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Whatever name called and under whichever administration, the Ministry of Power is jinxed. When it was called the National Electricity Power Authority (NEPA), it was a supplier of darkness instead of light; causing Nigerians to change its name to Never Expect Power Always. As Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), it has, true to its name, been (with)holding power from Nigerians and dispensing darkness instead. To cut a long story short, let us take a look at the power situation since 1999 when the current civilian dispensation began; it is, however, not as if the situation of things preceding that period was any better. Four presidents have grappled with the problem of epileptic power supply (Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan, and now Buhari); rather than abate or regress, the problem has grown worse. And the issue has not been that of government being stingy with spending money or of the best of our hands not being deployed in that sector. Trillions of Naira or billions of dollars have been sunk in the sector – but it has all seemed like money down the drains. Good hands had been drafted to tackle the problem; one of them, the late Chief Bola Ige, aka Cicero, was so sure he would crack the nut that he boasted that in six months, he would deliver constant and stable power supply to Nigerians. He failed woefully and was yanked off the seat. None of those who came after him – politicians as well as professionals in the field – performed any better. The current Minister of Power, Babatunde Raji Fashola, is arguably one of the finest stars on the country’s firmament. His five-star performance as governor of Lagos State gave everyone the confidence that he would make a difference – but close to four years’ hence, he has not. We have tried all manner of systems – public sector-run, privatization, commercialisation, public-private sector-participation (PPP) – all have failed. We have shifted blames; that, too, has not helped matters.
That we have so spectacularly failed is one problem; but of greater worry is the fact that there is a cacophony of voices about what exactly are the problems and there are as many solutions as there are “experts” A problem properly diagnosed is a problem half solved, as they say. Some argue that our problems in the power sector have not been properly diagnosed. Others counter that it is the proffered solutions that are mired in selfishness, ego-tripping, and the generally-acknowledged Nigerian malaise called unbridled corruption. So, we keep moving forward and backward. We have experimented with virtually all “solutions”; yet, none has taken us anywhere near our desired destination. Common electricity supply, which minnow countries have mastered, has become rocket science to Nigeria. Every year, we suffer capital flight in the region of trillions of Naira on procurement of generators, spare parts, servicing, and diesel or black oil to power them. The three arms as well as three tiers of Government shamelessly lead the way in this regard. They provide constant power supply for themselves with generators at public expense while keeping the same public in darkness. The loss of comfort that the people suffer apart, the unquantifiable loss in irreplaceable human lives and an economy laid prostrate by epileptic power supply are tales of woes that Nigerians groan to tell on a daily basis. Those who lay this heavy burden on their fellow citizens hardly touch it with one of their fingers as they bend over backwards, most times leveraging on our common till, to make provisions that cushion the deleterious effects of epileptic power supply. Many have argued that this is the major cause of the problem: how can you ask people who do not suffer a problem to solve it? Who feels it knows it, says Rita Marley, and who wears the shoe knows where it pinches. None of those who have presided over the problem of erratic power supply wears the shoe or has no alternative source of power supply at their beck and call.
Before we x-ray the other problems and Fashola’s place in the quagmire, however, let us quickly comment on some other sensitive national issues, one of which is our return to the Obasanjo years in Benue state, with eight legislators in a 30-man House of Assembly purportedly angling to impeach the state governor. Such a shenanigan happened serially under Obasanjo. In Bayelsa, with Gov. DSP Alameseiyegha “impeached” by a House coaxed by the Nuhu Ribadu-led EFCC; in Plateau, six or so lawmakers impeached Dariye while security forces provided cover. In Oyo state, Gov. Adewolu Ladoja was “impeached” with impunity and in Ekiti, Gov. Ayo Fayose had to escape by the skin of his teeth before he was “impeached” by a House of Assembly held at gun-point by the EFCC and security forces. What of Gov. Chris Nigige of Anambra, who was kidnapped in broad daylight with the connivance, indeed clandestine directives, some have said, of the Obasanjo presidency? Those were perilous times indeed! Thank God for the redeeming grace of Yar’Adua, which his successor, Jonathan, carried forward: We said bye-bye to those days of the jackals and chorused “Never again!” But how mistaken! The locusts are back and the perilous times of the minority having their way while the majority is chained down are here again with a fury worse than Dante’s Hell. Calling Nigerians fools but also further exposing himself to ridicule and opprobrium, Buhari said he had no hand in the Benue debacle! Quote me: I can see his two legs in the matter – one is the EFCC, which has woken up late in the day to harass Gov. Samuel Ortom with so-called allegation of N22billion fraud, and the security forces providing cover for the minority legislators while driving away the majority legislators. Why is Buhari not calling EFCC and the security forces to order? Why is he playing, again, King Nero on this issue? Be it known to Mr. President that he can run but will never be able to hide away from the Benue rape of democracy. I dare to say that London, where he is currently said to be spending a 10-day “working holiday” (whatever that means!), is not far enough to take him away from the problems on the home front. By the way, what is “working holiday”? If Buhari will still be working, that is not holiday by the proper definition of holiday. If Buhari will still “work” from London, what is the need for an acting president at home in Nigeria? Hypocrisy, deceit, doublespeak, speaking from both sides of the mouth, and propaganda of the vilest order!
Back to Fashola! His spat, running into weeks now, with stakeholders in the power sector, the so-called new owners or investors in the sector, has seriously dented the Minister’s image and called his integrity into question. The only time he had it this bad was when Lagos state, where he had served two terms as governor, purportedly released damning information of alleged financial malfeasance against the ex-governor but the Pandora Box was quickly shut tight before many more genie could escape to regale the public. The much that was said, however, shocked many and shattered the aura of invincibility hitherto surrounding Fashola. In his on-going bout with PHCN stakeholders, it will appear as if the Minister’s traducers have had the upper hand. Fashola has accused them of being responsible for the recurring and perennial problem of epileptic power supply; he has accused them of sabotaging government’s efforts in many ways; he said they are deliberately not utilising power that has been generated; are not providing pre-paid meters to the public so as to continue to fleece them through the hated estimated billing system; and has ordered them to shape in or shape out. In countering the Minister, the stakeholders accuse Fashola of incompetence and arrogance; they say he is high-handed and behaves like an headmaster talking down on his pupils; they accuse him of misplaced priorities; that he is only interested in the award of big contracts which are misplaced and are of little relevance to the needs of the sector; and that the policies and decisions that would have moved the sector forward, especially as they pertain to what they call appropriate pricing and government paying its bills and keeping within agreements have deliberately been ignored by the Minister for selfish reasons. To sign off, the stakeholders called Fashola’s bluff, telling him they are ready to quit at a discount if their investment is given back to them by Government. When two elephants fight, it is the ground that suffers. Weighty allegations have been traded on both sides; unfortunately, we are in a government that will do nothing. Precedents tell us that even this, as important as it is, will be swept under the carpet. Expect very soon that both Fashola and the stakeholders will visit the Presidency, meet with the cabals, come out flashing Baba Bisi Akande-like toothpaste smile, embrace and grin from ear to ear for press photographers and declare their feud over. It was so with Baru and Kachikwu; Oyo-Ita and Kyari, etc. Case closed! What a government! What a country!