On a day that mixed reactions greeted his sudden exit as Minister of Power after 14 months on the saddle, Professor Barth Nnaji, yesterday, said history and Nigerians would judge his performance.
From a miserly 2,800 Mega Watts of electricity available when he took over in July 2011, power supply rose steadily to 4,348 MW as of Tuesday evening when Nnaji resigned his post.
Saluting President Goodluck Jonathan and millions of Nigerians, who supported him in his effort to improve the situation of public power supply in the country, Nnaji said: “I am confident enough to allow history and the Nigerian people to judge my performance on the task that I accepted from the President.
“I feel particularly proud of the fact that my exit comes at a time that the administration has been able to generate and supply an unprecedented quantum of steady, reliable electric power in the history of our nation,” he said in a statement by his Special Assistant (Media), Mr. Ogbuagu Anikwe.
Nnaji spoke as the Federal Government and former Federal Capital Territory, FCT Minister, Malam Nasir el-Rufai disagreed over whether or not Nnaji’s exit would affect the on-going power reforms. While el-Rufai feared that Nnaji’s ouster would set the reforms back, the Federal Government countered that the development would boost the privatisation programme.
This came as workers of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, Trade Union Congress, TUC and Joint Action Front, JAF, celebrated Nnaji’s resignation and said that the development vindicated their position that privatisation was not the solution to the country’s power problem.
Privileged to serve twice as minister
Prof. Nnaji stated that not many Nigerians have had the privilege of serving the nation twice as minister and that he was grateful to have served this government in the capacity of an adviser and a ranking cabinet minister in a very challenging and complex sector.
Before his appointment as Minister of Power, Nnaji was the Special Adviser on Power to President Goodluck Jonathan and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Power. He had in 1993 served as Minister of Science and Technology.
He explained that he had to voluntarily resign the office of minister to retain his integrity, which had in recent days come under scurrilous attacks by powerful interests he claimed were bent on besmirching the integrity and reputation that he had painstakingly built over the years.
“This resignation is also to ensure that there is no spillover of these attacks to the President, who is working very hard to transform the nation,” he said.
“I would like to reiterate that before I accepted to serve as minister, I resigned my directorship of all companies that I had interest in and put my shares in those companies in a Blind Trust; this means that I was not privy to the day-to-day business decisions of those who ran this Trust. In addition, I publicly declared the participation in the privatization process of a foreign company that did business with a company that I had interest in. This fact came to my knowledge only during the course of evaluating the consortia that were bidding for PHCN successor companies. Consequently, I also voluntarily excused myself from participating in the selection process. These actions, I should think, are in line with the finest traditions of transparency and accountability in governance.”
Nnaji’s ouster a setback – El-Rufai
Reacting to the development on his face book page, yesterday, el-Rufai described Nnaji’s ouster as a setback for the on-going reforms in the power sector, which had started to yield dividends.
“His resignation is a set-back for the power sector reforms. He is one of the few ministers in GEJ’s cabinet that knows what need doing in his area of ministerial responsibility. The whole thing was clearly avoidable. There are many ministers far less competent than Barth and under whose watch massive fraud, corruption and more serious crimes have been committed. Yet, they continue to sit pretty and not asked to resign. Perhaps, there is more than this ethical infraction. I do not know, but if what we read is all there is, both the ex-minister and his employer could have handled it better and in a more orderly manner,” he said.
“I think the issue boils down to poor judgment on the part of Barth. Since the days of TCPC, there exists a Code of Ethics prohibiting members of the Board of TCPC and staff from acquiring assets being privatized. In 2000, the National Council on Privatization approved stricter Code of Ethics prohibiting staff of BPE and members of NCP from participating in any way in privatization transaction. As DG of BPE between 1999 and 2003, I went further and stopped buying any shares on the NSE to prevent any signaling to the market.
”Barth Nnaji ought to be aware of this, and withdrew his firm or its associates from further participation in any consortium participating as consultants or bidders to any privatization transaction, electricity related or not, the moment he was appointed minister of power, and therefore a co-opted member of the NCP. Perhaps he was unaware of this Code which BPE as the secretariat of NCP is obliged to draw attention to for the guidance of all council members,” el-Rufai added.
It won’t affect privatisation process – FG
However, the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, assured that the privatization process would not be affected by the resignation of Nnaji.
Fielding questions from State House correspondents, Mr Maku said rather, the resignation of the former minister would further give credibility to the process.
According to Maku, though members of the National Council on Privatisation would have wished Nnaji was around to complete the process, the President Goodluck Jonathan Administration would be more consistent in the management of power.
“Let me put it this way, the reasons why Prof. Barth Nnaji resigned are already known to you. Let me put it clearly that Prof Nnaji resigned to give credibility to the power sector privatization process and the statement issued by the Special Adviser to the President on Media Affairs yesterday, was very clear and explicit that the former minister of Power Prof. Barth Nnaji resigned his position to give credibility to the process of privatization of the power sector.
“The voluntary resignation of Prof Nnaji is indeed something that will reinforce the credibility of the Federal Government’s reforms in the power sector.”
NLC, PHCN workers, others celebrate, demand probe
Meanwhile, Electricity workers represented by the National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE and the Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies, SSAEC, yesterday held an ‘Obituary’ and thanksgiving service at the headquarters of the PHCN, to mark Nnaji’s resignation.
The workers, whose animosity for the former minister had reached feverish heights, had similarly held a fasting and praying session on Tuesday to “invoke divine intervention for the dismissal of the Minister,” Temple Iworima, the NUEE Zonal Organising Secretary told Vanguard in Abuja.
According to Iworima, “more than 60,000 PHCN staff across the country had fasted and prayed on Tuesday, asking God to intervene on our behalf. And less than 24 hours later, we received with gladness the dismissal of the minister. This proves that our cause is a just one and that God is on our side. This is why we held the thanksgiving service this morning at the headquarters, which also served as an ‘Obituary’ service to mark the exit of the Minister of Power who had been very antagonistic of organized labour and the interests of electricity workers across the country.”
Also, the leadership of the unions disclosed that they had petitioned the Presidency and the National Assembly to demand a probe of the tenure of the former Minister, against the background of allegations of corruption and personal enrichment at the expense of the sector.
In its reaction, TUC said Nnaji’s resignation had removed one of the greatest obstacles to peace and industrial harmony in the power sector and set in motion the desired atmosphere for the actualisation of transparent and people-driven reforms in the sector.
Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, yesterday said it was pleased with Tuesday resignation of Prof. Barth Nnaji, saying he compromised the Office of the Minister of Power with his personal business interests, and being oblivious and a stumbling block to industrial peace and harmony in the industry
NLC in a statement by its Acting General Secretary, Comrade Chris Uyot, called on President Goodluck Jonathan to create an atmosphere of fairness and justice for speedy resolution of all outstanding labour matters in the process of disengaging some PHCN employees, which Prof. Nnaji stalled before his exit.
In like manner, JAF in a statement by its Secretary, Comrade Abiodun Aremu, hailed Nnaji’s ouster and called for immediate halt of the on-going privatisation of PHCN.