Abuja, Nigeria – Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has weighed in on the contentious $6 billion contract awarded to Sunrise Power and Transmission Ltd for the Mambilla Hydropower Project in 2003 by the former Minister of Power and Steel, Olu Agunloye.
Obasanjo’s response comes as Agunloye and officials from the Ministry of Justice face inquiries related to the Sunrise Power contract, which may lead to potential court charges. Nigeria contends that Agunloye, who awarded the contract suspiciously just one week before the end of his tenure as the Minister of Power in 2003, acted unlawfully.
Sunrise Power is currently engaged in arbitration with Nigeria at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in Paris, France, over an alleged breach of contract by the federal government. The company is seeking compensation of $2.3 billion in the first arbitration, claiming it incurred significant expenses on financial and legal consultants before the contract was abandoned. In the second arbitration, Sunrise Power seeks a $400 million settlement, representing the terms of the agreement it reached with the federal government in 2020 to conclude the arbitration.
In an interview with The Cable, Obasanjo denied authorizing Agunloye to commit Nigeria to the $6 billion “build, operate, and transfer” contract, challenging the former minister to clarify the source of his authority to award the contract.
Obasanjo stated, “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.”
He continued, “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 recounted that when Agunloye presented his memo to the Federal Executive Council on May 21, 2003, he was surprised because they had previously discussed the matter, and he had advised against it. Obasanjo stated, “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.”
Regarding Leno Adesanya, the promoter of Sunrise Power, Obasanjo noted that Adesanya fled Nigeria during his presidency. He remarked, “I would have jailed him if he was in the country because of the things I knew about him. After I left the 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 dispute between Sunrise Power and Nigeria dates back to October 10, 2017, when Sunrise initiated arbitration proceedings, alleging a “breach of contract” related to the construction of the 3,050MW Mambilla Hydropower Plant in Taraba State.