“Nebo has laid solid foundation for power revolution’: Rain of tributes as ex-Power Minister is honoured for stewardship

Posted by News Express | 1 January 1970 | 4,073 times

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“It has been adjudged as the biggest privatisation in the whole wide world. Economics history book will tell you that you can only have anything close to that if you begin to look at what happened in Russia. So, the person we are celebrating today, has done what Napoleon could not do and that is why we said we must honour him, we must give honour to whom honour is due, we must celebrate him, when he is alive.

“Anybody that did what Prof. Chinedu Ositadinma Nebo did in the Power sector, I can bet you, he will see God. And at the right time, especially as a man of God, a child of God, he will see God. We are here today to just say thank you for what you have done for Nigeria, because if Nigeria begins to develop today, if we begin to move to the next level, in terms of industrialisation, in terms of growth, in terms of economic development, somebody must look back and say, where did it all start? It started from the power reforms. It started from the revolution in the power sector, because without that you cannot go anywhere. Generator economy can only move as fast as the snail can move. But, electricity-powered economy can move as fast as the Chinese economy did.

“So, quote me. In the next one year, two, three years, we will begin to reap the dividends of what Prof. Nebo has done. It is not today. Those who invented electricity never knew it is going to get to where it is today. I’m sure that even Prof. Nebo, does not know the impact of what he did – where it is going to take us in the next two, three, four years from now. But history will be kind to him to record this in his favour. We congratulate you and we know that at the right time, other Nigerians will queue behind us. They will only come behind us, Business World to begin to shake your hands and thank you for what you have done. You’ve taken Nigeria to the next level.”

These were the words which resonated that night of June 12, 2015, at the Nike Resort Hotels, Enugu. It was a night used to celebrate Professor Ositadinma Nebo, immediate past Minister of Power, former Vice Chancellor of University of Nigeria Nsukka, pioneer Vice Chancellor, Federal University, Oye Ekiti, first class engineer, erudite scholar, teacher, philosopher and preacher.

It was supposed to be a very small event. He had wished it so and directed so as one of the conditions for accepting. Nothing noisy, no klieglights, no fanfare. Just simple. But even as all these requirements were met, it all ended up an amazing event that gave expression to the saying that the best, most beautiful and most important things, most times, come in small packages.

And so, for the first time since serving the nation’s most critical sector – power – Nebo stood out to receive the symbol of appreciation on behalf of Nigerians who really understand not only the significance of privatising the nation’s power sector, but the enormity of work and the dynamics that trail it.

Indeed, few of the guests, from the look of things are likely not to forget the event in a hurry. Not only because of the superlative performance put up by the Enugu State Cultural Troupe, but the essence of the entire outing in terms of putting the Nigerian economic and social question in proper perspective.

Mr. Ray Echebiri, Director of Business World, the group that packaged the event, tried to capture the whole essence in a rather witty but instructive analogy.

Hear him: “About 12 years ago, a bosom friend was appointed the Executive Secretary of Imo Privatisation and Investment Bureau. And the major duty he was given was to sell government-owned enterprises, what you call privatisation. He now asked me to come over and join him to do the job. But for some reasons, I couldn’t take that offer. Then he started by listing all the companies owned by the Imo State Government that would be sold. That was under the Achike Udenwa administration.

“One of the companies to be sold was The Imo Standard Shoe Factory. I don’t know how many of you know about that factory on Orlu Road. When he eventually was ready for the sale, he asked me to come and take some of the adverts to publish in my paper. Just less than one week after the publication, petitions and counter petitions began flying from all over the place. On one occasion, he showed me one of the heaps of the petitions, which was for the shoe factory. Then I asked him, which shoe factory are you talking about? Is it the one at Orlu Road – dilapidated buildings, obsolete, medieval era machines, empty land – what are they talking about; that you should not sell that? Or was it the land, because I didn’t see anything to be sold.

“But some people wanted to die for that. Some people said if you sell this factory, we will kill somebody or we will die. That was when I told my friend that I was going back to Lagos. Shortly, after, he resigned, saying this job is not an easy one. He couldn’t do it.”

