Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Probe Nnaji Now, Labour Insists

...Iserved my country well, Nnaji declares

Indications emerged at the weekend that more trouble may be in stock for Professor Barth Nnaji, the erstwhile Minister of Power, who left office in a dramatic way last Tuesday as the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, is mounting intense pressure for a thorough investigation of his tenure as the Minister of Power.

This came as organized labour in the Power sector, said it was not surprised the way the former Minister left of office, saying it had been vindicated.

It will be recalled that the NLC had earlier said it was pleased with Tuesday's resignation of Nnaji, alleging that he compromised the office of the Minister of Power with his personal business interests, and being a stumbling block to industrial peace and harmony in the power sector.

NLC, in a statement by its Acting General Secretary, Comrade Chris Uyot, declared that "We are pleased with the forced exit of Prof. Bart Nnaji who until last night was a major problem to renewed effort aimed at reactivating the power sector having compromised the Office of the Honourable Minister of Power with his personal business interests, and being oblivious and a stumbling block to industrial peace and harmony in the industry.

Reports are already in the public domain on Prof. Nnaji's record of (alleged) financial recklessness, high handedness and (alleged) diversion of major businesses meant for PHCN to his private companies as well as companies he has vested interests.

"While we welcome his long awaited exit, we call on President Goodluck Jonathan to immediately institute a thorough investigation into his tenure as minister in the Power Ministry. We also call on Mr. President to create an atmosphere of fairness and justice for speedy resolution of all outstanding labour matters in the process of disengaging some PHCN employees, which Prof. Nnaji stalled before his exit.

"The contentious issue of severance benefits is never an issue that cannot be resolved through dialogue, but Nnaji chose to heat up the system by blocking every avenue for dialogue and invited armed military personnel to intimidate workers under spurious pretenses.

"We believe the ongoing dialogue between labour and government will resolve these issues as quickly as possible if government is willing to accept meaningful dialogue in appreciation of the Condition of Service of the workers."

However, President of NLC, Comrade Abdulwahhed Omar, in Lagos, commended President Goodluck Jonathan for accepting the long overdue "resignation" of Nnaji who, throughout his tenure as minister, overtly displayed his contempt for workers and did not also hide his personal interest in the industry.

Comrade Omar who was represented by Comrade Amina Danesi, an ex-officio of NLC, at 8th Biennial Delegates Conference of the Metal Products Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, MEPROSSAN, said "These clearly show he was never qualified to head that ministry in the first instance as his personal business interests in the sector definitely compromised his office.

"We urge Mr. President to immediately order an all encompassing investigation into Prof. Nnaji's tenure in the ministry as well as speed up the resolution of all outstanding labour issues in the industry, including the withdrawal of armed soldiers that were invited by Prof. Nnaji to intimidate workers under false presumptions."

Similarly, labour in the power sector, under the umbrella of the National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE and the Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies, SSAEAC, told Sunday Vanguard that right from when Prof Nnaji was appointed Chairman of Presidential Task Force on Power, charged with developing and driving an action plan for the attainment of steady power supply in the country in July 2010, labour raised the issue of conflict of interest.

The unions argued that even when he was nominated for ministerial position, they strongly opposed his appointment as Minister especially for Power on the ground that he would not be an impartial minister because he is a player in the industry.

General Secretary of NUEE, Comrade Joe Ajaero, who said he did not want to talk about Prof Nnaji's resignation for now, however, said we had warned the government against his appointment, but we were ignored. Today we are vindicated. We spoke of conflict of interest since 2010 and others, the government did not take us serious. But today, we are all living witnesses."

It will be recalled that a day before the minister's resignation, the union issued a statement titled "Power Minister stinks "questioning his integrity and moral justification to remain as the Minister of Power.

Among other issues the union raised, it accused Nnaji of the appointment of "his kinsmen, classmates and others to key sensitive positions like Bulk Trader, Market Operator, CEOs and others. To buttress our position, we challenge Nnaji to respond to the issues as here understated.

N280million collected from PHCN allegedly for Nigeria Army; N200million collected from PHCN allegedly for Unknown Projects in the Power Ministry;

N86m collected from PHCN allegedly for Bullet Proof Vehicle; N3million allegedly collected from PHCN and donated to Enugu State University of Technology (ESUT) and employment of 20 people in Enugu Zone of PHCN who are his kith and kins as staff two years after the closing date of casual employment and close of PHCN biometrics exercise. All these were allegations waiting to be dealt with or proved by the unions before the resignation of Nnaji.

It added that "Until these issues are addressed the Union will continue to press for accountability and probity. We insist that proper investigation must be conducted on PHCN before any form of privatization is carried out."

The confrontation between Nnaji and organised labour in the nation's electricity sector dates back to 2006 when the workers, under the umbrella of the National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, clashed with Professor Barth Nnarji over alleged unfair labour practices in Aba Power Ltd.

He was accused of using outlawed Bakassi boys to harass and intimidate union officers.

Speaking on NUEE confrontation with the former Minister, Comrade Ajaero, said "As Adviser to the President on Power, he had irreconcilable differences with the workers and earned the unenviable mark of recording the highest number of industrial crisis in the Power Sector which was never the case before his appointment".

Since the build up to the privatization of the PHCN, the unions and the government have not been able to settle the issue of Gratuity, Pension and the Superannuation fund.

Before his appointment, the unions had made it clear that But in a strongly worded statement on behalf of Professor Nnaji after the resignation, the former minister made it clear that he had put in his best in the service of his country, insisting that posterity would judge if indeed, he served well or did not.

In fact, Nnaji made bold to explain that his resignation was a sacrifice meant to protect President Jonathan from elements seeking ways to ambush his presidency.

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