$16bn power scandal – The Nation

  • We are happy the EFCC is now to probe the expenses

We are encouraged by the report that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is set to commence the probe of the $16 billion allegedly spent by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo on the power sector. With good faith and demonstrable professionalism, there is a fair chance that the riddle that has hitherto surrounded those expenditures will finally be cracked and a definite closure put on that sordid episode in the nation’s public finance history.

Why is the probe important at this time? First, we understand that there is no such thing as a statute of limitation against criminal behaviour, just as a possible closure of that sordid chapter would be deemed inconceivable without full accounting for that tragic episode under which those entrusted with public duty used the cover of an emergency to fleece an unsuspecting nation to the tune of billions of dollars.

Second, there is need to punish criminal behaviour if only to send the signal that actions carry consequences, whether now or in the future. Third, it is our view that when such incidences are properly documented for posterity, there is a fair chance that aspirants for public office can learn from them.

To those who see the probe as either needless or a witch-hunt, we can only invite them to weigh the entire saga on the scale of public policy; only then would they see the incalculable injury done to the entire citizens and the country’s institutions, as against the private gains of a greedy, irresponsible few. In any case, fears of witch-hunt are best addressed, not by shirking in the public duty of calling those individuals to account for their stewardship, but to avail them of opportunity to present their side of the case in an open and transparent manner.

We say this because the power sector scam has remained one major issue in our public life that continues to present intriguing riddles than answers, even when the issues should ordinarily be quite straightforward. Whereas Nigerians were told that billions of dollars were spent on the power sector, the outcome has been one of regression on actual delivery on a scale that defies comprehension. Far from letting bygones be bygones, the citizens need to understand what went tragically wrong; and given the scale of the alleged malfeasance, the EFCC would seem in the best position at this time to ensure that citizens not only get to know all the details but also to have the last word.

How much did the so-called National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) gulp?  We are aware that various figures have been bandied depending on who is giving the figures. The late President Umaru Yar’Adua told the nation that that the NIPP gulped $10 billion; his special assistant on power sector, Folusheke Shomolu, who also served Obasanjo in the same capacity, was given the boot when he publicly contradicted his boss. Even the much-hyped probe by the Ndudi Elumelu-led house committee on power which, unfortunately, also got itself mired in alleged bribery scandal came up with about $13.28 billion as against former house speaker Dimeji Bankole’s earlier figure of $16 billion.

With the EFCC probe, Nigerians will, hopefully, have the conflicting figures reconciled. More than that, we expect the body to finally lift the mask off the faces of the abusers of our common wealth and subsequently, to put them through an expeditious process of trial, all in an effort to put the sordid chapter behind us.

To proceed, the EFCC might find some of the findings of the Ndudi Elumelu committee useful. We refer to its finding that payments on all NIPP were made without following due process, how officials rushed to pay contractors in full even before engineering design for the projects had been completed and approved, how overpricing and systematic over-scoping of projects to inflate costs, among other abuses, were the order of the day. Nigerians, surely are interested in knowing the extent to which the rules guiding the approvals were breached and those responsible for them; and those contractors who collected billions and failed to deliver. We expect the anti-graft body to leave no stone unturned in the bid to unearth the whole truth.

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