Professor Barth Nnaji
By Yemi Ajayi
Professor Barth Nnaji, a world-acclaimed scientist, moved on in life Tuesday with his resignation as Nigeria’s Minister of Power. In a country where top public office holders rarely resign, his exit from the post that he had held since 2011, would shock many.
As the circumstances that led to his resignation unravel, an egregious sense of triumphalism will suffuse workers of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) who had battled Nnaji for a long time over his fidelity to the privatisation and reform of the power sector that the former minister had doggedly championed.
Nnaji came in at a critical time in Nigeria’s power sector.
The man, who made a name for himself as an innovator and one of the inventors of the e-design concept, had given his all to revamp a sector that had suffered decades of neglect under successive administrations. He was an intrepid administrator, who was not afraid to take on the entrenched vested interests in the power sector that have frustrated previous efforts to redeem a sector that remains critical to the nation’s economy.
Given the fact that he was not a newcomer to the peculiarities of governance in Nigeria, Nnaji, who was a Minister of Science and Technology under the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and before his appointment as Power Minister, Special Adviser on Power to President Goodluck Jonathan, knew he was treading on mine fields for keeping faith with the privatisation of the power sector, a task he had started as Jonathan’s special adviser.
In 2010, the president had appointed Nnaji head of a presidential taskforce to reform the power sector. A blueprint designed to end the chronic power shortages in the country showed that the Federal Government has to fork out $10 billion yearly for the next decade for the power sector restoration in a country where, according to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), organisations and individuals spend $13 billion a year to fuel generator sets.
In his one-year tenure, he had superintended over the management of the power sector, resulting in the improvement in power generation, a review of electricity tariffs to make the sector attractive to private investors and supervised the establishment of the Bulk Trading Company of Nigeria, among other market structures necessary for the reform of the power sector.
During his tenure, Nnaji, who once told THISDAY Board of Editors that he met 2,800mw of power delivered to the grid, had planned to ensure that available capacity hits 5,400mw this year, especially with the Federal Government’s serious efforts to address the issue of gas shortages. As at June, the nation was generating over 4,400mw.
However, the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) was at loggerheads with him and had devised all means possible, including levelling what many have considered as spurious allegations against Nnaji. About two weeks ago, the union, in a statement by its General Secretary, Joe Ajaero, called on Nnaji to resign. He nevertheless, remained unbowed.
He had strived to remain above board, given the fact that before his appointment, he was a major player in the power sector. Nnaji, who founded Geometric Power Limited (GPL), a pioneering independent power producer that built the 22mw Emergency Power Plant in Abuja and is rounding off the construction of an integrated power plant in Aba, Abia State, voluntarily declared his interest in the firm, which is a member of a consortium that had submitted bids for the acquisition of Enugu Distribution Company Limited under the privatisation process.
However, since his appointment as the president’s Special Adviser on Power and later as minister, he had resigned his appointment from GPL board and transferred his shares to a blind trust.
With his resignation Tuesday, he is now free to pursue his other interests, but will definitely still remain an active player in the power sector, albeit as a private sector participant.
Nnaji, 51, was born in Enugu State. He holds a Doctorate in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in the United States of America.
He vied for the presidency in 2007 on the platform of the Better Nigeria Party.