•Ex-president must account for $16bn power funds
•I’m ready for probe –Ex-president
Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja; Laide Raheem,
President Muhammadu Buhari and former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, yesterday, traded words over $16 billion allegedly expended on power project between 1999 and 2013.
Although Buhari did not explicitly mention Obasanjo’s name, it was obvious he was referring to the Ogun-State-born former military head of state former head of state claimed to have spent $16 billion on non-existent electricity.
The president, who had last month given reasons why he avoided responding to Obasanjo’s ‘letter’ to him listing his alleged failures and advising him not to seek re-election in the 2019 polls, spoke when he received the Buhari Support Organisation led by the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Hammed Ali, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The House of Representatives had in 2008 described $16 billion spent on power by Obasanjo’s government as colossal waste, blaming it on “poor budget planning and a lack of proper oversight by relevant bodies.
Also, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) had in 2016 urged the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, to immediately appoint an independent counsel to investigate allegations of corruption in the spending of $16 billion on electricity by Obasanjo’s government.
While Buhari said Obasanjo has questions to answer over the huge sum he spent during his eight-year administration, the former president dismissed it as unsubstatiated allegation even as he dared the administration to probe him.
Buhari’s words: “I have to repeat what I want the public to know here. Some of you may not have heard it. Either there is no power in you place or you have not even seen it on television. I said and I challenge anybody to check from Europe, Asia and America. Between 1999 and 2014, Nigeria was getting 2.1 million barrels per day and average cost of $100 per barrel. It went up to $143. So, Nigeria was earning 2.1 million multiply by 100, multiply by 16 years, seven days a week. When we came, it collapsed to $37-$38 and it was oscillating between $40 and $54 sometimes. I went to the governor of Central Bank, thank goodness I did not sack him, he is still there. I went with my cap in my hand and say, ‘oya.’ He said there was no savings, only debt.
“And you know more than I do the condition of the roads and some of them were not repaired since PTF days. No matter what opinion you have about Abacha, I agreed to work with him and the PTF road we did from here to Port Harcourt, to Onitsha, to Benin and so
on. On top of other things in the institution, education, medical cares and so on.
“You know the rail was killed and one of the former heads of state between that time was bragging that he spent more than $15 billion, not Naira, on power. Where is the power? Where is the power? And now we have to pay the debts; and this year and last year’s budget I took to the National Assembly was the highest in capital projects, more than N1.3 trillion.
“Let anybody come and confront me publicly in the National Assembly. What have they been doing? Some of them have been there for 10 years. What have they been doing? So really this country luckily for me I said it about eight years that we have no other country than Nigeria, we should remain here and salvage it together no matter what you have outside.”
But in a swift reaction, Chief Olusegun said he was prepared to face a fresh panel over the issue.
In a statement signed by his media aide, Kehinde Akinyemi, Obasanjo, wondered how a president who has all the information at his beck and call could degenerate to the level of peddling unsubstantiated allegation based on ignorance.
“Is it on account of a famed short attention span which precludes him from grappling with any serious reading beyond his self-confessed affinity for newspaper cartoons? Is it with this kind of levity that he attends to Federal Executive Council memos?” he fired.
“We are now beginning to see the reason why Nigeria is fast disappearing into the abyss of primitive stone age leadership. It really is not too late for him to heed the well considered of his doctor to go home, eat more and sleep more.”
The statement added: “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.”
Obasanjo said he had addressed the issues of the power sector and the allegations against him on many occasions and platforms, including in his widely publicised book, “My Watch” in which 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 against him 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.
Obasanjo referred Buhari to chapters 41, 42, 43 and 47 of the book to understand what transpired when the allegation of $16 billion on power projects was previously made.
“If he cannot read the three-volume book, he should detail his aides to do so and summarise the chapters in a language that he will easily understand.
“In the same statement credited to the President, it was alleged that there was some bragging by Chief Obasanjo over $16 billion spent on power. To inform the uninformed, the so-called $16 billion power expenditure was an allegation against Chief Obasanjo’s administration and not his claim. The president also queried where the power generated is. The answer is simple: The power is in the seven National Integrated Power Projects and eighteen gas turbines that Chief Obasanjo’s successor who originally made the allegation of $16 billion did not clear from the ports for over a year and the civil works done on the sites.”
Obasanjo challenged and encouragesd anybody to set up another enquiry if in doubt and unsatisfied with the EFCC report and that of the Aminu Tambuwal-led ad-hoc committee.