Solving Nigeria’s Despairing Power Sector Problem

by Eferovo Igho

Perhaps the only name that has not changed in governance in Nigeria is the name ‘Nigeria’. Names upon names, acronyms upon acronyms have unceasingly inundated us. If development were to come by acronyms Nigeria would have become a Utopian realized. But progress and development do not come by acronym, which is why PHCN is as leprous as NEP Plc, NEP Plc as Augean as NEPA, and NEPA more stinking than ECN. In fact, the communi consensu is that the then Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) was far more effective than all the rest after it. This was so because corruption was at its lowest ebb and expertise conscionably applied then. Today, we are searching for another word for Nigeria’s corruption.

This piece is not unmindful of the seeming improvement Goodluck Jonathan has brought to the power sector. We think it is too insignificant though. And that is apart from the possible fact that this marginal upping of result here could be all about the 2011 elections; and after which we grind to a halt again. Until Jonathan is seen to roll out more purposively and with breathtaking output and results, and enduringly so, we will remain unsatisfied and doubtful. And until Jonathan has no cause to apologize to us near the end of the day as government did under Yar’Adua we really cannot see anything yet that Jonathan is doing. The power sector deserves more than bamboozling politics.

When Obasanjo went to Aso Rock to take what ‘he forgot’ at Dodan Barracks, he met Nigeria generating about 2,000 megawatts of electricity. Renowned for forming doubtful visionary projects he went into castle building in the matter of our power sector. He promised to up those megawatts to 10,000MW. And before you could filter that in properly, PHCN had been split into 18 companies with contracts to build Independent Power Projects awarded across your country, and this was besides designing National Integrated Power Projects to provide power plants here and there. But guess what: Millions upon millions started exchanging hands, and at the end of it all 16 BILLION U.S. DOLLARS has been reportedly expended. What did we get? A fund that should help us have installed capacity of 40,000MW and help us achieve generating strength of the same megawatts in prudent management gave us a meager 4,000MW with generating strength put at 3,000MW. That with sixteen billion U.S. Dollars!

And so today, the enigma and riddle that is the power sector is still with us. The sector is as disordered as ever as if peanuts were not even spent on it. Not even pep talks and very constructive and good articulation of public affairs commentators could arouse good enthusiasm on the part of the past administration of Obasanjo to peg away with so important a duty. Those who now say that Obasanjo and his team held with the hare and ran with the hounds may be damned right. OBJ promised one thing, sunk the fund of the living and posterity, but gave us something very different. Ndidi Elumelu and colleagues said it differently.

The Power Sector Probe Panel of the House of Representatives which Elumelu headed lifted the lid off the underhand practices that governed the power sector under Obasanjo when it said that due process were not followed in the award of contracts; that OBJ simply waived due process on most of the contracts so awarded under the NIPP; that HE GOT NO APPROVAL OR CONSENT OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY to disburse funds so disbursed; that he awarded contracts to cronies; and that there were over-invoicing of projects, 100 percent up-front payment for contracts and abandonment of sundry contracts after huge mobilization fees have been collected by such contractors. Leadership my foot!

And while we were still savouring the boldness of Elumelu and colleagues for an open secret made public and for babble well told and anchored, the N6 billion Rural Electrification Agency contract scam involving Elumelu and others surged into our glare. It was another can of worms: in the power sector. Elumelu and friends had 156-count charge filed against them by EFCC for offences bordering “on criminal conspiracy and breach of trust”.

It was one of the greatest twists I know of in Nigeria: Obasanjo took $16 billion to the power sector and left it comatose; we saw duplicity well mastered; and Elumelu decided to ‘cough’. He sought equity, but as it appeared not with clean hands. And the table turned disastrously against him, and you were again made to think that OBJ de kampe, is invincible. To question OBJ’s insuperability henceforth meant you’ve not learnt anything in Elumelu. Obasanjo is still breathing the free air like you and I.

Under Yar’Adua, government was said to have approved N43 billion for the rehabilitation of PHCN’s equipment that have broken down across the country to enhance power supply before the end of that year. Who said 16 billion U.S. Dollars spent by Obasanjo is not in limbo. In any case, the Yar’Adua and PHCN badly needed that sum. They said they need it so that they can take power generation to 6,000MW before the end of that year. But before you could digest that they started melting in hope and talking in terms of failure. They said they lacked gas supply to meet that target. They were doubtful almost from day one. Rilwanu Babalola, the then Power Minister, actually said, “Gas supply is one of our major challenges. We received just about half or barely below half of what we require for power generation. We have 5,000MW-installed capacity in place. That means that if we have enough gas, and we don’t have limitations in water in the hydro plants, we will be able to run 5,000MW. Gas is an issue of concern”. And the promised 6,000MW ended up as mere illusion after all.

