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What is stalling the Aba power plant?

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Babatunde Fashola, Minister of Power, Works and Housing.

The lamentation expressed recently by the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, that 90 million Nigerians lack electricity supply was corroborated by the disgust expressed by the Head of Service of the Federation (HoS), Mrs. Winnifred Oyo Ita, that Nigeria still suffers epileptic power supply because the power distributing companies (DISCOs), have no capacity for effective distribution of electricity generated by the transmission companies.

Oyo Ita was commissioning a 60 MVA, 132/33 Power Transformer recently in Calabar all in an attempt to improve power supply in the area.

The question is whether Nigeria will ever get out of the electricity quagmire? Why is it impossible to fix electricity in Nigeria despite all the promises and huge funds pumped into the sector since 1999?

Nigerians are going through hell due to the endemic epileptic power supply situation in the country. How to break the jinx and make power available to Nigerians and the economy is a daunting challenge.

Against this backdrop, I cannot understand what is holding the Aba Power Plant built by Geometric Power Limited, the first indigenous power supply company in Nigeria from being ignited more than five years after completion.

The Aba plant was conceived and executed under the power reform programme of the Federal Government, whereby power generation and transmission was removed from government and handed over to private concerns.

Why is the Aba Power Plant left in limbo, still un-operational years after it was completed? The plant has the capacity to generate some 140 megawatts of electricity and give job to millions in the Aba industrial zone.

Why is the Aba Power Plant not allowed to kick-start operation and by so doing bring succour to millions of homes and industrial concerns in that section of the country?

As a model private power plant, by now, the impact would have begun to be felt. And that will be credited to the government in power and not the builder.

Aba is the Taiwan of Nigeria, where all sorts of industrial goods are produced. It will be a historic achievement for President Buhari to revamp the dead industries there.

Why are we crying wolf about mass unemployment and criminality and at the same time blocking an avenue that would help to create jobs? It is common knowledge that since 1999, one cardinal programme of the administrations is the reform of the power sector.

The gusto and fanfare that marked the power reform programme, which was well received by Nigerians has fizzled out. Is government still committed to breaking the jinx of national blackout?

Soon after the creation of the Presidential Task Force on Power (PTFP) in 2011, then President Jonathan expressed strong commitment to a new dawn in the electricity sector when he said, “As President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, I and my Vice President, Arc. Namadi Sambo, are conscious that what we do with the Nigerian electricity supply industry will go a long way in determining whether Nigeria remains in darkness or joins the rest of the world in the race for development.

Our commitment is to bring an end to our nation’s stunted growth and usher in the fresh air of prosperity by pursuing a new era of sector-wide reform which is driven by improved service delivery to every class of customers in the Nigerian electricity sector.”

There is no doubt that Jonathan’s government took steps to realise this goal. It was the president’s commitment that led to the unbundling of the omnibus PHCN since November 1, 2013 when private companies took over across the country. This is what many of us have been advocating but which has not turned out to meet the expectations.

It was under that same reform programme that Geometric Power Limited (GPL) was licensed to help bridge the electricity gap.

The company reportedly invested a whopping $500 million (about N81 billion), to build the state-of-the-art power plant designed to supply uninterrupted power to Aba and environs.

This huge investment is now laying waste, while the responsible government agencies dilly-dally.

There have been reports that high-wire politicking between the National Council on Privatization (NCP) and the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) is stalling the power plant.

Who controls the distribution assets in the Aba area is the crux of the matter. The interest of the people is nowhere in the picture and the economic leverage is discountenanced.

My investigation shows that the Federal Government granted exclusive right to Geometric Power Limited in 2004 to build a power plant in Aba to supply power to the commercial city and its environs.

By the terms of the MoU executed, NEPA assigned its distribution rights in Aba to Geometric Power Limited, the brainchild of Professor Barth Nnaji, former Minister of Power. It appears his honest effort to help leverage the epileptic power situation in the country is being frustrated.

Subsequently, the same Aba franchise already granted to Geometric Power was resold to Interstate Electrics. During the 2013 privatization exercise, the BPE went ahead to list the Aba assets as part of the Enugu Distribution Company (Disco), without recourse to Geometric Power.

What happened is like selling a piece of property to two different buyers and leaving them to slug it out. In that situation, only the seller has the power to resolve the matter.

None of the buyers would just give up. The onus is on the seller, in this case, the Federal Government, through its agent, BPE, to resolve the matter in the public interest. There have been interventions to resolve the matter but the take of the power plant is taking so long.

It is curious why the BPE, fully aware of the earlier transaction between government and Geometric Power, still went ahead to list the power distribution assets in Aba in its 2013 privatisation exercise for sale.

Given the huge investment already committed by Geometric Power and the high expectation placed on the project by the people, the matter should be resolved in favour of the first buyer. The integrity of government is at stake. Questions are being asked as to what is happening.

President Muhammadu Buhari should take steps to resolve this matter in the national interest. The President made commitments to improve the living condition of Nigerians. Besides, the buck stops on his table and no other person. Whatever happens to power supply stays as his legacy.

The presidential decision carries the day whether anyone likes it or not.

President Buhari should not leave the electricity problem to political intrigues swayed by greed and self-interest. The public interest should come first.


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