It was really enraging to hear that shortly after the forced resignation of Bart Nnaji from the power portfolio, a group of foreign “investors” in the on-going power reform and privatization programme assembled into a pressure group and stormed the power ministry to show their concern over the minister’s resignation and declare their confidence in his supposedly
singular capacity to implement the programme successfully. Tongues-in-cheek, the mainly European Nnaji freaks were posturing belligerently over the resignation as if to say “we no go gree”. Well, agreed they had to, not only because they have no choice but also because, as agents of certain transnational contractors interested in the mega-billion naira power contracts, their selfish motives were glaring. This incident is a pointer to the level of propaganda and photo-trick that has been triggered all in a bid to depict Barth Nnaji with a holier-than-thou aura of indispensability that he does not exude.
In putting the Barth Nnaji Affair in correct perspective, we must first discard the unwarranted ambivalence of the President on the circumstances of the resignation of the professor if only to save the president from the mess that spews from this authenticated version of events. Politically –and even humanly- it would have been foolhardy to go to Onitsha amid the humiliation of their prominent son without providing some sort of a soft-landing for him, such as to say he did nothing wrong when he so obviously ended up a misfit and an outcast for that matter. Considering the strategic sensitivity of the power sector reform in the Jonathan Transformation Agenda, it will take more than a slight misdemeanor to sustain the shocks of confidence and credibility that rattled the reform process as a direct fall-out of Barth Nnaji’s sudden resignation.
Be that as it may, there is no denying the well-established involvement of Barth Nnaji in big-time business dealings in the nation’s power sector in general and electricity in particular before he became a minister and so the assignment of the power ministry to him, though well-intentioned, was a calculated error in the first place. One can still recall the shrill protests from the power trade unions which had more than a casual insight into these and other sticky points from the professor’s previous appointments in the sector. It was therefore hardly surprising that the circumstances of his demise as minister were not unconnected to his pecuniary interest in the handling of the implementation process of the power sector reform which is now an open secret.
Government and business circles are buzzing with the shielded details of what culminated in the induced resignation of Barth Nnaji from the Jonathan cabinet. The most credible account revolves around the Afam Power Station whose planned privatization and the barely concealed interest of a company owned by the former minister became an Achille’s heel. The whole issue of disclosure of pecuniary interest and so-called blind trust referred to in feeble defense of the professor pale into not only irrelevance but insignificance, given the established fact that such moves were made belatedly. In fact, the said company had already participated in the process and even emerged a successful bidder for the Afam station and it was in outrage that the other bidders raised dust about the matter. Notwithstanding the fact that the Australian company, which was supposedly engaged to champion the bid had no link whatsoever with Skipper, the minister’s company.
Bemused staff of the power ministry reportedly took special interest in capturing the identity of the lady who came to submit the bid for the Afam station for the said company in view of her matrimonial relationship with the former minister. Worse still, power ministry staff were not impressed at all by the fact that their ministry was represented in the handling of the bidding process by so-called assistants employed by the professor.
But this episode only provided a peep hole into more startling snippets of indiscretions associated with the former minister’s involvement with the Afam Power station’s unbundling process. While his company was neck-deep in acquiring the station by compromising the bidding process, the minister was busy pushing a memo seeking federal executive council approval to expend over N7 billion on revamping the out-of-service Afam Power Station into an operational status that would have amounted to a surreptitious rehabilitation subsidy for his company that was poised to win the bidding process. He was actually so confident of getting the FEC approval that he gave go-ahead to Siemens Company to proceed with preliminary rehabilitation of the gas turbine and auxiliary components of the station with an approval to spend a large chunk of money.
At the end of the day, his memo failed to secure FEC approval, scuttling his anticipatory commitment of Siemens and leaving the German firm with the dilemma of an unsecured liability of N420 million it now has a zero chance of recovering except from the former minister. Latest reports indicate that the firm is frantically seeking an inroad into the power sector reform projects as a means of recovering this bad debt from the ill-fated Afam preliminary rehabilitation works. It is certainly part of the ploy that those European “investors” organized their diplomatic
picketing of the power ministry after Nnaji’s exit but given the murkiness of the core issues of the Nnaji Affair it is bound to be an exercise in futility.
While these issues stick out prominently like the proverbial sore thumb in the Nnaji Affair, it is no less unsettling to learn that the former minister’s response has been far from remorseful as he not only activated grand designs within the power sector parastatals where his protégés were strategically planted earlier in order to sustain the bogey of innocence and indispensability that he vainly hopes will rewrite history and turn back the hands of time in his unceremoniously-terminated ministerial tenure, but is frantically making efforts to drag the hard-earned reputation of some distinguished Nigerians to the mud through sponsored media onslaught.
Tongues have ultimately being wagging over the roles of Nolsrem and Bulk Trader Chief executives supposedly planted by Nnaji as a prelude to gaining absolute control in the power privatization process. Of course this is still Nigeria where anything can happen but certain established facts and indicting precedents just cannot be wished away, particularly under the Jonathan Administration’s much-touted transformation agenda hinged as it is on fighting corruption and salvaging the comatose power sector.
With the commitment of the president towards successfully completing the power privatization programme coupled with the zeal and determination his subordinates, we are confident that these inherent minor challenges orchestrated by small-time mischief makers will soon be a thing of the past while the ovation for a successful reform is being celebrated.
Abdullahi Garba can be reached at [email protected]