Barely 24 hours after his sudden exit from President Goodluck Jonathan’s cabinet, ex-Minister of Power, Prof. Barth Nnaji, on Wednesday said he resigned because some “powerful vested interests” were bent on tarnishing his image.
Nnaji added that he left the cabinet in order to save the Jonathan administration from the “spill over” of the attacks by the “powerful vested interests.”
His reaction which was contained in a statement by his spokesman, Ogbuagu Anikwe, coincided with a declaration by the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, that Nnaji’s exit would reinforce the credibility of the Federal Government’s reforms in the power sector.
But the former minister said he was proud that he left at a time that power generation and supply had supply had improved.
The statement reads in part, “I had to voluntarily resign the office of minister to retain my integrity which has in recent days come under scurrilous attacks by powerful vested interests that were hell bent on besmirching the integrity and reputation that I painstakingly built over the years.
“This resignation is also to ensure that there is no spill over of these attacks to the President who is working very hard to transform the nation.
“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.
“I am confident enough to allow history and the Nigerian people to judge my performance on the task that I accepted from the President.”
He denied having conflict of interest in his handling of the power sector reform.
According to him, he resigned his directorship of all companies in which he had interest and put his shares in those companies in a Blind Trust.
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 privatisation 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 said his resignation had given him the opportunity to go back to his integrated power projects “which have been designed to accelerate the development of the nation.”
He paid tribute to the staff of the Ministry of Power, the Power Holding Company of Nigeria and other agencies for their “dedication to duty, hard work, patriotism and commitment to the common good which have, in spite of all odds, completely moved the power sector in a new direction to the benefit of all our people”
But Maku, in Abuja in apparent reaction to fears by stakeholders that Nnaji’s resignation would slow down the power privatisation process, said government was determined to ensure its success.
“I do not see it in any way hampering the process, rather it would assure investors all over the world that Nigeria, and all of us in government, are prepared to do everything possible to ensure the credibility of the process and this is exactly really the intention of the minister when he resigned his appointment following issues of conflict of interest, he told journalists after the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting.
“It is something that should rather reinforce confidence in the process,”he added.
Nnaji’s sudden resignation after barely 14 months in office on Tuesday and its immediate acceptance by Jonathan had fuelled speculations that the professor was forced out of the government.
Unconfirmed reports had indicated that he was sacked because of his alleged handling of the privatisation of the power sector.
The PUNCH findings on Wednesday however showed that the minister lost his job to a combination of factors, including his alleged interest in the N6bn Afam Power Plant contract. He was also said to have stepped on toes of some powerful government officials and industrialists over the same project.
It was further learnt that while the minister disclosed his interest to the National Council of Privatisation under the Chairmanship of the Vice President, Namadi Sambo, other government officials involved in the privatisation process had been silent even though they were equally keen on taking over the plant through their own companies.
Also, Nnaji was said to have got onto the wrong side of Jonathan following an unsuccessful bid to influence the Federal Executive Council to approve the fund for the Afam project.
Members of FEC reportedly rejected Nnaji’s request amidst growing insinuations then that the minister had interest in a consortium that participated in the bid for the plant.
The President and his men were said to be unhappy that the minister attempted to persuade the Federal Government to refurbish the plant with N6bn when he knew he had interest in it.
Sources told The PUNCH that the ex-minister was summoned to the Presidential Villa midway into the meeting between the Federal Government and leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress and was asked to leave the cabinet.
Nnaji troubles were also said to be traceable to the bidding process for the Transmission Company of Nigeria which was won by a Canadian Firm, Manitoba.
It was learnt that the offer of the management of TCN to Manitoba had ignited bad blood among the top government officials in the National Council for Privatisation and their business allies.
The feud generated by the Manitoba offer was such that moves were made to void the bidding process.
Before his appointment , Nnaji had served as the Special Adviser on Power to the President and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Power.
He had in 1993 served as the Minister of Science and Technology.
Meanwhile, the Trade Union Congress on Wednesday described the former minister’s resignation as a relief to the power sector.
The union’s President, Mr. Peter Esele and General Secretary, Chief John Kolawole, said this in a statement quoted by the News Agency of Nigeria.
They added that his resignation would also create a level playing field for participants in the sector.
They said there would be transparency and citizens-based reform when all participants are given a level playing field to bid for the privatisation of the PHCN.
The union leaders said, “It is unethical for Nnaji to champion the power sector reform, as well as have interest in some companies bidding to buy some of the companies that have emerged from the unbundled the PHCN.
“It is morally wrong. That is why we see his exist as a welcome development that will create a level playing ground for all participants in the sector.”
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