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Sustaining the modest gains of power reform

By Pini Jason
RECENTLY President Goodluck Jonathan told CNN’s British-Iranian anchor Christine Amampour that the power sector has witnessed a “tremendous improvement”. Many Nigerians scoffed at that.

They compared Nigeria’s current peak of 4517 megawatts as at 21 December 2012 with a country like South Africa with over 40,000 megawatts and dismissed Jonathan’s assessment as rather hubristic.

I think coming from where we were a few years ago when we had less than 2000 megawatts and considering the investment in infrastructure as well as the progress made in the reform road map launched in August 2010, Jonathan had reasons to sound upbeat.

And those who look at where we ought to be and the challenges ahead also have reasons to have a dim view of our achievement. It is natural for the public, in such matters, to focus on the destination and not acknowledge the distance so far traversed and the challenges facing the rest of the journey.

Some of the challenges littering the path of the power reform road map include what I read in Thisday newspaper of Thursday 28 February 2013 concerning legal and union matters yet to be resolved, as well as coordinating the multiplicity of government agencies and other organisations whose activities impact on the power reform. As for the political will to reform the sector, only the most mischievous cynic would doubt the President and his power reform team now led by the Hon. Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedum Nebo and supported by Engr. Reynolds BeksDagogo-Jack.

The legal issues ought to be no problem if the Federal Government acts in good faith and obeys all agreements, contracts and Memoranda of Understanding entered into with every stakeholder in the power sector. Some of the crises that have dogged many government projects and programmes arise from inconsistency in honouring agreements. If some of these agreements are entered into without due diligence or rigour, or their implementations are handicapped by the intrigues of civil servants who, for 30 pieces of silver, doctor agreements to the detriment of larger Nigerian interest, then it calls for more vigilance as well as severe punishment of those culpable. There is no reason why two parties to agreements should have two different understanding of the same agreement. Such legal rigmarole poses problem to investor’s confidence in a privatising economy. Alternatively, government should seek arbitration and interpretation in the law courts and abide by their decisions.

One of the most daunting challenges to the power reform is labour matters. I guess it is among the unions you find some of the “demons” Prof. Nebo spoke about during his screening. He needs to be informed that like bulls that carry their own china to the shop, the “demons” in the unions carry their own prayer warriors to contest for principalities in the power sector with the venerable Prof. Recall that when Prof. Barth Nnaji was to be screened as Power Minister, the unions in the sector organised marathon prayer sessions and fasting to forestall his confirmation. And when Prof. Nnaji resigned, they celebrated their victory over the power of light! Since then there has been a noticeable relapse in power supply. The Nigerian worker is essentially driven by entitlement mentality and is determined to extract his pound of flesh, especially when he sees lawmakers arm twist the nation for a statutory kickback called constituency projects!

Yet, another area that requires deft manoeuvring is dealing with the multiplicity of agencies related to the power sector. Apart from the Presidential Action Committee on Power, chaired by the President, the Ministry of Power, and the PTFP, we have the National Council on Privatisation headed by the Vice President, the Bureau of Public Enterprises, the National Electricity Regulation Commission, the National Independent Power Project, the succeeding companies, the Electricity workers’ unions, the National Assembly, Ministry of Labour, the Ports Authority, Nigerian Customs Service, etc, etc. Any clash among some of these agencies headed by very powerful individuals could spell delay or danger. To coordinate all these agencies for synergy becomes very important. Two people are very important in creating that synergy—the Minister of Power and the Chairman of PTFP.

I met Prof. Nebo for the first time between 2002 and 2003 in Enugu, when we were forming the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA. Prof. Nebo, a Venerable of the Anglican Church, used to offer homilies for us before our meetings at Engr. Chris Okoye’s residence. He was also very close to us when we served in Owerri. He conducted church service for us on the last day of our Enlarged Executive/ Legislative Retreat at Nike Lake Hotel, Enugu, in August 2007. We later invited him to deliver the rebranded Ahiajoku lecture in 2010. Prof. Nebo is a good man, a systems man and a team player. His achievements as the Vice Chancellor of University of Nigeria, Nsukka and FederalUniversity, OyeEkiti in so short a time, speak eloquently for him. But the Nigerian political environment, most times, does not brook good men. As I warned Prof. Dora Akunyili a day before she was sworn in as Minister, nothing she had achieved in NAFDAC would count in her favour in the political environment she was going into. Recall that at a critical time, Nasri El-Rufai, whose own tenure as Federal Capital Minister continues to be questioned, dismissed Akunyili’s tenure at NAFDAC as “a mess” she needed to go and clean up.

I have never been under the same roof with Engr. Dagogo-Jack. But I have followed his career trajectory and what I know of his pedigree is a vast experience that traversed the Technical Committee on Privatisation and Commercialisation era and the Bureau of Public Enterprises. A fellow of Nigerian Society of Engineers, he was Senior Special Assistant to the President on Performance and Monitoring for NIPP. The PTFP which he heads is charged with developing, monitoring, facilitating and fast tracking the power sector roadmap to a point of irreversibility. If there are players in the sector today with the experience to create synergy among the multiplicity of agencies relevant to the power reform, Engr. Dagogo-Jack is among them.

Given the problems of Task Forces of late, I believe that the first step is to find synergy between the assignment of the PTFP and the responsibilities of the Honourable Minister of Power. Once they find that common ground, both of them can then overcome the intrigues of all the “demons” in the power sector that may bring conflict to their roles. And the modest progress made so far can be sustained.

 


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