives in Abuja over the spending of $16 billion between 1999 and 2007 on the power project revealed through testimonies of witnesses appearing before the committee that the $16 billion budgeted for the power project may have been stolen by some state officials and others, and cannot be accounted for.
“Section 52 of the Corrupt Practices Act requires the Chief Justice of Nigeria to authorise an independent counsel to investigate any allegation of corruption against high level public officials – at the federal or state level – and to report his findings to the National Assembly or appropriate house of assembly.
“We believe that the above highlighted findings by the Parliamentary Hearing has sufficiently demonstrated good cause invariably justifying your intervention in the matter. We therefore urge you to interpret this provision robustly and flexibly in the light of the unique role of the judiciary in the efforts to prevent and combat corruption and its destructive effects on the society.
“We believe your urgent intervention will contribute to improving the integrity of government and public confidence and trust in their government. It would also serve as a vehicle to further the public’s perception of fairness and thoroughness, and to avert even the most subtle of influences that may appear in an investigation of highly-placed executive officials.
“We also urge you to be guided, not by technicalities of ICPC Act, but by the overall public interest involved in the enjoyment of the right to regular and uninterrupted electricity supply by millions of Nigerians, and the spirit and letter of the constitution. In particular, Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution dealing with fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy, high-level public officials have a clear obligation to “eradicate all corrupt practices.”
PMB’s Counter Attack on OBJ
On Tuesday, President Buhari challenged Obasanjo to show Nigerians the electricity he claimed to have spent a whopping $16 billion on. As the president was hitting Obasanjo, a top presidency source was confiding in LEADERSHIP that the probe of Obasanjo by the current administration will no longer be business as usual like the last investigation attempted by the House of Representatives during the administration of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, which was frustrated by Obasanjo.
According to him, the federal government is poised to probe the former president who has been mistaking President Buhari’s silence for weakness. The source who did not want his name in print said: “This is a clear indication that the president is taking the fight to the former president. His silence to Obasanjo’s constant criticism has been seen as a weakness and this is the first time the president will reply Obasanjo.
“Recall that during the administration of the late Yar’Adua, Obasanjo scattered the House of Reps committee. If President Buhari decides to probe this power project, it will be different now and will not be business as usual.”
Meanwhile, President Buhari who spoke when he received members of the Buhari Support Organisation led by the Comptroller General of Nigerian Customs and Excise, Colonel Hamid Ali, at the Aso Rock presidential villa, Abuja, regretted that the nation has nothing to show for the $16 billion spent on power. Addressing the group, President Buhari stated pointblank that those who mismanaged the nation’s economy through fraudulent electricity projects and miss use of revenue earnings from oil had no love for the country.
Accordingly, he urged Nigerians to remain vigilant and ensure that only ‘‘people of conscience are in-charge of governance at all levels,’’ as the country prepares for the general elections in 2019.
‘‘I challenge anybody to check from Europe, America and Asia, from 1999-2014, Nigeria was producing 2.1 million barrels of crude oil per day at an average cost of $100 per barrel and it went up to $143. When we came, it collapsed to $37 – $38 and later was oscillating between $40 and $50. I went to the CBN Governor, with my cap in my hand, and asked if we had savings. He told me we had only debts, no savings. Some of the roads were not repaired since the Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF, days. I don’t care what your opinion is about Abacha but I agreed to work with him and we constructed roads from Abuja to Port Harcourt, Benin to Onitsha and so on. We also touched education and health institutions. One of the former head of state was bragging that he spent more than $15 billion on power in Nigeria. Where is the power?’’
On the mismanagement of the economy by previous administrations, President Buhari noted that the perpetrators lacked imagination and plans for the development of the nation.
‘‘Sometimes, I wonder about those who can afford to send their children abroad for studies and yet continue to sabotage the economy. I wonder what kind of Nigeria they want their children to return to and work. There is a lot of lack of imagination. If you are working for the country, then you shouldn’t be misappropriating and misapplying public funds the way people did,’’ he said.
The president noted that under his watch, the 2016 and 2017 budgets recorded the highest appropriation and releases in capital projects, with over N2.8 trillion disbursements in two years. He also urged Nigerians to reject those bent on dividing the country along religious and ethnic lines, warning that they do not mean well for the country.
‘‘I have said severally that we do not have any other country than Nigeria and we will remain here and salvage it together. We have nothing to regret. Absolutely nothing. God has given Nigeria everything. We are rich in human and material resources. Let us keep on praying to God to put people of conscience in-charge at all levels,’’ he added.
But in a swift reaction, Obasanjo that same Tuesday dared the Buhari administration to setup an enquiry into the $16 billion power projects under his tenure as civilian president, saying he is ready for a probe. In a statement signed by his media aide, Kehinde Akinyemi, the former president noted that the president’s remarks smacked of ignorance and without information, adding that the administration was re-echoing the unsubstantiated allegation against him by one of his predecessor.
He said that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission as well as the Aminu Tambuwal-led ad-hoc committee cleared him of any corrupt act over the power project fund.
The statement made available to LEADERSHIP reads: “It has come to the attention of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo that a statement credited to President Muhammadu Buhari, apparently without correct information and based on ignorance, suggested that $16 billion was wasted on power projects by ‘a former President.’ We believe that the President was re-echoing the unsubstantiated allegation against Chief Obasanjo by his own predecessor.
“While it is doubtful that a president with proper understanding of the issue would utter such, it should be pointed out that records from the National Assembly had exculpated President Obasanjo of any wrong-doing concerning the power sector and has proved the allegations as false.
“Chief Obasanjo challenges, and in fact, encourages anybody to set up another enquiry if in doubt and unsatisfied with the EFCC report and that of the Hon. Aminu Tambuwal-led ad-hoc committee.”
Obasanjo added that the issue of the power sector and the allegations against him had been addressed on many occasions and platforms, including his widely publicised book, ‘My Watch.’
He said he exhaustively stated the facts and reproduced various reports by both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, which conducted a clinical investigation into the allegations and the ad-hoc committee on the review of the recommendations in the report of the committee on power on the investigation into how the huge sums of money was spent on power generation, transmission and distribution between June 1999 and May 2007 without commensurate result.
Political analysts are of the opinion that, while the battle line has been drawn between the two generals, with more fireworks expected in the coming days, who will blinks first, is what they are waiting to see. Only time will tell.