By Dele Sobowale
“The climax of every tragedy lies in the deafness of its heroes”. Albert Camus, I903-I960. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p 90).
He could have been our greatest Minister of Power, ever, before the final privatization of the corruption-ridden Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN. His was intellectually the best mind to grapple with the monster which the PHCN had become.
But like Samson, in the Bible, and Achilles, in Greek mythology, he disregarded warnings which he did not like and he came with a sore heel. Let me explain immediately what I mean by that. Samson was advised not to reveal the source of his strength to anyone.
In the heat of passion (only God knows how many men have fallen into the trap of women), he told Delilah. When Professor Nnaji was appointed Minister of Power, last year, he proceeded to promise Nigerians, as well as foreign investors, that the nation would be generating and distributing 5,000 MW of power by December of last year.
I warned him on these pages not to repeat it because he stood to be discredited like Chief Bola Ige and Liyel Imoke, before him, who made similar promises and failed us. He would not listen. Instead, he repeated the promise until November of last year.
Today, September 20I2, the 5,000MW remains a mirage. Worse still, the former Minister of Power, instead of apologizing to Nigerians offered the same lame excuses we have heard for more than twenty years. Yet a simple “I am sorry, I failed” would have lifted him above all the rest of Jonathan’s lack luster cabinet.
His “Achilles heel” was the possibility of conflict of interest. Before becoming Minister of Power, and, that was as a Presidential Adviser, Professor Nnaji, a major investor in a private power generating company, had been, in my own view, involved in conflict of interests.
As the major shareholder in the private company, Nnaji had called for an increase in electricity tariff. First, as Adviser, then as Minister, he had promoted and finally got implemented a steep increase which will cost Nigerians billions of naira annually and increase the revenue of his own company. The fig-leaf defence that he had placed his investment under a “blind trust” is just that – a worthless cover-up. As a victim of the tariff increase from which his company will benefit, there can be no justification for his conduct.
When THE PUNCH newspaper and I, in March of this year, asked Nnaji to resign, as a matter of honour, he encouraged a “pen for hire” “journalist”, writing under a false identity, to send rejoinders to VANGUARD and PUNCH. The “journalist” is forgiven because what he and Professor Nnaji failed to know was that his days were numbered.
After reading the attacks on PUNCH and myself, I wrote a private letter to the former Minister. I cannot vouch for the delivery of the letter because his staff might have thrown it away as the handiwork of a “lunatic”. But let me share one line with our readers from that letter – whether delivered or not.
“Let me warn you, Prof, despite the fact that Nigerians are powerless to stop the proposed tariff increase, from which you personally stand to benefit, at our expense, we will soon see you out of office –discredited. You will probably not be in office in 20I5 when Jonathan completes his term – as I hope he will”. Little did I know that the former Minister would have been out of office before the end of this year.
His explanations, which amount to holding a fig leaf to cover nakedness, are, to me, totally unconvincing. A blind trust, even under the best of circumstances, operates when the operators of the blind trust don’t know what is in the package and when the operators are people of unimpeachable integrity.
Nothing Nnaji has said can convince even a fool that those two acid tests were met. At least one could not be met, even if they tried. The operators of his blind trust knew they were handling investments in the power sector — in which the Minister was deeply involved. That amounts to being clever by half. It is inconceivable that they would not have wanted to return the assets to the Minister at a higher value.
Government officials never listen; high office and the sudden grasp of power promote hubris – that feeling that they are somehow infallible – until they fall from power. Most, like Prof, then revert to that shelter of those who have mismanaged the past and the present; they ask history to judge them; as if they will dictate what posterity will write.
Well, I have bad news for Prof, who read engineering, not history. History started yesterday, continues today, tomorrow and it is not favourable to him at the moment. We will deliver our verdict before posterity, if it is interested in another scandal, gets a chance to judge him. The real tragedy is that he would not be the last, in this administration, to fall on the sword of conflict of interest or peddling bold faced lies in order to stay in power….
THE REUBEN ABATI WE DIDN’T KNOW
“In our vile times/..man was whatever his element/Either a tyrant or traitor or prisoner”. Alexander Pushkin, I790-I834. Russian Writer and poet(VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p 26I).
Incidentally, that piece by the Russian writer and poet, was the first one to appear on this page in 1994, when the first column was published under the title FRANKLY SPEAKING. Last month marked the eighteenth anniversary of the page. Soon, I will join, my Egbon, Alhaji Animasaun, in retirement.
Coincidentally too, the I994 article addressed itself to people in public life, who we thought we knew, very well, who joined Abacha’s phony transmission to civil rule. My position then was captured in the article SHIP OF FOOLS which predicted accurately that the Constitutional Conference (called the CONFAB by the media) was a con game by Abacha to buy time.
By the time Abacha died Dr Alex Ekwueme and other leading politicians had come to realize that they had indeed been deceived by Abacha. If Unijankara people have to be paid NI0 million for every prediction we got right, even Sanusi cannot print enough N5,000 notes to pay us.
Then, as now, there were leading journalists and columnists, people we thought we knew, who succumbed to the lure of office and lucre – clean or filthy. Reuben Abati’s article titled, The Jonathan they do not know, which was sent to every national newspaper, about two weeks ago, was so uncharacteristic of the author, it prompted a mini-research by the staff of Unijankara, who, according to Reuben, can be classified among “cynics”, “unintelligent…….” or “intelligent ………..”. If it will make Reuben happy, we claim all the titles.