• Says ex-president squandered $16bn on power projects, praises Abacha

• You’re ignorant, Obasanjo fires back
• Hameed Ali calls Nigerians complaining of hunger lazy

Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja and Femi Ogbonnikan in Abeokuta

President Muhammadu Buhari Tuesday launched a ferocious attack on former President Olusegun Obasanjo, accusing him of “bragging” that he spent $16 billion on the power sector without anything to show for it.

Buhari, who launched the attack when he received members of the Buhari Support Organisation (BSO) at the State House, Abuja, was openly attacking the former president for the first time.

Obasanjo has been at the vanguard of those vehemently opposed to Buhari’s bid to seek a second term in 2019 and has been working behind the scenes with other ex-military generals including Gen. TY Danjuma to support a candidate who can defeat the president.

Buhari, however, has restrained himself and his aides from responding to the various accusations of non-performance and clannishness levelled against him by Obasanjo.

But Tuesday Buhari let go, saying the debt incurred from the $16 billion spent by Obasanjo on power projects without any output was now being paid by his administration, adding that in Nigeria’s history, his government had made the highest capital allocations in the 2017 and 2018 budgets.

Buhari’s criticism of Obasanjo, however, was not entirely factual, as the former president has never claimed that $16 billion was spent on power projects by his administration.

The figure of $16 billion was the charge made by his successor, the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, which prompted the House of Representatives Committee on Power to investigate the spending on the National Integrated Power Projects (NIPPs) started by the Obasanjo administration and continued by his successors – Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan.

Also, in incurring the expenditure as Buhari erroneously stated Tuesday, the Obasanjo administration and his successors did not have to borrow a farthing to build the NIPPs, as the funds were withdrawn from the Excess Crude Account (ECA).

Buhari also alleged Tuesday that even though the nation got massive earnings from the sale of crude oil when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was in power, nothing was left in the treasury when he became president 16 years after.

He also took on members of the National Assembly, accusing them of doing nothing, even though some of them had spent over a decade in the federal legislature.

Buhari, however, had good remarks for former despotic military head of state, Gen. Sani Abacha, who stashed away billions of Nigerian money in foreign banks, saying he agreed to work with him irrespective of people’s perception about the late dictator because, during Abacha’s regime, a lot of roads and medical facilities were revamped.

He described the current period in the nation’s history as terrible, even as he canvassed the need to revamp the country altogether, recalling how he was ruthless as a military head of state, arresting and throwing people into prison, a punishment he said was also meted out to him.

According to Buhari, “Between 1999 and 2014, Nigeria was producing 2.1 million barrels per day and at an average price of $100 per barrel. It even went up to $143. So, Nigeria was earning 2.1 million times $100 times 16 years, seven days a week.

“When we came, it collapsed to $37-$38 and it was oscillating between $40 and $54 sometimes. I went to the governor of the central bank, thank goodness I did not sack him. He is still there.

“I went with my cap in my hand and said ‘oya’. He said there were no savings, only debt. And you know more than I do.

“The condition of the roads and some of them were not repaired since the PTF (Petroleum Fund Trust) days. No matter what opinion you have about (Gen. Sani) Abacha, I agreed to work with him and we did PTF roads from here to Port Harcourt, to Onitsha, to Benin, and so on, and on top of other things, education, medical care and so on.

“You know the rail was killed and one of the former heads of state between that time was bragging that he spent more than $16 billion, not naira, on power. Where is the power? Where is the power? And now, we have to pay the debt.

“This year and last year’s budgets that I took to the National Assembly were the highest in capital projects (allocation) – more than N1.3 trillion.

“Let anybody come and confront me publicly in the National Assembly. What have they been doing? Some of them have been there for 10 years. What have they been doing? So, really, this country, luckily for me, I said it about eight years ago that we have no other country than Nigeria.

“We should remain here and salvage it together no matter what you have outside. Now, we get some of the people with houses here and maybe in Abuja or somewhere in America and Europe.

“They swear, some of them to God, that it doesn’t belong to them. But from their accounts, through the banks, through their companies, it is obvious that it is their own. But they say it’s not their own.

