The Nigerian power sector has been enmeshed in allegations of corruption, mismanagement and sheer incompetence over the last five decades. Informed commentators believe that the sector is somewhere in the first four when you tabulate the most corrupt agencies and sectors in Nigeria. From contract inflation to charging consumers for power not supplied, there hasn’t been so much to cheer about in the power sector in the last 50 years.
Things however went from bad to worse in 2019 following the appointment of Sale Mamman who took over the power portfolio from Babatunde Raji Fashola. Industry stakeholders had raised alarm when Mamman was posted to the Ministry of Power after a woeful performance during his screening in the senate.
Many tried in vain to compare him to several other distinguished names that had served in the power ministry in the recent past including Profs Barth Nnaji and Osita Nebo. The thinking at the time was that the minister would just sit back and allow the experts under the ministry and the various parastatals to do the work of fixing the energy sector.
However, the sack of Usman Gur Mohammed (UG) in May by the minister caused a major uproar in the sector with many industry stakeholders including the leadership of National Union of Electricity Employees and Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies (SSAEAC) across the country leading out their members on protest to reject the removal of “UG” who they publicly acknowledged was knowledgeable on power matters and passionate about the growth of the sector.
It is indeed instructive that labour union leaders would lead their “troops” out on protests when a management official is changed. Labour leaders sticking out their necks for an executive staff is indeed a great testament to the competence of the sacked “UG”. The union leaders went a step further to call for the immediate the removal of the Sule Ahmed Abdulaziz who the minister appointed to replace Mohammed.
Now to be clear, the union leaders understand their bounds. However, they are equally stakeholders in the industry. They were well within their rights to reject the minister’s choice for an Assistant General Manager to take over the leadership of the TCN over and above his superiors including General Managers and Directors.
Square peg in a round hole
Mamman’s incompetence to manage the power sector is beyond questions. To begin with, his knowledge of the sector is very limited as his career profile showed that he only taught in a rural secondary school in Adamawa for a few years before proceeding to the Taraba State Ministry of Works and retired in 2002 as an assistant director. There is no record of any prior experience in the power sector and since retirement close to 20 years ago, Mamman has done very little to keep himself updated with trends in the energy sector. The best that he is known for is running a restaurant in the Wuse area of Abuja.
Waging a war against competence
The sacked TCN boss is not the only victim of Mamman’s silly and unproductive war on competence in the electricity sector. Damilola Ogunbiyi. Remember her? The former MD of Rural Electrification Agency was also “sacked” by the power minister months after she had resigned to take up a UN appointment.
Now there are two important and related issues here. One, the minister “sacked” Ogunbiyi months after she had resigned from her duty. What does it say of the minister that he was ignorant of the resignation of a head of parastatal under him and went ahead to create a public embarrassment for the government he serves when he announced her sack?
Secondly, that a minister acknowledged by most observers to be the most incompetent the sector has seen in the last 20 years or more would sack someone the UN find worthy to be in its employ tells an interesting story.
If Mamman really cares about the power sector, someone like Ogunbiyi should have been encouraged to stay back and contribute to the development of the nation’s electricity sector. But as many have come to believe, the minister only cares about his personal interests, his pockets and filling every available management position in the ministry with his kinsmen and those he can control.
Marilyn Amobi formerly of the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Company (NBET) also lost her job as the MD in unclear circumstances and again, the minister was at the heart of it. It is tragic that after easing off the strong hands he met on ground, the minister would quickly import his lackeys to come and undertake jobs that are better left in the hands of experts.
His interests each time he makes an appointment according to informed sources are procurement, contracts and fund administration. At REA for instance, the minister had two directors- Lawal Ibrahim and Bulus Maiyaki- appointed to take charge of funds (Ibrahim) and procurement (Maiyaki). Observe that there is no mention of the actual works the agency was set up to undertake.
A sole administrator
Another worrying development in the power ministry is the sidelining of the junior minister- Goddy Jedy-Agba- to a point of near- irrelevance. The minister of state is supposed to manage the affairs of REA but apparently, Mamman has no interests in playing by the rule. It is all about sniffing out opportunities for quick cash without a corresponding input in terms of work or ideas. His clash with “UG” which led to the latter’s ouster also has everything to do with money- this time in connection with the Siemens deal which the former TCN boss reportedly insisted must be follow every rule in the book as the interests of Nigerians must never be subjugated to the dictates of a foreign corporation.
Office complex for TCN staff: when incompetence pairs with insincerity
Consider another interesting development in the ministry this time concerning the purchase of an office complex for the staff of the TCN.
