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.
“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.
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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.