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Page last updated at 11:42 GMT, Friday, 15 May 2009 12:42 UK

Nigeria MP panel in fraud charge

Torch in Nigeria
Many Nigerians don't have a reliable source of electricity

Members of the Nigerian National Assembly in charge of investigating the country's electricity crisis have been charged with fraud.

Four MPs and six officials denied siphoning off $42m of public funds in a hearing that stretched over two days.

Each of the defendants had to rise 130 times to answer "not guilty".

The MPs had looked into why there was so little to show for the $16bn (£11bn) of investment in the power sector under former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Their report implicated the ex-president, but a second panel set up to look at their findings recently cleared him and others in charge of power generation between 1999 and 2007 of the allegations.

NIGERIA ELECTRICITY FACTS
Currently generates less than 1,000MW down from 3,500MW in 2008
Nigeria wants to generate 6,000MW by the end of 2009
In 12 years it wants to be able to generate 20,000MW
Would need 100,000MW to become an industrialised economy, according to the ex-president
Six power stations begun under the last administration have not been completed
$16bn has so far been spent on the power sector since 1999

Senator Nicholas Ugbade - chairman of Senate Committee on Power - his House of Representatives counterpart Ndudi Elumelu, two other MPs and six government officials are accused of taking money from the Central Bank meant for local power projects.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) says that in December 2008, just after the MPs concluded their investigation into the power sector, they funnelled the cash into a range of front companies.

They deny the charges.

At the time of the investigation some commentators said it was part of a series of probes into the recently retired President Obasanjo which amounted to a "witch hunt".

But the probe painted a damning picture of the country's management of electricity generation over the last 10 years.

Experts testified to the committee that expensive turbines were rotting in Nigerian ports because the people who ordered them had no way of transporting the heavy equipment to the site of the power station.

The committee heard that other turbines were installed, but no-one had planned how they would be fuelled with gas as the country had sold all its supply for the next 16 years to international oil and gas companies.

The committee also uncovered several shady deals between high-ranking politicians and private companies where they failed to build contracted power stations.

'Never seen light'

But local media has reported that the panel reviewing that investigation concluded there was no money missing, as the Central Bank still held letters of credit meant for the contracts.

The second report, yet to be made public or debated by the House of Assembly, accuses the authors of the previous investigation of holding "personal vendettas" against the former president.

Nigeria generates less than 1,000 megawatts (MW) for a population of 140 million.

In large cities blackouts are a daily occurrence, and some areas have "never seen light" as people say in Nigerian pidgin.

Those who can afford it rely on generators.

Large scale business and industry in the country is almost impossible because of the power generation problem, correspondents say.



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