Rumbles at Rural Electrification: Why SGF upturned Zwingina’s ‘lawlessnes’

Between Senator Jonathan Zwingina and SGF Ayim Pius Ayim, there is a brewing problem of who should discipline the managing director of the National Rural Electrification Agency (NREA), thereby raising questions about administrative proceduces. EMEKA NZE reports on the show of force

Adamawa-born Senator Jonathan Zwingina, Chairman of the Board of  National Rural Electrification Agency (NREA), was so piqued by what he termed as the “incompetence and lack of capacity to execute projects” at the agency that his axe fell on the Managing Director of the Agency, Engr. Kenneth Achigbu.  He was perhaps beclouded by his passion to propel the management to get cracking instead of perceived tardiness on its part to push for the execution of the already awarded contracts. But he was said to have sacked the Managing Director, Achigbu without recourse to due process and then the Secretary to the Government of Federation intervened.

What is more baffling and intriguing was the corresponding lightning speed with which the SGF, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim reversed Zwingina’s action, justifying the u-turn  in a letter Reference SGF/.5/5.4/C.1/VI dated 22nd January 2014. According to the SGF, “the nullification (of the suspension) was based on the fact that there is no government decision in support and the board has no powers to sack the management of the agency.” Consequently, the SGF therefore directed the sitting Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer to ignore the order and ensure that normalcy returns to the agency.

Even as the MD/CEO has complied with the SGF’s order and since resumed his duties, many staffers of the agency and indeed concerned Nigerians are still at a loss why the Board chairman would take such an action which they have described as “rash” after the popular past “power scam” involving the agency and some members of the 6th National Assembly namely Hon Ndudi Elumelu and Senator Nicholas Ugbane who had oversight on the agency.
Investigation by our correspondent revealed that Zwingina’s January 21 pronouncement sacking Achigbu was not unconnected with the similar circumstances of corruption which public officials have been noted for. Findings indicated that   recent procurement and contract handling and execution by the management’s and its alleged inability to release funds to execute the contracts especially to the lawmakers who benefitted from the contract awards was the bone of contention.

Our reporter reliably gathered that the board was piqued by the management’s preference to saving funds belonging to the agency in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) instead of disbursing same to contractors, majority of beneficiaries who were National Assembly Committee members on power  for the execution of awarded contracts. According to Zwingina, a former lawmaker, in his January text, the sum of N3 billion for the 2012 was mopped up and in the 2013 budget  out of the N7 billion released  and meant for the execution of projects, N4 billion was mopped up and saved at the CBN, thereby slowing the pace of work at the sites. Zwingina preferred the releases of these funds especially to the lawmakers to execute their projects. But Engr. Achigbu was afraid that if he release the funds the politicians would abandon the projects while the monies would be diverted for other uses.

From Zwingina’s account presented before his other board members, even though his “board inaugurated on September 2013 made efforts to hasten the procurement process, the management was unwilling to change from its slow pace.” He accused the Management Director of incompetence and lack of executive capacity to implement a cardinal programme of government. “For the second year running the management of NREA under the current managing director has demonstrated a transparent lack of executive capacity to implement a cardinal programme of government,” Zwingina told his Board members.

Describing the Board of Directors, which he said is  composed of men and women of integrity, he proceeded to take what he described as “drastic measures to arrest the drift in the management and in the lack of capacity to implement a simple budget for two years in a row. He proceeded to announce that “management is reorganised with effect from today 21st January 2014”. Amongst other measures besides suspending the managing director and then referring the case to the Minister of Power for further action, Zwingina also went ahead to appoint Engr. Mohammed Abubakar  Wasaram as the Acting Managing Director. He also stated that the board would set up a task force made up of members of the board and the National Assembly Committee on power to undertake working tour of all NREA projects in the Federation.

But from account by one of the officials of NREA who pleaded anonymity, members of Senate and House Committees on Power said to be “huge” beneficiaries of the contracts awards wanted the management to release to them funds in full to execute the contracts which the Managing Director could not oblige them out of the fear that the projects would not be executed by the lawmakers. Most of them had complained to Zwingina and one of their own, who opted to do their bidding to either persuade  the Managing Director to release the funds to the lawmakers or make him “face the music”. Achgbu’s “intransigence” had constrained the chairman of  the Board to choose the latter.

From this account, the failure of the MD to do the chairman’s bidding to transfer the Agency’s money to a commercial bank where Zwingina as the signatory would have access to it worsened the relationship between the two REA bigwigs. He was also said to have insisted that he would not pay for contracts that have not been executed as the board had demanded.  The source further disclosed that Zwingina and other members of his board had invited the police to throw Achigbu out, were said to have conducted themselves in a most civil manner after hearing the Managing Director’s side of the story . Achigbu had told the police that as a member of the board and Chief Executive Officer of the Agency, the board did not have the power to sack him. The police were said to have left without carrying out Zwingina’s order.

Abubakar Wasaram, appointed as the Acting Managing Director is  Zwingina’s kinsman from Adamawa state. Effort to reach the former lawmaker to comment on the actions of the SGF proved abortive as he did not answer his telephone calls or reply to SMS sent to him.

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