“This is a terrible time and the people are saying what are we doing? Why can’t you lock them up? And again, I went on by telling them what I said when I was in uniform, younger and rather ruthless, that I got from the president downwards, I locked them up in Kirikiri. I said, ‘you’re guilty except you prove yourselves innocent.’

“I myself was locked up and those who misappropriated public funds were giving back what they had taken away. Who did not do anything about it? Then I decided to come and put agbada to contest. I tried one, two, three, four times until God agreed. And the third time, I came and met a statesman outside the Supreme Court. My chief lawyer was Mike Ahamba, a Roman Catholic and Igbo man.

“He had a witness in the box and asked the panel of judges that they should check on certain constituencies in certain states to bring us our register so that we can prove that the people that voted there were the people whose names INEC submitted. They said, ‘ah, we shall do it.’ Then they said, ‘no, you must write it.’”

Leading the BSO, Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hameed Ali (rtd.), said Nigerians who often complained of hunger were lazy people who only expect manna to fall from heaven.

Arguing that the three years of Buhari as president had been a blessing to many people, Ali said such people would continue to wait in vain because manna would never fall directly from heaven, even as he maintained that the president had done well in just three years of his administration.

However, he said despite doing well, they were many rooting for Buhari’s second term in office because it requires more than three years to rebuild what had been allegedly destroyed by the previous administrations.

“Last year, during the Hajj period when I went home, many farmers came to me to say that they had never had it so good, so much so that the first 25 people that paid up their money when Hajj fares were announced, were rice farmers.

“What more can we say in terms of growth of wealth? People say we are hungry. Of course, the lazy must be hungry because if you do not work hard, manna doesn’t fall from heaven.

“So, when people say we are hungry, there was never a time in Nigeria that food was dropped in the mouth of the people and there can never be.

“I can go on and on and enumerate what you have done in just three years of your administration, but three is not enough to undo what was done in 16 years. The destruction, the monumental stealing that we have witnessed, the destruction of our structures and our system, it takes more than eight years to be able to address them and I believe in three years, you have done wonderfully well,” Ali said.

But in his reaction Tuesday to the president’s allegation that he squandered $16 billion on power projects, Obasanjo described Buhari as ignorant, saying it was doubtful that the president had a proper understanding of the issues before he made the unfounded allegation.

Obasanjo, through his media aide, Kehinde Akinyemi, advised Buhari to check from the official records of the National Assembly before exculpating him for any wrongdoing concerning the power sector.

According to Akinyemi, “It has come to the attention of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo that a statement credited to President Muhammadu Buhari, apparently without correct information and based on ignorance, claimed that the sum of $16 billion was wasted on power projects by a ‘former president’.

“We believe that the president was re-echoing the unsubstantiated allegation against Chief Obasanjo by his own predecessor but one.

“For the records, Chief Obasanjo has addressed the issues of the power sector and the allegations against him on many occasions and platforms, including in his widely publicised book, ‘My Watch’ in which he exhaustively stated the facts and figures, and reproduced various reports by both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which conducted a clinical investigation into the allegations against Chief Obasanjo, and the Ad Hoc Committee on the Review of the Recommendations in the Report of the Committee on Power on the investigation into how the huge sums of money were spent on power generation, transmission and distribution between June 1999 and May 2007 without commensurate results.

“We recommend that the president and his co-travellers should read Chapters 41, 42, 43 and 47 of ‘My Watch; for Chief Obasanjo’s insights and perspectives on the power sector and indeed, what transpired when the allegation of $16 billion on power projects was previously made.

“If he cannot read the three-volume book, he should detail his aides to do so and summarise the chapters in a language that he will easily understand.”

Akinyemi said that in the same statement credited to the president, it was alleged that Obasanjo had bragged about $16 billion spent on power.

“To inform the uninformed, the so-called $16 billion power expenditure was an allegation against Chief Obasanjo’s administration and not his claim.

“The president also queried where the power generated is. The answer is simple: The power is in the seven National Integrated Power Projects and 18 gas turbines that Chief Obasanjo’s successor who originally made the allegation of $16 billion did not clear from the ports for over a year and the civil works done on the sites,” he stated.

He said Obasanjo was challenging anyone in doubt and dissatisfied with the EFCC report and that of the Aminu Tambuwal-led committee on the expended $16 billion on the power projects to set up another inquiry.