President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday attacked former President Olusegun Obasanjo for spending $16bn on power projects during his tenure as the President without corresponding power supply to Nigerians.
Although he did not mention any name, Buhari said a former Nigerian leader was bragging at a time that his administration spent the amount on power sector, yet there was nothing to show for the expenditure.
Buhari spoke at the Presidential Villa, Abuja while receiving members of the Buhari Support Organisation led by the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (retd).
The House of Representatives had in 2008 described the $16bn spent on power projects by the Obasanjo administration as a colossal waste.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project had also in 2016 called for an investigation into the expenditure.
On Tuesday, Buhari insisted that past administrations failed to invest in infrastructure in the country.
He gave an indication that no roads were repaired in the country after his days at the Petroleum Trust Fund.
The President said, “You know more than I do on the condition of our roads. Some of them were not repaired since the PTF days.
“No matter what opinion you have about (late Gen. Sani) Abacha, I agreed to work with him and the PTF. We constructed road from here (Abuja) to Port Harcourt, to Onitsha, to Benin and so on.
“This was in addition to other things in education, medical care 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 $16bn, not naira, on power. Where is the power? Where is the power? And now we have to pay the debts. “This year and last year’s budgets that I took to the National Assembly were the highest in capital projects: more than $1.3 tn.
“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?”
Buhari said anybody who claimed to be fighting for the country should not be misappropriating or misapplying the nation’s resources the way some people did.
He reiterated his position that past Nigerian leaders did not save during the oil boom era.
He said, “I have to repeat what I want the public to know here.
“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 was selling at an average cost of $100 per barrel.
“It went up to $143. So, Nigeria was earning 2.1 million times 100 times 16 years seven days a week.
“When we came, it collapsed to between $37 and $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, and he is still there. I went with my cap in my hand and say oya (give me money). He said there were no savings, only debt.”
Buhari’s allegation based on ignorance –Obasanjo
But responding, Obasanjo said the President’s allegation that $16bn was wasted on power project, was rooted in ignorance.
In a statement issued on his behalf by Kehinde Akinyemi, his spokesman, Obasanjo said, “The answer is simple: the power is in the seven National Integrated Power Projects and eighteen gas turbines…”
The ex-President referred Buhari to his autobiography, My Watch, saying he had cleared allegations about the power project in the book.
The statement read, “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 $16bn 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 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 have exculpated President Obasanjo of any wrongdoing concerning the power sector and have 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, 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 sum of money was spent on Power Generation, Transmission And Distribution between June 1999 and May 2007 without commensurate result.
“We recommend that the President and his co-travellers should read Chapters 41, 42, 43 and 47 of My Watch for Chief Obasanjo’s insights and perspectives on the power sector and indeed what transpired when the allegation of $16bn 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 $16bn spent on power. To inform the uninformed, the so-called $16bn 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 $16bn 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.”
OBJ’s govt didn’t spend $16bn on power projects – CNM
In his response, however, the spokesman for the Obasanjo-led Coalition for Nigeria Movement, Mr. Akin Osuntokun, described the allegation as a rumour.
Osuntokun alleged the rumour was concocted by those in the late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s government and then spread by a former lawmaker.
He said several investigations and reports had shown that only $6bn was spent on the power sector during Obasanjo’s eight-year tenure.
He said Buhari was playing cheap politics with statistics.
The CNM spokesman said the late Senior Special Assistant to Obasanjo on Power Sector Reform and Coordinator, Seke Somolu, had provided all evidence as regards the matter.
He said that as far as Somolu was concerned, only $6.3bn was spent on the power projects during Obasanjo’s regime.
Osuntokun stated, “Seke sought to educate us saying $16bn was voted but warrant was issued for no more than $6.3bn spent largely on orders for turbines which could only be manufactured to specifications since they could not be picked from departmental stores’ shelves. Part of the disbursements also went into drawings, building of bridges on which the turbines would be ferried and compensation for communities from whom pieces of land was acquired. And much more.
“This once again demonstrates what I have cited as the pathological incompetence of this President. Is it not beneath the dignity of the exalted office he holds to join the chorus of beer parlour gossips? How can a president who has all the information at his beck and call degenerate to this level?
“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?
“We are now beginning to see the reason why Nigeria is fast disappearing into the abyss of primitive Stone Age leadership. It is not too late for him to heed the well-considered advice of his doctor to go home, eat more and sleep more.”
Buhari knows little about Nigeria – PDP
The Peoples Democratic Party however described Buhari’s statement as unfortunate. The PDP said it was unfortunate that Buhari stated that roads were not rehabilitated after he left the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund.
The National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said this in response to enquiries from The PUNCH on the subject, in Abuja, on Tuesday.
He said, “If the President actually said that then it is unfortunate. It simply shows that he knows very little about this country.”
Buhari must probe $16bn power project, corrupt ex-leaders – SERAP, CACOL
But two civil society organisations, the Socio-Economic and Right Accountability Project and the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, said Buhari should probe and not just comment on the $16bn power projects and perceived corrupt former leaders of the country.
The SERAP Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, said, “We have consistently maintained the position that previous regimes have misappropriated large sums of money on projects. What should happen is that the President must look into this vacuum and bring whoever is involved to justice. Nigerians insist that impunity must not continue.
“People must be held accountable for what happened in their regimes, no matter how highly placed they are. It does not matter who the corrupt former leaders now associate with. If the President agrees with us that there is indeed misappropriation, the government should move to bring the culpable people to book.”
Also, CACOL Director, Debo Adeniran, said, “Our stand is that the Federal Government should waste no time further but should probe whoever is behind poorly implemented national projects. Now that the President has confirmed that $16bn was wasted under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the Buhari administration needs to summon enough courage and political will to bring the culprits to book.
“Power, influence and political leanings should not be considered in bringing whoever is guilty to book.”
While commending members of the support group earlier, the President admitted that not many of them had benefitted anything for supporting him over the years from his opposition days till now.
He said many of them were only expecting their reward from God while they were also working for a better future for their children and grandchildren.
The President said while some parents could afford to send their children abroad to study, he wondered the kind of Nigerians they wanted the children to come and work with back at home.
Buhari again listed part of the achievements of his ongoing anti-corruption war to include the way some suspected corrupt persons had disowned their properties.
“Now, we get some of the people with houses maybe in Abuja or somewhere in America and Europe, they swear, some of them to God, that the houses do not belong to them.
“But traces from their accounts, through the banks, through their companies, showed they belong to them but they said they did not belong to them.
“This is a terrible time and the people are asking what are we doing, why can’t you lock them up?
“And again, I went on by telling them that when I was in uniform, younger and rather ruthless, I got from the President downward and locked them up in Kirikiri. I said ‘you are guilty except you prove your innocence.’
“I myself was locked up and those who misappropriated public funds gave back what they had taken away. Who did anything about it?
“Then I decided to come and put on agbada. I tried one, two, three, four times. God agreed,” the President added.
He again recalled his experience in the courts while contesting the results of previous presidential elections that he contested and lost.
Buhari, however, said he had nothing to regret.
He promised to continue to work hard to reposition the country.
Buhari urged his supporters to continue to pray that God should put people of conscience at all levels of government in the country.