INVESTIGATION: Jonathan seeks N1.8billion to fund ghost project

Former President Goodluck Jonathan

President Jonathan budgets billions for Bayelsa project long completed, and fully paid for in 2006.

President Goodluck Jonathan is asking the National Assembly to appropriate about N1.8 billion this year to help connect his home state of Bayelsa, to the national electricity grid, but this request suggests that federal officials only want to pocket the money.

PREMIUM TIMES investigations into the proposed project reveal that President Jonathan is asking money for projects that have been completed seven years ago, and that were all fully paid for in 2006 by the same federal government.

Mr. Jonathan was governor of the state at the time.

In the 2014 Federal budget recently presented by the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to the National Assembly for consideration and approval, the government lists as priority, the need to connect the state to the national electricity transmission network, but this shocking blunder is drawing attention to the absence of project monitoring and evaluation principles in policy making under the current administration, and the shabbiness that attends to budget preparation.

When contacted, the Special Adviser to the President on Power, Beks Dagogo-Jack, could not explain how the provision found its way into the budget, but claimed the issue might involve some complicated technical explanations only the bureaucrats at the Federal Ministry of Power could make.

PREMIUM TIMES investigations reveal that such provisions, that many federal crime investigators are familiar with, are some of the several fraudulent financial requests smuggled into budgets to steal public funds.

The Special Adviser to Bayelsa State governor on Power, Olice Kemenanabo, on Tuesday, confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that Bayelsa State was indeed linked to the national grid more than eight years ago.

The Director General, Budget Office of the Federation, Bright Okogwu, demanded a text message enquiry when contacted Thursday. He did not respond to the enquiry as at the time of publishing this report on Saturday.

However, the Senior Special Adviser to the President on Public Affairs, Doyin Okupe, insisted Friday night the N1.8billion request is not fraudulent.

“It is true contract connecting Yenagoa to the national grid was awarded in 2006,” Mr. Okupe said in response to a PREMIUM TIMES enquiry. “It is a 2x40MVA station connecting only Yenagoa. That voltage is far too small to cater for the needs of the state.

“The present contract is to further upgrade what is on ground and extend services to other parts of the state. It will be wrong and ignorant to say the 2014 provision is fake!”

Yet officials at the Federal Ministry of Power, who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES but requested anonymity for fear of official reprisal, insisted that there is no official documentation for the project, and that it is merely a “graft allocation.”

The officials said they were “stunned and amused at the claim from the presidency which is obviously an afterthought.”

“It is not true that the Bayelsa transmission line needs an upgrade. If it’s an upgrade, why didn’t they say so in the budget? Why was it presented as a totally new project?” the official queried.

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The project, titled, “Connection of Bayelsa to national grid”, under the allocation of the Federal Ministry of Energy (power), was described as a new project with reference number MOP1001637.

The budget did not say the requested N1.8billion was needed for an upgrade of an existing facility.

Power ministry officials point to the existence of a 132kv transmission line from Owerri, in Imo State, linking Ahoada, in Rivers State, and Yenagoa, in Bayelsa State, which was constructed by Pivot Engineering Nigeria Limited, insisting that the current fresh provision in the budget amounted to “linking the state to the national grid for the second time, evidence that the money goes into someone’s pocket.”

Documents from the Bayelsa State Investment Promotion Council and the power ministry offer the historical background to power development in the state, dating it back to 1988 prior to the creation of the State in October 1, 2006.

Then, the area relied on only one transmission line, which was not upgraded by successive administrations.

This spurred the Federal Ministry of Power and Steel, in conjunction with the then National Electric Power Authority, NEPA, to award a $56 million, [N3.2billion] contract to Energo Nigeria Limited in 1999 for the construction of a single phase Owerri-Ahoada-Yenagoa 132 kv transmission line to link Owerri to Yenagoa.

However, in November 2000, the scope of the job was reviewed to accommodate the Yenogoa-Imiringi and Ahoada-Abonnema 33KV double circuit lines, with the associated substations at Ahoada and Yenagoa.

The contract was renegotiated before it was re-awarded for $76million to Pivot Engineering Nigeria Limited, a subsidiary of Honeywell Group, owned by Oba Otudeko, a chieftain of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and one of the notable political allies of the President.

Subsequent reviews raised the contract sum to about N6.3 billion initially, and later N11 billion in 2005.

Despite the allocation of about N1.115 billion in the 2005 budget to facilitate the completion of the project, the contractor failed to meet the December 2005 completion deadline.

Pivot finally completed the job and successfully connected Bayelsa State to the national grid in 2006.

Like Bayelsa, like Gurara, others

As in the Bayelsa case, the 2014 budget also indicates that officials of the federal government have also fraudulently budgeted about N700 million to purportedly link Gurara, in Kaduna State, to the national grid this year.

PREMIUM TIMES investigations, however, show that Gurara’s connection to the national grid has remained one of the constant features in successive federal budget proposals since 2011

About N918 million was provided for the project in 2011; N556.74 million in 2012, and N1.5 billion in 2013.

Officials at the power ministry say this is a loud indictment of the federal budget making process under the Jonathan administration where project monitoring and evaluation doesn’t appear to be a factor for policy development.

It is just another drain pipe into some pockets, officials at the power ministry said in Abuja.

Other controversial provisions, which had featured in successive budgets since 2010, include those for the 10MW Katsina Wind Farm, which took N3.15billion in 2010; N510million in 2011; N800million in 2012; N250million in 2013, and N1billion in 2014.‬

Similarly, the construction of the 215 Kaduna low pour fuel oil, LPFO/gas-fired power plant, which was allocated about N3.7billion in the 2014 budget, gulped N7.65billion in 2011; N3.7billion in 2012, and N2.744billion in 2013.

Feasibility studies for coal-fired power plants in Enugu and Gombe States, which got allocation of about N1.7billion in the 2014 budget, took about N2.04billion in 2011; N2.223billion in 2012, and N1.7billion in 2013.

Apart from the N461million set aside for some renewable energy projects, these projects, which were initiated to help provide alternative sources of power towards meeting government-set electricity generation target of 10,000MW, have incidentally turned out to be pipe-drains for corrupt public officials.

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