While government was not even sure of running 5,000MW, while gas was an issue of concern, and while hydro plants present hiccups, the same government was talking of providing 6,000MW by December of that year. And meanwhile, N43 billion has been approved to replace obsolete equipment to achieve failure.

The pain that has been ours due to all these rubbish at the power sector is most hurting, and that on all fronts. We take one. According to Reginald Odia, Chairman, Infrastructure Committee of MAN, manufacturers spend N49 billion yearly on power supply. That is the added cost of doing business in Nigeria. This is talking about big time manufacturers alone. Industrial sector collapse is the result. Big time industries are closing down as a matter of norm and rule. The fate of SMEs can best be imagined.

Apparently disenchanted by the rubbish in the power sector, establishment lady, Cecilia Ibru, who got almost all the awards in the banking sector home and abroad before she got the reward that rubbished all of that, once said that it had been established that uninterrupted power supply was essential to the growth of small businesses the world over. Nigeria “needed to address the situation by pursuing alternative power generation methods, including solar energy and gas-driven energy”. We can take her advice seriously even as we are sure she is learning her hard lesson of not tampering with people’s money! It is however very disheartening that many that should be learning similar lessons for stealing our monies in the power sector, or to put it mildly, for mismanaging that sector are not.

And even while almost every member of the establishment was consumed with shame, there was (and still is) one spurious Vision 20-20-20, an absurdity and hollowness pulled together by this same Obasanjo. Its hugely jangly effect has been such a matter of worry for our ears. We thought the exit of OBJ would relieve us of this. But not at all! Yar ’Adua swallowed it hook, line and sinker with no visible action. He ran blindly with it. Jonathan is also running with it almost purposelessly. The situation on groun

d suggests that we are targeting being among the 20 least developed economies by 2020; that is, if we are not there already.

We do not conjure anything in governance. We work things out. By the way: If North America, Europe and the Asian Tigers decide to close down and wait for Nigeria to catch up, it still cannot if we do things the 16 billion U.S. dollar way. It is doubtful if we can catch up with South Africa, Egypt and even Ghana were they to wait for us, going by the way Nigeria went these few years. Nobody waits for anyone anyway!

While Nigeria is providing her 150 million citizens with 3,000 to 4,000MW, or apparently a little bit more than that now under Jonathan, South Africa with a population about a quarter of ours has been generating 40,000MW and has since poised to add another 11,000MW to that. Ghana’s power sector is working. If size is our problem as some have muted, our so-called leaders need to know that India provides about one million megawatts for over its one billion plus populace. Neither is geographical nor demographic size the problem.

There is an Augean stable before us in the power sector. To clear the decks we may begin to act with lively consciences. Obasanjo was almost completely bereft of that. Yar ’Adua had no courage enough to square up to the task of redeeming this sector and by extension redeeming the nation. Jonathan is touching the tip of the iceberg. He must be all out to clean and empty the sector of corruption, anomalies, and actuate men to observe the rules or else they should get squarely punished. He must be seen to be on purpose and not mere politics. He must be seen to be well saddled accordingly for not to is to be an accomplice by design. He must home in on result, colossal result.

Our industries must not know power outage. Our homes must be lit and remain lit. Our streets must be aglow in the night. All we need is light, light and light! To achieve that he only need to squarely fight corruption in the sector. And if he does who knows whether a vision 30-30-30 may be realizable! Whilst we must stop deluding ourselves by way of silly visions, it must also be said that there is nothing abstruse about the operations of a power sector. If men have made monster of the sector, it must also take men to make it work. Fight corruption squarely!

And if it is true, as grapevine would make us believe, that the sector is jinxed because at some points it was dedicated to one fetish called sango, then we may call for National Day(s) of fasting and prayers to the Almighty God. With God, nothing shall be impossible. To factor in God in governance is the best thing in governance. It is the surest way to success, enduring success. After all, God rules in the affairs of men!

We really cannot afford to waste our monies in this sector and handlers of the sector unceasingly. And we hope Jonathan is all ears! He must act.

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