The dirty statistics war between Obasanjo sympathizers and the Yar’Adua Turks in the last three weeks over how much was expended on energy sector between 1999 and 2007 should provide another illumination on the quality of thought that conceives and shapes policies that direct Nigeria as a nation.
Short of publicly accusing President Umar Yar’Adua of hyperbole, Foluseke Somolu had sensationally faulted a presidential claim that the last administration spent $10 billion in the power sector.
In the international circuits, Somolu’s voice was being echoed by Oby Ezekwesili, one of Obasanjo’s golden girls, now World Bank’s Vice President for Africa.
Indeed, in the last three months, alarm bells have been ringing on the Obasanjo-initiated National Integrated Power Projects (NIPP). Under Obasanjo, funding was from the “excess crude account” which, in itself, is now enmeshed in a procedural bind.
Without a constitutional backing, it is thought illegal - if not treasonable - for a president to unilaterally vile the slush fund into any project, however noble the intention. So, across the six project sites in the Niger Delta, activities have virtually ground to a halt. For instance, Lahmeyer International, the German design consultant for the project, has pulled out in protest of non-payment of some of its fees. Turbines imported at more than $3b are now lying idle at various ports across the country.
President Yar’Adua’s own idea now is to look at other funding options. According to the Economic Adviser, Alhaji Tanimu Kurfi, it was while hosting the Vice President of General Electric (Mr. Jonh Rice) that the president alluded to the fact that funding couldn’t be said to be the only issue. Kurfi quoted Yar’Adua as saying that “If it’s spending, my predecessor had spent not less than $10b in the power sector and (didn’t get) power output or generation commensurate with that amount.”
Of course, coming when the nation is still assailed by incessant power outages, Yar’Adua’s allusion to $10b expenditure under the last dispensation was bound to find a negative resonance in the public psyche. What Somolu (appointed by Obasanjo) then did was to write a memo (a copy of which curiously found its way into the press) telling the president his figures were exaggerated.
The insolent adviser must have been suffering from a poor understanding of English language. Shown figures and charts, he would soon realize that “power sector” is not restricted to NIPP. When the other capital expenditure by PHCN is added, plus spending by NNPC’s joint venture partners like Agip, Chevron and Exxon Mobil, the tally is clearly in excess of $10b.
In fact, the debate has further been illuminated by a claim by Speaker Dimeji Bankole that available records indicate that over $16b was actually spent under Obasanjo in the power sector.
After all said and written, the message is now all too clear for all to see: if someone of Somolu’s status couldn’t compute ordinary arithmetic of contracts sums correctly and is shameless enough to advertise his ignorance so blissfully, how much more the more delicate geometry of the real energy challenge. Ultimately, we can then imagine the kind of leadership such a character would have provided the NIPP committee all these donkey years!
Against this backcloth, the hands of the Yar’Adua Turks now seem strengthened against the likes of Ezekwesili who, they say, is abusing her office at the World Bank to portray the new administration in Abuja negatively.
While on a visit to Nigeria last month, she, obviously in solidarity with her mentor (Obasanjo), had also gotten involved in the controversy. Like Somolu, her own figure was less than $5b. But confronted with this superior argument based on hard facts and figure today, it is unknown what would now be the escape route of the woman fondly called “Madam Due Process”.
Sadly, all this ado about nothing came ahead of conflicting reports that further pain is to be inflicted on the public by raising electricity tariff as part of drastic measures to – what else – lure the private sector into the power sector.
But Thursday, another statement came from Aso Rock debunking the story in what suggests some in-fighting among the policy formulators at Aso Rock. Of course, those who canvass increase in tariffs are the apostles of “market forces”.
The ongoing rate, we are told, is too unattractive for businessmen. But we had the same ballyhoo years ago over the downstream sector of the energy industrial complex. Unless subsidy was removed, we were told, private refineries would not crank into action. But six years on, none of the legion certified private refineries is functioning.
Sadly, over the years, the local refining capacities of the publicly-owned refineries have dwindled (not even stagnating). Today, it is still business as usual as a powerful clique continues to monopolize importation of petroleum products.
Last week, the president made yet another big promise that the nation’s power infrastructure should deliver 6,000 megawatts of electricity within 18 months, up from the present average of 3,000 megawatt.
The latest charge followed the inauguration of an 11-man “emergency committee”. If nothing else, the involvement of the Chief Economic Adviser to the President, Taminu Yakubu, in the latest panel surely underscores the sense of urgency Yar’Adua now attaches to the nation’s energy question today. At this juncture, it is now trite to restate that stable power is critical to the industrial take-off of any nation.
But without prejudice to whatever prescription the panel may come up with, I think the point needs to be stressed that such innovation ought to still be within the context of the NIPP framework in view of huge resources already poured into it.
Anyone who suggests that the NIPP should be cast away wholesale cannot possibly mean well for this nation. The N361b already spent or committed to NIPP was sourced from the “excess crude account” which belongs to the federal, state and local governments. Ideally, more collaboration ought to take place between the three tiers of government with a view to providing tri-partite funding for the energy sector since, at the end of the day, it remains a national asset.
In both short and long terms, resources committed to such undertaking, if judiciously utilized, would benefit the national economy more than the ongoing agitation that the “excess crude” savings be shared without anyone bothering yet to ask how the money would be spent by the recipients.
Mr. President partly hit the nail on the head with his statement that the energy problem is not only funding. The obsession of Obasanjo’s NIPP appeared to have been generation without a clear-cut strategy to expand the evacuation capacity and make the distribution network more efficient. Indeed, over the last few years, bold attempts have been made to add to the national grid by some IPPs initiated by the joint venture partners.
But the fact remains that the only available transmission lines over which PHCN maintains a stranglehold are carried over from antiquity. For instance, while the Omoku power plant was being built between 2001 and 2006, it also became the responsibility of the Rivers State government to spend fortunes running into billions of naira to construct transmission lines from Omoku to Port Harcourt (a distance of more than hundred kilometres).
The problem is also human. A way has to be found round the cankerworm of the institutional parasites within the PHCN whose specialty is to undermine any new initiative, however noble the intention, for selfish reasons.
For instance, there is yet another tale about the Rivers IPP. After the Peter Odili administration had run the transmission lines to Port Harcourt, the next challenge was how to step up the capacity of the existing transformer in the Garden City.
Another form of resistance was mounted by PHCN officials who insisted that it was their “birth-right” to be handed the fund to do the purchase. Of course, someone was more interested in the profits to be made from over-invoicing or commission.
It did not matter if public interest suffered in the process. Issues like the foregoing should also stimulate the minds of the new energy committee in the times ahead as they consider new options.
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Reader Omoku, Nigeria May 26, 2010
Distance from Omoku to Port Harcourt more than 100km???
That was too cheap...
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