May 5, 2024

Power Minister Adelabu: How not to communicate, by Tonnie Iredia

Power Minister Adelabu: How not to communicate, by Tonnie Iredia

Nigerians are visibly facing hard times following reforms in critical sectors involving petroleum, power and foreign exchange issues. President Bola, Tinubu, the First Lady, Mrs. Oluremi Tinubu and to a large extent, Vice President Kashim Shettima have quickly learnt how to show empathy to the suffering masses. They say they fully appreciate the gravity of the impact of the reforms on the masses while consistently appealing to Nigerians to be steadfast in support of the policies because of the expectations of a better tomorrow.

Although, no one is really that such golden expectations, would ever materialize, the compassionate posture and open support of those leaders for several palliatives, have made many people to remain silent in pain. However, any other top office-holder that does not appreciate the fragility of the silence makes a basic mistake.

Adebayo Adelabu, our current Minister of Power, is one such official who in addition to repeating the appeals already made by his bosses, engages in hurting and contentious communication that offend the sensibilities of a frustrated people. Perhaps Adelabu needs to learn a few lessons from Dele Alake, Minister of Solid Minerals Development who speaks with a confidence that conveys hope. Alake is also talking tough but he restricts his threats to saboteurs and unpatriotic elements who are exploiting the nation. The other day Alake revoked 924 licences. In fairness, the assignments of both ministers differ just as Alake is in addition, a communication professional but no officials should take citizens for granted. For example, it is unfair to suggest that it is because of an alleged low tariff system in Nigeria that many Nigerians adopt a carefree attitude towards the use of the public power supply system. 

Minister Adelabu’s viewpoint is not only incorrect but it is made in a clime where the most unreasonable and permanent situation is a public power system that has remained epileptic. It is not only ordinary citizens that greatly deprecate Nigeria’s power system, the elites similarly loathe the trend. Only last week, power supply was seized while Adelabu was fielding questions from senators at the investigative hearing on “the need to halt the increase in the price of electricity” organised by the Senate Committee on Power. It was an excellent opportunity for the minister to hear the experiences of wealthy Nigerians. Addressing Adelabu on the power interruption that occurred in his presence, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Power, Enyinnaya Abaribe, said “You see what just happened. This is what we all experience. We the Senators experience it too and I am sure even the President does experience it at the Villa, just that he cannot speak out like we are.”

Certainly, Minister Adelabu cannot controvert the general view put to him by Senator Abaribe. If so, why did he have to threaten that Nigeria would be in darkness if the new tariff system is not implemented? When have we not been in darkness? In fact, 90 percent of Nigerians are not likely to understand the threat on darkness because almost every part of Nigeria has remained in darkness for longer than makes sense. The remaining 10 percent are out of darkness not because they get public power supply but because they have resources to get alternative power supply. To threaten Nigerians that there would be darkness except exorbitant tariffs are paid is a misplaced communication strategy because we all know that the power problem of our nation is caused by corruption. If the minister does not know this basic fact, then, he is probably in the wrong ministry.

It is therefore not irrational to imagine that perhaps Nigerians both high and low know more about the problems of power than its current minister. If our people do not know other details especially technical issues, it is an open secret that our power officials have made Nigeria become notorious for asking consumers to pay for even the tools that they work with. A few days ago, some citizens in Ilorin, Kwara State made public the demands on them to pay for multi-million-naira Transformers and even transport fares to fix faulty power facilities. Meanwhile, the relevant regulator, the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) is aware of the law that forbids electricity distribution companies from asking customers to buy or repair electricity assets as a condition for the restoration of power supply, yet it does nothing about the Kwara story which is replicated nationwide. 

To make matters worse, the tariff structure that officials want Nigerians to swallow is a 419 arrangement which explains why everyone is apprehensive about it. Whereas there are a few people would still evade tariffs even if the system becomes efficient, there is no doubt that no one is today satisfied with the power narrative which even reputable institutions have problem with. The communication between the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company IBEDC and the University College Hospital UCH, Ibadan is a case in point. Last month, the hospital threatened to shut its doors at 4pm everyday because power had been seized from the nation’s foremost teaching hospital. IBEDC’s case is that the UCH had been owing N400 million spanning some 6 years, but Jesse Otegbayo, UCH’s chief medical director (CMD), accused the company of giving the hospital industrial bills. 

Neither the illegal trend of forcing consumers to pay for official working tools of workers of electricity companies as revealed in the Ilorin story nor the categorization of the UCH as an industrial site has been reacted to by those who specialize in blaming citizens for the problems in the power sector. 

Instead, what seems to matter to both the regulatory body and the minister is a hurried tariff system that is put in place ahead of an inept service. It is like getting passengers to pay for a flight whose aircraft is undergoing repairs in the aviation sector. What makes the situation more irritating is that the electricity companies are making no effort to invest in the sector to make it ready for tariffs. Nigeria needs a power minister that can ensure that tariffs come after infrastructure is ready to deliver service. Before then, the current communication of the deaf by our power officials and their minister would remain ineffectual.

If the truth must be told, it is regulators and not the relevant minister that should monitor and manage the electricity companies for better performance. They should be compelled to do that forthwith while the minister holds-on strongly to policy. In other words, all efforts should be made to constitute an independent regulatory body for our power sector. The National Electricity Regulatory Commission NERC as currently constituted has not shown that it has the courage or expertise to call their agencies to order. Perhaps the problem may not be far from the situation in the last 8 years when friends and relations with little or no cognate experience in a business were mandated to regulate the same business. If so, government should pick competent hands into the NERC instead of seeing it as opportunity to give jobs to political supporters.

When Adelabu was appointed minister late last year he pledged to make a mark. There is doubt if he really understood the exact scope required to make a mark in a ministry that has become known as a giant killer. The legendary Bola Ige had to be rescued from the ministry in 2000 after spending just a year as its minister. Babatunde Fashola performed wonders as Governor of Lagos State but got humbled in the power ministry.

The only two ministers sacked by former President Muhammadu Buhari included Saleh Mamman who was Minister of Power. Since democratic rule was restored to Nigeria in 1999, no minister has exceeded the dismal 4MW of power coverage in Nigeria. If we cannot emulate Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia which have 100 percent coverage, Adelabu should find out how Botswana, Kenya and Senegal are fast moving towards the same feat. It can certainly not be through aggressive communication.