The power sector may become the political-Waterloo of the Honourable Minister for Power, Works and Housing, Barrister Babatunde Raji Fashola, just as it was for late Chief Bola Ige, himself also a lawyer, with respect to their hard-earned reputation as performers in public office. This column recalls that when the highly regarded Bola Ige, was invited by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003, to take over the Power Ministry, (well, to come and eat, as late Sunday Afolabi, rather argued), the then budding minister, had boasted that he would turn around the power sector, in six months.
Many more months after presiding over the ministry, Bola Ige who was one of the leading lights of the second republic, as the governor of the old Oyo State, between 1979 and 1983, had become so clueless as the Minister of Power that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who lured him from the Alliance for Democracy (AD), to come and save their bumbling in the sector, tactically made Ige, a political heavy weight, an object of ridicule. Like Ige, Fashola has a huge reputation as the former governor of Lagos State, between 2007 and 2015, which may have informed the three-in-one ministry, handed over to him, by President Muhammadu Buhari, in 2015.
One year plus, the otherwise perspicacious Fashola has become reticent and clueless, over the power challenges, that you would wonder whether his performance as governor of Lagos State for eight years, was a fluke. Last week, he was, as is now common, begging the Distribution Companies (DisCos) to perform their contractual obligations to Nigeria. The present Fashola is no way near the sagacious, confident and ebullient erstwhile Governor of Lagos State, who would, like the departing President Barack Obama of the United States of America, real out facts and figures about development plans in his beloved Lagos State, all through the years he was in-charge.
Perhaps, Fashola’s best strength lay as ‘an Actualizer’, not as ‘a Dreamer’. For before his high-grade performance in Lagos State, his predecessor-in-office, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, laid a blue-print, which Fashola actualized. Perhaps, that is the difference between then and now, as some have argued. Otherwise, how can one explain that so far, Minister Fashola, has not come up with any enthusiastic template to attack the pervading darkness that has been the lot of our dear country? Currently, Nigeria is still among the poorest, even among third world countries, in terms of the generation and distribution of electricity per-capita.
Last week, the Honourable Minister as he has done severally, prevaricated, instead of reading the riot-act, during the 11th Monthly Stakeholders’ Meeting held at the Ikeja West Transmission Station, Ipaja-Ayobo, Lagos. There he said to the stakeholders: “You will have to sacrifice perhaps more than what you have done, but I am optimistic that it will get better; I am optimistic that we can win together and we can win for the Nigerian people.” Yet, there are no laid out plans by those he was talking to, on how to even win for themselves, not to talk of winning for Nigerians.
Unless the minister is operating in another country, the power sector is a complete mess. A Punch editorial last December, put it succinctly: “Power supply in the country is beyond pathetic. Last week, power supplied reached 3,927 megawatts at its peak, but averaged slightly less than 3,000 Megawatts, according to the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission. For a country with a population of 170 million and Gross Domestic Product estimated at $481.1 billion in 2015 by the World Bank, this is miserable. In a presentation by Funke Osibodu, CEO of the Benin Electricity Distribution Company, at the PwC power forum in 2015, it was revealed that, of the total installed capacity of 12,522 Megawatts, some 5,381 Megawatts was not available; another 3,626 Megawatts was classified as “non-operational”, leaving only 3,789 Megawatts operational”.
The Punch editorial suggested the establishment of regional power-grids, noting the danger in relying on a single national grid, as our country currently do. If Minister Fashola, truly has the perspicuity that he exhibited, while he presided over the affairs of Lagos State, it is strange that instead of helping Nigerians develop a blue print on how to double “the 5,381 Megawatts” said not to be available, probably because of the absence of the transmission/evacuation capacity, or even how to double “the total installed capacity of 12,522 Megawatts”, he spends quality ministerial time, massaging the egos of the wobbling and fumbling DisCos.
At that Ipaja meeting, Minister Fashola, was merely preaching to the DisCos, most of whom have no capacity, to exploit what was handed over to them, not to talk of improving on it. He said: “we need to do whatever is possible to do in our various distribution areas to improve the quality of service, to continue to train personnel, to recognise that the customer is king and even if we cannot provide or solve the problem, we owe it a duty to explain what we are doing.” He further pleaded: “we will keep in constant touch with you as they evolve, to hear your side; we will use this meeting to continue to share the details of what we are seeing and to hear what you are experiencing”.
While this column do not support a capricious abrogation of any contract duly signed by the previous government, it will be strange if a critical national asset, like the power sector, is allowed to continue to flounder and deteriorate, just because a party to a contract while showing glaring incapacity to perform an obligation arising from the contract, is however tenaciously holding on to her right, purportedly emanating from the same contract. Incapacity to perform an obligation in a contract, particularly where there was a fraudulent misrepresentation of capacity during negotiation, is a ground to abrogate a contract.
In the matter between Nigeria and the GenCos and the DisCos, unless the federal government officials and allied professionals, who negotiated on behalf of all of us, were glaringly fraudulent or grossly incompetent, it would be strange if they did not agree on time-line, within which to achieve certain pre-determined milestones, not to talk of the quantum of fiscal and physical investment, expected from the investors who bought over the national assets. If the investors were handed an open cheque, to ride roughshod over our common fate, then those who did us in, should be made to account.
So, when Minister Fashola wrings his hands in helplessness over the pervading darkness across our country, I am worried whether he is hamstrung by personal inadequacies, or he is affected by structural challenges in government – because of the locus of real power, or indeed as the former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Chukwuma Soludo was accused of, he has become too cosy with those he is appointed to regulate. Whatever is the challenge, Minister Fashola should know that he is failing in his present responsibility. And if his performance as Governor of Lagos State was because some other directing mind laid the framework for him, then he had better seek such help again, or honourably throw in the towel.
Source: The Nation