Former President Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday cleared former Head of State and presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), of mismanagement of public funds while he superintended over the affairs of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). Obasanjo said Buhari never soiled his hands when he served as the executive chairman of PTF between March 1995 and May 1999, adding that the investigation conducted by his (Obasanjo) administration never found the Daura-born retired general wanting. He spoke when Buhari, in company with his running mate, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, and top APC chieftains, paid a courtesy call on the ex-president at his Hilltop Mansion in Abeokuta, Ogun State. While in office, Obasanjo had set up an Interim Management Committee to probe the activities of the PTF under Buhari.
The report of the committee alleged that the sum of N25,758,532,448 was mismanaged by the Afri- Project Consortium (APC). APC was contracted by the PTF as management and project consultant. The report further stated that the consulting firms overcharged PTF to the tune of N2,057,550,062 for their services.
There were also allegations of contract infractions by the Buhari-led PTF. The alleged N25 billion mismanagement is one of the accusations against Buhari by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the build up to the February 14 presidential election.
Obasanjo’s comment came barely 24 hours after he held a closed-door meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan at his Abeokuta home on Monday night. However, while hosting Buhari yesterday, the former president lashed out at critics of the APC presidential candidate, saying they should focus on issues rather than engaging in red herring and trivialities while assessing him. Obasanjo disclosed that he had to shelve his appointments outside the state in anticipation of Buhari’s visit to him. The former president said except for the inconsistency discovered in prices, there was nothing amiss in the PTF under Buhari. Obasanjo said although his administration probed Buhari when he took over power in 1999, he maintained that the report of the investigation was not of any material importance.
His words: “When you (Buhari) were going to become manager of PTF, we talked about it and when you finished and I took over, we looked into it. I haven’t said this publicly, I would say it publicly now. When we looked into it, there was really nothing amiss except that that organisation went from road building to mosquito net buying and all sort of things. “And what the investigation discovered is a bit of inconsistency in prices and all that. In one area, mosquito net might have been given for N50; in another, N45. And then somebody remarked that this is fishy, we should look into it. “And I called my brother and colleague (Buhari); I said this and he said ‘Look, we were managing billions of Naira and I tried to make sure I see everything.
But I will not say that what they have said about this is correct or not correct. But I can assure you I tried to see everything.’ I said okay, ‘Muhammadu, between me, you and God, was there any personal benefit for you?’ And you said no. I said that is the end of the matter! “Although there was that investigation, its report was not of any material importance. I thought that I should say it today that I have this opportunity because I hope people will face issues rather than trivialities.”
Obasanjo said despite being a card-carrying member of the PDP, he wished Buhari well in his presidential ambition. He urged the APC presidential candidate to pay special attention to the issue of infrastructure apart from the three areas of security, economy and corruption that he (Buhari) had promised to address. Obasanjo, who apparently reacted to the allegations that Buhari is surrounded by certain corrupt politicians, said all political parties are made up of “saints and devils.” He, however, noted that any political party that eventually succeeded in forming government should separate the wheat from the chaff by appointing people with integrity and character into political offices.
He said: “For all political parties that are trying to woo us to vote for them in the coming election; let’s go away from red herring, let’s go away from trivialities, let’s face issues and tell the people of this country what we will do to deal with these crying problems of our country. “Having said that, I will also say that while a party must be microcosm of a nation, you will have near saints, devils, rapists, armed robbers and a good party must have all this in them. “But what matters is that when that party has to go into government, it must look for men and women of character. And we have them in all parties, we have them throughout the nooks and crannies of this country.”
Earlier in his remarks, Buhari told the former president that the APC was interested in breaking the vicious circle of insecurity, economic downturn and corruption. He said he would not run an inflexible government but would be dynamic in his disposition to governance. The APC presidential candidate, who stated that he served the most lucrative appointment as Federal Commissioner for Petroleum and Natural Resources, acknowledged the ex-president’s contributions to national development. Buhari stated that he had come to Obasanjo to convince him that the APC would do better if voted into power in the February 14 presidential election.
“We have been going around three fundamental issues: security, economy, corruption. This vicious circle is what the APC is determined to break. Because without security, there is no way the country can settle down not to talk of living in it. So many people, educated and uneducated, some said up to 60 per cent, will say Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gun powder,” he added. The former Head of State observed that if the country could stop corruption, a lot of resources would be available to invest in infrastructure, agriculture and job creation. “This is what we intend to do and this is contained in our manifesto.
We are not going to be inflexible the way some people accused us of doing it. We are going to be dynamic as we go along and that’s why I said we are here to seek for your understanding and your support, in spite of the political card you hold,” he said.
In attendance were the APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State, Chief Bisi Akande, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, Otunba Niyi Adebayo,Chief Audu Ogbeh, Chief Barnabas Gemade, Senator Bukola Saraki, Senator Olorunnibe Mamora and Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, among others.