Adegbulugbe: Obasanjo is not being witch-hunted

No Comments » June 2nd, 2008 posted by // Categories: Energy Development Project




Adegbulugbe: Obasanjo is not being witch-hunted

In this interview with AKINWALE ABORISADE, Professor Olusegun Adegbulugbe, Special Adviser to ex- President Olusegun Obasanjo speaks on issues relating to the progress of democratic government so far, and disagrees with those who say his former boss is being witch-hunted. Excerpts:

What is your opinion about the criticism trailing the energy sector under former President Obasanjo?

Energy is a fundamentally important issue. Whether we like it or not, the immediate past president made fundamental contributions to the issue of energy development in this country. However, we have to admit that a lot of what I call bad project management happened in such a way that it now looks as if there are lots of corruption in the sector. But at the end of the day, I am sure history would be kind to Obasanjo administration. But one, the issue of energy is at the forefront of the policy agenda in this country. So, we are having what I call some modest but laudable development in the sector.

What can you pinpoint as the major achievement of the past administration in the energy sector?

What most people don’t know is that for almost 15 years, before Obasanjo took over in 1999, there was not a single power plant that was built in addition to the existing ones. The ones we had were already degenerating, but they were patching them. It was only during the Obasanjo regime that he initiated close to about 11 power plants. Three or four were done by the private sector at the same time. This is a laudable effort. In another year or so we are going to see the fruit of all these power plants when they go on stream. That is a major significant contribution of Obasanjo administration.

You talked about bad management, bad management on whose side?

I said bad project management – when you have so many projects being done at the same time, let’s be honest, it requires specialised dedication. I am afraid that project management acumen is unavailable. But be that as it may, it is not a fatal thing. It is like you are building ten houses at the same time. If you are not that experienced, you are likely to make mistakes here and there. But overall, I think the Obasanjo administration will be remembered but not now. But people are making a lot of noise when there is a lot of cloud. But overall, his administration will be remembered as the one that first and foremost tackled the problem of energy in a holistic way and at the same time embarked on the largest single power programme in the country and perhaps in the continent of Africa.

Many times, the PHCN complained of insufficient gas supply. As a Professor of Energy, how do you think this problem could be tackled?

Again, this is a part of what has plagued the energy sector prior to Obasanjo regime. The power plants are supposed to have gas, but we don’t plan the gas supply. In this particular case, in fairness Obasanjo planned very well. He planned the laying of gas pipelines all over the country to key in power plants that were being built. But as you all know for the past four, five years now there has been heightened tension in the destruction of pipeline etc in the Niger/Delta so these pipelines were not built. So there should be holistic integrated approach to solving the problem. The restiveness in the Niger/Delta disturbs a lot of things. But as soon as we also tackle that issue, we begin to see the fruit of this massive initiative and I guess we are going to enjoy it.

By October 1 this year, Nigeria will clock 48. But the country is still in perpetual darkness. What in your own view is the solution?

There are several things we can do. We have to do things that should be done simultaneously. There are several problems that are besetting the power sector. I will mention four of them, which had been there from day one. First, we don’t have sufficient manpower to man these plants. If we are going to be an industrialised nation with the rest of the world by 2030, we need to be building 5,000 mega watts every year. Presently about 3,000 is available. We need to be building infrastructures that we have now every year. But the question is: who is going to mount and maintain them? We need to have specialised capacity development programme to produce enough people to man that. Secondly, the amount of money that we need to build these power plants will be huge. Unless we do something by beginning to build some of these components in Nigeria, it could be foreign exchange drain. Let’s face it, there are other sectors competing. But if we manufacture these components of the power plant in Nigeria – may be 5 per cent now – in another 10 years 20 per cent, in another 15 years 50 per cent; one, you begin to create job; two, you begin to conserve foreign exchange; three, you are going to look at the issue of financing. Government alone cannot finance power programme. You need to attract domestic and possibly foreign investors to Nigeria – You want to look at the issue of energy pricing i.e. if the tariff is too low, no matter how much you shout nobody will come from this country to put his money where he would not make profit. If we do the small things, believe me honestly in the next two to three years the power problem will be over.

Who do you blame for the power sector failure?

Well, you elect a government so that it can deliver the good. So, if you are to say who is to blame, it is government. But that won’t solve the problem. To solve the problems, we must understand the issues by giving kudos where the governments have done well and also criticise where they have not done well. But really, I don’t want to say every problem is from government. It is an issue that everybody knows is so important. Heaping blames does not solve any problem.

Do you agree with those who say that the power probe is being used to witch-hunt the former president?

Witch-hunt? I don’t think so. I think once you are in the public fora you must expect criticism. There are times when people will hail you, other times they will not. What is more important is to have your eyes on history.Former president Obasanjo had his eyes on history whatever anybody says now. History is not made six months after you leave office. More dispassionate people are going to look and write about his administration, and I think the best of history would be good to him. What is happening now is not too important.


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