Rivers gov­er­nors’ bit­ter po­lit­i­cal spat puts $302m power plants on freeze mode

In­cum­bent gover­nor ter­mi­nates 541MW plants sold by for­mer gover­nor Econ­omy hit, as unem­ploy­ment soars at 61.4%

Business a.m. - - NIGERIA FRONTIER MARKETS - Ben Egu­zozie, in Port Har­court

ONE IS A FOR­MER GOV ERNOR, Chibuike Ro­timi Amaechi. The other is the in­cum­bent gover­nor, Nye­som Wike. Both of them are from Rivers State. But a long­stand­ing bit­ter feud be­tween both men, which has al­ready led to the lat­ter, ter­mi­nat­ing the sale of 541 megawatts power plants val­ued at $302 mil­lion , is set to roughen up the econ­omy of the state, in a coun­try where the yearn­ing for elec­tric­ity is pal­pa­ble, throw­ing the cit­i­zens and busi­nesses into more dark­ness as a con­se­quence.

The on­go­ing bit­ter pol­i­tics be­tween the two men has gone un­abated since May 2015. The two po­lit­i­cal gla­di­a­tors of the state, with am­ple fol­low­er­ship, have been locked in a po­lit­i­cal bat­tle of supremacy in the last three and-a-half years, which has only brought each of them a pyrrhic vic­tory.

The Wike-Amaechi spat has brought in its wake in­sta­bil­ity in the state, scar­ing away in­vestors and heav­ily bash­ing the $23 bil­lion gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP) econ­omy. The oil-rich state, with ar­guably the sec­ond largest sub-na­tional econ­omy, only picks up crumbs from for­eign di­rect in­vest­ments (FDIs) left over from La­gos and Abuja.

Shortly after as­sum­ing of­fice, from a deadly fought gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion in 2015, Wike in­sti­tuted an in­quiry into Amaechi’s eight-year ad­min­is­tra­tion. Apart from other find­ings, the Ge­orge Omereji Com­mis­sion re­ported that for­mer gover­nor Amaechi had un­wit­tingly sold off 70 per­cent share of the state’s built multi-mil- lion-dol­lar gas tur­bine elec­tric power plants at Omoku, Trans Amadi, Eleme and Afam, with to­tal gen­er­at­ing ca­pac­ity of 541 megawatts (MW).

The three ma­jor power plants: Omoku (150 megawatts), Trans Amadi (136 megawatts), Afam (180 megawatts) and Eleme (75 megawatts) gas-pow­ered elec­tric­ity plants also known as First In­de­pen­dent Power Lim­ited, were sold by Amaechi’s ad­min­is­tra­tion in late 2014 to NG Power HPS Lim­ited, an af­fil­i­ate of Sa­hara En­ergy Re­sources Lim­ited, owned by bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man, Tonye Cole for $308 mil­lion. Al­though, the com­pany later on claimed that it bought the three power plants for only $302 mil­lion.

Ear­lier in the year, the Wike gov­ern­ment had asked Amaechi to an­swer ques­tions on the sale of the three plants, al­leg­ing that the N112 bil­lion re­alised from the ‘sell-off’ was al­legedly used by Amaechi to fi­nance the 2015 pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns of the APC, won by Muham­madu Buhari.

Ap­par­ently not sat­is­fied with the non-com­mit­tal ap­proach of the min­is­ter of trans­porta­tion, last Fri­day, 21 De­cem­ber, the Wike ad­min­is­tra­tion or­dered the ter­mi­na­tion of the share sale con­tract of 70-per­cent eq­uity in the gov­ern­ment owned power gen­er­a­tion as­sets held by First In­de­pen­dent Power Lim­ited in Omoku, Afam, Trans-Amadi and Eleme Gas Tur­bines, to NG Power-HPS Lim­ited.

The gov­ern­ment also ter­mi­nated the con­ces­sion of the Rivers and Bayelsa states owned Olympia Ho­tel to Cen­prop­saroten Ho­tel Man­age­ment Lim­ited, as well as the con­ces­sion agree­ment be­tween the state and Kild Con­ces­sion Lim­ited in re­spect of the con­struc­tion of a toll road and sec­ondary de­vel­op­ments in Abon­nema Wharf, Port Har­court.

