There is something extremely bewildering about the hasty resignation on August 28, 2012, of Prof. Barth Nnaji, as minister of power. A statement by the special adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on media and publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, merely noted that the professor of computer integrated manufacturing and robotics, tendered his letter of resignation that day, which "President Jonathan accepted with thanks."
The statement reads in part: "President Goodluck 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."
While the statement did not adduce reasons for the sudden departure of Nnaji from the federal executive council, FEC, several media reports alleged that the president forced Nnaji to resign following an alleged involvement of two companies linked to him in the on-going privatisation exercise in the power sector.
But two days after the former power minister threw in the towel, he said that he had to leave to protect the president from "attacks" by certain vested interests. A press statement he issued through his special assistant on media, Mr. Ogbuagu Anikwe, alleged that the former minister was the "victim of scurrilous attacks in recent days by powerful vested interests who were hell-bent on besmirching the integrity and reputation that he had painstakingly built over the years."
The statement goes on to say that "this resignation is also to ensure that there is no spill over of these attacks to the president who is working very hard to transform the nation."
And to add to the confusion surrounding the former minister's resignation, President Jonathan absolved Nnaji of any wrong doing during his one-day official visit to Anambra State last week, where he commissioned a number of projects.
Said the president: "Let me use this opportunity to say that Professor Nnaji, did not do anything wrong. He decided to step aside. He did not commit any offence".
According to the president who addressed a town hall meeting shortly after he arrived Onitsha, the commercial and industrial hub of Anambra State, "It is just that integrity is our watchword, and when people came to say this or that, he decided to step aside".
Nevertheless, Chukwuma Anosike, a businessman, thinks the president was economical with the truth. He argued that since Prof. Nnaji's exit from the federal government coincided with the president's visit to Anambra State, "the president said nice things about the former minister, to get an endorsement from some elements in Igboland, to run for a second term in 2015".
The consensus here is that the president would have prevailed on the former minister not to resign if his resignation was anchored on the need to shield his integrity and reputation from 'undeserved' attacks by "powerful vested interests". Interestingly, President Jonathan, recently described himself as the most criticised president in the world, yet he is not bothered about those criticisms. And so why did he allow a man whom many have testified about his untiring efforts to ensure that the country overcomes its perennial power supply problems to leave his cabinet?
According to Johnson Mbakogu, a school teacher in Anambra State, the answer could be found in the president's closeness to those "powerful vested interests, who were said to be hell-bent on tarnishing the image and reputation of the former power minister. Mbakogu canvassed the ban on the importation of generators into the country, if the country hopes to achieve success in its power reform programme.
However, some people who spoke with LEADERSHIP on condition of anonymity, said that as a major player in the independent power project, Nnaji ought not to have accepted the offer to serve as power minister. He was before his appointment, chairman and chief executive officer, Geometric Power Limited, GPL, an Aba-based US$250 million I40MW integrated generation and distribution power plant.
According to media reports, two companies linked to the former minister were alleged to have shown interests in the acquisition of the Afam Generation Company Limited as well as the Enugu Distribution Company Limited, in the on-going privatization of power firms.
But in a riposte, Nnaji absolved himself from blame when he said that he put his shares in a "blind trust", before he accepted the offer to serve as power minister in President Jonathan's cabinet. The implication is that as minister, he was no longer involved in the day-to-day running of those companies linked to him.
But according to an Enugu-based lawyer who does not want his name in print, "if the trust where the minister put his shares is "blind", it cannot at the same time be "deaf and dumb". This argument borrows from the allegation that the minister's wife is the chief executive officer of GPL, while his son and brother in-law are directors in the company.
The legal practitioner said: "You cannot naturally distinguish between a man and his wife", adding that the CEO of GPL would have intimately discussed the company's interests' in both Afam Generation Company, and the Enugu Distribution Company Limited, with the former minister. He said President Jonathan made a mistake in the first place, by appointing a major player in the power sector as regulator of the same industry. Nnaji had his secondary education at St. Patrick's College, Emene, near Enugu, where he distinguished himself in mathematics and other science subjects. He later attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in the United States of America where he bagged a doctorate in industrial and systems engineering. Before he returned to Nigeria, he was a professor of computer integrated manufacturing and robotics in the department of mechanical and industrial engineering, University of Pennsylvania, also in the United States. In 1993, he served as the country's minister of science and technology.
And before his resignation last week, he had a brush with workers of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, over payment of severance allowances and other benefits.
According to close associates, the former minister is expected to return to his pet power project in Aba to ensure the full take-off of the multi-million dollar project.