Barth Nnaji: Why I Located $800m Geometric Power Plant in Aba

Barth Nnaji, chairman of Geometric Power Group, has attributed the reason he developed the $800m Geometric Power Plant in Aba to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the late James Wolfohnson.

He disclosed this at the recently convened leadership colloquium on “Igbo Leadership and Development.”

Nnaji linked the origins of the Aba power plant to the time when the late James Wolfohnson, a former president of the World Bank, was called to Aba by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the former minister of Finance for Nigeria, to witness personally the enormous economic and technological potential of Aba.

He said, “After the visit in 2004, the duo asked me to consider building a 50-megawatt power plant in Abia for manufacturers, both big ones like the Star Paper Mill and small ones like the hundreds of excellent shoemakers and clothiers at the famous Ariaria Market.

“They approached me obviously because I had led a small team of dedicated Nigerian engineers and entrepreneurs to build a 22megawatt Emergency Plant in Abuja in 2001 for the supply of electricity to State House, the NNPC headquarters, the Abuja Business District, and other places.

“I acceded to the request by Okonjo-Iweala and Wolfohnson. What the two did not realize was that my enthusiastic acceptance was because the plant would be located in Aba. This city has a special place in the heart and mind of every person interested in our country’s rapid progress: It is the home of indigenous manufacturing, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

Nnaji emphasised his enthusiasm for Nigeria’s quick development, beginning with Ala Igbo, citing the region’s tremendous technological and economic potential and the structural issues it has encountered since the end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970.

“Geometric Power Limited is making its contribution to help reclaim the old economic days of the Great Zik of Africa, M.I. Okpara, and many others. Once Geometric Power addresses the electricity challenge in nine out of 17 local government areas in Abia State fully, not even the sky will be the limit of the attainments of the people and government of Abia State. Abia can set the stage of development miracle which has been waiting to happen,” he said.

Nnaji also revealed that if the 188-megawatt Geometric Power Plant in Aba and the Aba Power Distribution Company in Osisioma Industrial Layout had been situated in Ikeja, the Ilupeju Industrial Estate in Lagos State, the Agbara Industrial Layout in Ogun State, or somewhere in the vicinity of the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, they would have been more profitable ventures.

Nnaji also said, “The return on investment would have been quicker and bigger (in these locations). However, we would have missed the strategic reason for locating both the generation and distribution arms of Geometric Power Group. Only the investors and promoters of Geometric Power would have benefited directly, but the people and governments of Ala-Igbo would be the losers.”

He stated that his first-hand experience of what industrialists in Igboland were going through was another reason why he chose to build the plant.

“As a professor of manufacturing engineering in the United States in the 1990s, I decided to build a plant in Emene, Enugu, to produce vehicle spare parts, including engines, of the highest standard in the world. After all, I had watched my former students from Taiwan and other places in Southeast Asia rush home to produce sophisticated auto parts and engines.

“So, we purchased a large swath of land for this purpose, but when my South Korean partners visited Enugu, it became obvious that the project would not take off principally because of poor electricity. While I was thinking of how to help resolve the electricity problem in Ala Igbo, Okonjo-Iweala and Wolfohnson made the request. The rest is history,” Nnaji added.

Nnaji described the journey in the words of Winston Churchill, former British prime minister, “it has since 2004 been tears, sweat, and blood.”

“I don’t want to tell the story of sweat, blood, and tears now; all I can say now is the game is worth the candle. Nothing can give as much fulfilment and satisfaction as working wholeheartedly for your people,” he added.

On Monday, 26th February, 2024, Vice-President Kashim Shettima, inaugurated the 188 megawatts Geometric Power Plant Aba.

The inauguration of the historic project took place 20 years after it was initiated, and nine years after its completion, but jinxed, following a legal battle with the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company, EEDC, which was recently resolved.

Speaking at the colourful event that attracted the presence of eminent personalities from across South-East, and the country, the vice-president said the project was a major milestone in the efforts of Nigeria towards achieving stable power supply.

He commended the owner of the multi-million dollar power project and former minister of Power, Professor Bart Nnaji, for conceptualising the great project, and patiently waiting for its coming on stream.

The vice-president commended the resilience of the former minister in enduring the years of delays and setbacks to his lofty dream.

He sympathised with him over the frustrations he was put through by some interested parties.

