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Obasanjo absent at probe panel

Posted by By JAMES OJO, Abuja on 2008/05/12 | Views: 1447 |

Obasanjo absent at probe panel

Former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, on Monday failed to appear before the House of Representatives committee probing his administration’s spending of $16billion on the power sector, saying he was indisposed.

•Says ‘I’m indisposed’

Former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, on Monday failed to appear before the House of Representatives committee probing his administration’s spending of $16billion on the power sector, saying he was indisposed.

This is coming at a time former Minister of Finance, Mrs Nenadi Usman, who had earlier snubbed the committee, made appearance, explaining that she was not involved in the power contract awards. She also submitted that Obasanjo was too much in a haste to fulfill his electoral promises to Nigerians while office.

Security around the National Assembly was beefed up on Monday with the hope that Obasanjo was going to appear before the panel. Security men with metal detectors controlled movement into the new building of the House of Representatives wing, venue of the special public hearing.

Few minutes before the committee was led into the venue by the chairman, Hon Ndudi Elumelu, a one page letter the former president came explaining why he could not make it to the National Assembly, as earlier promised in his reply to the letter of invitation.
The letter, without a reference number, dated Sunday, May 11, 2008 reads: “Re: invitation to appear at the public hearing on the power sector.

“After I have prepared my presentation, to put before your committee, based on the letter of invitation signed for you, I became slightly indisposed.
“Since I have, on my own decided to personally response to your invitation, I do not intend to hold you up.

“I have a fairly comprehensive written presentation, which I am sending to your committee, through my Special Assistant. Mr Taiwo Ojo.
“You will note, in the letter, my strong desire to personally present the insights and perspectives of mine on the power situation.

“I hope the presentation will satisfy the unspecified allegations and approvals that you referred to in your letter of invitation, in addition to the insights and perspectives.
“If, however, there are other points that you want me to elucidate on, I will act appropriately, if you let me know.”

Before the letter came, the committee had prepared 20 questions for the former president to answer.
The committee had gone ahead to distribute the questions among members, while the chairman was to give opening remarks with some of the questions.

Apart from the allegations preferred against the former president by some of the influential members of his kitchen cabinet and the Federal Executive Council, who appeared before the panel earlier, Obasanjo would have been asked what happened to the promise to make power generation and distribution the cornerstone of his administration when he assumed office in 1999 and the situation he left it in 2007.

The committee wanted to know the exact amount of money he spent on the power project between 1999 and 2007 and proof that the differences, if any, were not a mark of lack of accountability.

Obasanjo would have been asked if he had any regret that all his efforts at revamping the power sector ended in vain and that as the President and Commander-in Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, the buck stopped at his table. He would have been asked if he believed his ministers misled him in his quest to address the power issues.
The committee wanted to ask him if he knew that some of the companies that got NIPP contract worth billions of Naira, had share capital less than N100,000.

He would have been asked whether due process was followed in the award of the contracts and why due process was circumvented by waiver approvals for payment.
The committee wanted to know whether Obasanjo was disturbed or embarrassed by the way and manner the NIPP contracts were executed.

Also, the committee wanted to know if he demonstrated good faith and patriotism in ignoring contractors, who collected billions of dollars and did not execute their contracts.
Obasanjo was also to explain why the contractors were not dragged before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for economic sabotage.

The committee wanted to know if the privatisation of NEPA was in national interest and why Nigeria remains the highest importer of power generating sets in the world.
The committee wanted explanation on the level of consultations made and with the benefit of hindsight, what went wrong.

Elumelu, chairman of the committee, had decried the accusation levelled against the probe panel that it was playing the script of the North by summoning Obasanjo to appear before his committee.
He said: “The insinuation in some quarters that this committee is out to play a script designed by the North is an unfair comment. No, it is not true that we are playing a script. The issue of playing a script does not even arise.

“What we are doing is part of what you people that elected us are asking us to do. It has to do with oversight functions. It very unfair for anybody to say that we are playing the script of any zone.”
According to him, his committee discovered, in the course of the investigation, that between 85 and 90 per cent power projects were sited in the Southern parts of the country, while about 95 per cent of the contractors were from the Southern zones.

He said that the committee decided to invite Obasanjo so that he would have the opportunity to clear himself on allegations and comments made against him.

Elumelu disagreed with some members of the House who accused the committee of committing parliamentary blunder by summoning the former president, adding that the summoning was in the interest of Obasanjo to clear his name.
On the issue of Obasanjo’s deputy, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who was equally summoned, Elumelu said that the committee was informed that he could not make it because of inability to catch a scheduled flight to Nigeria as at Sunday evening.

The panel said that Atiku, who had made his intention to appear before the panel, was free to appear before it any time he arrived the country from abroad.
Former Finance Minister, Mrs Usman, radiated confidence as she took the panel through the workings of the ministry and all she knew about the NIPP.
She answered all the 10 questions prepared for her by the committee, just as she consistently maintained that she knew nothing about the award of contracts, as her portfolio was limited to the processing of payment of contracts after the submission of relevant documents by the concerned ministry.

“I will not be like Pontius Pilate, who washed his hands off the trial of Christ. The Federal Executive Council (FEC), which I was a part, took decisions. I cannot come here to say I am not part of such decision. I was part of the decision, because I was member of the executive council,’ she said.

Mrs Usman described that NIPP as an on-going project that she met when she came to the ministry on June 22, 2005 and that it was an agreement between Obasanjo and 36 state governors and the local governments that the power project be financed from the excess crude account that belonged to the three tiers of government.

She corrected the committee that the waiver on due process was not in the award of power contracts, but in the payment of money to contractors, which she noted was done to fasttrack the projects.
“Yes, there was waiver on payment. I am sure that the award of contracts went through due process and I think that Senator Liyel Imoke wrote the president, asking for waivers on payment in a hurry to get the project completed.

“For the President to waive, I think some public officers were in haste to deliver on electoral promises. Maybe President Obasanjo and Senator Imoke thought that to deliver on the promises made to the electorate, they decided to shorten the process of getting the power project on quickly.”
With performance bond from a reputable bank, bank guarantee and confirmation of adherence to the milestone as contained in the contract agreement, Usman said that she approved payment for the contractors, stressing that she did not need to know who the contractor was.

She told the committee that it was the policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to charge one per cent as commission on every dollar denomination on transaction and contracts, adding that CBN would be in a better position to clarify the issue.

Mrs Usman said that even though, she could not recall in details, the $2.5billion Chinese loan to finance the Mambilla Hydro Power project, she noted that it was a concessionary loan, which should continue if the reasons for it is achieved, moreso that all the necessary precautions to protect the interest of the nation were taken.

On why some NIPP contractors were not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), she said that it was acceptable that some international companies always asked to be exempted, which must be approved by government.

To the best of her ability, she said that the sum of $3.2billion must have been spent on the power sector, with her approving $1.2billion as substantive minister of finance.
She urged the committee to ask the CBN details of letters of credit opened for the power project contracts, from where the committee would determine the utilized letters of credit and the unutilised ones.

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Comments (23)

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