With their differences being narrowed down to character debate, the ongoing feud between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Muhammadu Buhari gets messier, writes Shola Oyeyipo
Slowly but gradually, the relationship between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is deteriorating beyond repairs.
Though it is obvious that the two leaders, who share common backgrounds as retired military generals and one time military leaders were heading for a bout after Obasanjo advised Buhari against his second term ambition, no one expected that it would soon degenerate into personality attacks.
The trouble between the two former military presidents started on January 23, 2019, when Obasanjo wrote a lengthy and damning letter, in which he castigated the Buhari leadership and advised him not to seek re-election.
The federal government was, however, tactical in responding to Obasanjo. In fact, the two presidential spokesmen, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, were initially mute on the matter until the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, issued a temperate statement, disagreeing with Obasanjo on the achievements of Buhari.
Mohammed said Obasanjo might have been too busy such that he could not keep track of the progress recorded by the Buhari administration.
When Buhari eventually commented on Obasanjo's letter he simply called it “abusive.”
Apparently sure that Buhari would not heed his advice, Obasanjo set up what he called Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM), which was launched at the Shehu Musa Yar'Adua Centre, Abuja. The platform, according to him, could later metamorphose into a political party and oust the current leadership.
Obasanjo and his collaborators did not leave it at that, they have stepped up the ante ahead of the 2019 election. Already underground, there are widespread consultations, alignments and realignments. And anybody who has his or her ears close to the ground would have noticed that the gang-up against Buhari is thickening by the day. In an obvious attempt to demystify Obasanjo and address his holier-than-thou posturing, Buhari fired his own salvo. The president accused the former president of squandering $16 billion on power projects without concrete results.
Though he did not specifically mention Obasanjo, Buhari, in his jab, referred to those he said mismanaged the country's economy in the past, through fraudulent electricity projects and misuse of revenue earnings from oil, saying they do not love the country.
But apparently referring to Obasanjo, he said: “One of the former Heads of State was bragging,” and from that point it became obvious that the last has not been heard of the fight.
Already, two civil society organisations, the Socio-Economic and Right Accountability Project (SERAP) and the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL), have implored Buhari to probe the $16bn power projects and other perceived corrupt former leaders in the country.
According to SERAP Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, “We have consistently maintained the position that previous regimes have misappropriated large sums of money on projects. What should happen is that the president must look into them.”
SERAP, therefore, urged Buhari to “urgently refer the allegations of mismanagement of $16 billion power projects between 1999 and 2007 to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) for further investigation.”
For Obasanjo, who has laid claim to incorruptibility as a leader, the tantrum thrown back at him was a big stain on his reputation. He has maintained that he did not stain his hands with corruption. Some years back, in a BBC interview, he stated emphatically that anyone with evidence of corruption against him should come forward with it and that he was ready to defend himself.
Asked if he is prepared to face charges for allegations of corruption, Obasanjo said: “I am very much so. And if you have any evidence, please, show it to me and I will defend myself anywhere in the world,” adding, “I am the only leader in Nigeria that has been examined and reported upon by the anti-corruption agencies in Nigeria.”
Though there is evidence of the possibility of a fresh probe of his administration between 1999 and 2007, to exonerate himself from any wrongdoing, Obasanjo made the 2017 EFCC report on various allegations against him, including the allegedly mismanaged $16b power project funds, available to journalists in Abeokuta, Ogun State capital, a few days ago.
In the 20-page report, which was the outcome of an investigations based on petitions written by former Abia State governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, and the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) and signed by its Chairman, Mr. Debo Adeniran, in 2005 and 2007 respectively, Obasanjo was cleared of any wrongdoing.
According to the EFCC, “In the period under review, a total of N10, 776,493,271:84; $69,808,942:70; Euros 12,853,883:40 and UKP 8, 987,322:00 were paid to the various contractors. However, outstanding payments for the contractors stand at N11, 520,669,195:53; $375,435,687:37; and Euros 7, 257,552:91 pending the completion of the project.
“Further investigations also revealed that National Integrated Power Project is currently apace in six zones of the country for which about N1, 230,949,066,528:99 was committed by the federal government. The projects are also at different levels of completion but as at the moment of this report, N360, 714,147,700:03 have been paid out to contractors, leaving a balance of N870, 234,918,828:06 yet to be paid pending the completion of the project.”
But that is not all, the messy part of it is that Obasanjo too, dug deep into Buhari's past and the aim was to bring out his blemishes. Amongst his regrets was that he did not expose Buhari's mismanagement of Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF).
THISDAY, in an exclusive report, had said the original copy of a report by the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund (PTF) Interim Management Committee, instituted on July 7, 1999 by Obasanjo contained many damming allegations that called to question, Buhari's ability to manage the Nigerian economy and fight corruption.
In the report, the PTF under Buhari's supervision was mismanaged. Though the report was not acted upon by the ex-president, the committee had advised Obasanjo to “set up a high powered judicial panel to recover the huge public fund and to take necessary action against any officer, consultant or contractor whose negligence resulted in this colossal loss of public funds.”
The report further disclosed that the sum of N25, 758, 532, 448 was mismanaged by the Afri-Project Consortium (APC), a company contracted by the PTF as management and project consultant when Buhari was the chairman.
It was noted that Buhari delegated powers of control to the Afri-Project Consortium in all appropriate projects requiring such power, which made them assume absolute powers to initiate, approve and execute all projects by the PTF.
In summary, the mismanagement of funds under Buhari's chairmanship of the PTF was allegedly carried out by the APC (the company) in their capacity as management and project consultants. It said both their management services fee and budget for various projects executed during the existence of the PTF were greatly overpriced.
The Committee made up of Dr. Haroun Adam as Chairman, and Alhaji Abdu Abdurrahim, Mr. Achana Gaius Yaro, Edward Eguavoen, Mr. T. Andrew Adegboro and Mr. Baba Goni Machina as members, while carrying out its obligations, engaged three management consulting firms to verify all payments made to PTF from inception to September 30, 1999.
The Committee during verification discovered that the consulting firms had overcharged PTF for their services to the tune of N2, 057, 550, 062. Also, while intervening on behalf of the PTF in the road and waterways, education, food, health, and other sectors, the company, according to the report, inflated all the prices.
For example, intervention in the health sector, was said to have amounted to N9 billion in total, and projects in this sector were said to have been executed by the APC and PTF in-house staff, where loss of billions of naira were recorded due to price inflation of products and services.
The committee also discovered that the APC (the company) bought spectacle frames, which could have been done locally at a price between N80 to N880, under the watch of Buhari, at an inflated price of N1, 900 each. Ambulances were said to have been purchased at N13 million per unit, instead of N3 million. And then price inflation of drugs was done to the tune of N1.5 billion.
The report further revealed that the PTF lost money to the tune of N3.5 billion from its bank account operations and that PTF operated its bank accounts under three different categories: Administration, Project and Treasury accounts, and the loss of money to these accounts were said to have been due to “overcharge on Cost of Turnover (COT), non-payment of interest on current account balances as stipulated by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), short payment of interest on deposited funds, and other various discrepancies.”
But the presidency which did not find the revelations funny, soon issued a statement, in which it said Obasanjo as civilian president toppled many state governors, using the police and the DSS. The kind of image the statement painted of the former president remains another slant to their filthy fight.
However, now that the two generals have returned to the trenches in what is building up as a fight to the finish, except something is urgently done to reverse the situation, it can only get dirtier with more revelations. But the fear is that hostilities between the two may end up having negative consequences on the country and her people.