By Michael Effiong
Our investigation has shown that government after government, Minister after Minister even President after President, all efforts to bring the project, which was conceived in 1972 to improve electricity supply in Nigeria, back to life and meet its set objectives of power generation and job creation, has always been frustrated by a myriad of forces.
According to Fashola: “Several efforts had been made to bring it to reality but I’m happy to announce that this government approved the contract today to joint ventures of Chinese Civil and Engineering company for the engineering and turn-key contract, including civil and electro-mechanical works for $5.792 billion.
Six months after that cheerful statement, it seems however, that it is not yet uhuru. The Federal Government is yet to pay its 15% counterpart funds to the Chinese Exim Bank, and nothing has so far happened.
We gathered that one of the main reasons for the latest delay of the project is actually a long-standing dispute that may have been overlooked when the President and Members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) gave approval on August 30, 2017.
Furthermore, we discovered that after earlier aligning with the Attorney-General, curiously, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, backtracked, and switched to the advice of the COS, a move that would definitely do more harm than good to this project.
To clearly understand this knotty matter, we have to take you through the whole gamut of hard facts spanning 18 years.
Prior to the official tender process, Sunrise started promoting the Mambilla Project as early as year 2000. It reportedly engaged the offices of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as well as the Nigerian Embassy in China.
It was thereafter, that a bidding process was opened for the project and the Ad-Hoc Inter-Ministerial Committee recommended Sunrise and its Chinese Partners. On April 7, 2003, the Committee wrote the President for approval to officially issue an award letter.
In August 20, 2003, Sinohydro, which has its principal place of business at no.1 Ertao Biaguang Road, Xuanwu District, Beijing, PR China, North China Power Engineering Co. Ltd with its business address as 24a Huangsi District, Beijing and Sunrise located at Oluwa (Fowler) Road, Ikoyi, Lagos Nigeria, signed a contract to work together on what was then the 3, 960MW project. Sunrise engaged Sinohydro to construct the project on an Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) basis.
Sunrise sought a resolution without success. Sunrise and North China engaged Chief Afe Babalola, (SAN) to demand compensation.
“Consequent upon the preliminary steps towards execution of the contract, our clients have incurred well over Three Million Pounds while there are commitments to several consultants local and international in excess of Thirty Million British Pounds.”
Nothing was heard on the project until May 29, 2007 when, allegedly influenced by a Senior Government official, the Government awarded a part of the SUNRISE contract (Lot I, Civil/Hydraulic Steel Structures) of the (2,600MW Mambilla Hydroelectric) First Phase of the project to Messrs CGGC/CGC Ltd, in the sum of US$1.46billion.
Of course, Sunrise did not take this lying down. It took the matter to the Federal High Court, Abuja suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/384/2007. The defendants in the case were The Minister of Energy, The Attorney-General of the Federation, China Gezhouba Group Corporation (CGGC) and China Geo-Engineering Corporation (CGC).
Furthermore, Mr. Michael Kaase Aondoakaa noted that Sunrise was not duly disengaged as Contractor on the project before government went ahead in May 2007 to engage CGGC/CGC for the same project.
Following a Presidential Visit to China in 2008, word reached late President Yar’Adua about an alleged $15m bribery that led to the award of the $1.46 billion contract to CGGC/CGC on May 29, 2007.
Late President Yar’Adua, we gathered then invited Sunrise, then Minister of State, Power (Late Hajiya Fatima Balaraba Usman), Minister of State and the accused Presidential official for a meeting.
In October 2012, the Federal Government decided it wanted to own the Mambilla HydroPower Project and wanted an urgent settlement. This led to the signing of the Settlement and General Project Execution Agreement (GPEA) between the Federal Ministry of Finance, then Honourable Minister of State, Power, Architect Darius Ishaku now Governor of Taraba State signed, and then Solicitor-General of Federation, Mr. Abduallahi Yola signed for the Federal Government.
When the Federal Government filed the Settlement Agreement in Court at the Federal High Court, Abuja, the Court rejected it because CGGC/CGC did not sign the Settlement and GPEA Agreements.
It was at this meeting that Mrs. Zainab Kuchi, new Minister of Power and the Solicitor-General of the Federation signed a new Out of Court Settlement Agreement with Sunrise (Its Chairman, Mr. Leno Adesanya signed) and also a new GPEA with Sunrise and Sinohydro (Its Technical and Financial Partners) was affirmed with a mandate to execute 100% of the EPC Contract.
The new Minister, Professor Chinedu Nebo then appealed to Sunrise to vote CGGC (Not CGC) as Co-contractor, a position that was accepted by Sunrise so that the project will be up and running.
