By Oscarline Onwuemenyi
Many Nigerians would not readily associate the controversial former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, with a speaking job simply because the man himself has been known to rail at those who “just talk and do nothing.”
But there he was, the self-acclaimed action man, at a breakfast meeting organised by the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, in Abuja, dishing out homilies on how to run a modern-day, efficient regulatory organisation.
As a ‘retired’ public careerist and technocrat in the famous Economic Team designed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, el-Rufai would know a lot about running efficient organisations or government agencies.
Ever in a bullish mood, the former boss of the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) and minister of the FCT was in no mood to gloss over his tenure as head of Nigeria’s privatisation bureau or his rather eventful four-year tenure as mayor of FCT.
el-Rufai said a leader had to be ready to take tough decisions, irrespective of whose ox was gored. He described his infamous mission to ‘cleanse’ the city as “a duty that had to be done by someone,” adding that it was his “misfortune” to be selected to do the job.
He said, “Passion for the job was what drove me; my passion was to see a clean, planned and efficiently-run city of Abuja, remarkably different from other ‘cities’ in the country that had seemingly lost their way.
When I was in the FCT, I grew to love the city and was prepared to do whatever was necessary to keep it within the vision of the founding fathers, even if my actions upset anyone, it didn’t matter. There was a job to be done and I had to do it.”
According to him, “Any decision you take as a leader, some would gain and some would lose, and I was ready to upset the few, powerful minority so that millions of my countrymen would enjoy the benefits of a clean and well-planned city. If I offended a few hundred people in order to satisfy millions more, then it is okay. Unfortunately, the small minority group have the power and resources to go to the media and cry foul.”
el-Rufai, who during his term as the Director-General of BPE, drew the blueprint for the privatisation of many government-owned businesses including the Nigeria Electric Power Authority, and thus envisioned the creation of NERC, was quick to observe that the current leadership in the commission may need to implement serious organisational changes, no matter how painful, to position the institution to deliver on its onerous responsibilities.
He said, “Organisational change is difficult and painful. At BPE and the Federal Capital Territory Administration, I had to design and implement major changes. In BPE, I implemented two major restructuring, which led to a gradual but fundamental change in the organisation and the staff. We had to sack so many people who were not there for work we set out to achieve, people who did not buy into the vision we stood for.”
He added, however, that for any credible change to emerge there must be forthright leadership with adequate transformational power to take bold steps to effect change and the fortitude to sustain the tempo, either at various organisational levels or country-wide.
According to him, “Remarkable change management is possible only when the leadership understands the required nature and level of commitment to effect positive change. It is obvious that the commitment that leaders seek forms the lifeblood of their leadership. They arrive in four forms – political, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. These forms of commitment combine in various ways to create different levels of energy that can become available to a leader’s purposes.
“As regulators, you must debate and agree on what your primary objectives are. In my humble opinion, Nigeria suffers from a chronic infrastructure deficit, particularly electricity. Our primary problem in this area is scarcity. The solution lies in increasing the supply of electricity to Nigerian consumers and businesses. How you as industry regulator go about achieving this, while balancing the competing political, commercial and professional interests is a matter of strategy.
“We need to attract billions of dollars investments to close the deficit – and this will take between five and 10 years of hard work to realise. The government alone cannot do it so private sector investment is required.”
el-Rufai posited that to do so, some steps have to be taken including ensuring that the price of electricity must be above the cost of generation, transmission and distribution. Also, he said, government-owned electricity companies must be privatised as no investor wishes to be in competition with a government-owned entity.