Minister of Power, Bart Nnaji
By Ikeogu Oke
The loss of anyone’s job should be a source of sadness to all normal human beings. Only sadists, I think, would disagree with this view. And I am sure that most normal human beings who, like me, were closely associated with some of the executives of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria recently retired by the federal government – for reasons that have been put in the public domain by the appropriate source – would have been saddened by the development.
However, being saddened in this way need not implicate passing judgement as to the justification, or otherwise, of such retirement. Rather, it was a necessary anguish, an existential imperative, like the pain we all feel at the loss of a loved one. Nor should we fail to see that, as is often the case, whoever effects or announces such retirement may well be discharging the burden of a different kind of existential imperative, taking a painful but necessary and appropriate decision – painful to him but necessary and appropriate for the benefit it could bring about.
It’s like a doctor compelled to amputate a gangrenous limb in order to save the life of the owner of the limb. And let me add that I have evoked the image of a doctor and a gangrenous limb here merely to illustrate a complex life situation that the reader could easily apprehend – as to how a decision could be painful but necessary and appropriate – and not to insinuate indictment on the PHCN executives.
That said, I must add that I have found to be typically unreflective the reaction of the Secretary General of the National Union of Electricity Employees, Joe Ajaero, to the sack of the PHCN executives, namely, Uzoma Achinanya, Akinwunmi Bada and Olusoga Muyiwa. Incidentally, Messrs Achinanya and Bada are notable engineers and, until the Minister of Power, Professor Bart Nnaji, announced their disengagement by the federal government on April 2, 2012, were the Market Operator under the Power Sector Reform and the chief executive officer of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), respectively, while Mr. Muyiwa was the executive director of Human Resources in PHCN.
This unreflective reaction is evident in a news story entitled “Retirement of PHCN executives: Labour Slams Nnaji” published on page 13 of Vanguard of April 4, 2012, and under different titles on pages 11, 22 and 6 of Leadership, Daily Trust and National Mirror of the same date, respectively. In the story, characterised by that garbled mix of scurrility and illogic that is vintage Ajaero, the NUEE scribe is reported as having said that “most of the staff affected” (by the retirement) “have absolutely nothing to do with power generation, transmission and distribution.”
And one wonders, on reading this, how the head of a labour union for electricity workers is unable to identify the link between being a market operator and power generation, transmission and distribution, considering that the market operator is charged with the responsibility of providing a framework for an efficient, competitive, transparent and reliable wholesale electricity market; in short, of coordinating revenue generation. Isn’t it the case that without a well-conceived and properly managed revenue regime the business of power generation, transmission and distribution, like any other business, may not survive?
And how, I also wonder, could Ajaero not recognise the obvious link between being the chief executive officer of the Transmission Company of Nigeria and power generation, transmission and distribution, considering that the agency is directly in charge of power transmission? Isn’t power transmission like a bridge between generation and distribution, such that the collapse of that bridge could incapacitate the other two links of the power production and supply chain?
And how, for good measure, could Ajaero not know that there is a link between being the executive director of Human Resources in PHCN and power generation, transmission and distribution, considering that executive director of Human Resources oversees recruitment and staff welfare? Could we hope to have an efficient power generation, transmission and distribution system if such an official were to recruit incompetent workers or engage in activities that undermine staff welfare?
In effect, isn’t Ajaero’s assertion that “most” of those affected by the retirement “have absolutely nothing to do with power generation, transmission and distribution” a sign that we are faced with an perilously anomalous situation in which he is wielding considerable influence in a critical sector without basic knowledge about its operations?
But this dissociation of the offices of the retired PHCN executives with power generation, transmission and distribution is only one of the several errors Ajaero commits in the story. One of the other errors that must bear mention here is associated with Ajaero’s statement that “the exercise” – the retirement, that is – “is targeted at the minister’s perceived and imaginary enemies who hitherto had put in their best and made contributions that could possibly have taken us out of the doldrums but jettisoned by higher forces.”
Casting three men, two of whom worked directly under the minister from his days as the chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Power, driving the Power Sector Reform, and until their recent disengagement from different appointive posts, in the mould of “enemies” of the minister, however the enmity is qualified, casts a slur on the character of the two men as unreliable individuals.
Yet, I must say, based on personal experience, that the two men - Messrs Achinanya and Bada - are reliable, but have rather fallen victim of Ajaero’s irrational verbal rumbustiousness in a misguided, opportunistic and propagandistic defence that merely rubs his special brand of irritating and poisonous salt into their injuries. Nor can I see how they deserve the cynical disfavour of their character being portrayed in such a negative light by Ajaero.
Lastly, it simply does not make sense that Ajaero alleges that “Nnaji is the greatest saboteur of the power sector” any more than it would make sense to regard a doctor as a saboteur of the recovery of his patient even though it should be clear to the doctor that his reputation is tied to the recovery. But it is a useful allegation nonetheless through Ajaero’s the implied admission that part of the problems with the power sector is due to sabotage – of which Nnaji may be a victim, and certainly the Nigerian people.
• Oke, a public policy analyst, writes from Abuja.