Then the clincher: “So, if somebody could not sell a shoe factory and here we are, somebody successfully sold one of the biggest government-owned companies in this country, we’re talking of the assets of the former PHCN, the Gencos and the Discos, a behemoth; PHCN was big, very big, how then do we describe such a person? Of course, whatever PHCN was doing, touched the lives of all of us here. If there is no power here, this place will be dark and nobody will see the next person. What about manufacturing? What about those small things outside, if there is no power and this government-owned enterprise held this country to unnegotiable ransom for years and somebody said enough is enough, government can no longer pilot these companies successfully and so it must be sold, and successfully sold these companies to private operators, should we take it as if nothing has happened? But he didn’t stop there, he was also able to hand over all of them to the private operators that bought them.

“Now, in the course of looking at what they were doing, Prof. Nebo also discovered that they were having some challenges with the liabilities that they inherited and the serious issues with gas shortages. That was another hurdle. How do we cross it? And then, he successfully, with the collaboration of the Central Bank of Nigeria and Ministry of Petroleum Resources, raised N203 billion as a lifeline to these companies. And of course all these I am telling you, everything was done transparently and credibly.”        

Having dropped his raison d’etre, to underscore the event, Echebiri practically opened a floodgate, as praises poured out in torrents.

To Mrs. Viola Onwuliri, who served with Nebo at the same time at the Federal Executive Council (FEC), the award could not have been more significant at the time it came, given the message it sought to convey.

Recalling what she called Nebo’s enormous contribution and intellectual bent to issues at the highest decision making body at the nation’s seat of power, she said it was instructive that it did not go without recognition.

“I thank Business World for recognising that we have a gold fish here, a star that the good Lord has bestowed to us in this part of the world and one that has served diligently and passionately in various assignments in this country for the benefit of all us. And each time he came out tops. He’s never disappointed us and we are continuously happy for him.

Her words: “On behalf of the immediate past Federal Executive Council, I wish to congratulate my brother. He has continued to do us proud and he has also continued to be special to all of us in the Federal Executive Council. When I was invited to be here, I didn’t know how it was going to happen. I came in from Lagos this evening around 6pm and I had to give a paper at the meeting of Knights of St. John, going on here in Enugu. I wasn’t sure of what it would be like or whether it was something he was going to be part of. So, when I called him, and he said he was going to be here, then I said it is important to be part of this event to sit around with him again. It was a weekly ritual when we were at the Federal Executive Council. At least we were sure that most times, every Wednesday, we would sit and talk. So, it is also a pleasure for one to sit with him today when you are honouring him and I want to thank of for being part of this ceremony,” she said.

Insisting that no accolade accorded to Nebo would be considered a waste, because of what he had brought at the table towards national development, Mrs. Onwuliri added: “He’s somebody that should be continuously applauded and honoured, because he put his life into this work and also, being a man of God, a lot of prayers. I’m sure without prayers, even where we are today, especially in the power sector, we will not be, because it will seem that a lot of anti-Christ going in that sector – with all the stealing, with all the destruction, with people who were determined to take us back, perhaps because they are benefitting from the old system. But he came up with knowledge, with commitment and with prayers and we were able to make progress.

“I want to pray that for his sake, the power sector will continue to make progress, in Jesus name. I pray, so that all the efforts we have put with the immediate past President will not be in vain and that Nigerians will remember to celebrate a man who had come to work for us, a man who really came to work for this country. Because the privatisation he did, really has continued to be celebrated across the world.

“When I was the Supervising Minister of Foreign Affairs before I was redeployed to be the Minister for Education, I had gone for a meeting with the President to Colombo, Sri Lanka and far away in that place, a Briton was making a presentation and he extolled the privatisation process of the power sector in Nigeria. I was very proud to be to be a Nigerian and I was very happy that it was my brother that led that process. I said while I was far away from home and somebody from the other side and all of us, the Heads of State of the Commonwealth countries, were at that meeting, where he talked about what had happened in the power sector. So, I commend Business World, because what we are celebrating today is really true and confirmed by people who are higher up there across the world and we are very proud that the person in question, the person that led the operation, is our own Prof. Chinedu Nebo, CON.”

