Bumper Deals and a Nation’s Albatross

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By Anthony Akaeze 

“World Bank approves $3bn power loan for Nigeria,” read one of the headlines. It was one of many, as variants of it appeared in many other media outlets. As I mulled the message, I thought, there they go again! Another loan from Bretton Woods, as someone I know prefers to refer to the World Bank, to finance electricity suppy in Nigeria! The choice of Bretton Woods for the real name, in the manner he deploys the words denote danger! To him, World Bank, IMF and similar multinational entities, are one and the same and the loans they offer developing countries like Nigeria should be viewed with suspicion. “Think of all the loan deals and think of our level of development,” he once told me. My friend’s impression of loan deals aside, this latest one for Nigeria’s electricity sector, for a moment, left me wondering. Will it do the magic?

As I thought of it, I imagined just what might have been, had this loan been approved some five years ago after Muhammadu Buhari emerged president.  Millions of Nigerians, I’m sure, would have been beaming and singing his praise as the messiah that had come to deliver his people from darkness.  This would not be unexpected  as three administrations that preceded Buhari’s, spent colossal amount of money in a bid to provide steady electricity supply in the country, to no avail.  Olugbenga Adanikin  of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR in a recent report quoting “The Energy Business report (April 2016 vol. 15 no 160),” states that “N6.52 trillion has been spent on Nigeria’s power sector in 16 years with no significant improvement.” Out of that amount, “ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, the report says, allegedly spent N3.52 trillion ($16 billion) during his tenure, though this figure has been contested.  Also, late President  Umar Yar’adua was said to have spent N1.183 trillion, while the former President Goodluck Jonathan during his administration reportedly expended N1.817 trillion…”

Riding on public goodwill after his emergence as president and as someone familiar with the failures of the Obasanjo and Yara’dua administrations, the last of which he served as vice president, Jonathan unveiled his power agenda. He followed that up by privatising the power sector in the hope that it would enthrone competitiveness and efficiency within the system for the benefit of consumers, as these were lacking in government managed power agencies. In spite of that, power supply in many parts of the country during Jonathan’s tenure, save for a brief period under Barth Nnaji, power minister, was disastrous. As was the situation during Obasanjo’s and Yara’dua’s tenures, it was a case of on today, off tomorrow for many neighbourhoods in different Nigerian states as reports and experiences of people showed. In many areas, electricity supply rotated, so that as one neighbourhood/street enjoyed some hours of light a day, another some metres away was in darkness waiting for its turn. And those were the lucky ones as many others were cut off the national grid for different reasons.

The situation, as I understood it then, worsened during Jonathan’s last months in power as many Nigerian homes across the country, experienced power outages/blackout. For a man who promised to deliver steady electricity to Nigerians, his failure in that regard was monumental. As a reporter for TELL Magazine, I covered Jonathan’s re-election campaign at Tafawa Balewa Square, TBS, Lagos ahead of the presidential election on March 28, 2015. It was a colourful event that did nothing to mask his failures, chief of which, in the opinion of some analysts was his government’s failure to crush Boko Haram and secure the release of the abducted Chibok girls. Seizing the moment that day on the podium, Jonathan, among others, talked about his government’s investments in the power sector which saw to the repair of Egbin power plant that should expectedly lead to steady power supply across the country. That caught no ice, as he was soon shown the door by voters.

Enter Buhari as president. Even before he assumed power, I heard a young boy in the compound I lived in Lagos, say that his mother told him that “if Buhari becomes president, we will get light.”

Similarly, one Buhari fan – and he has millions of them – argued in a programme shown on TV, that there’s no reason Nigerians would not be enjoying constant power supply if Buhari had been the one in charge of government when the billions were spent by past administrations. He cited corruption at the power ministry as the chief reason constant electricity eludes Nigerians.

Well, five years into Buhari’s tenure as president, which saw to the appointment of Babatunde Fashola, an assumed miracle worker, as minister of power in the administration’s first term, and reportedly spending “N1.5 trillion in two years, as at September,” according to the Energy Business report quoted by ICIR, the situation remains the same if not worse than it was before he assumed power.

There must be something then about Nigeria’s power sector that defies all projections for solutions. With an anti-corruption leader as Buhari at the head of affairs, and billions budgeted for the power sector in the last five years,  majority of Nigerians still rely on generator sets as their main source of energy, at a time many countries around the world, rich and poor, are delivering 24 hour electricity to their people.

I was in Senegal and Uganda last year – two African, and assuredly poorer countries compared to Nigeria. Yet the feedback I got from residents of Dakar and Kampala, the capital cities, was that electricity supply was steady in the two cities and generally across the countries. Debbie Amuwo, a Nigerian resident of Dakar, told me that, for three months, not once could she recall a power outage in the city.  One Ugandan driver, on his part, talked about Lake Victoria and the River Nile as the source of Kampala’s constant electricity supply, a view I had also read about.

It was a reminder of how natural resources could be best utilized for public good. Like Uganda and Senegal, Nigeria is blessed with numerous lakes, lagoons, rivers, streams or whatever name you choose to call it. The country also boasts a climate that, much of the year, guarantees enormous sunshine that could be a source of solar power. What then is preventing the relevant authorities from harnessing these natural resources for public good?

If Uganda and many other countries could do it, why not Nigeria?

Anthony Akaeze is an award-winning freelance investigative journalist and author 

– Nov. 7, 2019 @ 18:10 GMT |

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