By Chika Amanze-Nwachuku, Ejiofor Alike and Chineme Okafor
In a move aimed at salvaging the reform and privatisation programme of the power sector, President Goodluck Jonathan Tuesday in Abuja accepted the resignation of one of the key members of his cabinet, Professor Bart Nnaji as Minister of Power, with immediate effect.
The president, who in a press statement by his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, thanked the former minister for his services to the country and wished him well in his future endeavour, was said to have decided to accept the resignation, following Nnaji’s admission that companies linked to him had submitted bids for one of the successor companies created from the unbundling of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN).
However, speaking to THISDAY Tuesday night on his decision to leave the cabinet, Nnaji said he opted to resign in order to save the privatisation and reform programme from those who might want to use ulterior motives to bring down the programme.
Nnaji said he had met with the president Tuesday afternoon, during which he (president) informed him (Nnaji) that he was using his company as a proxy to buy shares on behalf of the president in Afam power station through the privatisation process.
On hearing this, he informed the president that rather than drag him (Jonathan) and the entire process through the mud, he would prefer to resign but reminded the president that he had brought it to his attention two weeks ago that a company he owned was part of a bidding consortium that had submitted bids for Enugu Distribution Company.
Nnaji explained that there have been all sorts of efforts to bring him down since his appointment as Special Adviser to the President on Power and later power minister, but decided Tuesday that it was best to leave rather that allow fourth columnists to mar the entire process.
“It is a huge conspiracy to scuttle the programme, but rather than drag the president and the programme down, I decided to tender my resignation,” he said.
On what would become of the reform process on which he had worked so hard, the former minister said he had managed to put the power sector on track and all key reforms in place, adding “it would be difficult to derail it right now and I hope it would proceed as planned.”
When asked if the independent power company he owns, Gemetric Power, would withdraw from the consortium bidding for Enugu Disco, Nnaji said: “As far as I am concerned, the bid is still alive.
“I know that they set up a new committee to re-evaluate the bids, but I don’t know if the process will still be fair after what has happened.”
However, sources in the presidency told THISDAY last night that Nnaji had no choice than to resign, because had he failed to do so, he would have been sacked by the president.
The president, THISDAY learnt, was said to have been very disappointed that his power minister, who should have known better, had gone ahead to bid for Enugu Distribution Company, despite the Code of Ethics of the privatisation process which bars staff of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and members of the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) from buying shares in companies being privatised.
“The president had made up his mind by this morning, so if Nnaji had not resigned, he would have been sacked,” explained sources in the presidency.
Participation by two companies linked to Nnaji in the power privatisation process had compelled the NCP to cancel the technical bid evaluation process conducted for Afam and Enugu Disco last week.
The NCP, after its meeting last Friday, had announced the results of the technical evaluation conducted for the 25 bids it received last month for the six generation companies (Gencos).
From that process, seven bidders were said to have successfully met the cut-off mark of 750 and above during the technical evaluation process and were prequalified to have their financial bids opened on September 25.
However, the NCP was silent on the bidders that were prequalified for Afam Power Station owing to the potential conflict of interest that had arisen during the privatisation process.
An NCP source said that before the consideration of the report of the evaluation, Nnaji, who was a member of the NCP by virtue of his position as Minister of Power, had brought it to the attention of 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.
The consortium, in which O & M Solutions has a stake, is Skipper Nigeria Limited, which had submitted technical and financial bids for Afam on July 17, the deadline set by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) for the submission of bids for the Gencos.
The minister also notified the NCP that Geometric Power has a minority stake in Eastern Electric Nigeria Limited, which had submitted technical and financial bids for Enugu Distribution Company Limited on July 31.
He went on to inform the council that owing to his position, he had notified the president of his company’s bid for Enugu Disco, and brought it to their attention that although he has an interest in Geometric Power, he had resigned from its board and transferred his shares to a blind trust.
Having been informed of Nnaji’s direct and indirect interest in two companies being privatised, the council decided to cancel the technical evaluation that had been conducted for Afam and disbanded the evaluation team.
It also decided to stop the evaluation of the Enugu Disco, which is still ongoing, and would likewise disband the evaluation team.
The decision to cancel the evaluation for both companies was premised on the fact that all major stakeholders, including the former power minister, had been asked to send nominees to participate in the evaluation process.
Coincidentally, Nnaji Tuesday afternoon had welcomed the NCP’s decision to disband the evaluation teams and re-evaluate the technical bids submitted for Afam and Enugu Discos in the wake of his admission that some members of the bidding consortia has links to a company he owns.
Nnaji said the NCP’s decision to re-evaluate the bids submitted by potential investors for Afam and Enugu Discos was necessary considering that justice should not only be done but also seen to have been done by all and sundry.