As my British Airways flight was banking and circling over Lagos on the evening I arrived in Nigeria, the passenger next to me, a South African contractor coming to Nigeria for the first time pointed out the window and asked me, “Why do you say that Nigeria has got no electricity? Isn’t that Lagos all lighted up? That’s a very beautiful sight, isn’t it?”. I looked out, and indeed, Lagos appeared to be all lights, and it seems as if our electricity and energy problems had been solved.
However, I knew better. It was all I could do not to laugh. I just told my new-found friend that he has to be on the ground to see for himself. I could not tell him that all the beautiful lights he saw from thousands of feet up in the air were generated by private generators, millions of them. It is funny, sad and ironic, really. Yes, the first impression you get from the airplane is that Lagos is a city all lighted up by the government and whatever companies responsible for providing electricity to Nigerians. The moment you get to your street and you hear the deafening noise of several private generators, causing noise and air pollution, then you know you are in Nigeria and we still have our usual epileptic power supply.
Incidentally, I arrived in Nigeria when a lot of very scary things were going on. The Senate’s Power Sector Probe, dubbed National Integrated Power Project Probe was in full swing. Nigerians are still looking for a light airplane belonging to ex-Governor Ibori of Delta State, that vanished from the face of the earth almost two months after it disappeared somewhere over Cross River and Akwa Ibom States. Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, wanted for her role in the Ministry of Health 300 million Naira embezzlement was playing a farcical cat and mouse, hide and seek game with the now discredited EFCC under a new leadership. Mallam El-Rufai, erstwhile Minister for the Federal Capital Territory under ex-President Obasanjo, was being asked to come forward to explain his actions concerning land and property demolitions and allocations to the senate committee investigating the activities of executive officers since 1999. And several other cans of worms and Pandora’s boxes were being opened or going to be opened soon.
The reason why I used the word “scary” mainly lies in the magnitude of the fraud, scam, lies, deceit and corruption perpetrated by a few persons in the corridors of power and government against the Nigerian people, who are increasingly finding it difficult to survive in a country of such potential and wealth. It is scary, when you realise that in hospitals such as UCH Ibadan and LUTH, Lagos, regarded as “centres of excellence”, patients have to bring in their own cotton wool, drips, medicines, water and other things necessary to treat their ailments. It is scary, when you realise that the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof Soludo, stated that 90 percent of Nigerian graduated are unemployable. It is scary when you realise that leaders who were responsible for the provision of education to our children by equipping our universities and secondary schools are instead building their own private universities and schools.
The National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) was conceived by Obasanjo. It has now turned out to be a very big scam. After spending 16 billion dollars (or is it $26 billion? we are not even sure), the stark reality is that there is still no light or electricity in Nigeria. It is one hell of a scam, and Obasanjo’s credibility and sincerity has been badly damaged. Look at the facts: Many of the contracts, if not all, were not awarded by due process, which Obasanjo’s government made a fetish of. Many of the companies awarded contracts were not even registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission as legitimate business concerns. Many of the contractors do not even know where the site of their contracts are. Those who did know the site, just walled off the sites and promptly disappeared with the mobilisation fees. Now, where is the money? Your guess is as good as mine. Very powerful people are involved including two former military heads of states who, through their bogus companies, cornered the contracts, and simply disappeared. Several politicians, former ministers and officials of the various ministries in charge of providing energy to the country have been called before the Committee, and somehow, they have all left the hearing smelling of roses. This cannot be true. Dr Olusegun Agagu, a former Minister of Power and Steel (read Steal) and now two-term Governor of Ondo State (where nothing significant has happened in the last 5 years) even said somebody must be held accountable for not providing enough money after 16 billion dollars (I suppose he meant that 16 billion is not enough to go round to steal). Liyel Imoke, another former Minister of Power and Steel (again, read Steal) and Oil Minister, and now Governor of Cross River State, lamented the fact that so much money was spent on the power sector and nothing to show for it. Yet he was also in charge. He now holds several oil blocks allocated surreptitiously to him when he was in government, and is now in even more control of his State’s resources and allocations.
CBN Governor, Prof Soludo claimed insulation and ignorance from all these. He saw nothing, heard nothing and said nothing. He is just a banker to the Federal Government, despite the fact that he is the one who eventually releases money to do these projects. Dr Okonjo-Iweala, former Finance Minister, also appeared before the Committee and her revelations indicted Obasanjo, Imoke and her successor, Mrs Nenadi Usman. So did Oby Ezekwesili, former DG of the Bureau of Public Procurement. One man, I think he is the Chairman of Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Allocation Commission (whatever that means) actually made a very serious allegation against Obasanjo, alleging that OBJ once commissioned an empty site as a power station in Cross River State. It is instructive to note that no former official whose hands these money passed through was culpable. I know that when OBJ commissioned a power station in River State during ex-Governor Odili’s reign, the following week, EFCC invaded the state looking for evidence that Odili had bilked the state. Odili is still walking freely in Nigeria today and enjoying his ill-gotten wealth quietly having secured several court orders against arrest.
