PHCN privatisation: Need to back BPE success trend
IF there is anything in recent time that gladdens the heart of economic managers, genuine friends and sincere lovers of Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria, it is the eventual freedom from the burden of wasteful funding of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), achieved through successful privatisation exercise of the electricity behemoth.
Thanks to the present management of Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) led by its Director-General Benjamin Dikki, that fixed it via one of the most skillfully managed, transparent and competitive bidding. The government can now concentrate on the proper job of administering the country while the successor companies of the defunct PHCN can henceforth focus deservedly on that specialisation of making electricity available to Nigerians.
The importance of stable Power sector to the growth and development of any economy is unquantifiable. No meaningful investment can operate optimally in the absence of steady and affordable electrical energy. Similarly, no nation existing or defunct has industrialised without meeting up with the electricity needs of the entrepreneurs. Consequently, economy pundits have been using all avenues to call on the government to explore means of turning around the power sector insisting that it holds the key to the nation’s quantum leap into the league of developed nations. Here comes the modern economic theories recommendation to exit the power system quagmire—privatisation!
This explains the euphoria that greeted the success of the privatisation of PHCN in some quarters, as it marks the beginning of the journey for the much anticipated power sufficiency. PHCN, according to a report of Coalition of Network against Corruption, a civil society organisation, is one of the most mismanaged government establishments. “In spite of huge fund allocation it receives from the Federal Government and the bulk revenue it generates, the electricity company could neither stabilise power supply in the country nor pay for gas it consumes,” says the report.
In his response, a public affairs analyst, John Idoha, swiftly described the PHCN as a baby being fed with all nutritious food items but refused to crawl or walk after so many years, which must be given a critical medical attention. To him instant privatisation is the critical answer.
A legislative report of Nigerian National Assembly estimates, although arguably as it was later to turn out, that over $16 billion was spent on the power sector dominated by PHCN, during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration alone without much to show for it. House of Representatives probe headed by the then chairman of the House Committee on Power, Dr. Ndidi Elumelu, to hold those individuals accountable for the mismanagement of the huge power vote ended in a disaster. What happened? One might ask.
While the report of the committee was being awaited for possible implementation, Elumelu, the then chairman of the committee was arrested, accused of criminal embezzlement of fund relating to solar power contract in Rural Electricity Agency (REA), creating an image of ‘the hunter being hunted.’ The subsequent outcome of the power probe is better imagined.
Thus, confirming the notion that corruption has the capability of fighting back when confronted and the level of preparedness needed by whoever that swims against the tide.
For one, the corruption syndicate whose stock in trade is to feed fat on every government weak-points is once more alive at its duty post to fight every effort at injecting efficiency into the nation’s systems so as to perpetuate sleaze. In that sense, they have started displaying various tricks targeted at reversing, reviewing or generating discontent with the privatisation of PHCN.
Such move should be resisted and considered as another nocturnal move of the unseen hands of corruption to fight back and return the sector to the Dark Age of history. Ditto too, effort to smear the name or character of individuals or institutions involved in privatisation of the sector. What needs to preoccupy the mind of the people now is how to further advance deregulation exercise and clean up policies in the sector as to astronomically build the requisite capacity.
The media report of fall in power supply in some parts of the country may be true just as there are some parts of the country where there has been tremendous improvement in supply. There were also reports of disengaged staff that claim not to have been paid disengagement benefits. There were similarly issues of excessively high tariff in some areas by certain electricity Distribution Companies, DISCOS and all what not.
These are minor hitches that will soon be sorted out, reminiscent of Nigeria’s experience in the telecom sector. Recall that before the deregulation of telecom sector, Nitel/m-tel was the only cock crowing but today courtesy of BPE driven deregulation and privatisation, Nigeria now has one of the fastest growing telecom sectors and highest teledensity in the world. The benefit is ubiquitous.
There is no perfect privatisation, anyway, in the world, according to Obasanjo, in one of his speeches captioned: “Perfection only belongs to God.” But what we have seen is near perfect exercise, of which both the losers and winners are satisfied with the process, said one of the beneficiaries of the exercise who opted anonymity.” What we are now faced with is how to effectively play our role in the distribution domain of the power value chain to the satisfaction of our consumers,” he says.
As the Nigerian government continues to take bold steps in privatising some of the state owned businesses, through the Bureau of Public Enterprises, the body statutorily assigned the responsibility, it has become expedient that the government should give all necessary support to the activities of the BPE to strengthen the faith of interested parties and foreign investors by respecting the outcome of the process no matter whose ox is gored.
The process of privatising PHCN has been acclaimed to have met test of best practice and international standard. It was as well properly monitored and approved by National Council on Privatisation (NCP). Anything short of support for the BPE will amount to a disservice to the nation.
• Johnson is the publisher of Instant Africa News Magazine and wrote from Abuja.