Low power supply: Looking beyond scapegoating

N OT a few Nigerians have expressed dissatisfaction with the current performance of the power sector under the ministerial stewardship of Mr. Babatunde Fashola. They seem to think that his seemingly magical transformation of Lagos State as governor would easily be replicated in the power sector, resulting in improved power generation and the attendant improvement in power supply nationwide.

Needless to say that this has not been the case, and such people, perhaps justifiably inpatient due to our long ordeal with inadequate power as Nigerians, have repeatedly taken the minister to task, asking when the seemingly endless promise of improved power will become reality under his watch.

On July 6, 2016, the peak and off-peak generation from the 29 power stations in the country was 3,260.8 and 2,257.4 megawatts respectively. To call this embarrassing for a country of 170 million people that contemplates economic progress and industrialisation is an understatement, in a world where evidence shows that the countries with the strongest economies, which are also the most industrialised, like the United States, Japan, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Russia and France – that is, the G8 countries, and not excluding China – have the highest net electricity generation, relative to the strength of their economies and the degree of their industrialisation.

In short, the more electricity these countries can generate and distribute successfully, the stronger their economies and the greater the extent of their industrialisation, with China leading the pack with its 2015 generation of 5,810,500 gigawatt hours of electricity, followed by the United States’ and the European Union’s 4,297,300 and 3,166,000 respectively.

In fact, some critics of the Buhari government and other genuinely concerned Nigerians seem to be trouncing Fashola’s image in what I would call a blame-the-minister game being played with cynical gusto. And they celebrate their victory, it would seem, by circulating such images of the minister on social media platforms in which he is depicted almost in a silhouette, his features discernible from faint white dots and tracings, and labelled “Minister of Darkness” – a reflection of the Nigerian penchant for creating humour out of national distress, and a valuable component of their survival toolkit perhaps. For some would argue that the toxin of grieving over their seemingly interminable hardship, or other forms of humourless reactions, would worsen the misery imposed on them by a largely dysfunctional system marked by extensive infrastructural decay.

But Fashola is not the only victim – yes, I consider him a victim – of this sort of blame game. It had begun at the onset of the government he is currently serving as Minister of Power, Works and Housing, with the well-orchestrated censure of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) – another victim, I think – for allegedly overseeing the privatisation of the power sector which the critics of the bureau and the privatisation – with the evidently poor  knowledge or ignorance of what transpires in the power sector that some of their criticisms reflect – blamed for the current woes of the power sector.

Ironically, such critics seem to conveniently ignore the fact that it is also after the privatisation and under Fashola as Minister of Power that the country attained its highest net power generation to date, a new peak generation and the highest maximum daily energy of 5,074.7 megawatts and 109,372 megawatt hours respectively.

More surprisingly, such critics seem uninterested in asking a pertinent question, namely: “If Fashola’s supposed ‘incapacity’ and the privatisation of the power sector by the BPE are to blame for the current decline in power generation in the country, how come the country recorded this new milestone under Fashola as Minister of Power and after the privatisation?”

Of course, if they asked the question they would have to look elsewhere for the reasons for the current dissatisfactory state of power in the country rather than pursue the scapegoating, as it were, of the minister and the privatisation agency.

And the major snag with this type of censoriousness is that it ascribes the problem to the wrong cause, diverts attention from identifying the right cause, derails proper troubleshooting, and ultimately reduces the chances of finding a solution to the problem where it does not completely destroy that possibility.

In medical terms, this is comparable to attributing a disease to a wrong cause which might result on administering the wrong medication with predictable consequences for the patient. I think those who blame the privatisation of the power sector for our current power problems and recommend its reversal as the solution and those who attribute the problem to Fashola should take a special note of this analogy and its hint at their behaviour as counterproductive, a disservice to the clarity needed to diagnose the problem accurately. We must look beyond the scapegoating implied by such blames to find a lasting solution to the current low power generation and supply being experienced nationwide.

Behind the current power situation is the fact that there are forces determined to keep it as it is: poor and dissatisfactory to all well-meaning Nigerians; and which profit politically or otherwise from the abnormality, forces allied to the notorious “Nigerian factor”. They are not unrelated to those Fashola’s immediate past predecessor as Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, famously described as “demons” in the power sector at his Senate screening for the post, and promised to defeat.

But as we all know, they ended up giving him as good run for his enthusiasm, almost completely frustrating his efforts to improve power generation and nearly obliterating it close to the end of his tenure through acts of sabotage perpetrated by their vandalism franchise which has remained active during Fashola’s tenure.

In effect, we seem trapped in a vicious cycle regarding the poor performance of the power sector. And it is a problem that far more than ministerial intervention is needed to solve permanently.

It is the “factor” attributed to us Nigerians by ourselves that is responsible. And as Nnaji used to say, Nigerians have to decide whether they want stable electricity or not. And they won’t be deciding that they want it by condoning those who sabotage power production because the resultant failure gives them cause to castigate their ministers or governments and call for their replacement with their preferred options, or benefits them in other unscrupulous ways. At the root of the problem is lack of patriotism.

  • Oke is an Abuja-based public affairs analyst.