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Politics, intrigues and dilemma in power sector’s coordination, policies

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Nigeria’s power sector is in a state of coma. Judging by the prevailing situation, the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration is still exploring the right approach to the worsening challenge. KINGSLEY JEREMIAH, writes on the current situation, especially the power play, where the presidency and the ministry of power are speaking out of both sides of their mouths.

About two weeks ago, the Minister of Power, Sale Mamman ordered the suspension of the Managing Director of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), Damilola Ogunbiyi and asked for the immediate stepping down of the Managing Director of the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET), Marilyn Amobi.

As noted by Mamman, the decision followed series of infractions in the agencies, as the Minister’s spokesman, Aaron Artimas said: “The minister directed the constitution of a five-man investigative committee to look into the myriads of complaints against the MD/CEO (of NBET) with the view of restoring sanity in the management of the company.”

While asking Amobi to handover to the most senior director in the organisation, the Minister noted that Ogunbiyi’s suspension followed apparent infractions in the agency she oversaw and further directed an immediate investigation into the activities of the REA towards repositioning it for better service delivery.

Earlier, in October last year, Ogunbiyi was appointed into a new role as UN special representative for sustainable energy and Chief Executive Officer of Sustainable Energy for All (SeforAll). She had allegedly filed for resignation on 7th October but the Mamman still went ahead to fire her.

While public reactions to the issue are still ranging, the sector almost ripped apart over the appointment of a one-time mid-level civil servant, Ahmad Salihijo to replace Ogunbiyi at REA.

Ahmad is a former level-12 public official at the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) before venturing into private practices in the power sector. A graduate of Electrical/and Electronic Engineering with Masters Degrees in Development Studies and Project Planning.

The criticism from some section of the public was hinged on the relationship between the President and the father of Ahmad. Ahmad is son of late Salihijo Mohammed Ahmed, a former managing director of Afri-Project Consortium, who was a project consultant to the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) at a time the agency, was headed by Buhari.

Days into the actions of the minister and the new appointment, the Presidency in a tweet wrote that Buhari had directed a reversal of Ogunbiyi’s suspension, stressing that Ogunbiyi’s resignation was accepted to enable her to take up a new role with the United Nations (UN).

As outrage from the public knocked the confusion in the governance of the sector with an allegation of an attempt to ridicule Ogunbiyi, the media space was engorged with rife indications that Mamman’s action was unauthorised.

Similarly, Buhari went ahead to recall Amobi and allegedly moved NBET to the Ministry of Finance, while Mamman went further to slam public outcry over his action and somewhat indicted his predecessor and agencies under the ministry of poor performance.

Just before Buhari nullified Mamman’s decisions, Mamman had issued a press release stressing that it was unnecessary for Nigerians to wail over Ogunbiyi and Amobi, stating that they are, “public officers, who had been in the ministry for over four years without tangible results.”

“The removal of any public officer is usually accompanied by high dramas, including allegations of victimisation, discrimination and bias, such is the case with changes made at the Rural Electrification Agency and Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Company, by the Ministry of Power.

“Nigerians should be asking why there was no much improvement in the sector after concerted effort by the government efforts by the government and not to encourage wailers to sulk over public officers who had been in the ministry for four years without tangible results,” Mamman said in a release endorsed by his Special Adviser, Media and Communications, Aaron Artimas.

But the concern for some Nigerians is the implications of Ogunbiyi’s sack before the international community. With a confirmation by the Presidency that Ogunbiyi resigned, it remained questionable why she was fired and described as someone that has not contributed as expected. It equally ridiculed and casts shadow on the ability of Mamman to coordinate the sector.

Recall that in 2013, the Federal Government privatised the power sector primarily because of the despondent nature of the industry. While the poor state of the sector has been linked to the nation’s poor standards of living and weak economic growth with only a miserable 4,000 megawatts of power to a population of about 180 million people, the unnecessary interference and poor coordination by government has been described as one of the critical factors affecting the sector.

Indeed, as the prevailing challenges justified the views of some stakeholders, who declared that the federal government remained clueless on the leeway for the sector, the governance of the sector has not only make mockery of the Electric Power Sector Reform Act of 2005 but questioned campaign promises of the currently administration on the sector.

From past events, instead of making headway, the power sector has continued to be in blame trade with practically all the stakeholders speaking in discordant voices.

Before the Mamman fired Amobi, She has been embroiled in indictment relating to violation of procurement act and has been under investigation by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC).

The commission had said Amobi, like other indicted persons, violated the country’s procurement Act, 2007 and ICPC Act, 2000.

Just recently, there were allegations that workers at NBET were being threatened regularly by the DSS. The Guardian obtained copies of resignation letters of some staff, who could no longer cope with the intimation.

As indicated by the Mamman, who stated that Amobi and some people belonged to cabal and paraded themselves as being untouchable, it remained unclear how the ministry and the presidency would transparently address the allegations at NBET, especially at time when the sector is heading towards bankruptcy.

Similarly, to many stakeholders, moving NBET from the ministry of power to finance ministry could compound the challenges currently bedevilling the power sector as the GenCos insisted that the development would lead to distortion and negatively affect the power sector.

NBET is the manager and administrator of the electricity pool in the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI). Incorporated in 2010, NBET purchases electricity from the Generating Companies through Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) and sells to the Distribution Companies through Vesting Contracts. The Generating Companies include the privatised PHCN successor companies, the Niger Delta Power Holding Companies (NIPPs), the already existing Independent Power Producers (IPPs) and the new IPPs.

As an intervention agency established through the Nigerian Electricity Regulator Agency (NERC) and as a PHCN successor company carrying out the purchase and sale of electricity functions of defunct PHCN, Pioneer Managing Director NBET Rumundaka Wonodi is finding the movement of the agency to another ministry hard to comprehend.

Indeed, while the agency’s budget for 2020 has been approved under the Ministry of Power, Wonodi said: “We can only make observations such as the above but hope that the government comes out to provide the rationale for the move and how the transfer keys into its agenda for the power sector.”

Former President, Nigerian Association for Energy Economics (NAEE), Wunmi Iledare described the development as dumbfounding as points to another institutional and governance framework issue.

“What has a power agency got to do in Ministry of Finance? NBET is not a funding institution like PEF, TETFUND, PTDF among others. It has commercial implications. The same problem Energy Commission has with its parent Ministry of Science and Technology and National Planning Commission in the Budget and Planning Ministry,” he said.

While noting that the original intent of NBET was to have the agencies report to the presidency, Iledare said agencies like NBET are better supervised under a Professional Adviser to the President.

He said: “When there is a structural problem, anything you build on such foundation in the long run will crumble. I just find it difficult to comprehend the governance structure we operate in the Nigeria energy sector.

“Functionally, NBET does not belong to Ministry of Finance in my opinion. They are better disbanded than being in the Ministry of Finance. Perhaps the next move now may be to take NAPIMS to Ministry of Finance soon too.”


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