Opinion: Militant Ambode’s template that Buhari can use – By TUNJI AJIBADE
The Federal Government mentions 7,000MW as the electricity it generates at this time. President Muhammadu Buhari mentioned the same figure when he made the Independence Day broadcast in October. I recall having this unsatisfied feeling not because of this figure, but because he mentioned it, turned to another page, and moved on to other issues. I thought Nigerians needed to hear more on power from the President that day than he volunteered. They need more of his words of assurance that can calm their growing worry about power supply. Why? Power, or lack of it, is this nation’s major challenge and the companies saddled with the responsibility have said they cannot provide enough. So, what should we do? I think the Governor of Lagos State, Mr Akinwumi Ambode, has an idea that President Buhari and other state governors may find useful.
There was this celebratory mood in official circles when government said we generated 7,000MW. It was in that same mode and tone the President mentioned it in the course of his broadcast. Yes, the news should gladden the hearts of the masses. But what should Nigerians make of 7,000MW when most of the time they don’t have at least guaranteed six hours of electricity supply in a day? This is the reality, not hypothesis. As for Nigerians who have prepaid electric meter, they recharge, but everything simply lies there, useless. How should millions of Nigerians who don’t have power for weeks celebrate 7,000MW? How should Nigerians clap for government’s 7,000MW when the companies licensed to deliver it to them cannot, as they have admitted, invest for the purpose anymore? It’s for this reason the President needs every idea he can get on the way forward in this sector.
At a public event recently, Buhari called on cabinet ministers in attendance to come up with ideas on how to move the nation forward. Earlier in September, he had specifically called on the Minister of Transportation, Mr Chibuike Amaechi, to bring to him new ideas on how to transform the railway sector. I haven’t heard him make the same call to Mr Raji Fashola, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing. He needs to. But Fashola can’t be the entire focus regarding where fresh ideas should come from. One reason is that the minister has admitted several times in the public space the constraints facing companies that are responsible for the generation, transmission and distribution of power. He did paint a bleak picture of the financial condition of these companies and of the power sector in general. Having listened to him, I have wondered why he hasn’t proposed a surgical operation in the power sector to the President. It’s what we need. For the companies involved have stated that they lack the needed capital, and it’s obvious they’ve finally left the ball in the court of the Nigerian government to decide what it wants to do with them.
I’m not surprised at this turn of events. All those who had followed the usual corrupt and manipulated approach to the adoption of these companies under the previous administration had pointed out that we might end up with companies that wouldn’t be able to deliver on their mandates. The current situation is the outcome of that corrupted process. Should we continue to watch a past impact negatively on the future of this nation? A few stakeholders have however seen this gloomy picture and it’s the reason they have sat up, refusing to have their development tied down. I refer to state governors. The only challenge is that not enough of them have come out to take a stand regarding power.
Not long ago, I called attention on this page to how Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State made efforts to generate power for his people. I also stated my concern that although Ayade generated power, he could not give it to his people, rather he had to surrender what he generated to the transmission and distribution companies who had proved themselves unable to either efficiently transmit or distribute. Extant laws constrain Ayade and other governors. Yet, his is one coastal state whose potential for economic development can spur Nigeria forward, significantly reducing many of our challenges such as unemployment if it had all the electricity supply it needed.
In October, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, the chairman Senate Committee on Power, visited the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr Udom Emmanuel. Abaribe praised the governor for generating electricity. Meanwhile, Emmanuel passionately informed Abaribe that he wished he could give his people just 53kva out of the 153kva that his state generated. Emmanuel knew that his people needed electricity in order to move the state forward. He had what his people needed, but he couldn’t give it to them. Lately, the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, was in the news too. He had identified the challenge that power sector constituted to development and like other state governors he wanted to do something about it. He sounded militant, even, and it was what caught my attention, making me do this piece. Why did Ambode sound militant? The impressive statistics of Lagos State and where it would have been in terms of economic and social development if power had not been a hindrance.
Lagos State has a high concentration of people, one of the highest in the country. It’s the fifth largest economy in Africa. While he spoke at a recent interactive session with members of the business community, Ambode said his state had a supply of less than 1,000MW “and the fundamental issues remain with generation, transmission and distribution. Transmission is still owned primarily by the Federal Government. But in Lagos State, we have become creative and we have done Independent Power Project through which we were able to generate 47.5MW which was distributed short-circuiting transmission.” He further stated that, “if it works, does it look like a template we can now use to get power freedom or what we call power security? If we say we are the fifth largest economy in Africa and we are not in control of how power is generated in an economy that wants to move from fifth to third, then something is wrong. So, what we are saying is, let’s find a way to short-circuit them within the ambit of the law.”
I consider Ambode’s stance as the most militant by any state governor thus far in Nigeria’s stagnated power sector. His mindset isn’t for the purpose of sabotaging the nation, rather it is to move it forward in a situation in which we are used to seeing fine tarred roads but follow rough dirt paths instead. One can imagine what power security for states such as Cross River and Lagos can bring to the table in terms of economic development. The bright pictures this holds are so obvious that I am baffled that we continue to let electricity supply hinder the development of this nation. I hope some Federal Government officials won’t come up with arguments against what Lagos State is doing. Many of us will understand such arguments to mean a deliberate effort to hold this nation down. For the negative effects of sitting where we are on power are there for us to see.
For instance, in a TV footage recently, many young people raised their hands, acknowledging they were Nigerians among other Africans who were being sold as slaves in Libya. Twenty six Nigerian women reportedly died in the Mediterranean Sea not long ago. Our government has been repatriating from Libya hundreds of Nigerians who choose to return voluntarily. At home, the rate of unemployment is high because industries close down, and medium scale enterprises become unsustainable due to power shortage. In the face of this and more, I wonder what excuses we have to not correct ourselves now that we know we have handed over the power sector to outfits that can’t deliver. No price is too stiff to pay at this time in order to retrace our steps. The well-being of almost 200 million people is what we are talking about. It’s what President Buhari must have in view as he continues to consider what to do with the sector. It’s the burden of that figure some of the state governors are also, in their own way, making efforts to help take off his shoulders. Punch