Buhari, Obasanjo in open spat over 2019 ambition, $15b electricity expenditure

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President Muhammadu Buhari Tuesday in Abuja said those who mismanaged Nigeria’s economy in the past, through fraudulent electricity projects and misuse of revenue earnings from oil, had no love for the country.

Receiving members of the Buhari Support Organisations (BSO) led by the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali, at the Presidential Villa, the President urged Nigerians to remain vigilant and ensure that only ‘‘people of conscience are in-charge of governance at all levels’’, as the nation prepares for general elections in 2019.

But in a swift response, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who believed he was the butt of the President’s comments described him as ignorant. He offered to send a book he wrote, My Watch, to educate him on the expenditure in the power sector.

The two national leaders have been at daggers drawn since Obasanjo began to openly oppose Buhari’s desire to seek re-election in 2019.

President Buhari and Obasanjo when the going was good.

In Abuja, Buhari said: ‘‘I challenge anybody to check from Europe, America and Asia; between 1999-2014, Nigeria was producing 2.1 million barrels of crude oil per day at an average cost of 100 USD per barrel and it went up to 143 USD.

‘‘When we came it collapsed to 37 – 38 USD and later was oscillating between 40 and 50 USD.

‘‘I went to the CBN Governor, with my cap in my hand, and asked if we had savings. He told me we had only debts, no savings. Some of the roads were not repaired since the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) days.

‘‘I don’t care the opinion you have about Abacha but I agreed to work with him and we constructed roads from Abuja to Port Harcourt, Benin to Onitsha and so on. We also touched education and health institutions.

‘‘One of the former Heads of State was bragging that he spent more than 15 billion USD on power in Nigeria. Where is the power?’’ the President said.

On the mismanagement of the economy by previous administrations, President Buhari noted that the perpetrators lacked imagination and plans for the development of the nation.

‘‘Sometimes, I wonder about those who can afford to send their children abroad for studies and yet continue to sabotage the economy, I wonder what kind of Nigeria they want their children to return to and work. There is a lot of lack of imagination.

‘‘If you are working for the country, then you shouldn’t be misappropriating and misapplying public funds the way people did,’’ he said.

The President noted that under his watch, the 2016 and 2017 budgets recorded the highest appropriation and releases in capital projects, with over N2.8 trillion disbursements in two years.

The President urged Nigerians to reject those bent on dividing the country along religious and ethnic lines, warning that they do not mean well for the country.

‘‘I have said severally that we do not have any other country than Nigeria and we will remain here and salvage it together.

‘‘We have nothing to regret. Absolutely nothing. God has given Nigeria everything. We are rich in human and material resources. Let us keep on praying to God to put people of conscience in-charge at all levels,’’ he said.

On the activities of the support group, President Buhari apologised for not rallying them before announcing his intention to seek re-election in 2019 during a meeting of the National Executive Committee of the All Progressives Congress on April 9, 2018.

He thanked members of the group for their resolute support to him as a Presidential candidate in 2015 and all through his term in office, adding that their voluntary sacrifices were an indication of their trust and belief in the great future of the country.

Obasanjo, in a statement he rolled out hours after Buhari’s comments, said, “It has come to the attention of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo that a statement credited to President Muhammadu Buhari, apparently without correct information and based on ignorance, suggested that $16 billion was wasted on power projects by “a former President”.

“We believe that the President was re-echoing the unsubstantiated allegation against Chief Obasanjo by his own predecessor but one.

“While it is doubtful that a President with proper understanding of the issue would utter such, it should be pointed out that records from the National Assembly had exculpated President Obasanjo of any wrong-doing concerning the power sector and has proved the allegations as false.

“For the records, Chief Obasanjo has addressed the issues of the power sector and the allegations against him on many occasions and platforms, including in his widely publicised book, My Watch in which he exhaustively stated the facts and reproduced various reports by both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which conducted a clinical investigation into the allegations against Chief Obasanjo, and the Ad-Hoc Committee on the Review of the Recommendations in the Report of the Committee on Power on the Investigation into how the Huge Sums Of Money was Spent on Power Generation, Transmission And Distribution between June 1999 and May 2007 without Commensurate Result.

“We recommend that the President and his co-travellers should read Chapters 41, 42, 43 and 47 of My Watch for Chief Obasanjo’s insights and perspectives on the power sector and indeed what transpired when the allegation of $16 billion on power projects was previously made. If he cannot read the three-volume book, he should detail his aides to do so and summarise the chapters in a language that he will easily understand.

“In the same statement credited to the President, it was alleged that there was some bragging by Chief Obasanjo over $16 billion spent on power. To inform the uninformed, the so-called $16 billion power expenditure was an allegation against Chief Obasanjo’s administration and not his claim.

“The President also queried where the power generated is. The answer is simple: The power is in the seven National Integrated Power Projects and eighteen gas turbines that Chief Obasanjo’s successor who originally made the allegation of $16 billion did not clear from the ports for over a year and the civil works done on the sites.

“Chief Obasanjo challenges, and in fact encourages, anybody to set up another enquiry if in doubt and unsatisfied with the EFCC report and that of the Hon. Aminu Tambuwal-led ad-hoc committee.”

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