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The new Minister of Power and the old unfulfilled promise

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By Dele Sobowale

“[Government]  promises  like  pie-crusts  are  made  to  be  broken.” — Jonathan  Swift,  1667-1745.  VANGURAD  BOOK  OF  QUOTATIONS  p  203.

“Minister assures Nigerians of stable power supply”. —   News report,  September  16,  2019.

The Minister of Power,  Mr  Sale  Mamman was reported to have given that assurance the previous day after inspecting a  215-megawatts Kaduna power plant.  Whether or not the Minister expects to  be taken seriously is not clear.  But,  he  was reported to be promising Fellow Nigerians that bit of magic before the end of the Buhari administration tenure.  That tenure ends in  44 months from now.  To  those  of  us  who  have  written  on  these  pages  for  years,  the  Ministers  utterances  amount  to  “the  same  stale  stew;  warmed  up  and  served  in  new  plates.”  (apologies  to  Babangida).  Mr Mamman might not realise it,  but he is only the latest Minister of Power to tell Nigerians what has become a tiresome joke.  If  this is supposed to be a joke; he should stop it.  It does nothing to enhance his  reputation and that of the government he serves as Minister of Power.  Before he continues to embarrass himself,  the Minister needs to be reminded of the history of the Ministry he heads.  We star with the Buhari administration.

Sale Mamman
Sale Mamman

“Power  generation  falls  to  2,970  0n  Discos’  demand.” —   News  Report,  August  26,  2019.

The Minister might have been out of the country on  May  29,  2015 when the President in his inaugural address to the nation and the world announced that  Nigeria,  a nation of 190 million people, was generating only  4,000MW  of  power  a  day.  And,  Buhari  declared  that  figure  “unacceptable”.  Almost  four  years  and  three  months  after  the  presidential  declaration,  the  country  now  averages  less  than  3,500MW  per  day.  There  is  no  need  to  tell  any  adult  in  Nigeria  that,  if  4,000MW  did  not  provide  stable  power  supply,  3,500MW  power  supply  per  day  cannot  possibly  guarantee  “stable  power  supply”  –  unless  the  Minister  has  developed  another  definition  for  the  word  stable.

Like  most  politicians  and  political  appointees,  the  Minister  had  deliberately  failed  to  provide  a  figure  –  even  though  it  is  expected  that  any  government  official  charged  with  providing  quantifiable  services  is  expected  to  disclose  the  quantum  of  supply  to  be  expected  in  order  for  us  to  know  whether  or  not  to  take  him  seriously.  It  is  customary  for  new  Ministers  of  power  to  talk  as  he  did.  That  has  been  the  national  tragedy.  We  appoint  people  to  office  who  are  not  serious.

Since  the  immediate  past  Minister  of  Power  is  still  on  Buhari’s  cabinet.  One  would  have  thought  that  the  most  sensible  thing  forMamman  to  do  would  have  been  ask  his  predecessor  why  instead  of  increasing  power  supply  from  2015till  now,  the  performance  has  been  poorer.  What  sort  of  fools  do  they  think  we  are  when  the  Minister  of  a  government  which  failed  woefully  in  its  first  four  years  with  only  two  months  in  office  is  making  the  same  promise  which  had  been  made  to  us  since  the  1980s?

We  experienced  power  failure  during  the  Buhari/Idiagbon  regime  in  1984-5.  Those  old  enough  would  recall  how  Major  General  Idiagbon  sent  soldiers  to  arrest  and  detain  NEPA  officials  when  there  was  power  failure  during  an  important  sports  event.  Power  failure  has  remained  intractable  for  over  40  years.  And,  it  is  absolutely  ridiculous  for  anybody  to  promise  to  fix  the  problem  by  2023.  Two  cardinal  reasons  argue  against  achievement  of  uninterrupted  power  supply.

