Wednesday 6 June 2007

Yar'Adua on Power - a whimper, a bark or a roar

Just the slimmest of chances

I think by now my healthy scepticism concerning the ability of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua to excel as president and ruler of Nigeria is all too well documented, now, a few notes to polish that view.

One in some ways is ready in to give him the benefit of doubt, this should and must not be read as giving him a chance, chances have already been used up long before he assumed the post he now occupies; I would expect he hit the ground running to ensure that we do not continue to view him from the perspective of someone who assumed office under a big gloomy cloud of underhand and dubious political machinations.

There are some who say he has got a lot to offer, well, it would be interesting to see on what grounds that assessment has been made, I see no particular track record that allows anyone to arrive at the premise with any objectivity - because if it is on what he did in Katsina State, financial prudence is not enough a basis for understanding and grappling with the serious developmental issues of Nigeria.

Fast tracked beyond results

In reviewing his achievements as governor of Katsina State - one effusive biography (written in typical Nigerian parlance) reads thus - "It is reported that his commitment to fiscal prudence had resulted in the management of Katsina State's resources from a point of indebtedness to a reserve of about N6.5 billion.

He is reported to have achieved this feat while investing in areas that touched the lives of the people directly. These include education; health; portable water; road, and micro-credit scheme to assist farmers. In education, primary school enrolment rose from a mere 460,000 in 1999 to over a million."

Like a fellow blogger friend (Chippla) once said in conversation - honesty is not enough - I would agree, the presidency of Nigeria is not some priesthood, it is a serious executive job that requires genius political skill and visionary direction and the harnessing of resources to goals that militate against the norm of the typical Nigerian way of doing things.

The power outrage

When I visited the Yar'Adua/Goodluck campaign website months ago (The website has since disappeared, one wonders if the issues disappeared with the website); one of the topics that received much coverage was that about the electrical power problems in Nigeria.

The transformation of NEPA (Nigerian Electric Power Authority) to a supposedly more efficient entity called the PHCN (Power Holding Company of Nigeria) has not done much to address the infrastructure deficit and problems where after a $10 billion cash injection during the Obasanjo years, the power problems are even worse.

I use the phrase "cash injection" rather than investment because it would appear the money never really addressed the problems, it might however have lined many pockets - who knows?

So, in a meeting with PHCN managers, the President has set down a task for these managers to handle with this comment - "You people should better be ready to come up with plans before I declare a state of emergency in that sector", he would no more take excuses.

Now, help me here - is this to say there have been no plans yet to address this issue all this time?

This is no new problem

This tough talk really does not impress me - before he declares a state of emergency in that sector - well, any idiot would have seen that that sector was long past having a state of emergency declared - maybe I am just being a bit flippant here.

This is not some new national problem nor is there a new management in that organisation, if they have yet to produced a game plan to begin to address electrical power problems, then we should have new hands on the deck to take this matter more seriously.

Then another manager suggests they are up to the task if the money is there - so what happened to the $10 billion that was thrown at the problem before? What is to guarantee that another cash injection would not fall wholesale into the bottomless pit of impropriety, corruption, graft and inaction?

Aspects of problem resolution

There are serious issues with the power infrastructure in Nigeria, first is the issue of planning and demography, the census unfortunately would not help where people and their facilities do not reflect the realities of the ability to supply the demand and consumption.

Then the matter of security for installed infrastructure has to be addressed such that cables and pylons are not vandalised or stolen for other nefarious activities.

After this, there is a cost to providing this infrastructure and delivering electricity to businesses and private premises - usage metering has to be properly recorded and revenue collection has to improve.

New pricing models have to be considered like do you have a flat charge for supplying a village or a building regardless of occupants and let the chiefs, heads of households or landlords determine how the people are levied according to the facilities they use?

Then the research and development of alternative energy sources like solar and wind energy, probably even the use of fossil fuels, I cannot honestly advocate the use of nuclear power because of safety consciousness and probably vulnerability to saboteurs just as we have with our oil installations.

President Yar'Adua clearly understands that this power issue is critical and fundamental to socio-economic development in Nigeria, this is a good start - I just hope that it is not another reincarnation of PHCN (Problem Has Changed Name) - one this issue, the President might have whimpered, barked or roared - time will tell.

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