Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Power minister Prof. Bart Nnaji resigns

Minister of Power, Prof. Bart Nnaji, on Tuesday resigned from office amid controversies and allegations of conflict of interest in the privatisation process.

Besides being at loggerheads with Power Holding Company of Nigeria’s workers on sundry issues, he was said to have interests in two firms that submitted bids for the Afam Power Plc and the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company Plc.

The PUNCH learnt on Tuesday that Nnaji must have been pressured into resigning from the Federal Executive Council by the Presidency because of fears that the issue of conflict of interest could damage the credibility of the privatisation process, which has local and foreign investors as bidders.

The privatisation of 17 electricity firms is scheduled to be concluded in two months’ time.

Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan said he had accepted the resignation.

In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, the President thanked Nnaji for his services to the nation.

It was gathered that it was when it was established that Nnaji had interest in two firms, Skipper Nigeria Limited and Eastern Electric Nigeria Limited, that the National Council on Privatisation chaired by Vice- President Namadi Sambo, decided to cancel the technical bid evaluation process conducted for the two firms.

The NCP had last Friday named seven firms as the successful bidders for five generation companies.

According to Chairman of the National Council on Privatisation’s Technical Committee, Mr. Atedo Peterside, the successful bidders qualified to take part in the financial bidding slated for September.

The preferred bidders for Ughelli Power Plant are Phoenix Electricity, Transcorp Consortium and Ampiron Power Distribution Limited.

Two bidders, CMEC Energy and GPN Nestoil Power Services Limited, were named for the Sapele Power Plant.

Only one firm each emerged successful for Geregu, Kainji and Shiroro Power Plants. They are Ampiron Power Distribution Limited, Mainstream Energy Solution Limited and North South Power Company Limited respectively.

He explained that the seven firms were chosen after scaling the 750 pass mark for the bidding process which involved submission of bids by pre-qualified bidders.

There was speculation that the NCP had been silent on the bidders that were prequalified for the Afam Power Station because of the conflict of interest that had arisen during the privatisation process.

A national newspaper had reported that Nnaji, a member of the NCP by virtue of his position as Minister of Power, had told the council that O & M Solutions of Pakistan, a member of one of the consortia bidding for Afam, had worked as a contractor for Geometric Power.

Nnaji further notified the NCP that Geometric Power had a minority stake in Eastern Electric Nigeria Limited, which had submitted technical and financial bids for Enugu Distribution Company Limited on July 31.

He also reportedly informed the council that owing to his position, he had notified President Jonathan of his company’s bid for Enugu Distribution Company, and brought it to their attention that although he had an interest in Geometric Power, he had resigned from its board and transferred his shares to a blind trust.

Following this disclosure, Nnaji was said to have excused himself from the consideration of the report of the technical bids.

Having been informed of Nnaji’s direct and indirect interest in two companies being privatised, the report said the council decided to cancel the technical evaluation that had been conducted for Afam and disbanded the evaluation team.

Reacting to the issue of conflict of interest few hours before his resignation, Nnaji said he had voluntarily on Friday, August 24 , 2012, informed other members of the National Council on Privatisation at a meeting, which considered the report on the technical evaluation of bids for generation companies. He said he had revealed to the committee that a company with which he was associated before he joined the government in 2010, was a client of a member of a consortium interested in acquiring majority shares of the Afam power plant in Rivers State.

A statement from his office then said, “The minister consequently applied to be excused from all deliberations at the meeting, and he maintained his ground despite the insistence of some of his colleagues.

“The minister ought to be commended for exemplary commitment to transparency, probity and the common good. If most public officers had been behaving like Professor Bart Nnaji , there would not have been trust deficit in Nigeria over the decades in respect of the relationship between the people and those in government. The unprecedented domestic and international investor confidence in the

Nigerian power sector is directly traceable to the personal and professional integrity of the process drivers like Professor Nnaji.

“We welcome wholeheartedly the decision of the National Council on Privatisation that bids for the Afam plant be evaluated all over again because justice should not only be done but also seen to have been done by all and sundry.’’

Before he finally threw in the towel, the former minister had also been at the receiving end of the war declared by workers of the PHCN.

The workers had opened a can of worms on some financial transactions allegedly carried out by Nnaji which reportedly drained the purse of PHCN.

They had given the embattled minister a seven-day ultimatum to explain what he did with the money running into millions of naira which they claimed was withdrawn from the firm’s coffer.

Vice-President of the National Union of Electricity Workers Employees, Mr. Etete Ntukuben, last Friday, called for a probe, not just of the PHCN superannuation account, but the entire account of the PHCN.

Ntukuben said that investigators should be brought in to take a critical look at the withdrawals by the former minister from the account of the PHCN.

“Let us have a holistic look at the PHCN account apart from the pension account; we should take a look at the minister’s withdrawals.

A lot of millions of naira have been withdrawn and given to soldiers and policemen in the guise of security maintenance,” he said.

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