Opinion: Barth Nnaji and our choices as a nation

by Sam Hart

Prof. Bart Nnaji made his name outside the shores of this country as an academic and highly sought after Professor of a  rare and highly technical field of study.

When President Goodluck Jonathan unveiled names of his Ministerial nominees at the outset of his substantive tenure last year, I wrote an article where I singled out three of his nominees for praise and expressed confidence in their ability to deliver.

The three Ministers are Chief Emeka Wogu of the Labour Ministry, Dr. Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of the Finance Ministry and Prof. Bart Nnaji of the Ministry of Power. I expressed confidence in their ability to deliver stemming from my personal interactions with them and their proven pedigree. I still stand by my convictions.

The papers have told the story of the resignation or forced exit of Prof. Bart Nnaji from the Ministry of Power and all kinds of theories have been woven around his departure. From insinuations of attempting to benefit from the system he was overseeing to other high-wire intrigues and conspiracy theories, they have been thoroughly fleshed out to warrant a rehash here.

My two-pence on the raging debate is to seek clarification on what we really want in Nigeria. Those who pontificate on having the panacea to the problems of crass incompetence, corruption and avarice plaguing official quarters have advocated that only individuals who have excelled in their private endeavors and who have an alternative source of income should be elected and appointed into plum government positions to minimize the rate at which our economy is being pillaged and run aground.

I share this sentiment as I believe that an individual who has passionately driven a private business to success in the hostile Nigerian business environment is better positioned to drive key sectors of our economy instead of appointing professional politicians who will see the appointment as an S. M. Afolabi invitation to ‘come and chop’.

Prof. Bart Nnaji made his name outside the shores of this country as an academic and highly sought after Professor of a  rare and highly technical field of study. He excelled in that endeavour.

He returned to Nigeria and pioneered private investments and efforts in the power sector by successfully building a power plant in Abuja which is still working till date. He took his vision further by embarking on an ambitious high-risk enterprise of building an Independent Power Plant. The first privately owned Independent Power Plant in the history of Nigeria, the Geometric Power Plant at Aba, Abia State.

It is incontestable that it was because of his exploits in the power sector that Prof. Nnaji was appointed into the Presidential Advisory Council (PAC) by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan upon his assumption of office as Acting President. When he was appointed to head the Power Sector Advisory Sub-Committee of the PAC, Prof. Nnaji proffered such a far-reaching, comprehensive and holistic solution to the seemingly intractable power-sector conundrum that even when the Presidential Advisory Council submitted its report and technically completed its mandate, Prof. Nnaji was retained as Special Adviser to the President on Power and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Power.

It was from his Special Advisory position that he was appointed the substantive Minister of Power at the outset of the Jonathan full tenure in 2011.

It is incontestable that the power situation in Nigeria has since improved. The efforts did not just stop at raising the generation capacity of the nation, efforts were launched and religiously followed to achieve a sustainable and permanent solution to the power problem via privatization of power assets and unbundling of the behemoth Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) to create smaller successor companies.

A timeline was drawn for the completion of various stages of the reform programme and despite all kinds of opposition from Labour Unions and interest groups, Prof. Nnaji trudged on and with a conviction and passion uncommon within official circles in Nigeria, he dedicated himself to the task ahead.

This was the state of affairs until one evening when news went viral that Prof. Nnaji had resigned his appointment as the Minister of Power ostensibly on grounds of conflict of interest arising from the participation of his company and a company he had transacted with in time past in the bid process for some of the unbundled power assets.

Prof. Nnaji as we all know had a power company playing prominently in the power sector long before his engagement with government. Upon his appointment into government, he resigned from direct control of these companies and transferred his existing shares in them into a blind trust.

Geometric Power Company to the best of my knowledge was already in pole position to compete for any of the power assets whenever the government decides to unbundle them. They had the pedigree, man-power, technical expertise and international finance back-bone to play big long before their principal joined government.

Now my question: Should Prof. Nnaji have closed down Geometric Power with over One Thousand direct and indirect staff shortly after accepting to serve his fatherland? Should Geometric Power have stopped being a power company and started poultry farming to avoid a conflict of interest with his duties? Or should they have relocated to Ghana so as not to operate in the same environment with their former boss?

Prof. Nnaji willfully disclosed that Geometric Power had a minority stake in Eastern Electric Company bidding for the Enugu Distribution Company of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria. He also willfully disclosed that O & M of Pakistan bidding for Afam Power Company had once done business with Geometric.

Note that Prof. Nnaji wasn’t found out by any investigative body. Note also that he recued himself from sitting in on bids where his company or those he had interest in were competing. What really did we want him to do pray?

I am hard pressed to point out that no kobo of government has been lost in this process. Officials of government who presided over Ministries and agencies where monumental corruption has been uncovered and culprits are facing the law are still sitting pretty in their offices while someone who willfully came forward to declare his interest in companies willing to do business with government is asked to resign his appointment or face sack!

So what if Prof had fronted a separate company or international consortium for the purposes of covering his tracks, what if he had sought other means of subverting the system? Would we have been any the wiser? Is honesty no longer the best policy?

I hasten to clarify that yes the involvement of Geometric Power in the bidding process presents a conflict of interest for Prof. Nnaji but this is a company he has built over the years and they are leading players in the sector in question. They are immensely qualified to bid for these companies as indeed they have been poised to do long before Prof joined government. It just seems unfair that the company should suffer because its founder is now in government.

 

* Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

 

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Comments (2)

  1. I don't think professor Nnaji should have accepted the Ministerial position. He should have continued in an advisory capacity and focused on his company. However if he likes policy making so much, he should create a lobbying firm or a nonprofit energy company that would advocate for the type of policies and the vision he has for the Nigerian energy sector.

  2. Despite geometric success story how many megawatt has d company generated and how abt amcon issue .some ppl will just come up with all kind of lies cos of selfish intrest

cool good eh love2 cute confused notgood numb disgusting fail