By Alvan Ewuzie and Peter Agba
FORMER Minister of Power, Professor Barth Nnaji recently spoke to Daily Sun in his country home at Umuode near Enugu. But he would not discuss the circumstances that led to his exit as minister of power in the President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.
He opted rather to speak on how to improve power in the country and his readiness to supply regular and reliable power to Aba in Abia State. Below are excerpts.
You are a professor of Robotic Engineering, what is it?
A robot is a machine that you can program to change its functions.
So, it can be doing one thing now and you can change it to be doing something else.
Your regular machines can hardly do so. More sophisticated robot can its way around tasks. You tell it to go from point A to point B and it finds its way to that place; it carries cameras
as form of site and is able to see its way and it can maneuver around obstacles.
Does it reason? we are careful not to say that a machine reasons so that we reserve that for human beings
created by God. But to a large extent we say it reasons, but geometrically. In fact, the name
of our company, Geometrics is derived from that.
So, mathematically, it reasons
Yes, you can say that.
If a young person wants When you started the idea of geometric reasoning, some of the
people who had been in academics before you said it would not
work. What gave you the courage to forge ahead with the concept.
When I know that something is right, you cannot stop me. That is actually how
the Aba Independent Power project was started. I knew it was possible. Back to
geometric reasoning, the feeling was that people had tried it before me and could
not address the problem but I felt I knew how to do it and I knew the combination
of things that would be put together to do it. So, I held on to what I knew and
that was what brought the breakthrough that we had. It was the first time ever and
it came from a black man. I should also mention that there is another blackman
from this environment that had made some success. His name is Omalu. He
discovered something that has been killing football players in Americal. A movie
has been made out of it called concoction.
You should try and see the movie, it features Will Smith. You know football
is a huge institution in America. They did everything possible to make him look
stupid but he held on to his discovery and eventually he triumphed and that’s
why they made the movie about him. The man is Omalu, an Igbo boy. I knew him in
Pittsburg. He is now in California but he was in Pittsburg when I was a professor
and he used to come to visit me when he was a resident doctor. He is famous now.
What motivated you to go into Geometric power project in spite of the huge financial lay out?
Like I said, I do not get deterred when I know that something can be done. When
I know that something is possible and it would help solve a problem in the society,
I will keep going at it until I see people who believe in the dream and support me.
In terms of Geometric power, it started when I came here to serve as minister in
the 90s during the Ernest Shonekan-led interimn government. During that time, I found that the impediment to industrialization was power. When I went back to America, I told myself that one day I would come back to help address the problem and that came in 2000 when the company I had formed for power bidded to guarantee 15 megawatts of power in Abuja, but we had to build 22 megawatts to guarantee it. The interesting thing was that the power was supplied to the central area of Abuja and the power was regular for the period we handled it and that was because the power was domiciled locally, it was not put in the national grid.
That thought me something and at that time, Aba people were coming because they had heard about what we did in Abuja. At that time Ngozi Okonjo Iweala was going to Aba with the president of the World Bank and they invited me to join them. They went to Ariaria market and asked the people what they needed
to increase their productivity, they said if they got reliable electricity, they can triple their productivity. That was when Ngozi and the world bank people turned to me and told me that the ball was in my court. That was how the journey started.
So, we made sure that this project is designed in a way that there is absolute reliability. The project was designed on that basis.
The world bank gave some support to this project, was it a loan and since the project has stayed far longer than expected, what has been their reaction or do they understand what is happening?
We are the first independent power project in Nigeria, in the real sense of it; the world bank supported us with an initial grant to do a feasibility study.
They later put equity investment in our company but they backed off when the Nigerian government sacked the regulatory commission, That put us in a very awkward situation. It was not our fault, it was the fault of the Federal government.
They said that when you sack the commissioners, it was no longer a functional commission so they backed off and that affected everything. To worsen matters, the financial meltdown came around the same time to compound our problem,
What was the initial agreement between your firm and the Federal government on this project.
The agreement had two tranches, First was the right of concession which means that we have Aba for 20 years from the time we inject power and start to give it out. It is an exclusive lease of the network, nobody else comes there.
We have nine local governments under our cover. The second is that if there was privatization, we would have the first right to purchase the area and that was the right that was denied us during privatization.
The matter has now been settled, how was that done?
It took almost four years for the matter to be settled, we were battling with the Bureau of Public Enterprise(B.P.E), telling them to look at the agreement and grant us the first right to buy the area. We told them that it will hurt the country if you truncate this agreement after we have made all the investment. It
will discourage other investors, but corruption is a terrible thing in this clime.
They were not thinking about what the society stands to benefit from this and what damage it will do to attracting foreign investment. When former President Jonathan visited the place shortly before the last presidential elections, he said that I must have a lion heart given the investment he saw there and the
place was dormant. He said anybody who had made that kind of investment and the place was not functional could have a heart attack. God has been kind.
