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Revisiting The Power Sector

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There is no contesting the obvious – the  Nigeria power sector is  trapped in a  cyclic strain of hopeless inefficiency – nobody seems to have any clear – cut  approach beyond  half-measure experimentation  procedurals    nor can its affliction be properly diagnosed – let alone apply the right remedial  combination  for  its many woes .  The perception built on the problem of the sector is defective by the size of the wrong diagnosis –this perception   is more of an optical illusion —the exact depth –location and spread are not what they seem at a distance. A closer in-depth look unveils a heap of mess far beyond the reach of earlier remedial prescriptions. Perhaps this explains why the ruling party, All Progressives Congress, APC, on whose hands the baton for repositioning the power sector is, had to revise its ambitious pre-election campaign promises on the power sector.

The government seems to have made some modest effort and may not have jettisoned its election campaign promises to the Nigeria public when it vowed to give the nation 20,000 watts of electricity in four years. What is particularly   interesting is that in the twilight of   regime’s first term, instead of a victory song for  approximating to expectations ,    the current minister – Babatunde Fashola who superintend over  the power ministry  is compulsively  manifesting   a  depressing  genetic  level of despondency  on the state of the nations power sector . Speaking at the Nextier Power Dialogue recently in Abuja he was reported to have said “

“There are problems without a doubt and we must deal with them. But let me remind you, all of the assets that the Ministry of Power used to control for power have been sold by the last administration before I came. And so if you don’t have power, it is not the government’s problem. Let us be honest.

“The people who are operating the power sector, generation and distribution are now privately owned companies. I am here because I am concerned. If your telephone is not working, it is not the minister of communication that you go to. Let us be very clear.”

One may however want to ask whether Fashola and his party were not aware of this fact when they drafted the party manifesto in which they promised to inject 400000 watts into the power sector in eight years: “The APC Government shall vigorously pursue the expansion of electricity generation and distribution of up to 40,000 megawatts in four to eight years. The party will also work assiduously at making power available from renewable energy sources, such as coal, solar, hydro, wind and biomass for domestic and industrial use, wherever these prove viable.”

The party was so convinced of the efficacy of its therapeutic wherewithal for the power sector that it chided the Jonathan administration for failing so woefully in the business of providing electricity to the people: “Nearly 16 years of PDP administration gave this country a miserly addition of 1,400 Mega Watts against the expenditure of more than $16 billion. That translates to 18.5 MW per annum “this abysmal power production and distribution, with its attendant socio-economic implications, is the most irresponsible thing a government can do to its people. “The only conclusion to draw from this is that the PDP is more interested in feathering the nest of importers of generators than in the wellbeing of Nigerian citizens and their businesses.”

Fashola has been on the saddle for quite some time now which puts him in a good stead to offer a verdict as his tenure winds up. This much was evident recently when he owned up to the challenges against the realization of the promised 20000 watts which his party promised the nation but ended up in a gross shortfall

“I think it is time to come down to the reality of the bolts and nuts of governance. It is, in fact, aspirational to say we want to get here. And if we haven’t reached there, it doesn’t mean that we haven’t made a legitimate effort, it also doesn’t mean that progress has not been made.” 

The baton of helplessness on the right approach to the power is routinely passed from regime to regime –hence    the situation is not peculiar to any regime.  At the turn of any political dispensation, candidates of political parties normally draw huge campaign promises on the power sector. Being the weakest link in the nation’s infrastructure chain, everybody listens with rapt attention when any political party claims to have found the talisman to turn things around and usher in a new regime of stable power for the nation’s industrialization take off. On this  account, the nation has seen many duplication of hollow rituals from one administration to the other, intended to bring the much desired turn around in the near comatose power sector. It normally doesn’t take too long for any incumbent political leader to take a peep inside the dark recess of the nation’s power architecture –afterwards expectations are, however, more in the range of the usual litany of inadmissible excuses.

At the advent of the nation’s democratic experience in 1999 Obasanjo was upbeat with boisterous claims of having discovered the mysterious clog that had obstructed the growth and fastened the decay of the power sector. He went on to sack the entire management of the power corporation and brought a new team. After, while searching for a workable therapy, there wasn’t any impressive measure of progress recorded. He later admitted that he underestimated the extent of   rot and that he never thought it had reached such monstrous scale. Later, Jonathan came with his own brand of therapy which was anchored on privatization. It only downed on the nation lately that the Jonathan –inspired privatization scheme inherited by this regime is bogged down by controversy. Claims were rife that several aspects of the scheme were handed over to people based on partisan consideration –favoritism and cronyism which enabled those with the right link and connection to be in possession of vital power assets yet lacking in requisite technical knowhow and financial muzzle to undertake the scheme to completion.

The several bailout funds handed down to these operators shortly after they took possession of the power assets would render validity to this claim. However, the nation now has good reason to be grateful that  some of these  supremely influential pseudo -power –entrepreneurs have finally  ran themselves into a deep hole – the power sector operators themselves have come to realize their inadequacies and failures  and are ready to quit. In apparent resignation, Tukur Modibbo, an investor in the Jos Electricity Distribution Company, challenged the minister to refund $72 million out of the $82 million he purportedly invested and he would quit in 24 hours. There is no better indication that the current privatisation scheme has failed; hence it is in urgent need of review. Just like his predecessors, Fashola should simply accept the reality and commence action on the right processes for a review of the current arrangement.

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