To ensure transparency in the process, a joint committee made up of several stakeholders including ministry of power officials and TCN staff was set up to identify a suitable office complex within the Federal Capital City that can serve as the TCN secretariat. The committee went to work and painstakingly inspected 16 buildings within the city with a view to recommending the right office structure for the agency. A number of factors were considered in the course of the selection process including building size, location, facilities, parking space and other features that would aid the staff of the TCN in executing their day to day job in the most effective manner.
At the end of several weeks of grueling inspection tours, the committee members were unanimous in their decision that a building complex called “The Plaza” was most suitable for the TCN.
Now this was not a decision arrived at flippantly. “The Plaza” is an eleven floor structure and has a parking space for 600 vehicles, 3 underground floor parking space and has three units of 1000 KVA generator to ensure round the clock supply of power.
Strangely, not long after the committee submitted its report; a memo was submitted to the minister by the Permanent Secretary in the ministry according to our sources in government. The memo asked the minister to approve the purchase of a different building which had been rejected by the TCN staff in 2014 because it was deemed inadequate for needs of such a strategic organisation.
The permanent secretary, Mrs. Esther D. Walson-Jack, asked that the committee’s decision mandating the purchase of “the Plaza” be discarded stating that another structure would be enough for the TCN. What the minister did not state in the controversial memo was the standpoint upon which she deemed the controversial structure adequate. Is she supposed to be more knowledgeable than an entire committee made of several experts who actually inspected 16 buildings within Abuja?
The minister’s rejection of the committee report is strange because much of the grounds upon which she rejected the “Plaza” and recommended the purchase of the another building were fully covered in the report of the committee- a copy of which was made available to her.
Even more worrying is the fact that the minister is seeking to fast track the purchase for N17 billion even when every fact on ground suggest the funds would simply go down the drain as the staff of TCN who are supposed to be the occupants of the office have unanimously rejected it.
Mamman is understood to be working with his backers in Aso Rock including a very powerful Personal Assistant to the President who recently had an open fall out with members of the first family. Nigerians must be wary of the real intents of this minister and those goading him to expend such a humongous sum on a building that has not been properly completed and largely unsuitable for the TCN staff.
An inevitable confrontation
The TCN staff and the unions are already spoiling for war having vowed never to use the controversial building which they believe the price to be dangerously inflated and would not serve the interest of the staff and other stakeholders connected with the power industry.
Question now is: why is the minister eager to approve the purchase of a building which the would-be occupants have vehemently rejected? Your guess here would be as good as mine. Again this would lead to another question: what is Mamman doing in Abuja as minister? Serving the interest of Nigerians or lining up his pockets with illicit wealth?
Mamman said he is relying on a memo approved by the President Goodluck Jonathan regime to push for the purchase of the said building. He however forgot that a lot has changed between 2014 when the said memo was approved by the FEC and now.
Does an approval by the Jonathan government rule out the fact that the workers have openly rejected the structures and chosen another instead? What could be the minister’s (and his collaborators’) interests in all of these?
Silence would no longer cut it
It has become imperative for Nigerians to pay greater attention to the development in the energy sector. That a minister who should be working hard to find solutions to the perennial crises in the electricity sector has occupied himself with petty and vindictive politics in the last one year points to the tragedy we have in our hands. He has succeeded in easing off “UG” and others that could have helped him fix the sector. Now he is locked in a war of words with the electricity workers’ unions.
To the president, Muhammadu Buhari, there are two important decisions waiting to be taken. First: call the minister to order and remind him that he is not in the power ministry as a sole administrator but as a supervising minister who must work with every major stakeholder to change the narrative in the energy sector and if he fails to rein in on his primitive instincts, there is no point keeping him in the federal executive council. There are so many willing and competent professionals who will be all too glad to serve their fatherland with devotion and skills than the current show of shame from Mamman.
Secondly, investigate all the financial deals, transactions and contracts that have been entered into by the power ministry and all its agencies in the last one year. Questions should be asked and when satisfactory answers are not given, the anti-graft agencies should be allowed to move in.
The power sector is too critical to be left in the hands of mediocre and persons with glaring intellectual deficiency who do not give a care in the world about what happens to the hundreds of millions of Nigerians who rely on public electricity supply to drive their business operations and power their homes. The current reign of mediocrity and petty politicking is weakening the morale the staff. The power ministry needs to be manned by a technically sound individual, competent administrator and a man who spends his waking hours thinking how to improve the electricity sector narratives in the country. Currently, Mamman is far from being that individual.