In a swift reaction to BusinessDay’s stories on Monday and Tuesday, President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday sacked power minister, Bart Nnaji, for compromising the privatisation process which he was appointed to midwife.
A terse statement signed by Reuben Abati, special media adviser to the President, said: “ President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has accepted the resignation with immediate effect of the Minister of Power, Prof. Barth Nnaji.
President Jonathan thanks Prof. Nnaji for his services to the nation under the present administration and wishes him well in his future endeavours”.
But it is widely believed that the said resignation is a soft landing given to the former minister.
BusinessDay gathered last night, that the swiftness with which Nnaji was removed was informed by his insistence that he had confided in the President, his interest in one of the bidding consortia for the Afam power plant, one of the plants undergoing privatisation.
BusinessDay is informed that earlier in the day, Nnaji had been at a meeting with Labour executives and that at about 5.00pm, he received a call summoning him to see the President.
One executive who was at the meeting told BusinessDay: “The minister was shivering when he received the call. He whispered to Pius Ayim, secretary to the federal government, ‘this call is from the Presidency’ and he left immediately.”
BusinessDay further learnt that Nnaji spent about three hours meeting with the President, after which Reuben Abati, special adviser on media to the President was called in to be briefed. Abati later issued a statement saying that Nnaji had resigned.
BusinessDay had reported exclusively on Monday, that the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) Friday announced the firms that passed the technical evaluation stage for only five of the six generating companies, excluding Afam generating company, because the evaluation of bids for the plant had been cancelled and the evaluatiion team disbanded.
The cancellation came after the shock discovery that power minister, Bart Nnaji may have a direct interest in one of the consortia that bidded for the plant located in Rivers State. The Afam power plant, with an installed capacity of 776MW was rehabilitated by the Anglo Dutch oil giant, Shell, on behalf of the Federal Government, not too long ago.
The three companies which submitted bids for Afam generating company are Primeniza Energy Limited, Skipper Nigeria Limited and NPG Consortium, but it is unclear which of these three is connected with the minister.
The discovery of Nnaji’s interest on Friday, was confirmed by the minister’s own personal confession to his colleagues at the crucial meeting of the NCP, at which the evaluation of the bids was appraised, and authority given to the Technical Committee on Privatisation, to announce the successful bids.
Friday’s meeting was chaired by Vice President Namadi Sambo and also attended by other members, including Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala, minister of Finance and co-ordinationg minister for the Economy.
Business Day learnt that proceedings at the meeting were suspended briefly, while focus turned to the minister of power, who was asked several times why he had not disclosed his interest before now.
The minister told the NCP he had set up a blind trust to manage his interest in the consortium and that he had no direct dealings with the firm in question.
Nnaji also disclosed that he had confided in the President, but a close scrutiny of the bid documents did not show any such disclosure of interest by the minister, especially given the role he was playing in the privatisation programme.
It was at this point that the Vice President asked the minister to vacate his seat at the meeting and to leave the venue of the meeting, given that his continued presence could jeopardise the integrity of the deliberations, our reporter learnt.
Nnaji, in press statement endorsed by his special media adviser, Ogbuagu Anikwe, failed to answer questions surrounding his interest for Afam power plant.
The minister also failed to explain the role of his staff and nominee that participated in the evaluation of the three bids submitted for Afam, and the fact that it turned out that the only company being put forward as having passed the technical evaluation was that same consortium in which he had disclosed that he had interest.
He also failed to provide answers to questions raised by industry stakeholders in the stories published on Tuesday by BusinessDay. Stakeholders who spoke with BusinessDay on the development, raised several issues like “why was his (Nnaji) interest not made known publicly? What kind of probability is there that we talking about that the winning bid was a coincidence? Does it mean there was insider dealing from the start and the minister use privileged information about the privatisation process to his own advantage? It should also be asked...why Afam? Afam is potentially the most lucrative of all the power assets...because it will require little rehabilitation, and so on.”
According to one analyst “Can we honestly say now that he has been fair to all and that he has not sought to benefit from the process from the start; What other interest (s) does he have that have not been mentioned?
“What can be said about the manner this privatisation is beign handled is that it appears to be quite robust and that it is able to throw up issues like this, and deal with them is truly commendable.”
The minister had earlier in the day, through his aides, attempted to defend his position.
In a statement, the minister confirmed: “A company with which he was associated before he joined the government in 2010, is a client of a member of a consortium interested in acquiring majority shares of the Afam power plant in Rivers State.
“The minister ought to be commended for exemplary commitment to transparency, probity and the common good.”