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NIGERIA’S TWO-FOR-ONE KOBO POWER PLANTS

Those who are concerned about the systematic killing of the two anti-graft institutions by top governmental officials for their selfish reasons, may not be wrong after all.

Reason: the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), one among the two anti-graft bodies, known for being much more active than its lazy counterpart-the Independent Corrupt Practices and Allied offences commission (ICPC), is reportedly broke and can not pay her huge bills owed to the few private solicitors that perennially handle their cases.

On the other hand, the ICPC which is more or less a toothless bull dog has almost being grounded to a ruthless stop due largely to leadership inertia, incapacity and total lack of charisma on the part of their leaders/hierarchy to wage war against corruption.

Painfully, the near-demise of these strategic publicly funded anti-graft agencies coincided with the period whereby large scale cases of corruption and economic crimes have manifested among public office holders especially in the electricity power sector embroiled with wide spread allegation of under- hand dealings in the ongoing privatization of publicly owned Electricity power firms to some private business persons drawn largely from suspected fronts of top government officials.

Apart from the electricity power sector, another segment of the nation's economy entangled in corruption and large scale economic crimes is the pension scheme especially the Nigerian police's pension scheme in which cases of theft of over N32 Billion are ongoing at ridiculously snail -speed by the EFCC at various Federal High Courts against top government officials drawn from the office of Head of Service of the federation including a serving permanent secretary in the Nigerian Presidency.

In this piece however, our attention will dwell extensively on the process of privatizing various electricity power plants to private buyers most of whom are allegedly linked to top government officials in the presidency. The wife of President Jonathan and the vice President Mr. Namadi Sambo have both been linked to the company purportedly run by Chief Emeka Offor that reportedly took over the Enugu Electricity Company. They have all but denied these widespread allegations.

One question that has yet to be answered is why these two anti-graft institutions were surreptitiously crippled and rendered incapacitated about the same time that this corruption-ridden transfer of Nigeria's electricity power firms to the private sector is happening?

Secondly, facts emerged that the power firms belonging to the people of Nigeria were sold by the current government for N404 billion even when collectively these plants gulped N3.2 trillion of tax payers money to fix back to optimal functional shape.

Why should Nigeria sell off these vital electricity power plants at these ridiculous rates even after injecting enormous quantity of public fund to revive and/or modernize them therefore making it look as if they were sold at the laughable rate of two for – One Kobo?

I ask, which wise man/woman wanting to dispose off his/her old car will almost spend a fortune good enough to purchase a brand new car just so as to fix the old vehicle for the purposes of selling it off at very ridiculous give-away price? This will surely be termed penny-wise-pound foolish.

Before providing further and better published proofs of the above claim, let me draw the attention of the reading public that the names of the private sector buyers that have or are now possessing these power plants are the same persons that have featured in virtually all the privatization transactions that have ever happened ever since this widely criticized privatization policy was implemented right from the days of President Olusegun Obasanjo up until the current dispensation.

What the above point demonstrates is that the privatization exercise may be less than transparent even as equity and fair play never took place in the whole scenario.

Now to the important but irritating fact that government spent N3.2 trillion to fix the power plants but sold them N404 billion, one of the nation's newspapers known for investigative stories- Daily Trust recently published huge volumes of evidence to prove this allegation in its Tuesday October 1st 2013 edition.

In very specific and unambiguous presentation, Daily Trust reports that on the last day of September, 2013 the federal government handed over its spun off power companies to private buyers who paid a total of N404 billion to acquire assets into which investment of over N3.2 trillion was made in the past 14 years. Government presented share certificates and licences to the new owners of six power generation companies and nine distribution firms that reportedly completed payment of their bid amounts.

Those public companies now sold were among the 18 successors of the now moribund Power Holden Company of Nigeria (PHCN).

PHCN was broken up in a privatization process that is aimed at ending debilitating power shortage in the country, Daily Trust reported.

At least N3.2 trillion (about $ 20 billion) has gone into several power reform programmes in the past 14 years of civilian rule, much of it wasted, so says the newspaper.

The PHCN was split into six generation, 11 distribution and one transmission companies.

All the generating and distributing firms were sold separately for N$2.5 billion (about N404 billion) in total.

A House of Representatives inquiry in 2008-2009 found that at least $15 billion dollars had been spent in the power sector, most of it stolen, with no commensurate result.

So I ask, why the privatization exercise if ultimately the country would have to cough out huge sums of public fund to fix the power firms just so that these favoured private buyers can have them at give -away- prices? This is certainly absurd.

Were the rules governing privatization that complies to global best practices followed and if yes, is the exercise not a total negation of the economic objectives of Nigeria as enshrined in chapter two of the Nigerian constitution which frowns at economically empowering only but few Nigerians at the expense of the greatest happiness of the greater population of Nigeria?

In his book titled; “Privatization and public hood: the rule of law challenge”, Dr. Sam Amadi had as far back as year 2008 warned thus; “Regulation is one process of ensuring that something close to a perfect market exists after privatization. Again, regulation helps to overcome the dangers of privatization, including that privatization may become a process of creating a monopoly or entrenching an unfair market power”.

If truth be told, the process of selling off publicly owned electricity power plants built at very high rate and later sold at ridiculous amount to same persons in the private sector associated with all the privatization exercises since the last 14 years, is less than transparent and indeed violates relevant section of the Nigerian constitution including but not limited to section 16(2) (c) which provides that "the Nigerian state shall direct its policy towards ensuring that the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of few individuals or of a group”.

Again, section 15(5) of the Constitution provides thus; “The Nigerian State shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power”.

In this instance of privatization of Nigeria's power plants, there are clear and present danger that under the table dealings took place but sadly the anti-graft agencies that ought to wage anti-corruption war are busy waging administrative lobby to convince both the legislature and the executive arms of government to increase the scope of financial resources to be paid to them to enable them survive. As the late Musc Icon Fela would sing, "Dead body get accident, this is double wahala for dead body and the owner of the dead body".

Nigeria is at a crossroad and indeed Nigerians have found themselves between the deep blue sea and the hard rock but the citizenry must not go to bed but must actively wage advocacy battle to ensure that those diverting public fund to their private accounts are brought to account for these huge crimes before the competent court of law.

* Emmanuel Onwubiko is head, HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS' ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA; and [email protected]; www.huriwa.org.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Emmanuel Onwubiko and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Emmanuel Onwubiko