•Photo: Former Minister of Power Barth Nnaji:
The intractable crisis rocking the power sector came to a head on Tuesday with the sudden resignation of the Minister of Power, Barth Nnaji, from the cabinet of President Goodluck Jonathan.
Nnaji did not give reasons for his action, but a statement by Presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, late last night said the President had accepted the resignation.
The statement reads: “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.”
Mum was the word last night as officials of the ministry refused to talk on the issue.
But reliable Presidency sources told Daily Independent that President Jonathan ordered the Minister to resign.
“It was not a voluntary resignation. Nnaji was sacked, literally. The President has been inundated with stories of the Minister’s excesses but the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back is the seeming conflict of interest in his running of the ministry.”
It was gathered that the former minister may have played into the hands of some forces in the sector who now went to Jonathan with facts about some dealings which they claimed were contrary to power sector roadmap.
“So, rather than sacking him outright, the President decided to give him a soft landing by asking him to resign,” the source said.
Nnaji was said to have hurriedly left a meeting with aggried workers of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) at about 5 p.m. to answer a Presidential summon at Aso Rock where he was told to resign.
While details still remain sketchy, there was palpable fear last night that the development may negatively affect the current reform efforts in the power sector.
Nnaji’s sympathisers insist his resignation was orchestrated by powerful forces within and outside the sector, who are not comfortable with the reforms he initiated.
They claim that the Presidency had been under pressure from top members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to call Nnaji to order.
Meanwhile, Federal Government’s chief mediators in the on-going crisis rocking the power sector, Secretary to Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, and Minister of Labour and Productivity, Emeka Wogu, including stakeholders from the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) failed to reach a truce over issues bedeviling the sector in Abuja on Tuesday.
They rather postponed talks till today to continue the meeting called at the instance of Anyim.
It would be recalled that both sides have been entangled in talks on gratuity and pension payment for PHCN staff, the drafting of military personnel to gurad major electricity installations in the country as well as opposition to privitatisation of the sector by the Federal Government.
Wogu simply said after Tuesday’s parley: “Tomorrow, talks continue, that is all I have to say.”
Shortly before other parties rose from the meeting, Nnaji left the venue, with no words to reporters.
Also, President of the TUC, Peter Esele, who spoke on behalf of other labour chieftains, said both sides just established the necessary parameters that would set the tone for further discussions today.
“We held a discussion and as at this moment, I do not think we have come to any conclusion, and we are looking at meeting again tomorrow, by 4.00 p.m.
“We have made certain requests from PHCN management, we have also made certain requests from government which we are hoping would be made available tomorrow and that would help us to either move forward or to have a stalemate.
“Government made an offer and what they were talking about is that they want to pay 15 per cent from 2004 to 2012 while the other 25 per cent would be pre-Pension Act reform.
“But we are saying the defined benefits scheme that was available should still remain in place, so tomorrow we would look at all the naira and the kobo that would result from that,” Esele added.
Meanwhile, another report on Tuesday had it that individuals or corporate bodies that henceforth interfere with the Minister of Petroleum Resources in the running of the multi-billion dollar industry will be jailed, according to a provision in the new Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).
The provision would make any minister in such position the most powerful in the world.
The PIB, which the government had submitted to the National Assembly, also gives the oil minister new supervisory powers over all industry institutions, including a new regulator to police downstream and upstream.
Checks by Daily Independent showed that though the National Assembly had not started working on the new PIB, the lawmakers are poised for a showdown with the Executive over the provision.
Lawmakers had earlier rejected draft legislations that had similar clauses in the past.
A source close to the National Assembly told Daily Independent on Tuesday that the lawmakers are “contemptious of some provisions in the new Bill, which they consider as catalysts for corruption.”
The source said in a telephone interview: “You can be sure of drama and surprises when sittings begin on this new PIB.”
“I am aware that many lawmakers have developed serious contempt for this provision, which wants more powers for the oil minister and I can bet it will not be spared in the Bill.”
The provision says anyone who “interferes” with the minister will be fined or imprisoned.
It also allows the oil minister and the directors of state institutions connected with the industry to receive gifts, which will not please civil society groups calling for an end to graft.
In the same vein, the minister, according to the provision, would become the defacto power in oil block allocation and withdrawal.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has continued to push further to realise speedy passage of the Bill.
The government’s embargo on oil licensing rounds and major contract renewals had hit five years due to the controversies over the PIB.
“Passage of any piece of legislation brings a level of certainty to the industry,” said Gordon Bottomley, analyst at Ergo, a New York-based advisory firm that has been closely tracking the PIB.
“But the re-organisation of Nigeria’s oil and gas industry is going to be far from painless. And this Bill, in terms of transparency, appears less than desirable.”
President Goodluck Jonathan, it would be recalled, handed over the Bill to the National Assembly, to, according to Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, “Particularly trigger the much-awaited reforms in the oil and gas sector” of Nigeria, which is rated high on global corruption index.