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Power and Govt promises

By Dele Sobowale

“The Federal Government last week approved the sum of $3.7bn to improve power transmission so as to wheel 20,000MW”, Vice-President Sambo in Canada.

National economies run on power and it is no longer news that low power output has been the major constraint militating against Nigeria achieving double-digit gross domestic productivity, GDP, growth. For a country whose publicly generated power had been less than 5,000 MW for decades, it is a minor miracle that we have consistently achieved close to 7 per cent GDP growth for about five years in a row.

However, that miracle is partly explained by the fact that Nigeria actually generates more than the official 4,250 MW. Unfortunately, nobody knows how much power this nation actually produces. For instance, the major oil producers have never depended on the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, for their power supply.

They generate their own power. Similarly, major manufacturers like Nestle and Lafarge or Dangote Cement or Nigerian Breweries have long learnt not to rely on government to provide cheap power. Instead they use slightly more expensive self-generated power.

Perhaps if the Federal Government can undertake a study of the major generators of power, we might have an idea of how much power we are actually consuming. But, the preponderance of self-generated power explains why manufactured goods made in Nigeria are not competitive and why the nation’s markets are flooded with imports. In fact, no Nigerian company can compete if it is not somehow protected by tariffs against imports from nations where power supply is guaranteed.

From my personal experience as a fish farmer, I know that the cost of producing catfish could be reduced by 40 per cent if fish farmers don’t have to generate their own power. The nation’s cultured-fish supply could be doubled in five years if cheap power supply is available and malnutrition will take a plunge as less expensive fish hits Nigerian markets and tables.

Today, we are inundated by products from China – which had recently overtaken the United States of America as the nation generating the most power in the world. China generates I.4 million MW; while USA delivers 1.3 million. By contrast, Nigeria’s 4,250 MW hardly satisfies one section in New York city. For more than 12 years, this country had added only about 1500 MW to its power supply as at 1999.

The recent announcement that the country would require up to 2025 to attain 30,000 MW must have been one of the reasons why the Minister of National Planning had also shifted the ground on the Vision 20:2020. Dr Usman had finally woken up to the fact that no country generating less than 40,000 MW by 2020 can rank among the top 20. economies, who had all along dismissed Vision 20:2020, as a mere illusion, have now been proved right. Why it took Usman so long to realise that Nigeria is not producing enough power to reach top 20 in 2020 is the mystery the Minister himself will have to unravel for us.

Now the Vice-President, who like others in government, had subscribed to the Vision 20:2020 pipe dream, has now announced another ambitious goal for power generation. Ordinarily, this would have been a cause for optimism, but all the PDP governments, since 1999, have had an atrocious record of broken promises when it comes to power generation. Jonathan was the Vice- President when the Yar’Adua-Jonathan government promised to declare a Power Emergency.”

It never came. Before that, President Obasanjo sank $13-16 billion into power generation designed to increase the output to 10,000 MW by 2007, according to the former Minister, Lyel Imoke. It never happened. By 2009, Nigerians were told to expect 6,000MW by 2010, it never came.

The announcement above, in reality, has raised more questions than applause and, with all due respect, the Vice-President is not convincing. To start with, if $13-16 billion was going to raise the power output to 10,0000 MW, how on earth, can $3.7 billion get us to 20,000 MW?

Federal Government officials insult themselves, not us, when they make announcements on power that are easily refuted. This is one of them. It will be interesting to know the magic that will be performed as a result of which this miracle will be achieved. In addition, if $13-16 billion was wasted, where is the guarantee that $3.7 billion will not also disappear into the black hole of corruption; which the Federal Government had done very little to plug?

Furthermore, the announcement is not very useful to prospective investors for a particular reason. It does not provide the timeline. When are we to expect the 20,000MW to start flowing? Investment decisions concerning power supply are generally made well in advance.

People need to know whether they should invest in new generators and when. Such decisions are based on the information supplied by government about prospective power supply from PHCN. Right now, we don’t know any more than we did yesterday. That is not good enough from a Vice-President.

Meanwhile, a call to seven Chief Executive Officers of manufacturing companies, covering three sectors, to ask for their views about the promised 20,000MW power supply revealed that not a single CEO of a major company believed the Federal Government. Without exception, they find the announcement unconvincing.

Individuals interviewed were also skeptical. They all point to the catalogue of failed government promises in the past. And they are right. Nothing less than 15 different deadlines, to reach certain levels of power output, had been announced since 1999. Government had disappointed in all of them. Nobody believes the Federal Government any more – even if the announcer is the Vice-President. Or even the President.

TWO YEARS GONE; TWO TO GO.

“Are you better off this year than four years ago?” US Presidential Candidate, Reagan in 1980.

Ronald Reagan, who went on to defeat incumbent President Jimmy Carter, used that question to great advantage in that election. When this month ends, President Jonathan would have completed two of his four years term as President elected in 2011. Altogether, he would have completed three years as Head of State. Three years is a long time for a leader to demonstrate his leadership ability to the people. It is also sufficient time for us as a people to ask ourselves whether or not we have experienced positive change in the period under review.

This column will attempt to summarise the achievements of the Federal Government on five parameters – employment, power supply, investment, education and security. But, before I have my say, why not send me your views first. Are you better off now than in 2011? Do you feel more secure? Is the job situation better? Is education improving and is investment increasing?


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.