by Femi Owolabi
To fold our arms in blissful belief that Christiane Amanpour, the CNN journalist, has blown open the dirty yansh of President Jonathan’s government, is crass ignorance.
Her follow-up report on the power sector was a deliberate attempt at making President Jonathan a subject of mockery and ridicule. In the report captioned ‘IMAGINE A WORLD. Super Bowl snafu is situation normal in Nigeria,’ she placed the unfortunate power outage at the Super Bowl on a comparison scale with the issue of electricity which Nigeria has been battling with since I was born.
We know that the level of frustration among Nigerians is indeed very high. We contend with the paucity of basic infrastructure such as water, road network and mainly, power, a sorry picture of benign neglect in the planning and execution of national economic policy objectives as well as misappropriation of allocations. But the issue of power should be assessed beyond Jonathan’s government.
I do not mean to exaggerate. The phrase which the 2 year old son of a friend of mine first learnt to utter was ‘Up NEPA.’ Up NEPA has become a household phrase because, for decades, Nigerians have been accustomed to having inadequate electricity supply, so whenever it’s being restored, even the speech-impaired will excitingly join in the cacophony, Up NEPA! As a boy of age 10 in the mid-90s, I listened to the songs of a legend who was a philosopher in a way of music, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. In one of those provoking songs, Fela sang:
When I singi say lighti no dey: na old newsi be dat: old old old newsi be dat o: na old newsi be dat
This obviously tells it all that the issue with power is an inherited one. Over the decades successive governments have tried to improve the power supply, and billions of dollars have been spent, unfortunately little had been achieved. A case that we won’t easily forget is the squandered 16billion dollars released for this project during the time of President Obasanjo. It became a comical show when the legislative committee that was looking into the case also became a committee to be probed. Excuse me? 16billion dollars is indeed enough to gbemustically buy everyone to your side, as the case was scrunched and thrown away.
If in the 90s, the issue of inadequate electricity supply according to Fela was old news, what do we call it now in the millennium that the same problem still persists? Older news? Nevertheless, government’s watchword for every year has been ‘We can assure you that by the end of the year, the issue of power would have been resolved.’ Phantasm you say? I fear that my daughter too would grow up with the Up NEPA syndrome.
From the information gotten from the ministry in charge, the key challenges militating against the efficient delivery of adequate and reliable electricity supply in Nigeria are as follows:
High Capital Intensive nature of power sector projects: Public sector funding has been inadequate for both maintenance of the current system and the development of new energy sources. (One could imagine what 16billion dollars would have done if justly used)
Inadequate Power Generation Capacity: In comparison with other countries, Nigeria’s average daily generation of 3,700MW is grossly inadequate for a population of more than 150 million people. Factors affecting the generation capacity include old power plants, vandalisation of existing power infrastructure, gas supply constraints and inadequate maintenance of equipment that stems from procurement bottlenecks, dearth of skilled maintenance personnel in the sector, and the dependence on imports of parts and foreign experts to effect repairs and overhauls.
Inefficient Billing and Metering System and lastly, Sector Reform.
The present administration however has said that it will make it a priority to resolve these challenges both with political commitment, policy changes and availability of resources. Some of us are optimistically watching.
With pun intended, after the interview with President Jonathan, I shared this in a Facebook post
‘When Amanpour asked President Jonathan how his government has tackled the issue of electricity, the president chuckled and said she should have asked the ordinary Nigerians on the streets of Lagos and Abuja, because that’s one area that the people are pleased with the government.
‘Hearing this, our I-better-pass-my-neighbor that powered the TV during this interview broke into tears.’
Funny. The truth however is that if there was no fuel to run the generator that night, I would have only hoped to catch a rerun of the interview perhaps the next day when the electricity is restored. Amanpour unreservedly told the president that she got messages from Nigerians telling her that they hope they have electricity just to watch the interview. I could only say for my street if asked, as President Jonathan wanted Amanpour to do, and here I’ve not seen an unusual improvement in power supply.
But when I argued this issue with a friend who I know not be a fan of President Jonathan, he swore to God that electricity has been moderately supplied to them in Gbagada area of Lagos and that he now spends N10,000 monthly on diesel, a big relief from the N80,000 he used to spend before. In Amanpour’s follow-up report; the story would have been different if the CNN crew had visited Gbagada and have my friend interviewed. He would sincerely have told Amanpour that the president is correct when he says this is one area that the people are pleased with the government. While writing this piece, my brother whose office is at Lekki says it’s been a while he heard the cries of generators in the area and testified to the improvement in the electricity supply.
Amanpour’s follow-up report was obviously biased when only a selected few were allowed to come tell the world that their president is an excellent liar.
However, considering the way we operate here in Nigeria, President Jonathan in his innocent mind may be right when he says electricity is one area Nigerians are pleased with his government.
Our mode of operation here is to put everything in place whenever a superior officer is coming to inspect. I remember when the NUC was coming to accredit some courses in my school; collapsing structures were given a facelift, laboratories were quickly decorated with chemicals such that would convince the team of inspectors to nod in satisfaction. Such inspectors would report to the NUC secretary, and the secretary reports to the Minister of Education, and the minister reports to the president, and the president comes out to boast of a standard educational system in Nigeria.
I also remember the year President Obasanjo made his official visit to Kwara State. Potholes on the major road were hastily filled and plastered, blinking streetlights were fixed with powerful halogens that it all looked like the road to paradise. And for the three days that the president was around, electricity in our house didn’t go off for a minute.
President Jonathan is unarguably a victim of this deception. Since his government is arduously committed to tackling the power problem, and he gets reports that things are improving, or he notices that power is stable whenever he is officially in any of the 36 states, nothing therefore holds him back from saying this is one area that Nigerians are happy with his government. Imagine if he had announced his visit to the Police College in Lagos, he wouldn’t have been exposed to the deterioration of the college.
I don’t think Amanpour’s follow-up report is enough to score her some journalistic points. She would have done better if that report focused on why President Jonathan’s ‘efforts’ have not been felt by the people on the street. What happens to the billions of naira budgeted for power? Maybe one is asking for too much from an international journalist?
Above all, it is worthy of mention that the same way money was released to renovate the Police College in Ikeja was the same way it was given to the Custom College in Ikeja, too. But the glaring difference between the two colleges could be likened to the case in which some Nigerians believe power has improved while others don’t.