Mambilla, Obasanjo, and the scapegoat mentality
By Dr Olu Agunloye
In August 2022, Mr Simon Kolawole first released his widely circulated contract-statement: “Who will Love this Country?” as front page of the ThisDay Newspapers of 21 August 2022 and again in August 2023, acting on the instructions of a former Minister of Power. The contract-statement is misleading, false, and malicious. It is calculated to divert attention from the wrongdoings of some former Power Ministers and other Government officials in respect the Mambilla Power Project. In 2022, I ignored the write-up but now that the former President has reacted to the same article that he appeared not to have seen in 2022, I will give a measured response.
THE CABLE NEWS STORY
The Cable News story credited to Pa Obasanjo about the Mambilla Power Project gave me much concern not because they were incorrect, but because they were attributed to our Baba Agbalagba, broadly revered in Yorubaland and a former President of Nigeria. For me, as a thoroughbred Omoluabi of Yorubaland, I can only politely say with all due respect: Baba, ko ri be, sa. (meaning, Baba, that is not correct, sir). That’s so much response to our revered Baba Agbalagba.
But to Pa Obasanjo as the former president, I will give fuller response here, albeit politely and in a measured dose. I served under this great former President for four years (1999 – 2003) first, as Special Assistant to the Minister of Power and Steel, then to the Minister of Justice and Honourable Attorney General of the Federation (Uncle Bola Ige) and later, as Honourable Minister of Defence (Navy), then Honourable Minister of Power and Steel. I also worked closely under him from 2003 to 2007 as the Head of the National eGovernment Strategies, mainstreaming e-enabled techniques, and applications to tiers of Government at the Federal and State levels.
Let me start by reacting to Pa Obasanjo as former President who told the story to The Cable News of how a shrewd Animal Farm Manager General (AFMG) set an elaborate system in the farm under his watch to ensure that only rats, mice, and small rodents could wander past the robust farm fence, but rabbits, antelopes, and other bigger animals needed the AFMG to open special gates for them to go out. The story explained how the AFMG ran the farm with iron hands for eight years that all and sundry applauded him. Then, after twenty years, the AFMG realised that six big elephants had, without his knowing, passed through the rodent holes that he installed to block bigger animals. Pa Obasanjo also narrated how the AFMG, now in his retirement, became furious and desperately wished he had found out this negligence during his stewardship so that he could sack the Farm Assistant who let elephants escape through the rodent holes. I felt disappointed and ashamed to find that the Animal Farm Manager General was, indeed, our most revered Baba Agbalagba, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the former President himself. I still wonder if The Cable News reported him correctly.
In fact, I wish to say with all humility and respect that all the things credited to the former President in the extensive interview in The Cable News are not correct. Take for instance, The Cable News quoted Pa Obasanjo as saying: “…When I was in office, Leno Adesanya, the promoter of Sunrise Power, ran away from Nigeria. I would have jailed him.” This is far from being correct because Mr. Leno Adesanya was virtually always in the Aso Rock Villa during Chief Obasanjo’s presidency. As a matter of fact, the same president and Mr. Adesanya sat together on the high table in Aso Rock as Baba Oko and Baba Iyawo respectively at the wedding of the president’s son and Mr. Adesanya’s niece in 2002.
THE TRUTH ABOUT MAMBILLA
Let me briefly put the records straight on the Mambilla Power Project.
1. When the former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, sent an emissary, in person of his close young associate who is a Labour Party (LP) Chieftain to me on 26 August 2023 to discuss the Mambilla Power Project, I knew the former president was getting pretty anxious. My last encounter with the former President was in late last year, 2022 and early this year (2023) when the former President was frantically persuading leaders of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), of which I am the National Secretary, to team up with and support the then Presidential Candidate Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP). We declined and turned down the entreaties of former President Olusegun Obasanjo on behalf of the Labour Party, LP.
2. Seven days later, on the 3 September 2023, The Cable News reported an extensive interview, https://www.thecable.ng/obasanjo-i-knew-buhari-didnt-understand-economics-but-didnt-know-he-was-a-reckless-spender/amp, granted by the former President titled: “I knew Buhari didn’t understand economics but didn’t know he was so reckless.” In this interview, the former president made misleading and incorrect statements on the Mambilla Power Project.
3. I have submitted a 53 paragraph, 14-page Statement backed with 15 Attachments in 82-page document as an affidavit to the courts in Nigeria and France in respect of the Mambilla Power Project to clear my name. In deference to Pa Obasanjo and as a mark of great respect to the former President, I have sent a copy of these documents through my lawyers to him to refreshen his memory.
4. The former president was not correct when he referred to the award to Sunrise simply as a $6 billion contract (that is, N800 billion in 2003) under his watch. In truth, it was a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) contract in which the FGN did not need to pay any amount to the contractor, Messrs Sunrise Power and Transmission Company Limited (Sunrise). As a matter of fact, Sunrise has not been paid a single Naira or Dollar by the FGN from 2000 till date (14/9/23). Sunrise was to source for funds and execute the project with own funds. The investment of Sunrise to construct the Mambilla hydroelectric project up to completion stage to deliver electricity was adjudged at a maximum of $6 billion by four Ministers of Power and the former president (Chief Obasanjo) before I became Minister of Power. Sunrise was to recoup his investment from the sale of the generated electricity over a 30- to 40-year period at pre-determined tariffs, also agreed with FGN before May 2003.
