Tackling urgent national crises before Obasanjo’s probe
• ‘Investigation diversionary’
In recent times, there have been an upswing in the calls by various interests groups and organisations urging the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to revisit and probe the $16 billion power project initiated under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose administration left office 12 years ago. But the development has got many Nigerians worried. They worry that while nations the world over prepare ahead of the projected global economic recession likely to happen in 2020, Nigeria was dissipating energy and resources on irrelevancies and sailing like a ship without rudder.
Specifically, they ponder the roles the various arms of government – the executive, the judiciary and, indeed, the 9th National Assembly – ought to be playing in making the country function and be viable economically.
To be sure, the recent call for probe is not unconnected with the ongoing face-off between President Buhari and former President Obasanjo. And while many commentators are not averse to the idea of tackling corruption or any appearance of the ill, if Nigeria must come out of its current economic doldrums, there have been superior arguments and that there are more urgent and critical national issues other than the purported probe to be attended to by the powers that-be.
It would be recalled that Buhari contested the presidency against the Obasanjo-led Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government in 2003, 2007 and 2011, but consistently lost. He, however, won in 2015 with the support of the former president, who, at the time, had parted ways with PDP. Four years on, Obasanjo, having accused the incumbent of ineptitude and lack of focus, jettisoned Buhari and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to support his former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who contested the 2019 presidential election on PDP’s platform.
Before the last presidential election, Obasanjo wrote a series of letters to criticise Buhari’s style of leadership. He also mended fences with some socio-cultural organisations like Afenifere, Ohanaeze, the Middle Belt Leaders Forum, Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) and the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) among others to back Atiku, a situation that made Buhari vow to revisit the power probe.
A group, the Southwest Peoples Alliance (SPA), had called on the House of Representatives to go beyond mere determination to probe activities of past and present administrations, saying that those found wanting should be prosecuted to serve as deterrent. In what seems like an orchestrated agenda, the group urged the federal lawmakers to focus on the administration of Obasanjo, which spent over $16 billion on the power sector, with the country virtually living in darkness in spite of the supposed investment.
Chairman of the group, Oseni Owolabi Ajimomuya and the Secretary, Ismael Lanre Oguntoyinbo, commended the House of Representatives for its determination to probe the power sector spent in the country right from 1999, just as it noted the necessity of accountability as a nation “if we were to make any progress.”
The group, while expressing confidence that the proposed investigation by the House of Representatives would unmask the fraud committed by Obasanjo and his cronies in the power sector, demanded that the House should, upon the completion of its investigation, endeavour to submit his name and his conspirators to the country’s anti-corruption agencies for full prosecution.
In another statement, a Lagos-based rights group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) also backed “the reported probe by EFCC of Obasanjo’s $16 billion power project.” The group said the probe is an opportunity for the anti-graft agency to show that former heads of state and other high-ranking public officials are not immune from investigation and prosecution for allegations of grand corruption in Nigeria. SERAP’s deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, said the probe is timely, especially coming at a time of citizens’ frustrations at persistent allegations of corruption and the impact on their human rights.
“Investigating allegations of grand corruption and prosecuting former heads of state and other high-ranking officials where such allegations show relevant and sufficient admissible evidence would address the grave travesty that has for many years occurred in the power sector,” the statement read.
SERAP also urged the government to extend the probe to the unresolved case of the reported missing $12.4 billion oil windfall, allegedly spent between 1988 and 1993 by the government of former military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida.
A professor of political economy and management expert, Pat Utomi said, “This is a difficult issue to address now. Nigeria has a general crisis at hand and we need to focus on how to save the country from going under economically. At the moment there is need to join hands to save our country; this the legislators must realise otherwise, if we are not careful our economy will go under in the next few months.”
Utomi said it is not the present type of bubuyaya approach or kind of politics we deploy that will save us. Although Utomi said many things can be handled at the same time “what is important must, however, be placed at the front burner.”
President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Yerima Shetima, said they foresee that the present leadership of National Assembly, which he alleged APC foisted on the lawmakers, would not do anything in favour of the masses but to satisfy their benefactors.
According to him, “Of what importance or benefit will Obasanjo’s probe be to a country that is going under economically and security-wise? They are just trying to distract Nigerians who are already feed up with this government. For instance, they are talking about Obasanjo’s probe. They should tell Nigerians what they have done with the debt they claimed to have recovered in the last four years. Today, the country is looking for money. Nigeria should not expect anything from the present National Assembly, because from the onset, it has shown indication of being a rubber stamp.”
National Chairman, African Democratic Congress (APC), Chief Ralph Nwosu, said the ruling party should look for something better to do to save Nigeria “otherwise it should realise that Obasanjo is a good fighter. At every point that I had the opportunity to mention the probe issue with him ((Obasanjo), he simply waved it off, saying the facts and documents are there.”
Nwosu said the call to probe is a diversionary approach from addressing cogent issues affecting the country.Warning the government against selective anti-graft war, Chairman, Steering committee, Movement Against Corruption, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, said though her organisation is out for the cleansing of Nigerian society of corruption, she noted, “We also must never be selective because such is an act of corruption, too. There may be people choosing which corruption to fight and ignore because of political leanings, but a healthy war against corruption should be for a clean society and not political elimination.”
A former president of Aka Ikenga, an Igbo Think Tank, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, urged the government to focus on what will bring succour to Nigerians in the midst of the insecurity challenges facing the country. He wondered how probing Obasanjo would assist Buhari to govern properly.
In similar vein, former Minister of Transportation, Chief Ebenezer Babatope and National Chairman, National Conscience Party (NCP), Dr. Tanko Yusuf, appealed to the lawmakers to face serious issues when they return from recess.But President, Yoruba Ronu, Mr. Akin Malaolu, took a contrary position, saying necessary agents in charge of anti-corruption should speed up action to investigate the $16 billion expended on power but without commensurate benefit to Nigerians in the power sector. He said many Nigerians are interested in the money since it was a huge sum and yet there is no power.
Malaolu also disagreed that the probe would at this period cause distraction for the government, adding, “There are agencies in charge of that and if the House is ready to dabble into it not more than 20 legislators can be assigned to look into it and submit their report. Otherwise, agencies like EFCC or ICPC can handle it. Nigeria cannot rely on Obasanjo’s book titled: My Watch as concrete explanation for the disbursement of such huge amount.”