Which country can afford to throw away 16 billion dollars just like that in the name of power contracts, which never produced any significant results? The power contracts awarded by the former Obasanjo administration was a national scandal of epic proportion, the kind that could have sent many big men to jail in any society where accountability is taken seriously. When the National Assembly started the investigation into how $16 billion was purportedly expended on the so-called power projects, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua came under intense pressure to appeal to the law makers to stop the probe on the grounds that it might embarrass his predecessor, former President Obasanjo. That was a ridiculous excuse to kill accountability.
Sixteen billion dollars is not a joke anywhere, and no sane country can overlook the expenditure of such huge funds without commensurate results. Apart from the open breach of due process in the award of those contracts, Nigerians didn’t see any significant improvement in power situation in the country. How could anybody claim to have spent 16 billion dollars on power, and the country could not generate beyond 3,000 megawatts of electricity?
Accountability is not about embarrassing anybody; it is about getting the truth and ensuring that every kobo spent went into the intended purpose. Democracy is about openness or transparency. Nobody is too big or too powerful to answer legitimate questions about how public funds were used. In fact, accountability will lose its teeth the very day we seek to shield anybody from scrutiny about the expenditure of public funds.
Former President Obasanjo promised to produce 10,000 megawatts of electricity by the end of 2007. However, until he left office, power generation didn’t go beyond 3,000 megawatts. It is impossible to believe that 16 billion dollars was the money used to give Nigerians 3,000 megawatts of power.
Nigerians demand answers to how sixteen billion dollars went into improving power generation, when the results didn’t justify the expenditure. It doesn’t matter who was in power when the national scandal broke out. Don’t Nigerians have the right to demand answers to questions pertaining to the purported expenditure of sixteen billion dollars on power? If they do, then nobody should be shielded from accountability.
President Muhammadu Buhari is a people’s president, and therefore, he owes his mandate to Nigerians rather than any godfather. The 16 billion dollars power contracts must be revisited no matter whose ox is gored. Public money should not just go down the drain, and the nation is then blackmailed into silence because we don’t want to embarrass certain big or powerful men.
The passage of time is no excuse to kill accountability. Sixteen billion dollars is too huge to be ignored, no matter when the money was spent. No pressure should stop President Buhari from holding public officials accountable for their expenditure of public funds. The $16 billion power contracts scandal is of such magnitude that they must be revisited in order to settle the issue once and for all. Holding people accountable takes a lot of courage, especially in a country where stealing is a mark of achievement and social recognition. We are lucky, however, that this time around we have a man with integrity like Buhari as president. His entire life is built around integrity. That gives us hope that the era of impunity is over.
What this means is that President Buhari has what it takes to deal with all accountability issues because of his own credibility. He cannot be compromised, which puts him in a better position to do a thorough job about the $16 billion dollars power scandal. We commend former President Obasanjo for introducing the EFCC and ICPC to promote accountability and punish corruption. He set a standard for the country, and he must be held to his own standard. I don’t think re-opening the $16 billion power contracts scandal should be perceived as embarrassing Obasanjo.
Public money was involved, and finding out how the funds were expended for the intended purposes is a legitimate effort that has nothing to do with embarrassing anybody. Nigerians would welcome any effort to make accountability the watchword of public life. Public funds must be used for the purposes they are intended, and where there are questions to be answered, the Buhari administration should not interfere with the National Assembly’s effort to revisit the power contracts scandal, no matter who was involved.
Malam Nasir, a transparency good governance advocate, sent this opinion from N0. 68, Ali Akilu Road, Kaduna