Echoing the same sentiments, Prof. Ernest Onwuasigwe of University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus (UNEC), said Nigeria actually travelled the right direction by fishing out Nebo to become the Minister of Power. “I recall how some individuals were making some publications in the newspapers about how they were going to pull down Nigeria if the privatisation continued. And knowing that Prof Nebo is not a politician, they underestimated him,” he said, adding it was a good thing that the sector had continued to gather momentum.

Conveying the good wishes of Power of the Conscience Support Group, a body which stood out in support of the former Minister throughout his tenure, he said the group had also expressed its readiness to support him in any other public service, he would undertake.

Accolades also came from Hon. Oguejiofor Agbo, Chairman, Enugu South Local Government Area, who recalled Nebo’s series of successes in difficult terrains. These he listed to include banishing cultism at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), building a brand new functional university in six months, as the pioneer Vice Chancellor of Federal University, Oye Ekiti and prevailing over the odds to complete the privatisation process in the power sector.

Hear him: “There came a time when every year we count how many people they kill in the University of Nigeria, during exam time because every secret cult member come to take their exam. So, the enemies will come and search for them and assassinate them. And UNN called on Prof. Nebo and when his face turned towards UNN, there were no more cult killings.

“I used to be a Special Adviser to the Governor on Agricultural Matters and my office at Garden Avenue sat across the office of the PHCN. So, every morning when I came to work, I used to see them from my window praying. They were praying day and night, resisting the change that was going to happen. They kept asking God not to allow this privatisation. All these programmes that we knew were going to bring improvement in the power sector, they were against them. What happened eventually made me learn that there is a great latitude between those who pray and the one who answers. God brought Prof Nebo to turn his face towards the restless sea. He doesn’t get sent to places where things are smooth.

“At Oye Ekiti, there were two intellectual groups fighting each other and they could not agree about anything about that university, especially about its location. But when the VC was appointed, it was said that now there was one common ground all the groups agreed on and that was in the choice of the VC. And when the VC went there and turned his face towards Ekiti, something started to happen.”   

Promoter of the South East Nigeria Economic Commission (SENEC), Chris Okoye, who was also on hand to lend a voice, said a more appropriate forum would be created in future to fully capture and appreciate Nebo’s contribution to the power sector and building of the Nigerian economy.

The engineer, banker, businessman and construction giant, added: “I know that Prof. Nebo is a man we will find time in the future to talk about properly. One thing that is unique about Prof. Nebo is the fact that he has stood for the pursuit of the common good. In a society in which selfishness, self-centredness and the desire to become the first, here is a man, who in everything he does, he thinks only about the pursuit of common good. And I believe that it is that quality that kept him strongly protected in that unique ministry called Ministry of Power. The second quality of this man is that he tries to build institutions in the ministry of power. Why this is important is that in the country we do find that the tendency to essentially mess up institutions has always become the bane of our history. But Nebo, if you look carefully at what he did in the Ministry of Power, he sort of made sure that he left legacies that will outlive him. And I believe that one legacy he has left there is the way the ministry itself was restructured to become a platform for recreating itself and sustaining the power reformation that had started in Nigeria. Perhaps, as an engineer, I’m thrilled that in the Ministry of Power, we now have positions for about seven engineers to head most of the departments in the Ministry of Power. But that was not the case before. I’m sure that you recall that in the past in the ministry you had what was called the Power Department. In fact, it was only one man that actually acted as the Director of Power. But under him, we now have the Director of Transmission, the Director of Distribution, the Director of Generation and of course other departments that have been put there, so as to sustain the enormity of what they have put in place for the growth of the power sector in Nigeria.

“When you talk about the Nigerian content, I believe that it is during his term of office that one can really say that the Nigerian content development has really started in the Ministry of Power. If you look at NAPTINS (National Power Training Institute of Nigeria),, what else can you be talking about apart from growing competencies, capabilities and capacities? If you look at what is happening there, I’m sure that in the next couple of years, the Ministry of Power through NAPTINS, would have created the platform for sustaining the needs of the power sector in Nigeria and that is what is called local content. I believe that these are the fundamental legacies that he has left there. And I believe that it is on that note that I want to join everybody here to say to him, welcome to base. I believe there is still a lot to be done. The pursuit of common good is just the beginning.”

An appreciative Nebo used the occasion to review his past and put the future in perspective. He particularly mentioned two major factors in his life fundamental to his streak of successes – God and a prayerful and supportive wife, Ifenyinwa.