“About two weeks ago when I met Professor Nnaji I was curious to ask him how old he was. He told me that he was 67 years, and I was amazed. He looks 80 years. The tears and wears, and frustrations of 20 years have taken a great toll on him. But thank God, we are here to commission this game-changing project.”

The vice-president said that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and Nigeria were very proud of Professor Nnaji for the uncommon feat.

Shettima, who had earlier inaugurated three roads in Aba, also commended Governor Alex Otti for his giant strides, especially in infrastructural development.

“Today in Aba, I saw testimony to good leadership. I saw the outpouring of emotion and support for Alex Otti. Posterity will be very kind to him”, he said.

In her brief virtual remarks , the Director-General of World Trade Organization (WTO), Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said the actualisation of the project would help fast track economic development in Aba.

She said Nigeria should not have households and industries struggling for reliable power supply.

Applauding Professor Nnaji for his ingenuity and resilience, the WTO boss, appealed to state governors to provide the enabling environment to attract investors in their states.

In his speech entitled: ”The Power of Dream”, Gov. Otti described the inauguration of the power plant as a new dawn in the generation and distribution of electricity in the state.

He expressed gratitude to the President for the support he has been giving to his administration since he assumed office and assured the people of the State that his administration was just starting, adding that he would ensure he fulfilled his promises to them.

Otti also expressed delight that the project which started while he was in the banking sector, was being inaugurated under his watch as the state governor.

He said it would help stimulate business and industrial activities in Aba.

“Certainly, the success of this power project will not just validate my unyielding belief in Aba but would send a clear signal to local and international investors that Aba is open for business.

“Whatever your line of business, manufacturing, agro-processing, metal fabrication, woodworks, ICT, fashion, services, or retail, whatever be it, Aba is waiting to embrace you warmly because in addition to steady improvements in urban infrastructure, especially roads as we have witnessed since mid-2023, Aba residents and businesses will now enjoy reliable power supply all year round, thanks to Geometric Power”, the governor noted.

Otti urged Aba residents to promptly pay their electricity bills and not to engage in any act capable of undermining the economic interest of the company.

“The onus is now on us to pay our electricity bills as and when due. There must be no attempt to sabotage the revenue flow to the company because projects like this require steady cash flow for effective operations — including payment for gas supplies.

“Community leaders must also work closely with security agents to guard against any form of vandalisation of critical supply or distribution infrastructure either for reasons of criminality or wilful sabotage“, he said.

The governor also urged the Geometric Power Plant not to exploit electricity consumers nor take undue advantage of its power of monopoly in the area.

“On its own part, the business division of Geometric Power must consistently guard against any form of customer extortion, under whatever guise. I am glad to learn that the company had recently embarked on mass metering of households and business premises. It is my wish that the initiative is sustained until every customer gets a meter to gauge and manage their electricity consumption.

“Dtandard practice with respect to customer protection as spelt out in the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) Customer Protection Regulations, 2023, must apply across service frontiers — customer disconnection, meter reading, billing, management and resolution of complaints. It must be borne in mind at all times that the customer is king, especially in these economically challenging times.

“Your position as a monopoly within your operational area would in the medium to long term either become a door opener to other equally strategic markets, or a burden that would hurt the company’s capacity to expand to new territories. The choice is yours to make but I am of the view that if you serve Aba right through quality service delivery, wallet-friendly billing and responsiveness to customer complaints, the sky will simply be your starting point”, Oti said.

Minister for Power, Adebayo Adelabu, also commended Professor Nnaji for proving that Nigeria could provide local solution to its power challenge.

He said that what Nnaji did could only be found in few cities in the world, while urging residents to support the ingenuity by paying their electricity bills regularly.

Some of the dignitaries at the inauguration included former governor of Imo State, Senator Rochas Okorocha; the Obi of Onitsha, HRM Igwe Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe; the Chairman, Abia State Council of Traditional Rulers, HRM Eze Linus Nto; and his Enugu State Igwe Lawrence Agubuzo.

Others were the wife of the late Biafra warlord, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Ambassador Bianca Ojukwu; the President of AFREXIM Bank, Professor Okey Oramah; Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Ltd, Mele Kyari; and the son of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Seyi Obasanjo.

Senator Ifeanyi Uba, representing Anambra South; Senator Austin Akobundu, representing Abia Central, Rep. Obi Aguocha, and a host of other National Assembly members were also in attendance.

Members of the Abia State Executive Council, top government officials and members of the business community were not left out.