The recent sudden resignation from office of the Minister for Power, Professor Barth Nnaji, at a time when the nation has started experiencing relatively improved power supply, struck many Nigerians as a rude shock. The resignation was said to have links with the revelation that Biometric Nigeria Limited, a company in which the former minister has interest, was bidding for the Afam power generation company and the Enugu power distribution company, leading to a Federal Government’s directive that the bid already made be re-evaluated. Nnaji said he was forced to bow out by the intense pressure mounted by some powerful forces (whose vested interests are believed to be the undoing of the nation’s power sector) against him. He said he voluntarily resigned to retain his integrity and that of the Presidency. Few days after the resignation, President Goodluck Jonathan when he visited Anambra State, was quoted as saying that Nnaji did no wrong. The entire scenario is quite unfortunate.
The power sector has remained problematic and sickly in the nation’s march to full industrialization. All the efforts by previous administrations to tame the hydra-headed monster – (whether as National Electricity Power Authority (NEPA) or as Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) – have proved abortive. Until the recent signs of improvement, the nation had put up with the endless provocation of the strategic establishment that has refused to improve on its services, or close shop.
Efforts by the erstwhile Olusegun Obasanjo administration to kickstart the revival of the sector was sabotaged by crooks who posed as contractors; while the House of Representatives committee on power and steel chaired by Rep Ndudi Elumelu to investigate the ‘waste and pilferage’ of over $16 billion from the sector during the Obasanjo era turned an accomplice in no way better than those being investigated when Elumelu and his colleagues were linked with fraudulently facilitating the withdrawal of over N6 billion belonging to the Rural Electrification Agency from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for personal gratification.
It was therefore a heartening relief when President Jonathan, after his election last year and through Nnaji’s office, threw his hat into the ring with, perhaps, the strongest promise of better power supply since 1999 that civilians took over governance. Dating from then, however, it has been battles and more with the labour unions (both in-house and at national levels) suspected to be fanned by vested interests.
The erstwhile power minister nonetheless remained focused with iron cast determination to make the power sector work. The hopelessly epileptic sector within a relatively short period had a breather from its miserable 2,400 mega watts power generation capacity to a record 4700 mega watts.
Reports on Monday said the Presidency had assured raising the mega wattage to 5,400 by December this year. And perhaps more significantly, the government has come out with an effective and workable roadmap to surmount the challenges of power supply. We think it was against this backdrop that many felt disturbed by the visibly hurried exit of the power minister, a technocratic who combined theory and practice and demonstrated consummate passion for retrieving the power sector from the abyss.
But again, the power sector is ‘bereaved’ and has lost one of its most committed torch bearers for reasons attributed to suspicion and the conflict of interest. Not surprisingly, PHCN workers and their leaders who prefer the embarrassing status quo ante are celebrating Nnaji’s exit; and are beating their war chests against power sector privatization.
Unfortunately, too, the issues at stake border on both morality and legality which, in climes truly governed by the rule of law and due process (as against the rule of heartless and selfish cabals) the Nnaji saga would probably have been sorted out before the minister’s embarrassing resignation became public knowledge.
It is, however, to Nnaji’s credit that instead of the ‘crucify him’ refrain that trailed high ranking officers’ exit from government in the past, Nigerians this time seem sharply divided over the power minister’s resignation. Indeed, the controversy over how Nnaji bowed out can only fizzle out if President Jonathan continues with or improves on the power sector reform tempo.