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Reps berate NBET over $33m monthly power deal with private firm

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The House of Representatives has berated the Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading (NBET) for committing the country to a monthly payment of $33 million to a private company, Azura for power generation, with little or no benefit to the economy.

This was as Nnaemeka Eweluka, the NBET managing director told the House committee on finance that Nigeria has about 25 power purchase agreements, with about $30 million monthly commitment to one of the companies, Azura, due to a “take or pay clause obligated to adhere to.”

But James Faleke, chairman of the committee faulted the NBET boss’ claim, stressing that records at the disposal of the lawmakers showed that it was $33 million that was paid monthly and not $30 million.

The lawmaker raised the issue at the commencement of an investigation by the House’s finance committee into the proposed sale of the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) by the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) on Friday.

Faleke asked whether NBET got approval from the federal executive council (FEC) before it signed power purchase agreements but the managing director said it did not, because it was not an infrastructural concession.

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Enraged by the disclosure, the committee chairman accused the NBET boss of expunging a particular section that requires FEC approval, while he was the general counsel of the agency.

Faleke said: “I put it to you, while you were general counsel, you expunged a particular section that requires FEC approval. You expunged it. I will provide you with documents that will prove it. The requirement for signing an agreement indicated that you needed the approval or the advice of the ministry of justice.

“In one of your communications to the ministry of justice, the then minister said “I do not agree with this. Do not sign because it is not in the interest of Nigeria”. I have the document. When it got back to you in the office, you as the counsel general then expunged that portion that requires you to take any agreement to the ministry of justice, and you are now saying that it is not true.

“I want to know why you as MD will commit Nigeria at the present rate to over N22 billion every month without FEC approval. If Buhari is aware, the minister of finance will sit here and give us such approval. We are unable to pay salaries, we are unable to pay teachers and the power; we are not getting it. Then, we will continue to pay for 20 years.”

Faleke lamented that Nigerians do not get value for the huge amount of money they are paying for power, saying the power needs of Nigerians have not been met, despite all the intervention by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

He said: “On behalf of Nigerians, we are concerned by the agreements you signed with power generation companies, and Nigerians are not getting that power. We are interested as a committee to know the officers in charge of these agencies, who signed agreements on behalf of Nigerians, do they take the necessary things into consideration before signing it?

“It is the situation we find ourselves in and the earlier we, the operators of government agencies, get to know this, the better for this country. People complain that Nigeria is borrowing money but those of us that are responsible for revenue management and cost management are just playing to the gallery in a way that satisfies our personal interests.

“Pure impunity! If an investor comes and says he wants to invest in power, for that investor to invest in power, he must have carried out his own survey to be sure that consumers are available to consume his power. It is purely business.

“What is our responsibility in buying the power from him? Let him sell the power to the people. Nigerians initially felt we needed to intervene in the power sector and provided support. But we are still where we are today.

“We have millions of Nigerians out of job, out of school but no job because we have no power to provide industries. That is why I asked you: are you satisfied with value for money? When we have no power for industries to establish, why are we paying such money?”

Responding to questions raised by lawmakers, who sought to know if there was bank guarantee to the companies which signed agreements with NBET, the managing director said: “yes, World Bank partially guaranteed.

“World Bank guarantee involves a network of agreements. All World Bank guarantees involve an indemnity agreement that is signed for the government by the minister of finance. Every sovereign commitment involves the Federal Government and it is the minister of finance that signs an agreement that creates a guarantee on behalf of the government.

On the possibility of the Federal Government pulling out of the agreement with Azura power plant, Eweluka said: “if you are asking an investor to invest $1 million in a business, why would you want to exit? There are grounds for termination of the agreement.”

Ruling, the committee’s chairman, directed Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) to submit records of all power evacuated from Azura from 2015 to date while Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) is to submit tax compliance and payments by all the companies.