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Nigerian probe into billions spent on power industry

13 March 2008 – News from Nigeria is that states and local government councils are demanding a refund of US$3.7 billion in contributions to the national integrated power projects (NIPP) fund, a programme of former president Obasanjo’s government.

NG Elumelu

Committee Chairman,
Ndudi Godwin Elumelu

At an investigation hearing into what had become of some US$16 billion earmarked for expenditure on the power sector, without commensurate results, the demand was confirmed by the governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam.

Visits to various projects under the NIPP show that, despite the huge investment into the project, they are still struggling to "get off the ground", the Governor said. Logistical planning had been inadequate the minister said, continuing "I don’t think the money meant for the projects was properly applied.

"We need to give money and monitor how it’s spent and we need to maintain and scrutinise inventories. And people must be held accountable for their actions. People must be brought to book. At the end you people should make strong recommendations to Mr. President," he said.

Minister of State for Energy, Hajiya Fatima Balaraba Ibrahim, described the NIPP as a "mind boggling project to which a lot of money had been sunk."

She agreed that "mistakes had been made" and that the work had not proceeded according to plan, alleging that consultants’ did not do their work, despite being paid for it.

Governor of Taraba State, Danbaba Suntai, told the committee that the Manbilla electricity project had been delayed due to conflicts between two of the contractors, but he was hopeful that project could be resuscitated. The project, he said, was a laudable initiative, "but there is no reason why we are where we are now if the funds were properly applied."

He further revealed that feasibility studies undertaken on behalf of NEPA between 1982 and 1985 had provided no conclusion and had no detailed design data or soil investigation. According to Suntai, the project was restarted by German company, Layhmeyer in association with DamTech Nigeria in April 2005.

Committee Chairman, Ndudi Godwin Elumelu said that an unscheduled visit to the Manbilla project site led to the discovery "that the consultants used N200 billion (US$1,7 billion) to erect a bungalow that could go for a farmer’s hut and directed the company, Lahmeyer, to refund the money it had collected to conduct the feasibility.

"We are serious and want to ensure that the work is done. Lahmeyer should return the money to the Federal Government. They have done nothing. The company has so far collected the sum of N369, 673 million (US$3.173 million) and there is nothing on ground. The soil samples for the test has been abandoned in a farmer’s house in Gembu and the ground breaking ceremony was done 20 kilometres to the project site by the former president," he said.

Joseph Makoju, presidential advisor on energy, told the committee "Manbilla was not my brief. It was under the ministry. I was aware the contracts did receive Due Process clearance. We did not have the capacity to supervise the consultants.

"On the blacklisting of the German firm, Laymeher [by the World Bank], the issue was after the award of the contract. It was not during the award. I have not visited Manbilla officially but the only time I did that was when the ground breaking ceremony was held," he said.

He recommended that project engineers attached to the various projects be brought before the committee to answer questions related to their projects.