His words: “I feel humbled and especially privileged that Business World that has gone places, that I have respect very much, found me worthy to receive this award. I want to say, thank you very much. There is nothing I do that I don’t ask for help beyond me. I want to say that no success has happened in my life without God himself. I give him all the glory.

“I am very happy that I have become a private citizen, Chinedu Nebo. I have allies that I can work with to promote the knowledge that I have garnered in the past few years with regards to the power sector.”

Admonishing that it would be a big setback to ignore the gains already made in the power sector by the new administration, the former Minister said that immediate past President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, contrary to the views held in certain quarters, actually achieved a lot in the industry.

Said Nebo: “One thing, and that is my greatest regret, is that we didn’t win the war against vandalism and against inadequate gas supply. I tell you, if President Buhari were to win the gas war today, within two weeks, every Nigerian will be celebrating him, because what President Jonathan has put in place for the power sector is so immense that within a few weeks, if you get all these turbines fired up, instead of operating on 30 or 40 percent capacity, all of them fired up, every Nigerian will know the difference. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the privilege of winning the gas war. And I do think that to win the gas war, Mr. President, will have to do whatever it takes to stem the tide of vandalism of gas and oil pipelines as well as induce producers of gas to produce gas.

“When you have this privatisation, people don’t know what has happened. Within this privatisation, Egbin Power Station that has 220megawatts cannot operate because of gas. Ughelli has added over 400megawatts, much of which remains inoperable because lack of supply of gas. Privatisation alone has brought us to a place where we can comfortably deliver 7,000 megawatts to Nigeria if the gas were available. Even in the hydros, a lot of revamping of the hydro turbines has already taken place. So, we all will have to continue to pray. It is not that we didn’t succeed. It is just that this gas thing remains a quandary.

“And I will say that even if Mr. President, Mohammadu Buhari, will declare a gas emergency, Nigerians will see the difference within a week or two. We are only limited by transmission, to make the 6,000 megawatts. But we can make the 7,000 megawatts if we had the transmission. So, a lot has already happened and we hope that the new administration will continue to make sure that Nigerians reap the benefit of privatisation.”

Nebo, while speaking on the significance of the award, said: “I got wary of invitations for awards, dozens of them. The answer was always no. This is because when you are in office in Nigeria, you are everybody’s friend. The moment you leave office, you will be very surprised as to how many people will remember that you existed in the first instance. So, I said, no awards until I leave office, because it is only then that you know those who are genuine. And when Business World persisted and even did what I thought was impossible, when I said, well, since you people want to do it, let it be done in Enugu; I thought they would say, ‘this man is not serious’. And here they are here in Enugu.

“I didn’t think anybody will be here to entertain us like the cultural troupe, I really appreciate the entire presentation of this evening. Then I want to thank my friends and relatives who have prayed for me for decades. My greatest gratitude goes to Almighty God, who through His son, Jesus Christ, singled me out to make somebody out of one who would have been nobody. I thank God for that, because in the eyes of medical doctors, I would have been a vegetable because of the accident I had when I was I was 10 years old. Doctors said that if I survived and did not mentally incapacitated for life, that I should be regarded as a living miracle. And so, I thank God for that.”

Then the climax: “But I also thank God for the greatest gift he gave me this side of heaven, a young, beautiful woman, Ifenyinwa Nebo. I have been married to this girl for 37 years and by next month, July 23rd, it will be 38 years of marriage. The only thing is that people look at her and they say, ‘Prof., how come you are marrying this little girl?’ She doesn’t age. She remains the same person that I took to alter so many years ago. But, above all, she prays. She’s close to the Lord. She is a voice of conscience and she cares. And when you have a peaceful home, children that love you and love the Lord, a family that is united in Christ and in fellowship, it is almost impossible not to give your best. So, I thank my wife. Unfortunately, she is not here. She is doing what Ndigbo call omugwo. Our eighth grandchild arrived last week. So, that’s why she is there.”

The former Minister, while urging Nigerians not to be despondent over the power situation in the country, said one of the workable solutions to get out of the woods lay in pursuing embedded power generation.

