Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has spoken on the the popular Mambilla dispute; he challenged Olu Agunloye, the former minister of power and steel, to tell Nigerians where he derived the authority to award a $6 billion contract to Sunrise Power and Transmission Ltd in respect of the Mambilla Hydropower Project in 2003.
Sunrise Power is currently in arbitration with Nigeria at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Paris, France, over an alleged breach of contract by the federal government.
In the first arbitration, Sunrise is asking for a compensation of $2.3 billion, claiming it had spent millions of dollars on financial and legal consultants before the contract was jettisoned.
In the second one, the company is asking for a $400 million settlement being the terms of the agreement it entered with the federal government in 2020 to end the arbitration.
Nigeria is fighting the claims on the grounds that Agunloye, who suspiciously awarded the contract one week to the end of his tenure as power minister in 2003, acted illegally.
Agunloye and some officials of the ministry of justice have been quizzed over the Sunrise affair and may soon be charged to court.
In an interview with TheCable at the weekend, Obasanjo stringently denied authorising Agunloye to commit Nigeria to the $6 billion “build, operate and transfer” contract.
“When I was president, no minister had the power to approve more than N25 million without express presidential consent. It was impossible for Agunloye to commit my government to a $6 billion project without my permission and I did not give him any permission,” Obasanjo told TheCable.
The former president challenged Agunloye to explain where he got the power and authority.
“If a commission of inquiry is set up today to investigate the matter, I am ready to testify. I do not even need to testify because all the records are there. I never approved it,” Obasanjo said.
“When he presented his memo to the federal executive council (on May 21, 2003), I was surprised because he had previously discussed it with me and I had told him to jettison the idea, that I had other ideas on how the power sector would be restructured and funded.
“I told him as much at the council meeting and directed him to step down the memo. I find it surprising that Agunloye is now claiming he acted on behalf of Nigeria. If I knew he issued such a letter to Sunrise, I would have sacked him as minister during my second term. He would not have spent a day longer in office.”
Obasanjo also said Leno Adesanya, the promoter of Sunrise Power, ran away from Nigeria when he was president.
“I would have jailed him if he was in the country because of the things I knew about him. After I left office, he returned and I saw him. I told him that he was lucky I was no longer president. Otherwise, I would have jailed him.”
THE MAMBILLA DISPUTE
Sunrise had on October 10, 2017 taken Nigeria to arbitration for “breach of contract” in relation to the agreement to construct the 3,050MW plant in Mambilla, Taraba state.
Nigerian authorities insist that the contract award was irregular and did not pass through due process.
Agunloye issued a letter awarding the contract a day after the federal cabinet reportedly told him to step down his request for approval and explore other sources of funding for the project.
In his letter to Sunrise, Agunloye also listed pre-conditions for the contract to be consummated and none was met by the firm.
But Sunrise initiated legal action when a bid process for the civil works was announced by the federal government in 2007 and a series of litigation has since stalled the project.
To get the project off the ground, the federal government had attempted to settle the arbitration in 2020 with a compensation offer of $200 million but a lack of funds is believed to have truncated it.