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Is Prof Barth Nnaji the Right Man to Rescue the Power Sector? – By Churchill Okonkwo

By Churchill Okonkwo, NNP,- June 27, 2011 – Now that the name of Prof. Barth Nnaji is being forwarded to the senate for approval as minister for power (most likely), the question of whether he is the best man for the job needs a quick answer. While his role as the special adviser to Goodluck Jonathan and the steps taken to comprehensively address the power sector crisis in Nigeria sometimes points at his understanding of the fundamental challenges, the question of whether he has the personal strong will to push through the much needed reform is in doubt. Secondly, his acrimonious relationship with power sector workers and his alleged ownership of a private power company raises the question of conflict of interest.

By owning Geometric Power Limited – a private power plant operating in Aba – is there not a conflict between Prof Nnaji’s personal and national interest? Does the issue of ethics and integrity no warrant that he either relinquishes his role in the power company or declines the role of power minister? Most importantly, if according to the power sector union, the said company has nothing to show on ground after six years, doesn’t that raise the question of efficiency and derivable?

I asked these questions bearing in mind that the significant remaining obstacle to successful privatization of the power sector in Nigeria is the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) and government’s lack of political will to expedite reform.  But to effectively jump start the reform in the power sector, we need a professional that can approach equity with clean hands. We need an individual that can effectively challenge NUEE with clean conscience and no personal interest while pushing for a successful conclusion of power sector reforms. We need a minister that can dictate to Goodluck Jonathan what needs to be done. In fact, we need a professional that will give conditions before accepting the position for minister for power.

Prof. Barth Nnaji (I’m sorry to say) does not bring these qualities and may have been compromised personally and politically. That was what happened to the likes of Prof Dora Akunyili and Prof Chkwuma Soludo and co.  And that was what the likes of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala avoided by bowing out when an attempt was made at making her a political tool. A look at the history of Nigerian political office holders reveal that renown technocrats and critics becomes ineffective and are easily compromised the moment they start acting as professional politicians. Prof. Nnaji – an active PDP member- looks more like a politician to me

The problem with Goodluck Jonathan however, is that like his predecessors, he appears incapable of comprehensively addressing the challenges we face as a nation by picking a complete team of incorruptible “hardliners” that can help the country actualize our dreams. Agreed that any meaningful economic reform in Nigeria needs a corresponding power sector reform; of what good then will Dr. Okonjo Iweala’s ‘expected’ economic reform policy be with a fury of activities in the power sector albeit most times unfocussed?

Also, to guarantee uninterrupted gas to the will-be new private gas plants, the federal government must comprehensively resolve the Niger delta crisis. Failure to do so will be like building on quick sand which is what the present amnesty to Niger Delta militants represents. Unfortunately, this is a critical issue to the power sector reform that Prof. Nnaji does not understand or is not making clear to Jonathan.

Even as the new tariff is introduced, the poorest Nigerians ‘in real terms’ are still paying more than N80/kWh burning candles, kerosene and firewood. The argument that private investors are wary of the current low tariff and are not willing to invest is no longer valid and Prof. Nnaji therefore, has no reason not to successfully select successor companies to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN).  Common sense also detects that action that will lead to cheaper power sources while minimizing environmental hazards is the only way forward for Nigeria. This we can only do by falling in line with the rest of developed countries in exploring low carbon energy resources and greening our economies.

As we presently await the selection of core investors in the 11 Distribution and six Generation Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), common sense warrants that the next minister for power must be strong willed and fully independent. What we need is a champion who can respond with foresight and grace to this electricity challenge that demand swiftness and determined focus. Prof Barth Nnaji may have the foresight, but he lacks the grace and the political will, moreover, he is not a champion.

In the final analysis Nigerians need abundant, affordable, modern energy, and this points to private property and free markets and not government ownership and control of energy resources as is currently being pursued. The role of government should start and end with regulation. That is common sense.


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Posted by on Jun 27 2011. Filed under Articles, Churchill Okonkwo, Columnists, NNP Columnists. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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