Revisiting the $16bn power probe


In an apparent move to keep faith on one of the three pillars on which his administration is anchored, namely, the fight against corruption President Muhammadu Buhari said he will probe the spending of the $16 billion Independent Power Project executed by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The other pillars of the Buhari government are the anti-terrorism fight and revamping the economy. Speaking in Yenagoa, Bayelsa state, last week during his re-election campaign rally, President Buhari said: “When we came in 2015, we assured Nigerians of adequate security, economy and infrastructure, we also promised to make people occupying executive positions both in federal and state governments to be accountable to the people. Fighting corruption has been very difficult, but we’re committed and determined. There was no power supply, but we’re bringing it back.

“The previous government mentioned on their own that they had spent $16 billion on power, but the question is: where is the power?

Where is the money spent? We will follow them and eventually, God willing, we will get them and will get our money back.” Responding to President Buhari’s threat, Obasanjo said those criticising his administration of wasting $16 billion on power sector lack understanding. He said Buhari only re-echoed what can be called an unsubstantiated allegation. The former president explained that he had given details of what happened concerning the amount on many occasions.

 Speaking through his aide, Kehinde Akinyemi, Obasanjo said it was wrong for anyone to continue with the unsubstantiated allegations against him by the then leadership of House of Representatives over the project. In the statement said: “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 Obasanjo by his own predecessor but one. 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 Obasanjo of any wrong-doing concerning the power sector and has proved the allegations as false.

“For the records, Chief Obasanjo has 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 Chief Obasanjo, 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.

“The president also queried where the power generated is. The answer is simple: The power is in the seven National Integrated Power Projects (NIPP) 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.

 “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.”

 It is instructive that a report released in 2017 by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) stated that at least N11 trillion meant for the provision of adequate electricity for Nigerians was squandered under ex-presidents Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan.

The report also estimated that the “financial loss to Nigeria from corruption in the electricity sector may further reach N20 trillion in the next 10 years”.

 It said, “The total estimated financial loss to Nigeria from corruption in the electricity sector starting from the return to democracy in 1999 to date is over N11 trillion. This represents public funds, private equity and social investment (or divestments) in the power sector.

It is estimated that may reach over N20 trillion in the next decade given the rate of government investment and funding in the power sector amidst dwindling fortune and recurrent revenue shortfalls”.

The power sector reforms in Nigeria under the Electric Power Sector Reform Act of 2005 is yet to yield desired and/or anticipated fruits largely due to corruption and impunity of perpetrators, regulatory lapses, and policy inconsistencies.

 Ordinary Nigerians continue to pay the price for corruption in the electricity sector–staying in darkness, but still made to pay crazy electricity bills.

The report said the Obasanjo administration spent $10 billion on NIPP with no results in terms of increase in power generation. $13.278,937,409.94 was expended on the power sector in eight years while unfunded commitments amounted to $12 billion.

It is indeed incumbent on the Buhari administration to reopen the $16 billion power sector probe under the Obasanjo administration. No responsible government, more so one with zero-tolerance for corruption, can afford to ignore such monumental corruption in a sector that has remained prostrate, needing even higher funding and reforms.

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