5. I followed due process and got all necessary approvals for the BOT contract award to Sunrise on 22 May 2003 and there are records to show that the former President Obasanjo propelled the processes from the beginning in 2000 to the end in May 2003. In fact, Sunrise started Mambilla project three years before I became Minister of Power and had arranged meetings with Chinese Companies and Chinese President in China in which three Power Ministers and the then President Obasanjo attended between 2000 and 2002 before I was appointed Minister of Power. On the very day (28 Nov 2002), that I resumed office as Minister of Power, Pa Obasanjo himself, in a formal letter, handed me his presidential approval on the Sunrise proposal with an instruction that Sunrise be invited “for the final negotiations for the execution of the Mambilla Power Project.”
NO ONE QUERIED ME FOR 20 YEARS
The following played out after I had ceased to be a minister from 29 May 2003. It turned out that (a) Between 2003 to 2007, President Obasanjo was attempting to invalidate the Sunrise May 2003 BOT contract on Mambilla Project; and (b) Between 2007 to 2015, the Yar’Adua and Jonathan presidencies recognised the Mambilla Project as a BOT contract validly awarded in May 2003, cancelled the component of it awarded as a procurement contract by President Obasanjo on the 28 May 2007 at $1.46 billion, and signed a fresh agreement on the Mambilla Hydropower Project in 2012 with Sunrise and (c) Between 2015 to 2023, the then President Buhari cancelled and re-awarded the Mambilla Power Project, and was making and breaching own Agreements with Sunrise. In all of these, spanning 20 (twenty) years, none of the Presidents (Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Malam Musa Yar’Adua, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan or Gen. Muhammadu Buhari) asked me or questioned me about issuing any unauthorised Mambilla contract. This is because all the Nigerian Presidents, including Chief Obasanjo, were aware that I did nothing wrong.
BOT versus PROCUREMENT CONTRACT
However, at a time after May 2003, the then President Obasanjo appeared to have changed his mind on the Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) model in which the private investor would provide own funds, a path that President Obasanjo and six Ministers of Power, three Ministers of Finance, two Ministers of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, and the Debt Management Office had pursued for four years. The former President then chose to embark on a new pathway in which Nigeria would execute the Mambilla Power Project by paying from Government own funds.
The former President decided, therefore, to break the Mambilla Hydropower Project into smaller components, like civil engineering works, hydraulic works, structural works etc. with the intention to award them as separate multiple contracts as Government procurements, on cash and carry basis, for which Nigerian Government would pay mobilisation fees and make other payments in stages to contractors. When one of the contractors, which got a component of the Mambilla project awarded by President Obasanjo as $1.46 billion procurement contract, presented its request for a $400 million mobilisation fees, President Yar’Adua scrutinised the contract and cancelled it in 2008 because of proven corruption on the part of officials who served under President Obasanjo between 2003 to 2007.
THE CRUX OF THE CASE
Dr. Agunloye awarded the Mambilla Power Project as a BOT at no cost to FGN, while the former President Obasanjo started to re-award the project as multiple procurement contracts at humongous costs to FGN and with associated corrupt practices which were uncovered by succeeding Presidents.
WHO WILL LOVE NIGERIA?
I awarded Mambilla Power Project as BOT at no cost to Nigeria. Former President Obasanjo awarded one component part of the same Mambilla project for $1.46 billion as procurement contract, former President Jonathan signed a 2012 General Project Execution Agreement and former President Buhari and his then Minister of Power, Barrister Babatunde Raji Fashola awarded another component of the Mambilla Project at a whopping $5.8 billion payable by FGN in cash. The FGN awarded, re-awarded and cancelled contracts and Agreements at will and now must face the consequences at International Arbitration Courts. The result is that the Mambilla Hydropower Project has been stalled for yet another twenty years, and the former President (Chief Olusegun Obasanjo) and others are feeling greatly uneasy about the consequences. This is why the Simon Kolawole’s question, “Who will Love the Country?” should have been addressed to his (Kolawole’s) sponsors, not me.
Currently, some former and serving FGN officials are desperately attempting to “criminalise” the Mambilla Power Project by trying to make me the scapegoat with the sole aim to avoid consequent legal contractual obligations of the Government arising from breaches of agreements with Sunrise. This “criminalisation strategy” was inadvertently exposed by Mr Simon Kolawole. The Government officials are using State Apparatus to intimidate, harass and threaten me. The EFCC invited me on 16 May 2023, 20 (twenty) years after I had ceased to be Minister of Power and grilled me for over eight hours. The Investigating Officer confronted me with “issuing a contract of $6 billion to Sunrise without authority”. That was the very first time ever that anyone had questioned me about the Mambilla Power Project, and it was because of the criminalisation conspiracy by those who actually have committed against Nigeria. The EFCC threatened that they were in possession of my Bank Statements for the last 25 (twenty-five) years. I explained my innocence and made formal statements to the EFCC. I had also sent more documents and materials to the Commission and the court after. My lawyers have sued EFCC to stop harassing me and have challenged EFCC to make public my bank accounts and charged the commission to go to court if they have any case against me.
We see that as the FGN faces the resultant consequences of breaching agreements and cancelling contracts with impunity, some former and serving Government officials, perhaps including former President Obasanjo, now want to use me as a scapegoat-victim to cover up their inappropriate practices and to evade looming fines and damages at international arbitrations.
▪︎ Agunloye, was a former Minster of Power and Steel, under former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
▪︎ Editor’s Note: The former President’s comments on the Mambilla project are found in the interview published below