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Stakeholders divided over choice of Buhari’s ally as REA boss


Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad

Stakeholders in the power sector are divided over the appointment of a one-time mid-level civil servant, Ahmad Salihijo, as the Managing Director of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The Federal Government had last week ordered the suspension of the Managing Director of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), Damilola Ogunbiyi, and ordered that the Managing Director of the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET), Marilyn Amobi, should step down.

The decision, which was announced through the Minister of Power, Saleh Mamman, came following an allegation of infractions and power play in the agencies.

Though the minister had asked Ogunbiyi to hand over to the next most senior officer in the agency, and directed an investigation into the activities of the REA towards “repositioning it for better service delivery,” on Tuesday this week, Buhari approved the appointment of Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad as the new managing director of REA with immediate effect.

The new REA boss is a former Level 12 public official at the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) before venturing into private practice in the power sector. The graduate of Electrical/Electronic Engineering, with Masters Degrees in Development Studies and Project Planning, is a son of the late Salihijo Mohammed Ahmed, a former managing director of Afri-Project Consortium that was a project consultant to the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) at the time the agency was headed by Buhari.

While some stakeholders saw nothing wrong with the new appointment, arguing that the new helmsman remains qualified and trusted, others insisted that the sector deserves someone better, especially considering the poor performance of the power sector over the years. They also linked the appointment to patronage and sentimental tendencies, going by Buhari’s alleged penchant for appointing close allies, who are basically from the northern region.

REA is an implementing agency mandated to provide “access to reliable electric power supply for rural dwellers, irrespective of where they live and what they do.”

With only 41.1 per cent of the country’s 200 million people having access to electricity, and with 51.4 per cent of this population residing in rural-urban areas, healthcare delivery, agricultural development are taking a hit, while rural-migration and insecurity continue to soar.

The Guardian had reported that this poor and erratic power supply called for serious attention as the worrisome scenario persists despite the capital allocation of about N86 billion to REA in the past four years, and the establishment of Rural Electrification Fund (REF) designed by the Federal Government to bridge the electricity supply gap.

A media aide to the minister, Emmanuel Bello, insisted that President Buhari had the prerogative to make the new appointment, recalling that the president had “severally said he would only work with individuals he can vouch for and the minister wholly agrees with this.”

According to him, the president is serious about power reforms and Nigerians are right now more concerned about what anyone could deliver in this regard.

“Political appointments are not based on civil service levels. What many care about right now is what the new REA boss has to offer and we have confidence in the president’s decision. The former leadership of the REA wasn’t helping to solve the darkness crisis of the country as many reports have shown. We must, therefore, support the president in his effort to sanitise the sector,” Bello said.

Also, a legal practitioner and President of Nigeria Consumer Protection Network (NCPN), Kunle Kola Olubiyo, does not see anything wrong in the new appointment as he stresses that the new REA boss has what it takes to deliver the needed change in the agency.

“He is old enough to be an MD/ CEO. The president hasn’t appointed a farmer to head an engineering outfit or a structuring intervention projects institution like REA. He is a graduate of electrical/ electronic engineering and he has administrative experience and management exposure,” Olubiyo stated.

According to him, the issue of whether Ahmad Salihijo was married to Buhari’s sister or niece as far back as the early 80s is not a crime and not a barrier and it does not take away the fact that Ahmad is qualified for the job.

A former chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Dr. Sam Amadi, also said that the president had the power to appoint any person to any position.

“The appointment is legitimate. But if the president is serious about achieving the results he indicated, he needs to realise that he needs a high level of managerial competence in key institutions. The age of the appointee may not matter. What matters is leadership and managerial experience, which looks thin,” Amadi said.

He noted that Ahmad could succeed if he learns quickly and surrounds himself with reformists.

However, other stakeholders questioned the new MD’s experience to savage the sector as claimed by President Buhari.
A professor of Petroleum Economics and Management at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, Wunmi Iledare, stressed that while Buhari has the prerogative to appoint who he wants, there is the need to understand the consequences of inept leadership in a critical area like the power sector.

To him, “Economic populism, appointments based on patronage, sentiments, and prebendalistic tendencies must be avoided in critical sectors such as power, petroleum, finance and education.”

Iledare said that empirical evidence suggested that the country had perpetually done poorly in the governance of these critical sectors that are considered as the anchors for sustainable development.

While Nigeria has allegedly misappropriated over $16billion in the power sector, key actors at the REA, in previous administrations, allegedly colluded to misappropriate over N10billion of public funds from the agency’s account.

In June this year, a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), presided over by Justice Adebukola Banjoko, convicted five former directors of the REA of their involvement in a scam in the award of a N5.2billion rural electrification project contract.

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