Power Probe: A Repeat of Old Dramas – By Yushau a. Shuaib
He is not a major player… or a participant in the mind-boggling billions of Naira and dollars expended on the controversial electricity power projects during Obasanjo’s administration. Nevertheless, he was actively involved as an umpire on fiscal allocation. His organization apart from monitoring the accruals and disbursement of revenue, determines what each tier of government received from the Federation Account and also fixes the salaries of political office holders including that of members of executive and legislative arms. Yet instead of playing along for selfish reasons on the use of funds, in typical fashion of some public officers, he speaks the truth and gives stringent warnings on the application of the nation’s revenue as regards due process and constitutionality. He is a loner in the campaign against misapplication of resources and illegal deductions of funds for unbudgeted expenditures including the latest on the power project. He is Engr. Hamman Tukur, the Chairman of Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal commission.
It seems Nigerians are forgetful. The recent disclosure at the Public Hearing of House Committee on Power Sector probing the alleged misappropriation of about $16 billion earmarked for the power sector by the Obasanjo government is reenactment of a similar public hearing held in June 2006 by a Joint Senate Committee of Appropriation and Finance investigating withdrawals of funds from the Federation Account. The recent edition of the monthly Economic Confidential journal provides a detailed table of payments, dates and the project titles on the controversial power projects that had gulped about N1.04bn in 2006 in the name of the then Niger Delta Power Holding Company Plants (NDPHCP) and NNPC Joint Venture Operation Gas for NNDC Plants, before it became National Integrated Power Project (NIPP). The projects so far guzzle $3.7bn from the Excess Crude Account alone.
At the Senate Public Hearing, precisely on June 15, 2006 Engr. Tukur disclosed that “deductions have continued unabated from the Federation Account in the name of developing power in the Niger-Delta which should have been from the Federal Government of Nigeria’s budget. If these withdrawals are advance payments, it is hoped that each is supported by a due process bank bond guarantee. There is no time limit for the deductions considering the speed at which some of the deductions were made. The terms and conditions of the loans have also remained unclear. The disbursements were said to be loans but the Federation Account Allocation Committee, did not received any formal document indicating that the stakeholders have agreed to give out loans from the Excess Revenue Accounts.” Engr. Tukur went further to ask: “Why is it that there is change of name from Niger-Delta Power Holding Company to National Integrated Power Project? It may be necessary to find out who is actually being paid these huge deductions from the Federation Account.”
It may also be recalled that the Office of the Accountant General of The Federation had confirmed the withdrawal of funds from the Excess Crude Oil Proceeds Account in 2005 for the funding of the Project which comprises 11 new power plants. The amount withdrawn then was for installations of 22,000 transformers, building of 7,000 kilometres of transmission lines nationwide with expectation no fewer than 1,000 rural communities would benefit from the project when a total of 4,500 megawatts of power would be generated by December 2006, with full completion scheduled of all the projects by December 2007.
The above scenario point out the weakness of our legislative chambers when many they hold public hearing, undertake oversight visits, receive memoranda, debate issues and the media make some noises, but after a while the controversial issues remain as contentious as ever as nobody bothers to take appropriate action. The fear presently is that after Godwin Elumelu-led Committee on Power sector has finished its sitting, and if it has the gut to submit its report, nothing may happen till after another administration come to office. Yet the public through the media screamers are aware of the figures, personalities and firms involved in those deals of immense magnitude.
Just like past military administrations where different accounts were created to save excess earning with different fancy names such as Dedicated Account, Oil Windfall Account, Special Debt Account, Stabilization Account, the last administration created Excess Crude Account. Most of these special accounts were set up to save revenues that were above Government’s budgeted benchmark from crude oil sales, Petroleum Profit Tax and Royalties. The Off-Budget Accounts provided funds for extra-budgetary expenditures which mostly did not meet standard requirement. They were used sometimes to finance worthy joint venture programmes, Priority Projects and servicing of external obligations.
