Viewpoint - September 5, 2021

Eight leadership takeaways from Saleh, Power Minister’s, sack

By Emmanuel Ononokpono

Fired For Zero Fire.

Before September Day, one couldn’t use the name Buhari and the word ‘sack’ in the same sentence.

When he named his cabinet six months after his election, President Buhari maintained the same team throughout his first term. This was inspite of some of them performing woefully, far below expectations.

But Nigerians were stunned on September 1, when the president did the unthinkable and announced the firing of two of his ministers – Saleh Mamman, and his Agriculture and Rural Development ministry counterpart, Sabo Nanono. The president hinted that the floodgates of firings has been opened.

On our part, let’s interrogate the various aspects of leadership of Saleh Mamman who got the boot from the Ministry of Power, to draw invaluable insights and lessons.

His decisive failure in office as Minister of Power offers us priceless examples to avoid.

Sale Mamman, (many, just like yours truly, are not sure if his first name is with or without an ‘h’),
an engineer, you would give to him, did not have a simple task. His predecessors did not have it easy.

First, he had unenviable task to fire up Nigeria with adequate and stable electricity as minister of power.

In doing that, he was expected to out-perform his predecessor, Babatunde Fashola, a lawyer, who left, arguably, big shoe behind for him to fill.

By the president’s assessment, Saleh did none of that. He failed to deliver.
His story is interesting and unique in that the President knew him personally before his appointment and expected him to make a difference, by succeeding where others failed.

Being an indigene of Taraba state, where the 3,050 megawatts (MW) hydroelectric Mambilla Project is located, Nigerians expected Saleh to get it up and going.
But he couldn’t live up to the bill. Here’s why Saleh failed.

His predecessor, Fashola, instituted monthly meetings where all heads of departments, agencies, Chief Executive Officers of the 11 electricity distribution companies (DISCOs) and generation companies (GENCOs) usually met to take stock of their programmes, policies and activities, and fine-tune their strategies in tackling sectoral challenges.

Sadly, that meeting was never held under Saleh. The removal of that platform opened the door of crisis amongst various stakeholders.
LESSON NO. 1: Regular meetings are important instruments for leaders to excel. Such meetings bring all concerned, protagonists and antagonists, to the round table and put them on same page, for progress.
A leader who doesn’t hold meetings with his team risks crisis of confidence.

Also, the policy that allowed bulk electricity consumers to purchase power directly from GENCOs, instituted by his predecessor went into limbo.

The power sector regulatory authority, the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), was compelled to issue a statement to debunk claims that it was responsible for the death of that policy. Till Saleh’s unceremoniously exit from office, he made no mention of it.
LESSON NO. 2: Don’t kill a working strategy simply because you didn’t introduce it or like the person who did. The great leader builds on success he inherited to make it better.

From August 21, 2019 when Saleh was appointed Minister to September 1, 2021, when he was removed from office, he never held a single press conference to present an articulated vision or policy direction of electricity for the country.
The Nigerian darkness-grappling public never knew his name, let alone what he was doing.
Although they knew what he wasn’t doing-providing electricity.
Some analysts drew the conclusion that he was “media-timid”.
LESSON NO. 3: Articulation of vision is a critical success factor of the leader. If you can’t see it, you can’t achieve it.

Throughout Saleh’s time in office as Minister, he never embarked on tour of power projects around the country.
LESSON NO. 4: The leader needs a first hand knowledge of both human and material resources at his disposal, to be able to handle his work.
You cannot lead what you don’t know.

Perhaps, owing to Saleh’s inability to rally all stakeholders to his side, internal crisis broke amongst power sector agencies and companies on the one hand, and he and heads of some of the key agencies and parastatals under the Ministry of Power, on the other.
GENCOs complained of obsolete equipment and over N2trillion outstanding debts, in addition to inter-sectoral blame game gas supplies and other issues that militayed against their effective performance.
LESSON NO. 5: The leader is the muster point. His or her ability to rally his team is of the essence. If your team cannot converge on you, be sure of this one thing, you are a repellant, a, failure waiting to happen.

For his reasons, which many considered self-serving, Saleh sacked the Managing Director of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) Mrs Damilola Ogunbiyi in December 2019.
His boss, the President, reversed the sack.
On another occasion, when internal crisis broke among power sector agencies, he found a scapegoat in the Managing Director of Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), Usman Gur Mohammed, and gave the boot.
That move drew the ire of the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha. Again, the decision was reversed.
LESSON NO. 6: Where you have to take decisions that require the input of your bosses, consult and receive their nod. Unilateral decisions will leave you standing all by yourself!

He had a running battle with the former Managing Director of Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading PLC (NBET), Dr Marilyn Amobi, until the latter was removed from office in June 2020.
LESSON NO. 7: Battles, particularly needless battles, are energy-sapping and distractive. Pick and choose fights only when you cannot avoid them. Don’t be all-comers’ pugilist.

After the appointment of Board members for the TCN on January 2021 their letters were never found. Although the letters were confirmed to have left the office of the SGF, the appointees never got the documents till Mamman left office.
LESSON NO. 8: Attention to detail at all times ensures the leader does not derail. Leaders who are painstaking in their approach never have to bear unnecessary pain, of failure.

Please strive to be a great leader.


Ononokpono, a radio anchor on leadership issues, wrote from Abuja

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