OBASANJO: Ex-president in the eye of storm


THESE, certainly, are not the best of times for former Nigerian president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. For the first time since he became the nation’s unofficial kingmaker following the expiration of his two-term tenure as President, his dominant influence on the polity is under severe threat. Calls for his probe have grown by the day since President Muhammadu Buhari confirmed the long-dated allegation that a whopping $16 billion was spent on electricity under Obasanjo’s watch as President between 1999 and 2007 without any remarkable result. Receiving some members of the Buhari Support Organisation (BSO) at the Presidential Villa penultimate Tuesday, the President told the delegation, led by the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), that a former Nigerian leader was bragging that his administration spent the said sum on electricity.

He then asked in disarming calmness: “Where is the power?” While a committee constituted by the House of Representatives to investigate the spending had in 2008 described the $16 billion spent on electricity as “a colossal waste” and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) had in 2016 called for an investigation into the expenditure, the matter had been discussed in muffled tones because of the awe and respect that surround Obasanjo’s personality. He is not just the only Nigerian that has led the country for eleven and a half years (including his three and a half years as head of state), he has acted as the ultimate force that determines the occupant of the nation’s number one seat. Following the collapse of his bid for a third term in office as President, Obasanjo had adopted the then Katsina State governor, Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua, in spite of rumours of the latter’s ill-health and rolled the machinery of government behind him to become the presidential candidate of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the eventual winner of the 2007 presidential election. He also anointed the then Bayelsa State governor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, as Yar’Adua’s running mate and ultimately the Vice President. And when Yar’Adua was incapacitated by ill-health barely two years into his four-year tenure, Obasanjo shifted support to Jonathan and worked for him not only to complete the two years that were left of Yar’Adua’s tenure but also to win a fresh election. In an instance of the instability of human relationship, however, Obasanjo fell apart with Jonathan midway into the latter’s four-year tenure and campaigned vigorously against his bid for a second term until Buhari won the election on the platform of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).

But while Obasanjo had succeeded in mobilising public angst against Yar’Adua and Jonathan at crucial moments, Obasanjo’s bid to use the same weapon against Buhari appears not to have worked with the same measure of efficacy. If anything, his recent call on Buhari via a widely publicised letter not to seek another term appears to be working in the reverse following Buhari’s declaration that the rumoured $16 billion electricity scandal is as real as day light. In apparent demystification of the awe and respect around the former President, individuals and groups are calling for a probe into the scandal even if it must involve calling Obasanjo for questioning. In a statement issued by its Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, last week, SERAP urged President Buhari to “urgently refer the allegations of mismanagement of $16 billion power projects between 1999 and 2007 to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) for further investigation, and if there is relevant and sufficient admissible evidence, for anyone suspected to face prosecution.” The statement reads in part: “We welcome the focus by President Muhammadu 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 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.” In a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Muhammad Ibrahim Biu, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) said the calls by some Nigerians that the $16 billion power projects scandal be probed was in order. Biu said: “From 1999 to date, the promises made by our political leaders to improve power supply have mostly been observed in the breach. The National Assembly had sometimes probed the alleged corruption associated with power supply, but Nigerians are yet to know the fate of that probe. Most worrisome is the lack of political will to bring to justice those found guilty by the probes which have unfortunately continued to encourage corruption by making it a way of life and culture.”

The ACF added that public officials, no matter how highly placed, must account for their malfeasance while in office, saying that the probe would serve as a deterrent to others and instil prudence in the management of public office. The Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, said during the week that heavens will not fall if Obasanjo is probed for the $16 billion spent on National Integrated Power Projects (NIPP) under his administration. There were also reports last week that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had commenced the probe of suspects in the failed power projects. Reacting to Buhari’s pronouncement on the failed power project in a statement, Obasanjo’s media aide, Kehinde Akinyemi, said President Buhari spoke from the position of ignorance because he relied on the “unsubstantiated allegations” against the former president by the then leadership of the House of Representatives. Akinyemi said: “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 had exculpated President 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 were 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 $16 billion on power projects was previously made. If he cannot read the threevolume book, he should detail his aides to do so and summarise the chapters in a language that he will easily understand.” Obasanjo’s critics are, however, of the opinion that he cannot plead any alibi in the matter because as the head of state and head of government, the government officials who awarded and supervised the failed contracts were his appointees. Will Obasanjo ride the storm? Only time will tell.  (The Nation )

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