Task before the Power Minister
PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan’s commitment to the power reform agenda which will solve the electricity supply shortfall in the country remains one of his presidency’s key political anchor points.
The recent appointment of Chinedu Nebo, a professor and former Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, as the Minister of Power, to replace the immediate past Minister Barth Nnaji, is yet another move in the effort to provide clear institutional leadership for the sector.
As Nebo settles in, a few irrefutable factors present themselves upfront in this process. The first is the fact that much of the required power sector reform roadmap milestones have been delivered during the time of the former Minister, and the remaining deliverables, under the close monitoring of the Beks Dagogo-Jack led Presidential Task Force on Power, PTFP, which has been on seat for five months now.
The second is that he has a Minister of State for Power with whom he is expected to share the statutory responsibilities of the Ministry at the Federal Executive Council.
From all indications, and going by the opinions expressed by industry and government insiders, PTFP Chairman, Beks Dagogo-Jack enjoys tremendous respect in both government and industry circles.
It is further speculated that with respect to the management of the power sector, Mr. President has consistently demonstrated implicit confidence in the PTFP chairman’s handling, especially after seeing his ability to quickly turn around the sagging hopes in the sector following the forced exit of Nnaji. There is ample public consensus that it was largely the aggressive and progressive recovery activities of the PTFP which restored hope, momentum and credibility to the power agenda.
For the records, it was during the tenure of Dagogo-Jack, the PTFP chairman, that the highest ever peak power supply of 4517mw was achieved in the history of the nation. This period also achieved the highest energy delivered per day from our grid of over 95000 MWH.
Accordingly, the challenge before the new Minister is how to forge a formidable power team from the performing structure on ground. So often, the Nigerian tendency is to seek to undermine or dismantle existing structures they meet and seek to create or re-discover the new wheel on which to operate, so to speak.
There is also the issue of the kind of geo-political dynamics which kick in to unduly pressurize a new high profile political appointment, such that the core technical responsibilities of the job, more often than not, is pushed down the priority line; whilst sub-regional political interests dominate attention of a new appointee.
The distraction often occasioned by these diversionary forces can seriously determine how effective a new political appointee can be. This is even more crucial in the case of the power sector reform, which cannot endure any such distractions in the face of the complicating daily challenges confronting it.
Coming back to specifics , the key questions to ask are: How fast can the new Minister learn and settle himself into the high speed, highly complex and constantly changing sector issues for which even a normal learning curve would appear very slow?
Again, what is the depth of the managerial experience and capacity of the new Minister which will determine how well and how quickly he can secure the confidence of the sector operatives and the industry in general?
His antecedents suggest a sense of hope being a technical person-cum-public administrator but since most of his experience is university-based, which is a segment of the society, with limited interplay of socio-economic forces, he will need to ramp up his environment adjustment instincts very quickly which will enable him navigate the new often brackish, shark-infested waters without becoming easily preyed.
One certain way of achieving this will be securing early alignment with the PTFP, and to design an effective partnership with the ad-hoc agency which will provide him with the technical backbone he needs to stay on course in the pursuit of the conclusion of the remaining few steps in the transformation of the power sector.
Another imperative is for the new Minister to understand very early the distinction in the responsibilities and duties between the PTFP and the Ministry, and to avoid permitting his process and political hangers-on to deliberately confuse and conflict this clear role distinctions. There appears to be a strong agreement in Presidency circles to position the PTFP as a sector performance ombudsman.
This is the practice even in the United States where the President may appoint a special force outside of the statutory agency to strengthen performance capacity to enable the President win certain priority agenda of his administration. When well understood, such an ad-hoc agency becomes a great asset. When not understood, the conflict generated by trying to suppress the agency results in unpredictable implosions.
In a sense, history has chosen Nebo at a significant moment in our national quest for electricity adequacy and reliability. The same history chose other Nigerians in the past who failed to finish the race with wisdom and in glory.
If what is reported about the new Minister is even true, then we should expect to see him learn from the mistakes of the past and place himself through wisdom on the right side of history in the collective effort to successfully transform Nigeria’s long troubled power sector.
Mr. SEBASTINE OBASI a staff of Vanguard Newspaper.