About two months after President Goodluck Jonathan appointed him as Minister of Power, Professor Barth Nnaji paid a visit to the Olorunsogo Power Station in Ogun State. That day–and prior to that visit–only two out of the eight units of the plant, built by a Chinese firm, were working. According to the head of the station, the low performance and his inability to make the plant to work at full capacity was because the manual for the plant was written in Chinese. In other words, to the man and his lieutenants, the instructions were all hieroglyphics, decipherable only to ancient Egyptians!
Clearly, Nnaji realised that the officer did not have the right attitude to work or a good understanding of how the plant works. Pronto! the Minister recalled the man to the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, headquarters in Abuja and replaced him with the most senior technical officer at the plant. That was on a Monday. Then something happened. Four days after this replacement, six, instead of two units of the plant, were working, with power generated trebling, from between 40 megawatts and 50 megawatts to 150 and 180MW, in that order.
What transpired that day showed everyone that cared to watch or listen that, in the power sector, things had changed. The usual civil service lethargy that everyone was used to has given way to a privated sector go-getting orientation, now encapsulated in the Power Sector Reform of the Jonathan government.
When he became President, even before he won the general election, Jonathan had been telling Nigerians that their days of woes with darkness would soon be over. Thus, on 26 August 2010, he launched Nigeria’s Power Sector Reform Roadmap. The Jonathan government put this on the solid foundation laid in 2001/2002 by the adoption of the National Electric Power Policy, and in 2005 with the promulgation of the Electric Power Sector Reform, EPSR Act.
The President, in his address, concluded thus: “In the same way that the reforms in telecommunications sector paved the way for the benefits we all enjoy today, we believe that with diligent implementation and meticulous application of what this Roadmap provides, we will see an end to the chronic electric power supply shortages we know too well, and witness the birth of a modern, efficient, customer-focused, private sector-driven electricity supply industry. We have the will. This Roadmap shows the way.”
In his Presidential Mandate on Power, Jonathan agreed with many critics that the availability of reliable electric power to the homes and businesses of the citizens had been one item in our national life that we have approached with so much hope and yet experienced so much frustration over the past decades. Various regimes in the distant past, in the words of the President, paid little attention to the sector but in the recent years, subsequent regimes have put in billions of naira to reverse the neglect and mismanagement, which has characterised the sector.
That is why critics have been passing comments on the inevitability of power in our lives in truckloads. Mr. Opaka Dokubo, Chairman of the Rivers State chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, captures it this way: “So many things we do, our lives revolve around power; it is as simple as the GSM, you cannot use it without power; you need to charge your phone. It (power) is so fundamental to our modern day lives; it is about the most basic infrastructure that we need to function well within the modern world. Power is everything.” Also, Prince Unyejit Asuk, a Port Harcourt-based legal practitioner, argued: “Power supply is the foundation of any business in the whole world; where there is no power there is nothing you can do. You are in the office you want to rush down to type your court proceedings, there is no light; we start looking for fuel to start up electricity generating set. Power is the bedrock of everything; business or anything you can think about, without power there is nothing you can do.”
That was why, conscious of the agitation for improved power supply, President Jonathan made it a cardinal premise on which he sought the people’s vote in the April 2011 general elections. He has not departed from that path.
The first thing the President did was to appoint Nnaji as Minister of Power. The matter between the two men is akin to what Chinua Achebe writes in his novel, Anthills of the Savannah: “A man is looking for something in the pocket of another man looking for something.” This is to say that the President wanted a man with a private sector dynamism. He saw this in Nnaji who, himself, wanted lieutenants that are not bogged down by officialdom but are focused on effective service delivery.