The Power Project Scandal – Tribune Editorial



April 2, 2008


SINCE independence in 1960, the advent of successive administrations has been heralded by high-sounding promises. The tragic reality, however, is that each of these administrations, with probably one or two exceptions, has made a greater mess of the business of governance than its predecessor. This explains why there has been a terrible decline in all facets of national life and consequently in the quality of life of the ordinary Nigerian. The government has been an abysmal failure in the performance of basic responsibilities.

TO escape from the agony of inexplicable misery that keeps ravaging a land of abundance, Nigerians have been voting with their feet. Frustrated young graduates as well as academics and professionals that cannot find fulfilment at home have been migrating to other lands. Many of them are in countries that used to see Nigeria as paradise on earth. So many have lost their lives in the course of the desperate gamble to get into Europe through the Sahara desert. It’s all in an effort to escape from economic hardship and social injustice in a country in which a tiny minority appropriates what belongs to the commonwealth without regard for the welfare of the vast majority of the people.

REVELATIONS from the public hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Power and Steel on the power projects of the Olusegun Obasanjo administration have shown, and very clearly too, that the so-called leaders have been playing games with the lives of the people they promised to serve.

IN our editorial of Thursday, February 7, 2008, on “The Police Equipment Fund Scandal,” we wrote: “It has been a season of scandals. Before one is disposed of, another has broken. Each scandal is being pushed to the back burner by a fresh discovery.” It has happened again and as anticipated, public focus has shifted to fresh scandals. And in line with the established tradition, the police equipment fund issue has become history like the Ajaokuta Steel scam, the Wilbros case, the Schneider contract issue, the Siemens bribery controversy, the Patricia Etteh affair, the Petroleum Technology Development Fund sleaze and many others. The circumstances surrounding the sudden resignation of the two ministers in the Federal Ministry of Health and the revelations on the power projects of the immediate past administration are the current subjects of public discourse.

DISCLOSURES so far made in the course of investigations into the power projects of the Obasanjo presidency have been mind-blowing. The week-long public hearing clearly demonstrated to all Nigerians why the country is where it is. What started with a seemingly innocuous remark by President Umaru Yar’Adua that his predecessor expended $10 billion on power projects has aroused a lot of public interest. This interest was raised to a higher level when the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, said $16 billion and not $10 billion was spent on the projects. There have also been contrary views that the expenditure was much less. To get to the root of the matter, the House mandated its appropriate committee to hold a public hearing on it.

IN his testimony before the committee, the Managing Director of the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP), Mr. James Olotu, said former President Obasanjo and his Power and Steel Minister, Liyel Imoke, who is now the Cross River State governor, awarded all the contracts of the project without the involvement of the staff of the relevant ministry—the Ministry of Power and Steel, now Ministry of Energy. Olotu revealed that a contracting firm, Pivot Engineering, which had a paid-up capital of N2, 000 got three contracts worth billions of naira. He stated how the various contracting firms that were paid substantial percentages of the contract sums ended up doing next to nothing.

THE evidence of the Director-General, Bureau of Public Procurement, Emeka Eze, was no less stunning. He told the panel that contracting firms were given free rein in the drafting of agreements governing the execution of contracts awarded to them. Equally startling was the disclosure by the Chairman of the House Committee, Mr. Godwin Elumelu, that N6.3 billion worth of contracts was awarded to firms that had no legal existence because they were not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission. There was thus a near-total disregard for laid-down procedure. Even the much-vaunted due process was by-passed through presidential waivers. Well-connected and prominent Nigerians were the prime beneficiaries.

THERE have been claims and counter-claims about the total amount expended on the power projects. Nigerians who have been bearing the brunt of grossly unreliable power supply deserve to know the truth. All those who have collected money for work not done should be exposed and made to refund such money with interest. The anti-graft agencies should be brought in and all those found to have abused their offices should be charged to court. The failure of the government in the area of power supply is highly significant among the factors responsible for the parlous state of the economy, the high rate of unemployment, and the frightening level of insecurity. It is thus our hope that the honourable members of the House of Representatives will appreciate the seriousness of the task they have set for themselves. Nigerians are eagerly looking forward to its outcome with the hope that all the hullabaloo about the power projects scandal will not fizzle out as similar cases have.


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