THE FASHOLA-NNAJI COOPERATION

By NBF News
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When Lagos State last June joined Akwa Ibom and Rivers in the establishment of independent power projects by commissioning the 10 Megawatt Island Project, the then Special Adviser to the President on Power, Professor Bart Nnaji, who also was the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Power, was billed to attend but could not.

Nnaji was in Abuja reported undergoing security screening following his nomination into the federal cabinet. Now, as the Minister of Power, Professor Nnaji on Wednesday, July 27, took time to visit the new 10MW power station, powered by both natural gas and fuel oil, which now supplies quality and uninterrupted electricity to such government facilities on Lagos Island as State House, Island Maternity and Hospital, the judiciary, etc.

Lagos state governor Mr. Babatunde Fashola was on hand to receive the minister who came with an impressive entourage of electric power sector experts like the chief executives of the Ikeja and Eko electric distribution companies, Chris Akamnonu and Justus Obilomo, the chief executive of the Egbin Power station, Mike Uzoigwe; the new managing director of the Transmission Company of Nigeria, Akin Bada; erstwhile group general manager of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (Gas and Power), Clement Oke who now works at the Presidential Task Force on Power and as Special Assistant to the President; and Simeon Atakulu, former executive director of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria who also works for the task force.

Governor Fashola came with relevant top officers including Taolfik Tijani, Commissioner for Energy and Mineral Resources; Olusola Owuru; Commissioner for Commerce and Industry; Femi Hamzat, Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure; Ayo Gbeliyi, Special Adviser on Public Private Partnership; Damilola Ogunbiyi, Senior Special Assistant on Public Private Partnership. All this underscores the importance both the minister and the governor attach to the question of radical improvement of power supply in Lagos through non-traditional ways.

So, it did not come as a surprise when immediately the minister and the governor exchanged pleasantries, Fashola commended Nnaji for being very business-like, eager to get things done in the power sector. He observed that Nnaji was not like some ministers who, instead of cooperating with state governors to fix federal assets in their states, fight them. The governor gave the instance of a former Minister of Works who wrote a memo to the then president asking that the governor be stopped from reconstructing a vital federal road in Lagos which was in a shambles. 'The late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua showed me the memo and wondered why some officials were more interested in displaying the Federal Might than in solving fundamental problems confronting various segments of our nation,' stated Fashola.

Fashola's predecessor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, had a running battle with Adeseye Ogunlewe, Minister of Works during the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration. While Tinubu was of the Action Congress (now Action Congress of Nigeria), Ogunlewe belonged to the Peoples Democratic Party.  Ogunlewe was keenly interested in becoming the state governor in 2007.

He consequently did everything within his power to discredit the Tinubu administration, and also tried spiritedly to stop it from reconstructing failed federal roads in the state. Ogunlewe even hired a large army of hefty young men and got a uniform for them, calling them federal road marshalls. Their mandate was straightforward: stop Lagos State, including the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) officials who direct motorists, from operating on federal roads. There were thus countless daily physical fisticuffs between the so-called federal marshalls and LASTMA officials. Operating only in Lagos, the marshalls were never issued with employment papers, nor were they paid even for a month. They were actually expected to eke out a living from money extorted from motorists! No wonder, they went about their business with an unimaginable effrontery.  This was an awful period for Lagos road users.

There is a phenomenon called 'Abuja versus Home Front politicians'. In the Second Republic of 1979 to 1983, Senate President Joseph Wayas led a group of members of the ruling National Party of Nigeria based in Lagos, then the federal capital, to fight Cross River State governor Clement Isong, also an NPN member. Dr Isong was to be defeated in the NPN gubernatorial primaries, the only NPN governor so defeated. Senate Leader Olusola Saraki also led the combat against the re-election of a fellow NPN member, Adamu Atta, in the 1983 gubernatorial vote. Between 1999 and 2007, Governor Victor Attah of Akwa Ibom State fought relentlessly with the 'Abuja Front', just as Sam Egwu of Ebonyi State engaged his state indigenes living in Abuja who were led by Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim in a tiresome fight. The truth is that most of these fights between 'Abuja and Home Front' politicians are over large egos, not principles.

Against this background, the huge significance of Prof Nnaji's cooperation with Governor Fashola's in the development of electricity in Lagos State is brought to the fore. While a committee of both Lagos State and Federal Ministry of Power officials was being set up to facilitate electricity supply in the state, Nnaji praised Fashola for not just building the 10MW Island Power Project, but also for other electricity projects like the ones for the Ilupeju Industrial Estate and the printing community in Shomolu. It is quite remarkable that all the projects are by the private sector.

The governor is pleased with the 2005 Electric Power Sector Reform Act and the Road Map for Power Sector Reform which President Goodluck Jonathan launched at Eko Hotel in Lagos last August 26 for making the private sector the main driver of Nigeria's electricity. Prior to the Act, the Federal Government enjoyed monopoly in the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity.

This fact accounts principally for the mess in the power sector for decades. In supporting the ongoing reform process, Fashola cites two interesting examples. 'When the Lagos State government used to be the main owner of Eko Hotel and Suites, we never received more than 100 million naira', he revealed. 'But since we diluted our stake in it considerably, I know how much we now collect.' The governor asserted that no state government could run a company like Julius Berger. 'But I know how much we receive yearly from our minority investment in it,' he declared.

Nnaji wants some of the expected immense power produced in Lagos wheeled to places like Kano and Kaduna, two key industrial centres where it is pretty expensive to build power generating stations because of their location. 'Any time I travel to Kano and Kaduna and see the carcasses of manufacturing firms which used to blossom there but collapsed mostly on account of poor power supply,' he told Fashola, 'I am distraught'.

Fashola and Nnaji belong to an uncommon species of public officers in Nigeria. If Fashola had wanted to enrich himself at the state's expense, he would have been a strong advocate of state ownership of enterprises even in areas like hotel and tourism where the private sector excels and the state has failed woefully. In the same vein, Nnaji would have been an apostle of government ownership of PHCN assets, so that he would be sharing awesome sums with contractors and PHCN executives. But both men are genuinely concerned with the common good, not their private gains.

The Nnaji-Fashola cooperation is an example of cooperative federalism, as opposed to adversarial federalism. Nnaji and Fashola are also a good example of what modern social science theorists call develop mentalists.

Developmentalism, as practised in mostly Southeast Asia, refers to a system where the political class is preoccupied with dramatic improvements in the living standards of the people so that their nations could, within a generation, leapfrog from Third World status to First. Development programmes are pursued as an article of faith, irrespective of who is in power at any time. Hence, Thailand has been able to record impressive strides, despite the record of an average of one military coup every 18 months.

Truly, the nation is in dire need of committed developmentalists like Governor Fashola and Prof Nnaji.

Falolu is Assistant Editor of The Emerging World Quarterly, Birmingham, England.