Obasanjo, Yar’adua, Buhari and the Power Sector

This Day, March 28, 2011
By Femi Fani-Kayode.

There has been so much speculation, misinformation and disinformation peddled around about President Olusegun Obasanjo’s handling of the power sector between 1999 and 2007. This contribution is an attempt to set the record straight and to clear the air. The truth is that the numerous problems of the power sector could not be completely solved by President Obasanjo simply due to the sabotage that his government was facing in that sector on a daily basis. And I am glad that Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, who served the Obasanjo administration but who is now the

Presidential candidate for the opposition ACN, alluded to that in the most recent Presidential debate. Yet in spite of this the truth is that the record of the Obasanjo government in the power sector was not nearly as bad as many Nigerians have been led to believe. Let us take the bitterness, the emotions and the sentiments out of it and instead let us look at the facts. And here they are. In 1999 when Obasanjo was elected into office Nigeria was only generating 1200 megawatts per day. By 2007 this figure had increased to just over 4000 megawatts per day despite all the daily sabotage that was going on throughout those years.
All the vast, complex, additional and extreemly expensive turbines and equipment that we needed to import in order to lift our power generation to the next level of over 10,000 megawatts per day arrived at our ports shortly after President Obasanjo left office and not too long after President Umaru Yar’adua was sworn in. Now let me share with you exactly what Yar’adua did with that equipment when he came in. Instead of clearing them at the ports, sending them to the to the relevant sites all over the country and installing them he simply refused to let them into the country, he refused to pay the custom duties on them or waive those duties and he left them to rot at the ports. He did this for one reason and for one reason alone, so that he could lie to the whole world that Obasanjo had done virtually nothing for the power sector between 1999 and 2007. Yet he did not stop there but he also went on to tell an even more pernicious lie and dirty lie to the whole world that a whooping 16 billion U.S. dollars was spent on the power sector by the Obasanjo administration and yet, he claimed, that ”there was nothing to show for it”. When his own advisor on the power sector, the highly respected Engineer Oluseke Shomolu, wrote him an internal memo with proofs saying that this was not true and that Obasanjo had spent only 6 billion U.S. dollars on the sector and that there was indeed plenty to show for it the man was told to keep quiet and a few months later he was fired. I would agree with anyone that says that even 4000 megawatts is not that good but it was certainly a lot better than the 1000 megawatts that Obasanjo met when he first came in in 1999. When Yar’adua took over in 2007 if he had carried on with the efforts that Obasano had made for that sector, if he had continued to implement the reforms and policies that were being implemented there, if he had made Mallam Nasir El-Rufai Minister of Power as he had promised to do before being sworn in and if he had quickly cleared and allowed in and installed all the expensive and massive turbines and equipment that were just sitting at the ports we would have hit over 10,000 megawatts per day in terms of power generation long ago. Instead Yar’adua did none of those things and, worse of all, he let all the equipment rot at the ports over the next three years just so that he could use that to discredit Obasanjo and claim that he did nothing for the power sector. As a consequence of this power generation under the Yar’adua administration dropped from 4000 megawatts, when we left office in 2007 and handed over to him, to a steady 2000 megawatts per day throughout the time that he was in power and until the day that he died. It never went over 2500 megawatts per day througout the three years that President Umaru Yar’adua was in power. Yet even today, which is four years since Obasanjo has left office and almost one since President Goodluck Jonathan has been our President, power generation is still hovering around 3500 megawatts per day. Is this not a case of five steps forward and ten steps backwards? Isn’t this pitiful? And yet people still blame Obasanjo for this? If he had been allowed to continue in office and if he had maintained the same rate of growth and power generation that he had started since 1999 we would have hit over 10000 megawatts at the very least by today. Again the infamous ”House of Reps Power Probe” that President Yar’adua set up simply to discredit and eventually prosecute President Obasanjo fell apart after the truth came out and after it was proved that all the allegations against him were not only false and utterly malicious but that they were also fabricated by Yar’adua himself. In addition to that the young member of the House of Reps who had been commissioned to do this hatchet job against Obasanjo by Yar’adua and Governor James Ibori and who actually chaired the House of Representatives Commitee on Power, one Ndudi Elumelu, has since been thoroughly discredited and his commitee disbanded. It is about time that the Nigerian people knew the truth about this power generation matter and that they allow ”the truth to set them free”.
During the last Presidential debate I heard General Muhammadu Buhari, the Presidential candidate for the opposition CPC, alleging that 16 billion U.S. dollars had been spent on power by the PDP in the last 11 years and I just chuckled to myself. I cannot blame him for saying that because he was simply repeating President Umaru Yar’adua’s ”disinformation” that had been successfully used against Obasanjo in 2008 and he now took those same fabicated figures and used them against the PDP in 2011. I guess that I cannot blame Buhari for that but rather it is the late Yar’adua that I will blame. In that same debate Buhari also said that power generation was at 4000 megawatts in 1999 when General Abdulsalami Abubakar was in power and just before Obasanjo was sworn in and that after Obasanjo came in it dropped from there and continued to drop thereafter for the next eight years right up until the time that he left office in 2007 and it hit a rock bottom of 1000 megawatts. This is not true. It is yet another pernicious lie. And I believe that it was fuelled more by malice than ignorance. What Buhari said was most unfair. He got his figures mixed up and he got them the wrong way round which, I guess, says a whole lot about his knowledge base and his so-called ”Presidential credentials”. The truth is that when General Abdulsalami Abubakar was office in from 1998 to 1999 (and throughout the time that his predecessor in office General Sani Abacha was Head of State from 1994 to 1998) power generation in Nigeria was just over 1000 megawatts per day and things were very bad as far as the power sector was concerned. At that time and throughout that period we were amongst the three lowest power-generating countries on the African continent and yet we had such a massive population of people when compared with everyone else. Things were really bad. However it improved considerably when Obasanjo came in in 1999 and it continued to do so at a steady and consistent pace until he left office in 2007. President Obasanjo is not infallible, he is certainly no angel and, as I have alluded to elsewhere, he made his own fair share of mistakes in the past but as far as the power sector is concerned these are the facts. Generally speaking his achievements were absolutely outstanding and even in the power sector he did not do nearly as badly as many people think.