Also read: We’re committed to achieving 24hrs electricity for every household by 2021 — Gov Emmanuel

Nigeria,  after  we  “rebased”  our  economy  (we  fudged  the  figures)  during  Jonathan’s  administration,  was  declared  the  largest  economy  in  Africa.  South  Africa  moved  to  the  second  position.  Mr  Mamman  has  inherited  a  power  sector  which  cannot  guarantee  4,000MW  per  day  of  power  to  the  country  of  190-plus  people.  South  Africa  with  less  than  one  quarter  of  our  population  generates  and  distributes  over  50,000MW  daily.  Despite  that,  the  country  still  experiences  occasional  power  failure  in  some  areas.  If  a  country  which  supplies  twelve  times  our  power  still  has  problems,  how  much  power  can  Nigerians  expect  in  2023  in  order  for  the  Minister  to  fulfil  his  promise?

Nigerians  should  also  be  wondering  if  the  Minister  is  ignorant  of  the  monumental  problems  Nigeria  is  having  between  the  Distribution  Companies,  DISCOs,  and  the  Transmission  Company,  on  the  one  hand  and  the  DISCOs  and  financial  institutions  on  the  other.  A  few  DISCOs  have  collapsed  and  more  are  expected  to  follow.  Each  of  those  problems  will  require at least five  years  to  resolve  before  we  can  expect  any  major  result  from  the  sector.

We  have  not  even  started  to  make  the  massive  investments  necessary  to  get  us  to  the  Promised  Land.

The  Minister,  being  new  to  the  job,  needs  to  be  reminded  by  those  of  us  who  have  spent  almost  a  generation  writing  on  these  pages  that  two  Professors,  under  Jonathan,  promised  14,000MW  by  2013  under  what  was  billed  as  POWER  ROAD  MAP.  They  departed  with  Jonathan  without  crossing  6,000MW.

For  the sake of the small-minded readers who might consider this an attack on  their Northern brother,  let  me  remind  them  that  “my  brother”  –  in  every  sense  of  the  word  –  late  Chief  Bola  Ige  was  the  first  Minister  of  Power  during  the Obasanjo administration.  His first announcement was  to make power failure  a  thing of the past in six months.  I  knew  Uncle  Bola  long before his wife  and  kids  because  he  and  my  eldest  brother  were  admitted  to  Ibadan  Grammar School on the same day and they finished on the same  day.  They were friends for  life.  They  even  joined  the  Actin  Group  Youth  Movement  same  day  and started reading law  at  the  same  time.  That was how close we were.

At  my  own  expense,  I  jumped  on  the  plane;  went  to  Abuja  and  begged  Uncle  Bola to retract that promise and save his reputation.  From my days in  the media and close  association  with  some  NEPA  rascals,  It  was  clear  to  me  that  Ige  would  spend  the  first  year  trying  to  understand the monster organisation he had inherited.  Always  stubborn,  Uncle  told  me  “Dele  if  you  are  not  my  Aburo,  I  would  have  asked  Security  to  walk  you  out.”

Just as stubborn,  I  replied  “With  all due respects Sir,  it is your reputation  I am trying to protect.  Since you refuse,  I will walk out on my own.  I  will  wait  six  months  and  see  if  it  happens.”  He offered to refund my expenses.  I  refused.  “I  did  not  come  for  that  Sir.”

Later, when he was redeployed to the Ministry  of  Justice, without making a  dent  on the power problem,  I went back.  A  chastened  Uncle Bola said.  “Dele one should listen to ones juniors once in a while.  The  corruption  in  the  power  sector  is  so  entrenched,  it  will  take  years  before  we  can  get  out  of  it.”  Much later, Obasanjo who had made the original mistake of appointing him said “Bola  did not know his right from his left on the power problem.

He brought in  Engineer  Lyel Imoke who (but you can guess what he said) promptly announced that  the Obasanjo administration will soon make unstable power supply a thing of the past.  OBJ  and  Imoke left us in  2007.  We  don’t know what happened to the billions of  dollars that went down the drain.


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