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By NBF News
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Former power minister Prof. Barth Nnaji who was forced to resign Tuesdy has said he opted out of the government to protect President Goodluck Jonathan from 'attacks' by certain vested interests.

In a press statement he issued in Lagos yesterday through his special assistant on media, Mr. Ogbuagu Anikwe to clarify the circumstances of his resignation, the former minister alleged that he was the victim of scurrilous attacks in recent days by powerful vested interest that were hell bent on besmirching the integrity and reputation he had painstakingly built over the years.

'This resignation is also to ensure that there is no spillover of these attacks to the president who is working very hard to transform the nation,' the statement declared.

There were reliable reports yesterday over the resignation that he had an altercation with the president over insinuation that he was creating the impression of acting as a front for the president while occupying the ministerial position despite the apparent conflict of interest in allowing companies linked to him to seek contracts in the power sector.

According to him, 'I am confident enough to allow history and the Nigerian people to judge my performance on the task that I accepted from the president. I feel particularly proud of the fact that my exit comes at a time that the administration has been able to generate and supply an unprecedented quantum of steady, reliable electric power in the history of our nation.

'In addition, I publicly declared the participation in the privatisation process of a foreign company that did business with a company that I had interest in. This fact came to my knowledge only during the course of evaluating the consortia that were bidding for PHCN successor companies,' Nnaji said adding that he voluntarily recued himself from participating in the selection process in line with the finest traditions of transparency and accountability in governance.

Nnaji said that his resignation gives him the opportunity to go back to his integrated power projects which have been designed to accelerate the development of the nation.

The former minister who paid a glowing tribute to the staff of the Ministry of Power, Power Holding Company of Nigeria and other agencies for their 'dedication to duty, hard work, patriotism and commitment to the common good' urged them to ensure the process was not derailed and  to remain focused on the objective of delivering reliable, steady power to the nation.

Nnaji's Deals Dirty – TUC, PHCN Workers, NLC calls for probe

Meanwhile, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Power Holding Company of Nigeria's (PHCN) workers have described the circumstances which led to the sack of Prof. Barth Nnaji as minister of power as dirty.

On its part, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) advised the federal government to set-up a panel to investigate the level of corruption and unethical conduct of the former minister, just as the federal government has assured that the exit of Nnaji would not affect the ongoing reform in the power sector.

In a statement by the president of the TUC, Peter Esele, yesterday, the union said that the resignation of Nnaji would remove one of the basic obstacles to peace and industrial harmony within the power sector.

According to TUC, 'The congress believes that this sets in motion the desired ambience for the actualisation of real reforms in the sector which will be transparent and people driven.'

The union said that the present reform in the sector is 'dirty and heavily tainted' as Nigerian workers observed a prevalence of strong political interests in the mindless pursuit of the reform agenda under the former minister.

The trade union added, 'It is unfortunate that vested interests would drive the process of reforms in the power sector which will therefore not be in the overall interest of Nigerian workers and the masses in general', and observed that the interest of Nigerians under the erstwhile minister has proven to be a mirage 'that is why we frown at the fact that a minister championing a reform in the power sector not only has controlling interest in some companies bidding to buy up some of the companies that have emerged from the unbundled PHCN but also owns companies who are major players within the power industry.'

The TUC affirmed that such act is dirty, unethical and morally wrong.

The statement added, 'It is unacceptable to allow the same group of Nigerians to continue using the instrument of their offices to enrich themselves and their cronies through the heartless recycling of our collective wealth into their private pockets.

'Prof Barth Nnaji is not alone in this exercise of shameless pursuit of mundane and base interest within the federal cabinet. We believe there are others and we want to use this opportunity to call on such remaining officers both in the federal cabinet, departments and agencies to also find grace to remove themselves from office'.

The TUC urged President Goodluck Jonathan to quickly look for men and women and who can deliver Nigerian people from the clutches of darkness rather than engaging in fruitless chest trumping in the media.

PHCN workers celebrate power minister's sack
Workers of the PHCN yesterday celebrated the sack of Nnaji. The workers had been engaged in a long drawn battle with the minister over welfare issues regarding the payment of their severance packages.

Celebrating his sack yesterday at the PHCN headquarters Abuja, the workers represented their victory over the former power minister with a coffin in an ambulance which was displayed as they celebrated.

They chanted victory songs, jubilating and expressed gratitude to President Jonathan for being sensitive to their plight and removing the minister who they accused of wanting to use all means to deprive them of their legitimate right to their severance entitlements.

The PHCN headquarters chairman of the National Union of Electricity Employee (NUEE), Comrade Wisdom Nwachwuku, told LEADERSHIP that they were celebrating their victory as the man who had wanted to rob them of their benefit had given way.

According to him, 'We are happy, the workers are all happy. Now we can peacefully conclude our negotiation with government and hopefully get our rightful pay. As I speak to you now, the negotiation meeting is on-going, it was not concluded yesterday, so they had to return today.'

Power minister's resignation regrettable but credible – FG

However, the federal government said yesterday that the resignation of the minister of power was a bold step that would give further credibility to the ongoing reform in the power sector.

The information minister, Mr. Labaran Maku, who made government's position known described Nnaji's resignation as regrettable as President Jonathan would have loved to see him conclude the privatisation process.

Briefing State House correspondents after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, Maku said while Nnaji's decision to quit would also boost investors' confidence that government is committed to a transparent privatisation of the power sector, reforms and privatisation in the power sector would be driven to fruitful conclusion.

He said that Jonathan remained determined to bequeath to the nation a more stable power supply using the power sector road map and institutions of government which are in place irrespective of the exit of any government official.

The minister said, 'Let me put it this way. The reasons why Prof Barth Nnaji resigned are already known to you. Let me put it clearly that Prof. Nnaji resigned to give credibility to the power sector privatisation process and the statement issued by the special adviser to the president on media and publicity yesterday was very, very clear and explicit that the former minister of power Prof. Barth Nnaji resigned his position to give credibility to process of privatization of the power sector therefore it should be very clear to us.'

Abubakar Sambo may succeed Nnaji
Meanwhile, there were indications last night that the director-general of the Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN) Abubakar Sani Sambo may succeed Nnaji.

A source within the presidency hinted LEADERSHIP that Sambo, who is also the Presidential Adviser on Energy, is being tipped to replace Nnaji.

The source noted that Sambo's name has been recurring in the list of possible replacements for Nnaji but it is, however, uncertain if Sambo, a Kaduna State indigene, would be picked to replace Nnaji who is from the south-eastern part of the country, thereby giving a position hitherto zoned to the south-east to north-west.