Emma Okah, com­mis­sioner of In­for­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion said the ter­mi­na­tion or­der were part of res­o­lu­tions at the state ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil meet­ing presided by Gover­nor Wike.

He claimed that the three com­pa­nies that had their con­tracts/con­ces­sions ter­mi­nated are all sub­sidiaries of Sa­hara En­ergy Lim­ited, used by the im­me­di­ate past gover­nor Amaechi to ac­quire state as­sets.

“The State Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil meet­ing ar­rived at the res­o­lu­tions in line with yet to be im­ple­mented rec­om­men­da­tions of the White Paper on the re­port of the Ju­di­cial Com­mis­sion of In­quiry for the In­ves­ti­ga­tion of the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Gover­nor Chibuike Ro­timi Amaechi on the sale of Val­ued As­sets of Rivers State and other re­lated mat­ters un­der the chair­man­ship of Jus­tice Ge­orge Omereji,” Okah said in Port Har­court.

He said the state gov­ern­ment has di­rected the at­tor­ney gen­eral of the state to take fur­ther steps as con­tained in the White Paper.

Last Septem­ber, Au­gus­tine Wokocha, for­mer com­mis­sioner of power un­der Amaechi, had de­nied the claims of di­ver­sion of funds by his for­mer boss. He said the sale of the power sta­tions was part of ef­forts to im­prove rev­enue of the state, and en­sure ef­fi­ciency.

“This is com­pletely un­true. The money from the gas tur­bines was bud­geted for in the ap­pro­pri­a­tion bills of the state for the pe­riod which the trans­ac­tions oc­curred. This even formed part of rev­enue for the gov­ern­ment. The record of the state through the bud­get within the pe­riod of that trans­ac­tion shows that most of in­fra­struc­ture and projects done by the gov­ern­ment were fi­nanced by the sales. We ap­plied all the money to the de­vel­op­ment of the state, in line with the laws of the state. Noth­ing was used by Ro­timi Amaechi to fund any rally or elec­tion,” Wokocha had said.

He also coun­tered the claim by Wike ad­min­is­tra­tion that the sale was done for $308 mil­lion. “The gas tur­bine sta­tions were sold for $302,960,000 mil­lion, con­trary to (Gover­nor) Wike’s fig­ure. It was cal­cu­lated on the ba­sis of sell­ing out 70 per cent of the state hold­ing in the in­vest­ment. This amounts to $800,000 per megawatt. For the 70 per cent of the vol­ume of power we had then, which was 541MW, and go­ing by anal­y­sis, 541MW by $800,000 will give us $432,800,000 mil­lion. So, we sold only 70 per cent, which was $302,960,000. The state still owns 30 per­cent of the as­set of the gas tur­bines,” he said.

Un­for­tu­nately, the Nige­rian 2016 na­tional eco­nomic re­ces­sion has com­bined with Rivers’ pe­cu­liar po­lit­i­cal­ly­mo­ti­vated so­cio-eco­nomic cri­sis to throw up huge unem­ploy­ment in the state. By the third quar­ter of last year (Q3 2017), the Na­tional Bureau of Sta­tis­tics (NBS) said the state has unem­ploy­ment and un­der­em­ploy­ment rates of 61.4 per cent, sur­pass­ing the na­tional av­er­age of 18.8 per cent.

Ap­par­ently aware of the grim unem­ploy­ment sit­u­a­tion in the state, with the at­ten­dant crimes, Wike in­formed on Mon­day De­cem­ber 24 that the strate­gic thrust for the 2019 bud­get is to pro­mote eco­nomic growth and di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion, cre­ate jobs and re­duce unem­ploy­ment; take as many of Rivers peo­ple out of poverty and im­prove the stan­dard of liv­ing of the oil-rich state.

How he achieves all this would be left to be seen, es­pe­cially as he em­barks on im­ple­ment­ing the N480.211 bil­lion bud­get.

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