Four more months, and we’ll throw away our generators. That is what we have been promised by President Goodluck Jonathan. And when a president promises, it should be worth its weight in gold.
Early last year, President Jonathan had told a newsmagazine: “We don’t need you to generate. By the middle of next year, you will dash me your generator. I will send it out of the country, because we won’t need it anymore.” I’m excited about that promise, and that is why I count the months.
March, April, May, June, and I can be free of the drone of generators at home, at work, in the church, everywhere. July is the month of jubilee.
The month we will be free from the tyranny of generators, and I can’t wait to pop the champagne. Apart from President Jonathan, there are two other men we will either carry shoulder high in July, or eat raw for breakfast.
They are Professor Chinedu Nebo, the new Minister for Power, and Engineer Beks Dagogo-Jack, chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Power (PTFP). On their sturdy shoulders lie the enormous burdens of providing uninterrupted electricity for the country, and that by July this year.
President Jonathan is already beating his chest in accomplishment. Few weeks ago, he told CNN’s Christianne Amanpour that electricity has improved in Nigeria tremendously.
It’s a matter of using the right word. Would you call what we’ve seen in Nigeria in recent times “tremendous” improvement? If South Africa with a population of about 40 million people has over 40,000MW of electricity to play with, and Nigeria with over 160 million people has less than 5,000MW, can we say the improvement is “tremendous?”
But then, we hurry too much. July is still four months away, and that is the month we will throw our generators out. We have waited for over 40 years, we can weight four more months. We reportedly spent over 16 billion dollars on power in the Olusegun Obasanjo years, and had only blackout to show for it.
We can spend some more billion of dollars, can’t we? When Prof Nebo was screened by the Senate preparatory to his being appointed Minister for Power, he said uninterrupted power supply in Nigeria was not a mirage. I agree.
We can get there. Beyond just climbing Mount Nebo to view the Promised Land, and not stepping into it like the biblical Moses, we can enter that Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey–and with electricity. Yes, uninterrupted power supply is not a mirage.
If other countries that are less endowed can get it right, it should not be impossible for Nigeria. On how he would deal with the mafia believed to have held our power sector by the jugular for selfish reasons, Prof Nebo declared during the screening: “Some highly placed Nigerians believe that when there is outage, it is caused by witches and demons. If the President deploys me to the power sector, I believe that given my performance in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, when I drove out the witches and demons, God will also give me the power to drive out the demons in the power sector.”
Bravado and mere braggadocio? Maybe not, if you consider the intellectual and spiritual backgrounds of Prof Nebo. Apart from being a first class scholar, he’s also a Venerable of the Anglican Church, so he has the wherewithal to deal with witches and demons. Or rather, he should have.
But then, are the witches and demons of Nsukka the same as those of an entire country? In a cloistered university community of perhaps less than 50,000 people, it goes without saying that the number of witches in operation would equally be commensurate with the number of inhabitants.
Those who study Demonology say each country has its strongman, often called the Prince. So, there’s the Prince of Nigeria in the spiritual realm, who is the head of all the evil forces, and he has under him principalities, powers, witches, wizards, and spiritual wickedness in high places.
That is the spiritual army that Prof Nebo wants to confront. I hope he’s ready. Good, he worsted the witches and demons in Nsukka, but that was like swimming in a bucket, compared with swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. Prof Nebo, get ready. Here’s real warfare, a shooting war in which live bullets are used, and not mere knockouts.
Prof Nebo must have meant metaphoric witches and demons in the power sector, yes, they are there. And if he must confront them and win, and cause us to throw away our generators by July, there are certain things he should know, which he must make plain upon tables, “that he may run that readeth it.”
On December 7, 2012, I did a piece with the headline, ‘Jonathan’s power promise.’ In it, I reviewed the actions taken so far by the Jonathan administration to break the power jinx in the country. I spoke of the Presidential Task Force on Power (PTFP) and the Presidential Action Committee on Power (PACP), which the president chaired personally.
Professor Bart Nnaji chaired the PTFP, before he went on to become Minister of Power. No doubt, Nnaji did quite well as Minister, and he was poised to become an authentic Nigerian hero before he had to quit due to conflict of interest in the privatization process in the power industry.
But before then, there was a fundamental mistake that had been made. Here was how I put it in the December 2012 piece: “A big mistake was made in reducing the power and influence of the PTFP once its erstwhile chairman had become minister. Even the PACP, personally headed by Jonathan, began to meet far less frequently.
Therefore, the old powers of the Ministry of Power were restored and re-asserted, contrary to the provision of the EPSR (Electricity Power Sector Reform) Act of 2005.
“While the Ministry of Power became the new behemoth, sacking and shuffling CEOs of the successor companies at will, and allegedly not allowing them to establish separate corporate governance structures, the reform process got almost frustrated. There were so many internal conflicts.
Labour issues with electricity workers generated so much unrest and disquiet, power purchase agreements seemed to take forever to consummate, even gas supply agreements were not signed between the suppliers and the power plants.” Thus, the first witches and demons Nebo must confront is how he relates with the presidential task force on power.
Rather than an adversarial relationship, he must evolve a seamless, mutually respecting rapport. He should ask himself, between the months Nnaji left office, and the time he (Nebo) got into office, how come the power sector did not go into a tailspin, and even recorded marginal improvement? It is because the PTFP is made up of perhaps the best brains we have in the country.
The Minister should work harmoniously with these highly technical people. They sure know their onions. Again, Nebo should avoid the banana peels strewn all over the floor in the Power Ministry. His predecessors stepped on them, and slipped. The result is that the country still prides itself on less than 5,000MW, when South Africa has over 40,000MW of electricity.
My late father had a favourite saying, which he never stopped drumming into our ears: “Let other people’s shipwreck be your own sea mark.” Whatever made the other Ministers to slip, fall, and fail over the decades, Nebo must learn from such. Fortunately, he’s a top class brain, with a 1978 First Class honours degree in Mining Engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, USA. He’s a professor of Metallurgical Engineering and a Fulbright Scholar, and was Vice Chancellor of UNN from June 2004 to June 2009.
When new people come into power in Nigeria, they dismantle existing structures, and create new ones, rather wantonly. No, Nebo, no. Don’t seek to reinvent the wheel, just for the sake of it, and in the process throw away the baby with the bath water. If you’ve met anything that works, simply continue with it.
Where there are clear role distinctions, respect such, and use the potentials and capabilities for the good of the country. Remember, July is just four months away, and there is a presidential promise to meet. When God said, “let there be light,” the Good Book says: “And there was light.”
President Jonathan too has said let there be uninterrupted light by July, so that Nigerians would throw away their generators. There must be light. Moses in the Holy Bible saw the Promised Land from the top of Mount Nebo, but didn’t enter. May this Nebo get us to that land of milk, honey, and electricity–lest we have him for breakfast!