By Clara Nwchukwu & Victor Ahiuma-Young
LAGOS— Minister of Power, Prof. Barth Nnaji was, yesterday, relieved of his job following the acceptance of his resignation, with immediate effect, by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
In a two-paragraph statement from Presidential media aide, Dr. Reuben Abati, the president thanked “Prof. Nnaji for his services to the nation under the present administration and wishes him well in his future endeavours.”
Power, Prof. Barth Nnaji
This is the first time a minister would be resigning under controversial circumstances since the inception of President Jonathan’s administration. But the Minister did not pick calls to his line or respond to a text message sent to him to clarify some of the issues leading to his exit.
Although no reason was given for Nnaji’s resignation or the prompt acceptance by Mr President, but it was widely believed to be connected with the role he played in the privatisation of the successor companies unbundled from the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, currently undergoing technical evaluations by prospective bidders.
Acceptance of bids re-evaluation
Ironically, earlier in the day, the Power Minister had succumbed to the decision by the National Council on Privatisation, NCP, to re-evaluate the technical bids submitted for two of the companies slated for privatisation: Afam Generation Company and Enugu Distribution Company (Enugu DISCO).
This might not be unconnected with moves, not only to save his job, but also to clear some of the controversies surrounding the bids, in which he was linked to the consortia that submitted bids for Afam and Enugu DISCO.
Nnaji was said to have admitted that some members of the bidding consortia had links to a company he owns (Aba-based, Geometric Power), adding that the NCP’s decision to re-evaluate the bids submitted for the two companies was necessary so that justice should not only be done but also seen to have been done by all and sundry.
He described recent accusations that he indirectly sought to acquire the PHCN successor companies through firms that have links to him as part of a grand design to dent the credibility of the privatisation process. He maintained that the development was a ploy by different interest groups in the sector to destabilise the ongoing power sector reform and privatisation process.
In a statement from his media aide, Mr. C. Don Adinuba, the minister said that a media report on Monday, alleging his participation in the privatisation process, was part of a strategy of such interest groups, adding that he was never asked by Vice President Namadi Sambo to walk out of the NCP meeting last Friday.
Rather, he maintained that he had opted to excuse himself from the meeting on the basis of his discovery that the firm in which he had placed his shares in a blind trust was part of the consortium bidding for Afam Power Station, in Rivers State.
I knew they will fight back— Nnaji
According to him: “The Federal Ministry of Power has always known that the beneficiaries of the old and decadent order in the electric power sector would not accept the new, far-reaching changes in the power sector without a fight.
“With power supply at an all-time high across the nation in the last few weeks and with the privatisation of PHCN assets at an advanced stage to the delight of the Nigerian people, those who have been feeding fat on the misery of our citizens have been fighting back with unimaginable ferocity.”
The minister further accused some sections of the media of colluding with his detractors, saying, “they have not left anything to chance in the determination to scuttle the electric power reform, including spirited attempts to recruit some members of the mass media.”
The case against Nnaji
Nnaji had before the consideration of the report of the evaluation for the six generation companies, Gencos, brought to the attention of NCP that O & M Solutions of Pakistan, a member of one of the consortia bidding for Afam, had worked as a contractor for Geometric Power.
He also informed the NCP that Geometric Power has a minority stake in Eastern Electric Nigeria Limited, which had submitted technical and financial bids for Enugu Disco on July 31, and excused himself from the consideration of the report of the technical bids.
His sojourn in govt
Nnaji was first appointed in 2010, as the Special Adviser to the President on Power and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Power. His impressive performance as a presidential aide led to his appointment as the Minister of Power.
Although right from his time of appointment, he has had a running battle with the electricity workers unions, notably, the National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, who constantly accused him of not honouring agreements reached with workers on the power reforms.
In spite of the numerous criticisms against him, power generation had increased tremendously under his watch, reaching an all time high of 4,477.7 mega watts, MW earlier in the month, in partial fulfillment of the expectations from the Electricity Power Sector Roadmap launched in Lagos on August 26, 2010.
The unprecedented domestic and international investor confidence in the Nigerian power sector is directly traceable to the personal and professional integrity of the process drivers like Professor Nnaji.
His style of administration was said to have led to the high interest by foreign investors in Nigeria’s power sector, leading to the signing of numerous agreements with global players such as merica’s General Electric, and Germany’s Siemens, each worth about $10billion in addition to many others.
Reacting to the sack of the Minister, General Secretary of the Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies, SSSAEAC, Comrade Abiodun Ogunsegha, told Vanguard on phone that the entire workers of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, were extremely happy.
He said: “God has eventually answered our prayers and made the government to listen to us. It is obvious that the government has noted his several misdeeds. We are all very happy. In fact, we thank God for answering our prayers. We hope the government will appoint a right person that will carry all stakeholders along, especially the union to give Nigeria a stable power supply”.
In his own reaction, General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, Comrade Joe Ajaero said, though the reason adduced for his resignation, was unclear, the union had, for some time now, been calling for his resignation based on strong allegation of corruption.
According to him: ‘The reason for his resignation was very unclear. We would have been happier if the reasons were made known. However, we have been calling on him to resign. We still stand on the demand because of the strong evidence we have. You are aware that in recent time, the issue of his conflict of interest has been in the front burner. We do not want to talk much, until the reasons for his resignation or sack are made known.”