If you ask me, I doubt if anything will come out of this particular probe, despite the “honourable” Senators saying otherwise and keeping our hopes up. There are too many powerful people involved. These powerful people are not even afraid, they are sure they will be protected. Even as I write, Obasanjo and Atiku have been invited to appear before the committee. I await with bated breath if OBJ will, but I am sure Atiku will appear, if only to further present himself as a saint, having been seriously battered by the recent results of the election in his home state of Adamawa, in which his candidate was again beaten by the Governor with four “first ladies”. Ridiculous.
Enough about power probes. Let me now go to missing planes. A farce has been playing itself out here. A light plane belonging to a company owned by ex-Governor Ibori (Delta State’s private bank) was said to have crashed in the tropical rain forest region of Cross River and Akwa Ibom State. Two months after, the plane could not be found in the densely populated region. The pilot and the crew have vanished into thin air. I cannot comprehend it. If crashed planes could be found in the dense forests of the Amazons and the hills of the Andes in South America, how come satellites cannot pick out a crashed plane near Obudu Cattle Ranch in Nigeria, a region of very dense population and villages all over the place?
Then came the stories; the plane had been found in a neighbouring country, but nobody seems willing to confirm this. The purported owner of the plane, Mr James Ibori, a former Supermarket cashier in London turned eight-year Governor of one of the richest state in Nigeria (and also a convicted person) has not even shown any concern about the loss of his plane. In fact he was one of those who ensured the (s)election of Vincent Ogbulafor as the new National Chairman of the ruling PDP, which means he still enjoys great prominence, popularity and support in that murderous, retrogressive so-called political party. Lord, please have mercy on us!!
Then came the mother of all farce, in the persons of the EFCC and Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello playing cat and mouse with each other and insulting the collective intelligence of Nigerians. It is the stuff of which movies are made. The daughter of our nearly-discredited ex-president is on the run and in hiding from the EFCC for knowingly collecting 10 million Naira as her share from the 300 million unspent budget of the Federal Ministry of Health. The Minister, Prof Grange, a respected Professor of Paediatrics and her Minister of State, Gabriel Aduku are in hot water right now with nine other officials of the ministry. You know the story. Prof Grange was really out of her depth in Nigerian politics. She should have kept to her classrooms and laboratories. Aduku knew what he was doing. He was the one even demanding that the money be shared out quickly because he needed to travel and needed the money. So much for our honourable ministers. Anyway, others involved in the scandal have since returned the money and are awaiting prosecution, while our very own former “first daughter” has done a disappearance act, after admitting she took the money and spread it to her Committee on Health to enable them go on a retreat to Ghana. But she’s not giving the money back. What is the matter with the Obasanjo family? Why are they bent on self-destruction? The answer is neither there nor here. It will take a psycho-analyst to answer these questions. Iyabo was first a Commissioner in Ogun State under another master of propaganda, Gbenga Daniel, then became a Senator of the Federal Republic. Since her father left the scene in near disgrace, the daughter has been involved in one scandal or the other. Remember the case of impersonation (Mrs Okanlawon) and fraudulent facilitation of contract deals? Anyway, I do not believe the EFCC does not know where she is. Nigerians have urged her to give herself up but all have fallen on deaf ears. She seems to think she has some kind of immunity against arrest, and the EFCC is obliging her. They are the “Owners of Nigeria” truly. As of the time of writing this article, Iyabo is yet to give herself up.
It is pertinent to note here that what happened in the Ministry of Health happens in all ministries, federal or state, every year. All ministries simply share unspent money among the top officials and commissioners and ministers. And why did they not spend the money allocated to facilitate projects and make life better for Nigerians? First, most of the budgets are inflated to accommodate some stealing. Second, they never intend to execute most projects, or most projects in the budget are phantom projects. Third, they deliberately save some of the money, so that they will have something to share at the end of the financial year.
One lesson that is very much highlighted in the Ministry of Health is the fact that our civil servants are as corrupt as the politicians appointed to oversee their ministries. In fact, our civil service has been the bedrock of corruption ever since Murtala Mohammed carried out a purge of them in the 70s. So we should focus and beam our searchlight on them more often. It is a well known fact that any Minister that fails to carry his/her top civil servant along with them will not succeed, whatever they try to do.