Some of the decisions and deductions on those accounts had best of intention for overall national interest, especially withdrawals of $12.4bn to settle the indebtedness to Paris Club and the $17milllions for funding two additional days of the 2006 National Population Census. On the power project, for instance, the then Minister of Finance Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had on May 11, 2006 said that the Federal Government would commit $2.3bn from the excess crude proceeds account to the NIPP, which included the seven Niger Delta Power Plants to address the epileptic performance of power sector. She was indeed quoted to have said “This is the reason the country has embarked on the largest power project in the world today with the objective of raising the nation’s power generation capacity to 10,000 megawatts by the end of next year (2007). Improving the nation’s electricity capacity is an urgent objective that deserves urgent action.”
Despite good intentions of the supposed projects, the relevant agencies for monitoring have failed to adequately track and guide the process through laid down regulations. There are several institutions empowered by enabling laws to carry out oversight functions. The National Planning Commission is mandated to inspect and review the effectiveness of capital projects; National Economic Intelligence Commission to work out details of enforcing the implementation of budgets; Office of the Auditor General of the Federation to enquire into and report on public expenditures and the National Assembly is to approve and monitor the budget.
In fairness to Obasanjo, most of failed actions of his administration for which he is being crucified today were based on recommendations of some members of his cabinet and aides who were either interested in enriching themselves or lack the courage to give sincere advice. As a charismatic leader, no doubt, the former president had occasionally listened and accepted some constructive advice as he gave official directives for reversal of some actions but which were not executed by respective agencies. For instance, in a letter No. PRES/194 of 12th August, 2005, Obasanjo specifically directed agencies to “uphold the provisions of all the relevant sections of the Constitution at all times in dealing with funds of all the tiers of government”. The letter further stated that “beginning from this financial year(2005) and henceforth, the annual funding requirement of the FIRS and NCS, which will be deemed to be cost of collecting revenue for any financial year, will be approved by the National Assembly.” Nobody can say precisely if such directives were honoured.
There was an instance in 2002 when Engr. Hamman Tukur confronted him of some withdrawal by an agency, not only did he summon the chief executive of that agency but also the supervising minister on the spot. On the discovery of the discrepancies he directed the immediate refund of the fund while the boss of the agency was later sanctioned.
Those are factual realities. The only difference of latest sensational probing with those in the past is that Elumelu-led Power Sector Committee permits live broadcast transmission of its public sitting. It may be necessary while encouraging them to dig further to ask if they are sincere on the exercise considering some past panels which were mere revenue spinners for members to fill their pockets?
We are living witnesses to several investigative committees and panels whose reports were never implemented. We have had panels on the famous $12.7bn missing oil revenue; on Ghana Must-Go bag of money deposited at National Assembly to remove Ghali Na’Abba; on the alleged distributions of millions of Naira to legislators by a presidential aide to actualize Third Term Agenda and on the secret oil wells operated by multi-national oil firms. We may even ask how the privatization proceeds and Recovered Abacha loots were utilised. Have we forgotten so soon the investigation of top members of national assembly on corrupt practices… the bribe-for- Budget- Scandal in the Senate and Million-Naira-furnishing-Scam in the Federal House of Representatives?
The major lesson from this OBJ and the probe saga is that leaders should always welcome constructive criticisms and implement sincere advice to save them from future embarrassment. Many aides firmly stood and voiced out their defense of Obasanjo’s actions while in office, today they are either singing new songs or remain aloof without showing any concern. This is a lesson indeed to present office holders that not all those presently claiming to support and agree with all their actions would truly stand by them when they leave the office.
While we urge public officers to observe due process in committing public fund on projects as there would always be a day to account here or hereafter, time will also tell if members of present panel are truly sincere and honest in their investigation or they are mere rabble rousers to create media-hype that may die down afterward.
This article was published in the Economic Confidential April, Leadership April 1, Daily Trust April 2, New Nigerian April 3, Triumph April 4, Vanguard April 11 & 14 and Sunday Tribune (Excerpt) April 13, 2008