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Giving capitalism a bad name

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I will not be surprised if there is increased clamour for the government to repossess the activities connected with power operations from the companies that bought them from Power Holding Company of Nigeria, alias PHCN. The possibility was hinted at in 2018 and in the just gone year 2019. Babatunde Fashola, then Power Minister, had to explain that the stringent terms of the sale were a hindrance; the terms would be breached; and a breach would lead to litigation and some other complications. It would give a bad image to the nation, a nation craving for foreign investment. The international community would just conclude that there was no conducive environment for foreign capital injection and investments. There were already jitters over the judiciary over whose pronouncements the executive had veto power. Attorney-General Abubakar Malami said he released Omoyele Sowore and Sambo Dasuki on compassionate grounds, not because the courts said they should be released on bail! That is frightening.

Garba Shehu earlier labored in vain to distance the government from the travails of Sowore and Dasuki, although he said ominously that the Presidency was not surprised that our undercover agents, the SSS, would certainly be interested in Sowore and he went on to justify it. His statement can be said to have foreshadowed what we were later to hear from the Attorney-General in the season of unreason and abuse of power.

Fashola is not opposed to privatisation of PHCH, the umbrella company which housed what we now have as Genco, TCN and Disco, but he was convinced the sale was badly handled. They were sold to friends and people without the capacity and expertise to run such critical and sophisticated enterprises. His remarks resonated with observations and impressions of a great many, openly made or said in whispers. Genco, TCN, and Disco have thoroughly messed up and given capitalism a bad name.

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Earlier in 2019, I drew the attention of the nation to Nigeria’s 50 years of twilight and darkness, 50 years of the nation going round in circles but getting to nowhere in particular as far as power supply and distribution is concerned as captured by celebrated columnist and great editor, Allah-De. I quoted him as saying in his column published on 15 March, 1969, in the following words:
“I was not present when the miracle at Kainji was performed, but that does not prove my inexcitability about prodigies. I am interested in the Kainji dam if only for my own selfish end.

“My interest in the dam stems from my curiousity about the business of the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria, to which I pay warm tributes this morning for its promptness and efficiency in thrusting electricity bills into my garage door month by month.

“It is the only corporation that possesses the power to declare peremptorily to its customers: ‘Let there be light’ and there shall be light; or ‘may darkness fall upon this household.’ And, of course, there shall be darkness upon such household. And so, the father and the mother, and the children, the servants and all that dwell therein shall trip on the staircase and fall one upon the other.

“If you know of any other piper who is capable of displaying such magic at the dictates of his mood to the annoyance of those who subscribe to his pay packet, I would like to be informed…. The commissioning of Nigeria’s biggest ever project, ECN is expected to be relieved as far as power generating is concerned. The experts say that customers can now look forward to a smoother, uninterrupted electricity supply. That is to say that we do not have to reach for the candle as soon as it threatens to rain. But the question is: Was the Electricity Corporation ready for its partner in progress? The facts do not seem to answer ‘yes’.

“Right now, the ECN cannot distribute to its consumers the maximum amount of power which Kainji can supply, simply because the corporation’s transformers which store power from Ijora do not belong to the space age. As a result the amount of power these transformers can store is limited to a very small fraction of what Kainji can give out. The power lines (electric wires) that carry current from the transformers to the consumers are also not of this age and, therefore, cannot carry power from the transformers to consumers.

“What does all this mean? It means that the ECN was caught slumbering when Kainji was ready for business….Someone should drag the corporation from antiquity so it can be introduced to the age of the dams.”

Does the Allah-De column speak to these times, 50 years after? We may not be fetching candles, when darkness strikes, “…so the father and the mother, and the children, the servants and all that dwell therein shall trip on the staircase and fall one upon the other.” What we do is to grope for rechargeable lamps or reach out for the cell phone for its torchlight. Trip we do trip, fall we do fall. We have been given figures of energy generated to be in the region of 7,000 mega watts, but only between 3,000 and 4,000 can be evacuated owing to bottlenecks in transmission and distribution.

Transformers are old and the malfunctioning ones take eternity to replace. You buy one; Disco fixes and takes possession of it. The Discos have been in slumber, in the words of Allah-De. It is nothing short of the shame of a nation that even during Christmas and New Year special efforts could not be made to give appreciable hours of power supply. Power outage between 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. is a constant, and of course throughout the night—until sometimes 6:30 a.m., to last barely an hour. At dawn no power supply, at dusk no power supply. Productive hours of the day are wasted.

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Household utensils are damaged. Television sets are burnt. Foodstuffs put in freezers are routinely thrown away. A lot of money is spent on running generators. Production and transportation costs soar with the resultant rippling effects pushing up prices in malls and in the market. The suppliers are not embarrassed, and there are no explanations nor are there any apologies offered. Where there is no embarrassment, there can be no shame. We are at the mercy of electricity companies. They are holding the nation to ransom.

As an unrepentant apostle of free market economy, which I will always unreservedly profess, I cannot ask that the government repossesses them. Private enterprise is the way to economic and human development. It is through capitalism that talents and abilities unfold. The British have Margaret Thatcher to thank for rescuing Britain from Scarghillian’s winter of discontent of 1977 and for the booming economy that ensued in its wake after Sunny Jim (James Callaghan) was swept out of power.

And Russia, Gorbachev! For Nigeria to be rescued, the monopoly being enjoyed by the electricity companies must be dismantled. So must the national grid nonsense. Why must we look unto Abuja for our salvation in so many aspects of our national lives? Why should states not be in a position to generate, transmit and distribute their own electric power, getting their citizens to go into it, by seeking investors and expertise from outside our frontiers? What the current buyers of PHCN would not do! The attraction to them, it would seem, is the daily inflow of millions from their customers, not service. I wait to be proven wrong.

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