Professor Bart Nnaji
The resignation, last week, of Professor Bart Nnaji, the Minister of Power, has continued to generate heated debate, especially at a time the power sector is believed to be stabilising, writes Omololu Ogunmade
The news of the resignation of Professor Bart Nnaji as Minister of Power, came as a shock to many. It was one incident that was shrouded in controversies, especially given the circumstances of his exit. Nnaji handed his resignation letter to President Goodluck Jonathan on August 28, amid insinuations of conflict of interests in the privatisation of some power companies.
He was said to have had interests in two firms which submitted bids for the Afam Power Plc as well as Enugu Electricity Distribution Company Plc in the ongoing privatisation process. The resignation was a paradox of sorts in view of Nnaji’s repeated assurance to the nation that he would deliver 5,400 mega watts of power before the year runs out. But unknown to him, he would not remain in office to actualise the vision.
While there were insinuations that Nnaji was pressurised to resign by the president over alleged fears that the perceived conflict of interest could impair the credibility of the privatisation process, Nnaji said he resigned to save both the administration and Jonathan from imminent credibility crisis. He alleged that a series of moves had been made to bring him down since he took up appointment as Special Adviser Power to Jonathan.
“It is huge conspiracy to scuttle the programme. But rather than drag the president and his programme down, I decided to tender my resignation.” Upon tendering his resignation letter last Tuesday, Jonathan, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, said he had accepted Nnaji’s resignation and thanked him for his services to the nation.
However, indications that there might be more troubles attached to this began to manifest when the National Council on Privatisation (NCP), chaired by Vice-President Namadi Samabo, decided to cancel the technical bid evaluation process conducted for two firms, Skipper Nigeria Limited and Eastern Electric Nigeria Limited, having ascertained that Nnaji had interest in them.
According to reports, Nnaji, who was also a member of the NCP by virtue of his position as power minister, had told the council 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 further notified the NCP that Geometric Power had a minority stake in Eastern Electric Nigeria Limited, which had submitted technical and financial bids for Enugu Distribution Company Limited on July 31. Nnaji was the founder of Geometric Power.
Reports also said he had informed the NCP that he notified Jonathan of his company’s bid for Enugu Distribution Company and brought it to their attention that although, he had interest in Geometric Power, he had resigned from its board and transferred his shares to a blind trust. After making the revelation, Nnaji was said to have excused himself from the consideration of the report of the technical bids.
The NCP had penultimate Friday named seven firms as the successful bidders for five power generation companies while the privatisation of 17 electric firms had been scheduled to be concluded, two months from now.
Following the knowledge of Nnaji’s interest in the two companies being privatised, a report said the council decided to cancel the technical evaluation that had been conducted for Afam and simultaneously disbanded the evaluation team. But since this shocking episode in the polity, reactions had continued to trail Nnaji’s resignation with some describing him as a mere victim of power play while others expressed disappointment that Nnaji, a seasoned professional and technocrat of international repute, allowed himself to be forced out of his exalted office over perceived ethical violations.
Those who reasoned that Nnaji was only a victim of power play said it was common knowledge among Nigerians that most juicy contracts and investments in the country are usually hijacked by government functionaries who either secure such contracts and investments by proxy or through pre-meditated arrangements between them and the concerned authorities. According to them, when government functionaries participate in such laudable projects, there are usually agreements between them and concerned authorities on the sum of money that would be shared when the targets eventual sail through.
For such people, Nnaji only became a scapegoat because he lacked adequate knowledge in the game and more so that he’s not a core politician even though he had run for election in 2007 as the presidential candidate of Better Nigeria Party. On the other hand, his traducers in Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), the electricity workers, who had been at loggerheads with him over his reform in the sector and the privatisation process, saw his exit as victory at last.
In the past weeks, the workers have almost held the nation to ransom, vehemently protesting against Nnaji’s reform process in the power sector and succeeded in securing the support of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) for their agitation. The height of the protest was the inter-religious prayer session they held last week over the matter where they earnestly sought God’s face for the failure of the reform process and justification of their interests.
Nnaji’s resignation was sweet music to labour as the General Secretary of National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), Joe Ajaero, had last month called for his resignation.
Some others who reacted to the development said it was unfortunate that Nnaji became a victim of the ethics of privatisation process which forbids members of NUC from participating in the bidding process.
According to them, Nnaji lost a glorious opportunity to be celebrated after the entire process would have resulted in improved power supply in the country.
Nevertheless, others who would rather sit on the fence said they were not bothered by either the retention or exit of Nnaji if only “there will be light” in the end. Accordingly, they argued that the assurance by Nnaji that the process towards raising the bar in the power sector would not be truncated by his exit was enough consolation for them.
It would be recalled that Chairman of the NCP’s Technical Committee, Mr. Atedo Peterside, had named seven successful bidders qualified to take part in the financial bidding slated for September having said to have scaled the 750 pass mark for the bidding process.
But the NCP was silent on the bidders that were pre-qualified for the Afam Power Station because of the perceived conflict of interest that had arisen during the privatisation process.
But where this unfolding drama leads the nation is a question only events in the days ahead will provide answers to.