By Dele Sobowale
The child was diseased at birth, stricken with hereditary ill that only the most vital [and fortunate] people are able to shake off. I mean poverty; the most deadly and prevalent of all diseases —Eugene O’Neill, 1885-1953.
NIGERIA is now the world’s largest breeder of poverty and our political leaders collectively and irrespective of party don’t give a damn. I was in Akwa Ibom on Monday, July 30, 2018; specifically in Essien Udim Local Government, sandwiched between Ikot Ekpene LG and Abia State on the now totally neglected Aba-Ikot Ekpene Federal Road. The LG was not on my itinerary when I set off from Lagos. But, an unexpected meeting with an indigene of Ikot Ada Utor community sent me scampering there. If you had been dropped blindfolded on the Aba-Ikot Ekpene Road at any point, it would be difficult for you to imagine that you are in Nigeria; let alone one in an oil producing state.
The neglect was total. From the Ikot Ekpene boundary to Abia State boundary and return, I met a total of seven vehicles including two trailers and one truck. The only means of transport available were motor cycles and tri-cycles. A motorist stranded on that road might wait for days without help. Virtually all the filling stations were closed down and the few still operating sell fuel at over N200 per litre. With economic life shut down, the level of poverty can only be imagined.
Several communities lying between Aba and Ikot Ekpene are already terribly impoverished with little hope of getting out of it because Presidents from Obasanjo to Buhari have refused to repair that road. Even Jonathan from the South South did nothing about it despite the overwhelming votes he received from them. It was callous.
The plight of the people of Essien Udim LG only serves as a metaphor for the unchecked and continuous pauperization of the majority of stakeholders of NIGERIA PLC under Buhari. Readers should bear in mind that to reverse our headlong crash into crushing poverty, the Nigerian economy must grow at five per cent every year for at least ten years before we can enjoy per capita income close to what we had in 2012. Right now, Buhari administration and the state governors are not getting us close to half of that figure. The economy grew at less than one per cent in the first quarter of this year. We wait for the Q2 result; but, it is unlikely to reach two per cent. Each quarter we grow at less than five per cent sends more people into extreme poverty. We now breed almost half of the people descending below the poverty line worldwide. Permit me to briefly explain the reasons.
Power supply defines all economies. Once upon a time, when Federal Government officials and some so-called technocrats were boasting about Nigeria becoming a top 20 economy by 2020, they were told to look at the gap in power generation between South Africa, SA, then number 32 and Nigeria. SA was already generating over 45000MW; Nigeria, officially, was stuck at 4000MW. Only the pervasive use of generators in Nigeria helped to close the gap. But, power generation by private companies made our products more expensive.
Today, the Nigerian power sector is in more disarray than when Buhari became President. The evidence stares us and investors in the face everyday. All the stakeholders in the power sector are at daggers-drawn. Consumers are in conflict with the Distribution Companies, DISCOs and the Minister in charge; the DISCOs are at war with consumers and the Ministry; generating units have a raging battle with DISCOs and the banks which financed the DISCOs are having a tough time collecting payments as and when due.
Meanwhile, the regulatory body National Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, has become more partisan than anybody expects. Designed to protect consumers from the awesome powers of the DISCOs, the NERC has turned deaf ears to the complaint of consumers regarding estimated billing and the failure of DISCOs to provide metres – meaning proof – that consumers are not being ripped-off. Even its latest announcement that consumers can procure their own meters has not been well-explained. Among important and unanswered questions are: who installs the meter? How can DISCOs be sure that they provide correct measurement? What happens if a meter becomes defective or gets burnt while a replacement has not been found?
Just recently some DISCOs announced their willingness to return their units to the Federal Government – even at a deep discount. The meaning of that is clear. Even those of them who had taken a “wait and see” attitude might no longer be willing to wait; because they have seen enough. When three or four DISCOs out of desperation quit in disgust, Nigeria would not just return to the starting point of public ownership, we would end with temporary chaos in the power sector which will make any rapid economic growth impossible.
Strategic roads and power define economic activities in any country. We have seen how atrocious policies on power are slowing us down. When we turn to our major roads and we should cry….