It was not therefore, a surprise that on June 29, 2015, President Buhari reportedly hosted Alhaji Lawal Idris for over an hour at the Presidential Villa. He was in the company of Mr. Leno Adesanya, the Chairman/CEO of Sunrise.
There was an indication that since there was another Sheriff in town, the project will start revving again. When it didn’t, Sunrise wrote Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, (SAN) on February 26, 2016, notifying him that it had held joint meetings with the two companies (SINOHYDRO and CGGC) in Beijing, and they have agreed to split the EPC Contract on a 50/50 basis; The Minister notified his Permanent Secretary, Mr. Louis Edozien in the letter.
That was not all, many people involved in the project were now more enthusiastic when it was announced that President Buhari was preparing his first official visit to China.
We gathered from the delegation, that with pressure from Mr. Leno Adesanya, Governor Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna State, Governor Mohammed Badaru Abubakar of Jigawa State and Chief Audu Ogbe, decided to bring the situation to the attention of a very angry President Buhari, who was upset that the Taraba Governor was not invited on the trip by the Minister of Power Works and Housing. In any case, that was how Mambilla hit the front burner and became one of the key issues of the Presidential visit.
In addition, on April 25, 2016, Mr. President wrote through his Chief of Staff (Letter No. SH/COS/05/A/1847) to the Honourable Attorney-General, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, copying the Minister of Power Works and Housing (HMOPWH), to propose a strategy for resolving all the legal issues and disputes relating to the Mambilla Power Project including the matter of the “warring parties”.
1) Government should engage Sinohydro Corpration and CGGC jointly for the purpose of executing the Mambilla Project in line with the Spirit of the Letter of Award dated January 14, 2015, on a 50-50 basis or based on other technical parameters to be determined by the Project Consultants
3) Sunrise Power & Transmission Company Limited should be engaged as Local Content Partner on the Mambilla Project as a means of accommodating its prior contractual interests on the project
Curiously, six days after this legal advice, the Chief of Staff allegedly invited a Kaduna-based Chinese Company (CGC Nigeria Limited) to a meeting at the Presidency.
Despite being told by the Chairman of Sinohydro, and Fashola about the existing agreements with Sunrise, the CoS insisted that they should go ahead with the new arrangement, and instructed the Chinese to deal directly with the Presidency and the Ministry; not their local partners.
Fashola replied three days later in a letter: FMP/6145/S.11/Vol.11/517, noting that his ministry welcomes the meeting requested that aims to resolve all issues raised.
While everyone involved was looking forward to that meeting, Mallam Abba Kyari fired a letter he personally signed to The Honourable Minister of Power, Works and Housing on May 22, 2017 with the title: Re: Letter Referenced FMP/6145/S.II/569 In Respect of Mambilla HydroProject
“Further to our discussion, kindly note that Messrs Sunrise Power and Transmission Company Limited is not party to the existing arrangements on this project.
Interestingly this letter was written when Mr. President was having his medical vacation abroad.
Mr. Leno Adesanya, who signed the letter as Chairman/CEO, updated the Acting President on the project, alerting him that it was the Chinese that informed them of the sad news.
“We are however constrained to observe that the latest developments, if not rectified in line with the legal recommendations of the HAGF, prior to seeking FEC approval, shall leave us with no choice but seek legal redress where appropriate including against the Chinese government. We are however, confident that with your expected intervention, this reluctant prospect can be avoided.
The Attorney-General certainly was also unhappy with this development, little wonder that on July 24, 2017 he also wrote the Acting President.
He re-affirmed his recommendation insisting that he informed the Chief of Staff to the President and Minister about this and he wanted the Acting President to give appropriate directive.
He advised Mr. Leno Adesanya, whose company, Sunrise, had been short-changed to “go to court”.
The ICC Case No. 23211/TO is between Sunrise, Federal Government of Nigeria and Sinohydro Corporation Limited.
Despite this move at arbitration, Sunrise, through its Lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN has written to the Attorney-General (copied to Minister of Power, Works and Housing and Presidency) still seeking ways of an amicable settlement; because Sunrise wants to execute the EPC contract based on the full compliance of the July 24, 2017 recommendations of the learned Attorney-General, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, to the Federal Government.
In a bid to get a clearer picture of this drama, we decided to speak directly to the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo (Through his Senior Special Assistant, Media, Laolu Akande), Mallam Abba Kyari, Mr. Louis Edozien, the Permanent Secretary as well as Mr. Leno Adesanya.
As at the time of filing this report, only the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN, has reached out to us. He said he was not authorised to discuss Federal Executive Council meetings and decisions with the media.
The other dramatis personae have not responded. For sure, we have not heard the last of this extremely complicated saga.