Break the power sector jinx – Sun Editorial

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THE SUN

 

Break the power sector jinx

By Sun News Publishing
Monday, February 4, 2008

President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua shocked an already bewildered nation the more about a forthnight ago when he told Nigerians that the administration of the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, spent a whopping $10bn on the power sector between 2000 and 2007.

For Nigerians, who have had to groan under the discomfort occasioned by the worsening state of the power sector, the president’s statement amounted to a bomb-shell. But for the president Yar’Adua himself, nothing could be more scandalous than a situation where so much money was sunk into a sector yet there is nothing concrete on ground to show for the huge investment. Yar’Adua said it was this lack of progress that has made his government to become wary of comitting more funds to the sector.

The president gave expression to this tendency when he decided not to earmark any money for the power sector in the 2008 Appropriation Bill. The president said he is waiting for a clear direction in this regard so as not to inject funds into a project that may end up not achieving the desired result. Once the direction is determined, a supplementary Appropriation Bill that will be power sector – specific will be sent to the National Assembly.

But even before the president got to know about the huge amount of money that was sunk into the troubled power sector, he had had cause to treat the sector as a priority. In fact, during his inaugural address on May 29, 2007, Yar’Adua told Nigerians that he was going to declare an emergency in the power sector.

To this end, the president, in September 2007, inaugurated the National Energy Council with the mandate to deal with the power sector conundrum. The council was given six months within which to complete its assignment.

But disturbing signals have begun to emerge from the council. Dr. Rilwan Lukman, the Honorary Presidential Adviser on Energy, has said that the time given to the council was inadequate. And this is worrisome considering the fact that the Minister of State for Energy (Power), Mrs Fatima Ibrahim, has said that declaration of emergency in the power could only be made after the council has submitted its report.

What this means is that Nigerians will have to wait longer for steady power supply especially since the council has not given indication as to when it would submit its report.
Meanwhile, there is anxiety in the land as to what president Yar’Adua can accomplish in this regard. The fear being expressed now is that Yar’Adua may go the way of Obasanjo in this matter if he does not match his pronouncements with action.

When the president declared that he would declare emergency in the power sector, Nigerians were reminded of the enthusiasium and optiminism which Bola Ige, the first minister of Power and Steel under the Obasanjo administration, showed and expressed about solving the engery problem of the country.

Ige had told Nigerians that the problem would be over within six months. But the Minister was to eat his words later when he discovered to his chagrin that the problem was more than he ever imagined. Subsequent promises that were made by the administration in the area of power sector also collapsed like a pack of cards.

Ordinarily, Nigerians have had cause to worry about the inability of our governments, especially the last administration of Obasanjo, to deal with the power sector problem. But the worry has heightened following the recent revelations made about the $10 bn said to have been spent on power.
It was, perhaps, in the light of this that the House of Representatives, last week, mandated its committee on Power and Steel to investigate the $10 bn spent on electricity generation between 2000 and 2007.

The House went further to urge president Yar’Adua to declare a state of emergency in the power sector to enable his administration tackle the problem of electricity supply. The House has also written a memo to the Minister of State for Energy (Power), the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and other stakeholders in the sector to present details of all monies received during the eight years of the last administration and how much of it was spent.

The step which the House has taken is in order. It will set the tone for the major probe which should be carried out in the power sector. It is salutary that president Yar’Adua blew the lid in this matter. But we are worried that he has not gone beyond the mere revelation of the huge figure which his predecessor spent on power.

The president’s seeming lethargy in this matter is not helpful. Such a predisposition can lead to paralysis of will and, ultimately, inaction. The need for the president to take a decisive step in this regard becomes even more urgent considering the fact that he has decided to do nothing in the area of power sector reforms until he knows the way the $10 bn spent by his predecessor went.

Besides, beyond the National Energy Council, which has not promised Nigeria any delivery date, what is the president’s programme of action on power? We think that whatever the president wants to do in this regard should begin with an inquest into the $10 bn spent by his predecessor on power. Nigerians need to know the specifics of the expenditure. And since the president is wary about the steps to take, we urge him to begin by cleansing the augean stable. The rot in the power sector in Nigeria has become institutionalised.

The system is peopled by saboteurs who have stopped at nothing to ensure that stable power remains a mirage in Nigeria. If president Yar’Adua wants to make any progess in the power sector, he should purge the system of those encumbrances. If he sticks to the old order, the likelihood is there that he will reap disappointment and failure.

Nigeria’s energy crisis is solvable if the right panacea is administered on the problem. A country of about 140 million people, Nigeria has an installed output of 3, 200 megawatts of electricity. But this dropped to 1,200 in the first quarter of 2007 due largely to shortage of gas and pipeline vandalisation.
The PHCN put it more succinctly when it revealed that power generation went down from installed capacity of 5, 200 MW to 1,750 MW as compared to a load demand of 6,000 MW. This was because only 19 out of the 79 generating units were in operation.

This was the picture that Yar’Adua met. Now, he has said that his government is working to sort out and pool together the numerous projects in the power sector to achieve a short term target of at least 6000 MW by 2009. As we have always done with any worthy venture of government, we welcome this dream. Its realisation has the potentialities of giving the country’s economic transformation a quantum leap.

But we are not satisfied with the president’s drive in this regard. The target date he has set for himself is less than one year away. What magic wand are we expecting from the president? We do not see how he can accomplish this with the present lethargy on energy issues. But one thing is instructive, Yar’Ada should realise that without stable power, all that he hopes to achieve through his 7 –point agenda will hardly work in an environment that is disabled by epileptic power supply. The president must therefore go beyond platitudes and take on the issue at stake headlong. It will be unfortunate, indeed disastrous, if he goes the way of his predecessor.

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