Though appropriate, the word “novel” arguably understates the import of President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to saddle Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola with three highly demanding portfolios in his cabinet, namely Power, Works and Housing. I am making this observation after reading the interesting piece by Uche Aneke entitled “Power sector: Great Expectations from Fashola,” published in a Nigerian daily late last year, in which Aneke – the General Manager, Public Affairs, of the Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA) – makes reference to the “novel way in which portfolios were assigned” by President Buhari, as shown by the three portfolios assigned to Fashola.
Beyond its novelty, President Buhari’s decision can be compared to hitching three harnesses to one horse, whereas the normal thing is to attach just one harness to one horse. The expectation is that it would have to be a wonder horse – with supernatural strength – to be able to perform efficiently while drawing the three harnesses simultaneously. And some may wonder why link three harnesses to one horse in a country where there is a surplus of horses to which the other two harnesses could have been tied, creating more employment for horses.
So the critics of the decision may portray it as liable to cause inherent inefficiency across the three portfolios which, incidentally, has not been the case with the power sector. And I speak for the power sector out of close familiarity, having been engaged in the sector in various capacities for over thirty years, and considering its state before Fashola’s appointment as Minister of Power.
But then, supporters of the decision may justify it by citing the saying that the reward for success is more work, and base the justification on what Aneke called “the miracle of Lagos transformation” – a reference to Fashola’s impressive record as a former governor of Lagos State, arguably the most populous, complex, advanced and infrastructurally developed state in the country.
They would argue that if Fashola could transform Lagos State into what it was at the end of his two terms as governor, then transforming the power sector should be a lesser task to him. Also, that running Lagos State should be more challenging than running three federal ministries.
And so that President Buhari did not err in assigning three ministries to him considering his record of achievement, even though the critics of the decision may still counter it with the African saying that you should not heap rocks on the head of a child because you believe he is strong.
For me the enthusiasm of this defence stems from a lack of understanding that managing the Nigerian power sector alone is more demanding than managing Lagos State. And it shouldn’t take a long exposition to explain why even to a layman. For instance, the geographical area covered by the power sector, and which come under the supervision of a Minister of Power, encompasses the whole thirty-six states, including Lagos, whereas the geographical area covered by Lagos State is just itself.
And with the way the power system is networked – especially the transmission network – a problem at one location, say the National Control Centre (NCC) at Osogbo, can have nationwide impact like system failure which would throw the entire country into blackout, and may require the minister’s intervention on something like a national scale to be resolved. But problems in Lagos State are more likely to be confined within its borders than have such nationwide impact.
The same for generation: even when a problem originates from a remote location or a single or few states like the recent vandalisation of power and gas infrastructure, the impact of a drastic decline in power generation sends shocks through the grid and nationwide, with the attendant distress to the citizenry.
In this sense, Lagos State is a microcosm of the power sector. And a Minister of Power in trying to solve problems in the power sector usually deals with a national headache compared to the far less severe state headaches that state governors have to contend with, including Lagos State.
In effect, if Fashola succeeds as Minister of Power, which I believe he will, if given the necessary support, it should be considered a far greater achievement than his success as governor of Lagos State. And if he does this while successfully managing the two additional ministries, then it would qualify to be considered a phenomenal achievement.
However, considering the enormity of the issues in the power sector, he would need to set realistic goals while Nigerians must equally have realistic expectations in order for his success in the sector to be recognisable.
- Oke, a former staff of National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) and a public affairs analyst, lives in Abuja.