Can you spot the difference? Olisie-ego Obu-so-njo or Olusegun Obasanjo? Which is who?
President Obasanjo's last week in office and the award of $20 billion contracts to unnamed entities.
At the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting on 16 May, presided over by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, then President, there was an announcement of the award of contracts worth N176 billion. Obasanjo, who announced the contracts, was then 13 days away from quitting office, after spending two terms of four years each. Obasanjo told the council that the contracts became necessary to provide infrastructure across the nation’s six geo-political zones. The former President, this magazine gathered, simply presented the proposal and it was approved without a dissenting voice. Briefing newsmen after the meeting, Frank Nweke, then Minister of Information, said N70 billion was earmarked for the revival of textile industries across the nation. The sum of N58.6 billion was approved for the construction of the second Niger Bridge, while N42 billion was earmarked for the maintenance of the projects after completion. Curiously, Nweke refused to name the firms to handle the contracts.
Earlier, on 9 May, FEC had approved N16.53 billion for the reconstruction of port harbours in Lagos. Obasanjo also approved the expansion of the airport at the cost of N20 billion. The Abeokuta-Otta road also received presidential attention. Though TheNEWS could not ascertain the worth of the contract, Julius Berger, the firm handling the project, has since started work. Another N4.8 billion was earmarked for the building of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) permanent accommodation; and N1.39 billion for the Ministry of Defence to construct a permanent residence for participants of War College Training Course in Abuja. FEC also allocated N1.4 billion for the conversion of steam and head for the various power plants, while N233 million was set aside for the rehabilitation of the Agege-Lagos Road.
Aside this, N47.4 billion was approved for the conversion of the Alaoji Power Plant to double circuit; and N3.5 billion for the purchase and maintenance of two boilers at the Egbin Power Station in Lagos. Obasanjo’s decision to delay the award of these contracts till the dying days of his administration has spawned a series of questions and suspicions. Many have questioned his motives for awarding such meaty contracts when he was on his last lap. The Lagos-Otta Road contract is widely seen as a self-serving exercise since the highway leads to his farm in Otta, Ogun State.
The failure of the government to announce the names of companies to handle the contracts has also fuelled speculations that some powerful individuals in the Obasanjo administration might have used some fronts to corner the contracts. There were also allegations that the former president might have dipped his hand into the Federation Account to execute these projects, even when it is clear that the account belongs not only to the federal government, but also to state and local governments. Besides, the projects were said not to have been appropriated for in the annual budget. Obasanjo’s actions drew the ire of the last Senate. Professor Daniel Saror, former Minority Leader of the Senate, accused the former President of infidelity in the award of the contracts. "Obasanjo was dipping his hand into the Federation Account to execute many projects, including the power stations in the Niger Delta. Billions of dollars are being spent on those projects without the approval of the relevant agencies. No senator can exercise oversight function over them because nobody at the National Assembly knows about the contracts and the companies handling them. Senator Farouk Bello Bunza had tried to draw the attention of the Senate to this anomaly, but the PDP senators shot his motion down," Saror said.
As Senators struggled to unravel the exact number of contracts awarded from the Federation Account, the federal government stung them again. This time, Malam Muhammad Habibu Aliyu, then Minister of State for Water Transportation, without recourse to the FEC, announced the award of $140 million worth of contracts for the protection of the Lagos coastline. Aliyu, apparently speaking on behalf of the Federal Government, added that Obasanjo approved N2.3 billion for the construction of a river port in Lokoja. But the minister neither named the contractor nor the source of the money.