|CJN Walter Onnoghen
Anti-corruption organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has asked Justice Walter Onnoghen, Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), to appoint an independent counsel to investigate alleged corruption in the spending of $16 billion on power projects between 1999 and 2007 by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
SERAP’s request was contained in a letter addressed to the CJN and signed by Mr. Timothy Olawale, the organisation’s Senior Staff Counsel, the letter explained that the request was based on Section 52 of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000 as well as the letter and spirit of the Act, and the object and purpose of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
SERAP recalled that a parliamentary hearing by the House of Representatives into the spending of $16 billion on the power project between 1999 and 2007 revealed, through testimonies of witnesses, that the amount budgeted for the power project may have been stolen by some government officials and others and cannot be accounted for.
It pointed out that the parliamentary hearing, which took place between March 11 and 12 March, 2008, revealed that Mr. Bernerd Mensen, the Chief Executive Officer of German firm, Lameyer, was paid N370 million (out of the total contract sum of N600million) just for a feasibility study on a power station. Mr. Mensen, SERAP recalled, however, confessed that he had never visited the site of the Mambilla Hydro-Electric Power Project in Taraba State.
Similarly recalled was the revelation that N200million of the N370million collected was spent to build a bungalow at Gembu, apparently to create the impression that work was in progress, but the project was later abandoned.
A witness, who testified at the hearing, recollected SERAP, said that the ground-breaking was done at Gembu, about 25kilometers from the Mambilla, and that they never got to the Mambilla. He also disclosed that the sample of oil Lameyer collected for test was dumped at somebody’s compound that the company did nothing to implement the project, which was expected to generate 2,600 megawatts of electricity.
The investigative committee, SERAP reminded the CJN, was equally told that the contracts awarded for the Kainji, Egbin, Afam and Ugehlli power stations were never executed despite being included by the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) in its report to the hearing on how it spent its budgetary allocations between 1999 and 2007. The hearing also revealed that there were about nine of such contracts, with an aggregate value of $142million.
“Section 52 of the Corrupt Practices Act requires the Chief Justice of Nigeria to authorise an independent counsel to investigate any allegation of corruption against high-level public officials at the federal or state level-and to report his findings to the National Assembly or appropriate house of assembly,” SERAP stated in the letter.
It expressed the belief that the findings by the parliamentary hearing provide sufficient ground for the CJN’s intervention in the matter.
“We therefore urge you to interpret this provision robustly and flexibly in the light of the unique role of the judiciary in the efforts to prevent and combat corruption and its destructive effects on the society.
“We believe your urgent intervention will contribute to improving the integrity of government and public confidence and trust in their government. It would also serve as a vehicle to further the public’s perception of fairness and thoroughness, and to avert even the most subtle of influences that may appear in an investigation of highly-placed executive officials,” the organisation said.
SERAP advised the CJN to be guided by the overall public interest of the right to uninterrupted power supply and the spirit and letter of the constitution, not by technicalities of ICPC Act.
“In particular, Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution dealing with Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, high-level public officials have a clear obligation to eradicate all corrupt practices and abuse of power,” it further stated.
SERAP observed that inadequate electricity supply has compelled many Nigerians to use contaminated surface water for drinking and robbed them of the ability to boil, purify, disinfect and store water. It further argued that the situation has affected Nigerians’ ability use irrigation to boost agricultural productivity, thereby limiting food supplies and shrinking employment opportunities.
The organisation also pointed out that the constitution prohibits the exploitation of the country’s human and natural resources for any reasons other than collective interest, a position that it said is backed by the provisions of the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party.
“In exercising your statutory and constitutional responsibilities, we urge you to work very closely with both the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC),” SERAP counselled.
The organisation equally noted that successive governments have failed to tell the public that the $16 billion expenditure on power supply amounts to failure.
It added that corruption in the energy sector have resulted in the epileptic power supply and corresponding deprivation and denial of access to quality healthcare, adequate food, shelter, clothing, water, sanitation, medical care, schooling and access to information.
*culled from the archive.