I did not suffer that. I believed in God and the fact that I was doing the right thing for this country and my hands are clean. We did something for which we ought to be praised but they decided to take it away from us. All the investment would have gone down the drain. So, I must thank the government of President
Muhammadu Buhari, the Vice President, the Minister of power, Babatunde Fashola and the permanent Secretary in the ministry. They all worked assiduously to see that the matter was resolved. I also appreciate all their aides who worked with them at resolving the issue. We all eventually saw the wisdom of resolving the issues amicably.
I cannot tell you the full terms of settlement but I can tell you part of it. When the conditions precedent are all met, Geometric Power will take over Aba and its environs, complete the commissioning process and begin to supply electricity to the area.
That is all I can tell you now.
When will that be?
When we take over, we have to do the remaining internal
That means you have not taken over
No, we have not taken over. We hope in June or thereabout, we will take over. The delay is not deliberate. We are going
through due process. There is a process to be followed. Yes, we have signed an agreement but it does not end there. We still
have to pay back interest because they paid money to buy the place. It does not matter how they got to buy it, the point
is that they paid money. There is need for recompense.
What plans do you have for the community where the power plant is sited?
Geometric Power likes to be good corporate citizens. We have to see that the community where we operate is making
progress, schools, health centre, street lights and where we can, we fix roads in collaboration with the local governments;
there are nine of them where we operate. It is good that the governor is already trying to make Aba a more modern city.
What capacity of power does Aba need and when can you meet that demand?
Aba currently needs 100 megawatts but what they get now is maximum of 40 megawatts but they have the capacity
to consume 100. They do not get enough power now because of the sharing formula going on. Right now, we are beginning
with 141 megawatts. The city of Aba consumes most of the power, the other local governments
consume minimal power. We have plans to continue to increase the power. We are already building another
power plant in collaboration with General Electric(GE) of the United States of America and it is at advanced stage now,
we call it Oma Power; it is different from the Aba IPP. It is a 500 megawatt power plant and it has a second phase that will
bring it to 750 and a third phase that will bring it to 1000 megawatts in the same place. It will cost about $1.5 billion.
With your experience in Aba plant and as a former minister of power, how can we improve power at the
First, I need to say that the power reform programme is a solid one, and I believe in it. I believe that the private sector
will do better in building power plants. I believe that some modification of transmission is important. Government
should have ownership of the transmission grid but I think that the transmission can be split into what I may call electricity
regions. I am not talking about geopolitical zones, whereby it becomes possible for private companies to take
each region and make robust investments and yet they are interconnected. A regional network does not mean that it is
disconnected from the national grid. The network will still be national and operated the way it ought to but each segment is
robust and would not have the kind of problem we have. Now we do not have the grid that can yield the kind of power the nation
needs and we need to do that. The private sector has the resources and government does not have. I also want government to encourage the sort of
thing we are doing in Aba. We had planned to do so when we were there. I know it works.
That means you pick some high economic areas and give them to IPPs. If you have that around the country, you are stimulating
the economy. We had planned to have ten of such areas around the country. These are some of the ways to improve.
There is the issue of distribution, the government has to make sure that those who purchase
distribution rights actually do what they have signed up
to do. That is very important. I believe that the people who are
there now are strong and have the political will to ensure that
people do what they signed up to do.
But what the Aba man really wants to know is this;
when will Aba and its environs begin to have regular
That will happen before the end of this year but we will come in about a month from now to begin to prepare. When
we come, power will still be the same way it is because you cannot change everything overnight.
Our power plant still has to be commissioned, our networks still have to be connected.
We built new networks which have to be connected to the existing network. Aba has
three sub stations belonging to Enugu Disco or PHCN. We built four brand new ones but they are not connected yet. What a new substation does is to balance power and take it to places that do not have. All those things still have to be done and until they are done, you cannot have the kind of reliability we
are talking about. There is an asset transfer agreement being worked out.
What would your charges be like; will it be affordable?
It will not be different from what the Enugu disco is charging.
We will charge according to what the regulatory agency permits. We believe that continuos improvement will give the kind
of performance we expect. We have already invested nearly seven times the value of Aba.
We have done about 40 kilometers of KV to ensure that there is robust distribution. We have done 132 kilometers of 23kv.
Let us discuss the issue of cattle herders which recently became a problem in Enugu, how do you
think this problem will be solved?
I will rely on my knowledge of how cattle is raised in other
places. I have lived in America and travelled all over the world.
I have never seen where cattle is taken around neighborhoods.
What people do in those places is to have ranches, which means
that you contain your cattle within that space and you provide
food for the cattle. Some people even grow corn in that
place to provide feed for the cattle. It has a lot of advantages
because by so doing, you monitor the growth of the cattle and
the quality of meat. You are also able to produce milk. I believe
that some people have it in parts of the North. I once visited
Nyako farms in Adamawa and I know there is a ranch
there. I believe it is the best way to go. If you want to go to people’s
places to acquire grazing land, it will create problems.
But some of these people say they cannot afford
ranches and that they have always been nomadic
You cannot continue to do the same thing the same way.
People used to do subsistence farming in the past but that
is changing. May be, they can come together and own ranches
together. You cannot just march your cattle into people’s farms
and begin to make trouble with them. This used not to happen;
so there is something else going on.