Fashola’s gaffe over poor electricity
Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola’s outburst blaming the private sector operators the other day over the intractable poor power supply may have put paid to any glimmer of hope of a turnaround in the sector.
What a great disappointment from a government that has been raising hope of people, in this connection.
In what appears as a clear admission of failure, the super minister, unabashedly, told Nigerians not to blame the federal government for poor power supply.
This is a public relations tragedy at this time of reckoning for the government that has been in power for three and half years of a four-year tenure.
The Minister who spoke at a stakeholders meeting in Abuja, advised consumers to direct their complaints about poor power supply and faulty equipment to electricity Distribution Companies (DISCOs) and Generation Companies (GENCOs).
According to Fashola, “If you don’t have electricity, it is not the federal government’s problem, take the matter to the people who are operating the power sector, generation and distribution companies. There are problems without a doubt and we must deal with them. But let me remind you, all of the assets that the Ministry of Power used to control for power have been sold by the last administration before I came”.
“And so, if you don’t have power, it is not the government’s problem. Let us be honest. The people who are operating the power sector, generation and distribution are now privately owned companies.”
“I am here because I am concerned. If your telephone is not working, it is not the Minister of Communication that you go to. Let us be very clear. So, for those of you, who want to weaponise electricity, face the businessmen who have taken it up.”
“Let us be honest; if your bank over-charges you interest; is it the Minister of Finance you go to? So, let’s be clear, this is now a private business by Act of Parliament 2005. My role is regulatory, oversight and policy, but I have a problem which is the fact that I can’t see a problem and turn my back, so I’m getting involved.”
Fashola’s unwarranted sophistry was a barrage of assault on the sensibilities of Nigerians who have suffered untold hardship from pigheaded decisions, actions and inactions of government, particularly, in the power sector.
The minister’s narrative was unbecoming and totally unacceptable from a government whose duty, fundamentally, is to proffer solutions to problems.
If the previous government made a mistake, what has Fashola as a minister been doing to remedy the situation? What has the ministry of power been regulating since 2015? Answers to these questions should not blow in the wind.
If the people should not blame government for a problem that is at the centre of economic development, what then is the essence of government? Is it not the government that sold the power supply infrastructure to private businessmen? Was it not one of the main reasons the people voted against the last administration in March 2015?
More questions: as the minister in-charge of power, what has Fashola done to ensure that the privatisation regime works or is reworked? Were there no terms of engagement? Did the government come to this sordid conclusion?
Fashola, former governor of Lagos state rightly accepted that government still has responsibility for regulation, oversight and policy.
He was curiously elusive about the fact that government is still in-charge of transmission, a critical component in the power supply value chain.
No doubt, the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) manages the electricity transmission network in the country.
It is one of the 18 companies that were unbundled from the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) in April 2004 and is a product of a merger of the transmission and system operations parts of PHCN.
TCN is therefore fully owned and operated by the federal government. There have been reports of decrepit transmission infrastructure across the country.
What has the federal government, which terminated the contract of a Canadian company in charge in the beginning, done to improve the transmission system? This same government has been harping on having more power than it can transmit.
Why is Fashola economical with the truth over transmission capacity at the moment?
It is a known fact that the extant transmission infrastructure can hardly carry more than 6000 megawatts (MW) of electricity even as there have been claims by government that there has been generation capacity of about 10,000 MW.
The nation deserves to know what all the bailouts and other interventions to the DISCOs and GENCOs have done in the last three and half years.
These private companies can neither generate nor distribute more than what the transmission system could carry. That is failure on the part of this government Fashola seeks to defend.
As a matter of fact, under the present privatised power regime, government shares the greater blame than the GENCOS and DISCOs.
The earlier government realises the fact of its central role in the power supply equation, the more responsible it would be to its mandate instead of shifting blames to where they don’t belong.
Even in the area of regulation, oversight and policy, government has also not made appreciable impact.
There is poor regulatory intervention, poor oversight and lack of effective policy thrust and that is why things have remained the same too in this administration.
That is also why Nigerians have been bemoaning outrageous electricity bills being imposed on them without corresponding improvement in power supply.
For instance, the pre-paid meters that were supposed to be issued to consumers to resolve the problem of fraudulent outrageous bills is a hoax.
Millions of consumers have not received the pre-paid meters. Most of those who have it paid through their nose. There is no sign of regulation whatsoever despite repeated promises.
We would like to put it to Fashola that the federal government cannot run away from this power supply dilemma.
If the privatization is not working, the government should come up with a better alternative. Nigeria cannot remain in this state of atrophy forever.
The minister should stop complaining. He should stop the blame game. If government is lamenting, what would the people do?
This critical sector of the economy upon which industrialization, development, employment, etc, depend cannot be left in the hands of private businessmen, whose overriding interest is to make profit.
All told, we would like to advise government, once again, to diversify the energy mix.
Solar, wind and other renewable sources of energy should be explored. State government and interested private organisations should be allowed to generate power and sell to other consumers where necessary.
That way there would be competition, which would engender efficiency. These are the areas that should be explored instead of trading blames after three ad half years in office.