Hear him: “I want to assure all of you that Nigeria will win the power war. There is no doubt in my mind. We’ve been pushing for embedded power generation. That’s the way to go. Most of these big power plants take years of gestation to realisation. Embedded generation can give you 1,000, 2,000 megawatts whereas the big plants will not give you that in five to six years. We’re pushing for that and we hope that the present administration will continue. And the only way to do embedded generation is through privatisation.

“It can work because all the agricultural clusters, industrial clusters, manufacturing clusters, export trade zones, all of them can be covered by embedded generation, so that Nigeria will leapfrog into industrialisation instead of depending on just the traditional way. There is a Chinese description of insanity that says that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time. We cannot continue doing the things we have been doing. We must think outside the box.”

Expressing gratitude to those who had constantly stood by him through difficult times, Nebo also used the opportunity to apologise to those he must have wronged along the way, saying: “Sometimes, my friends don’t understand me. I have a problem and that problem is that if you give me an assignment, I bury myself in it. I give it my all. And so, in the process – people know I have never been a socialite, apart from the fact that people know me as a preacher, an evangelist and so on – I’m just a private person. And my wife tells me constantly that she knows that if I hadn’t married her, I would only marry books; because I would be away from the public, reading, meditating and preaching, engineering notwithstanding. So, I thank those of you that understand that this man is a man of passion for anything give me.

“That was why at UNN, two years before I became Vice Chancellor, cultists murdered the Chief Security Officer in cold blood. A year before I became the Vice Chancellor, cultists killed the Dean of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences. And so, I declared a war against cultism. From day one, I said it is zero tolerance to cultism. It was a passionate thing I did. I rusticated children of friends, who were cultists and I didn’t give a damn about it. The result – five years, no cult war at UNN, five years of no strike. And it was all to the glory of God. The Federal University Oye Ekiti where I went next as VC has been webometrically ranked and even by NUC as the number 16 or 17 top universities in Nigeria. That’s a university that’s only four years old. I don’t do anything without passion.”

Putting on his witty cap, Nebo also emphasised the point that it was now time to take a rest from public service and here is how he put it: “Please, for those of you praying for me to get another federal assignment, I only have one answer. My people said the Abagana went to a neighbouring town of Ukuru and when asked whether it would come to Ukuru again, given its experience, it replied, ‘let me return from this one I have already come’. I would rather want to spend time in engineering in power system, in delivering power systems to industries, business clusters and so on and in making Nigerians see that what I said was possible when I was in government, I can help make happen as a private citizen. And I believe that will happen. Mr. President emeritus, Goodluck Jonathan, asked me a few weeks ago, ‘Prof., are you going to return to the university’. I said ‘No, Your Excellency. I have been teaching engineering in the university for a good part of my life, and I think going back to now teach, students who are I-Generation, iPad, iPhone, I-everything and with engineering so dynamic, I have to go for a refresher course. Otherwise, I will end up being taught by the students I’m claiming to teach. So, I would rather do other more practical things that I believe I can do’.

“Finally, to thank my brother, Chris Okoye. Most of us are from the South East. I have not known a man who has so passionately served our people in the South East geo-political zone – forging all kinds of relationships, building relationships to ensure the survival of the Igbo man. I really salute the courage of Engineer Chris Okoye. I do hope that all of us who are here, no matter who we represent, will also be working hard to ensure that in the future we, the people of South East, will become the industrial giant of Nigeria, will become the Taiwan of Nigeria, will become the Japan of Nigeria. And when that happens, we will now say ‘uhuru’. Thank you very much.”

Prof. Eze Mazulike, who gave the vote of thanks, seemed to have put the entire life and times of the former Minister when he said: “God picked him from his mother’s womb and continued to guide his step in the direction that will please Him.”

It is a statement that has a historical and spiritual antecedent. At the age of 10, Nebo was taken for dead when he fell from the roof of his classroom. He had gone in search of a ball pen given to him by his father for coming first in class. His then teacher had flung the pen away and as a child, he had thought the prized property was thrown into the ceiling and had gone for it at the end of class.

On hearing the news of his son’s “death”, the father had thrown his hands in the air and asked that if he lived, he would hand him over to God to serve him forever. Today, with prayer answered, Nebo, has not only served God, but humanity.

•Photo shows Prof. Nebo.

Source: News Express

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