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    Friday, September 6, 2013

    PHCN, Let There Be Light

    In the modern world, electricity generation and its efficient distribution are keys to running the society. Humanity has come to depend largely on it in running homes and industries. And it is little wonder that all development agencies worldwide have seen power generation as a very strong variable in determining the level of development of a country. Because Nigeria generated very little electricity compared to its population, resources and potential, it has remained trapped at the bottom of development for many years. Indeed, since it became a political entity more than 50 years ago after getting independence from the British colonial power, the situation has gone from bad to worse.

    It is the belief of most public affairs analysts that the deplorable situation in the power sector in Nigeria was sustained by poor government policy, dearth of investment for many years (almost 25 years) and lackadaisical attitude often fuelled by political/official corruption. Therefore, investment in the power sector has been totally abysmal in the past, while huge funds expended in recent times could not be properly accounted for. This was even evidenced in the probe of the sector by the government of late President Umaru Yar’Adua in which loss of some billions of dollars became matters of public controversy. The later day intervention of the National Assembly committee to track the happenings in the power sector also did not succeed because the Committee itself was soon overtaken by allegation, and counter allegation of corruption. The hunter became the hunted. One public commentator remarked during the controversy that, “… in matters concerning gargantuan fraud in Nigeria, there is high tendency that the bottom of the pit would not be located, as controversy is deliberately introduced to get desired rest”.

    The late Chief Bola Ige, a politician in the mould of legacy builders like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, had a brief stint in the power sector and was determined to make a name from it. He was made the Minister for Power by his friend, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who was the President of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007. For reasons that were not too obvious, Chief Bola Ige must have recorded his first failure in the management of public affairs while in the power ministry. Indeed, it was during the time of the amiable Chief that the power sector witnessed one of the worst and embarrassing system collapses. Conflicting reasons were given for his apparent failure: first, sabotage of his good work by generator merchants, technocrats and civil servants. The second reason was said to be the Chief’s lack of deep understanding of technical details that power generation and distribution involved. The point was emphasised that not being an engineer, Chief Ige did not possess the technical knowhow that would have put him ahead of detractors in the sector. Yet, several years after Chief Bola Ige was murdered, the power sector had refused to improve to the level that will meet the desire of Nigerians.

    It is believed by some observers that the lawmakers in Nigeria can make a change in the lives of Nigerians if they could put the necessary pressure on government to make a quantum leap in power generation, transmission and distribution. If this kind of change will happen in Nigeria, the seriousness with which the legislators attend to the business of lawmaking, research into good governance and oversight functions must change. There must be unalloyed commitment to delivering to Nigerians as against concern with pecuniary gains flowing from the Chambers. Indeed, it seems to many that our lawmakers have become collaborators in undermining Nigerians.

    Few months after assuming the leadership of Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan launched a Roadmap to transforming the power sector in a ceremony that was attended by captains of industries in Lagos. The President also in several chats with the media promised that several thousands of megawatts would be added to power generation and transmission lines rehabilitated. In addition, the private sector will be invited to take the lead in driving the power sector in Nigeria through deregulation. It is apt to mention that deregulation of this sector has generated clashes between the government and labour that could smell rats in the way the process is unfolding.

    When fully deregulated, the power sector, like the telecommunication sector, will boost the Nigerian economy through massive creation of job opportunities, industrialisation and development of small businesses. It will be recalled that many factories have closed shops in Nigeria because of the problems created by lack of power. Therefore with reversal of the trend, many manufacturing outfits that relocated to the neighbouring countries of Ghana, Ivory Coast, etc, can be persuaded to return to Nigeria to make impact. For example, the collapse of the textile industry in Kano and Lagos could be traced to the collapse of power supply in Nigeria.

    President Jonathan must not fail Nigerians in the power sector and there are many compelling reasons for this. First, he must not fail because he promised to deliver power to our homes and industry while searching for votes that would get him power in 2011. Second, delivering on this promise could soften the heart of Nigerians towards him. Nigerians were indeed unhappy with President Jonathan because of the hardships that followed removal of fuel subsidy by his government early in the year 2012.

    Nigerians are therefore waiting for the President to make a difference in their lives. They want him to succeed in a place where past governments have failed blatantly. And given the history of failures in this important sector, disbelief and scepticism cannot but occupy minds of Nigerians.

    - Hon. Bayo Lawal, is a former Commissioner of Information in Oyo State.
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