BUHARI’S GOVERNMENT: Limits Of Body Language (1)
WHEN history comes to assess the first five months of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, one thing will be very remarkable — they were the months of ‘Body Language’.
‘Body language’ touched the nerve of Nigeria’s psyche, chiefly because nobody knew what the President wanted or what his targets were, in terms of the fight against corruption. In fact, for the Buhari apologists, it bodes well to say that the language was crucial to the change mantra.
Sam Omokaro, chairman of Labour Party in Edo State, captured the initial euphoria when he spoke with The Guardian on Buhari’s 100 days in office. His words, “President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, so far, has changed the goal post of politics in Nigeria. For the first time, things are falling in place without being pushed. If you checkmate corruption, every other thing will fall in place. Look at the revenue of the federation, even with the falling oil price, the country’s revenue is still going up, and that is the truth, because automatically, stealing has reduced. So far, he is on point, and I think we should give him kudos. People voted for change, they are now having that change; they should give him time to do it.”
But now, the early successes of ‘body language’ have stirred a lot of doubts. The body language is no longer working. Darkness is back on the streets, queues have returned to the filling stations and Boko Haram insurgents are still prowling the Northeast, in spite of the military headquarters being stationed there.
Mr. Tony Abolo, a veteran journalist and public commentator, who is the coordinator, Benin Campus of the International Institute of Journalism (IIJ), however, captures this failure in a rather poignant manner.
According to him, “we are back to Egypt. In my mind, it was because there was this institutional memory, everybody remembered the story of General Buhari, who was a no-nonsense person, who wouldn’t tolerate indiscipline. Nigerians seemed to have been in this psychological mood of change, where we would do things differently. So, it was like everybody cooperated with the President to make sure that things worked, and of course, no one wanted to be caught doing something that was against the law.”
To him, that understanding expired when no one knew Buhari’s agenda again. He stressed, “the inability of the President to constitute his management team, which is the Federal Executive Council, meant that he was carrying on in a way that people no longer knew what the direction was and people were feeling that there was another agenda, perhaps, a northern agenda, considering his appointments, and nobody could make out what exactly was going on so everybody now relaxed.”
Illusion Of Gas Supply, Refineries
LOOKING at gas supply architecture been unfavourable, especially, to generation companies (GENCOs), who complain of inadequate supply in a situation of steady supply commitment to Ghana, Ayodele Oni, an energy law expert, said, “to start with, Ghana has recently been load shedding as the pipeline, which takes gas to that country was damaged; hence, it is not accurate to say that there are no gas pipeline or gas supply challenges, especially, through the West African gas pipeline system.”
Oni added, “gas supply to GENCOs has been a problem, because for several years, the formerly government-owned PHCN, its successor companies and a handful of state-owned power companies owed to gas producers and the Nigerian Gas Company a lot of money which remained unpaid and the gas suppliers themselves wanting to remain in business stopped providing gas to the power sector — save for a few private sector owned IPPs. This is definitely not strange because no businessperson would continue to provide goods or services to a persistent debtor.”
Oluseyi Peter, a lecturer in the Department of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, University of Lagos, said, “Ghana’s pipe runs deep under the sea, so, it is difficult to vandalise. Some of our own pipes are surface ones, we can even see them, and they place NNPC caution sign post at some of these spots to tell where they are, but the truth is, if someone is not an expert in that area, he will not go and vandalise, I want to believe that we cannot totally exempt in-house assistance for vandalisation. It is a serious issue that government has to face. We need to have a telecommunication system, using telemetry and other means to monitor pipelines. You just sit in your office and monitor them just like the CCTV in a big company; you can use satellites such that alarms can be raised if anything is about to happen. They will tell you it is expensive, but you need to look at the benefit.
We can do it, but the willpower is not there. You also need constant light to be able to receive signal. Do we have the willpower to face the problem and proffer solution? When the solution is proffered are we willing to go ahead to follow up with implementation?”
For the refineries that temporarily came alive, Oni said, “the problem has been that for several years, the refineries have not been properly maintained. It is typical for refineries to have maintenance done regularly according to the OEM’s recommendations and schedules. It is the case that we throw money at problems in Nigeria, rather than first understanding the problem or following prescribed rules of doing things the proper way. So, instead of regularly maintaining the refineries, they were left to suffer substantial damage, which a single period of servicing or corrective maintenance would not remedy.”
He continued, “hence, despite the maintenance, the refineries were still going to be out of service until very comprehensive repairs are done; probably a series of those to bring them to a reliability platform. After that, they must be consistently maintained to remain in service. Clearly a lot of energy should be built around that and a lot of time is needed to stabilise them.”
Abolo is also disappointed that the government could still continue in that vilified regime of subsidy. He queried such rationale. “We are saying remove fuel subsidy, then he says no, it is not about fuel subsidy removal, it is about dealing with the systemic reorganisation, and then, if you remove the inefficiencies and corruption, you now have to force the fuel to flow, now where do we go from there?”
He continued, “it is a hemorrhage on the economy, stop it then, let us do other things more efficient, looking at modular refineries, looking at how you can make NNPC to function as a competitive organisation; these are the kind of things we want to see done, but the man says, hold on action, I understand the energy sector, especially, when it concerns petroleum, because I have been there, but we are saying that there are modern ideas on how to run that sector and I’m not sure his ideas of 20 to 30 years ago are the kind that will drive a modern sector that we want to see. I don’t know whether there is any magic that we are going to expect; now I hear also of some figures being bandied and when you hear that you are shocked, that in September, some refineries performed at 1.96 per cent, I thought that the thing was coming to more appreciable levels, when you hear that, it is as good as zero, so, it means the refineries are dead. Now where do you go from there? It means you are back to importation, it means you are driving up oil subsidy bills so, I don’t know how we are going to manage it, particularly, at a time when there is no money? It means we will soon go back to trekking and bicycles.”
Beyond body language, Abolo believes, “the president has to understand the basics of what it takes to run a modern economy, a globally competitive economy. When we have the President running an economy that way, not waiting for advisers because the president must set the tone so when we get to that level, then we will have that sign of leadership.”
OFFICIAL statistics has it that electricity generation has witnessed a steady, but turbulent growth to 4,800 megawatts as on Thursday. While there are discerning views about the seeming steady growth, there are some suggestions about the famed ‘body language’ of President Buhari.
But immediate past Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo attributed the nation’s improved power supply to efforts of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Nebo chronicled how the past administration worked hard to give Nigeria sustainable power, but was allegedly frustrated by those he called saboteurs.
His words: “Some said it was Buhari’s body language that brought the improvement, but I don’t know what they mean. You can see that these saboteurs have stopped regular bursting of the gas pipes that powered the electricity since President Buhari came on board. Some people did not want Jonathan to succeed.
“Some of these people were doing this great disservice because they did not like President Jonathan. The regular supply is Jonathan’s labour. The present administration has not added any value to the sector and Nigerians must appreciate this.”
Director on Research and Advocacy for the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED), Barrister Sunday Olurotimi Oduntan has a slightly different view.
He told The Guardian: “The improvement in generation from about 2100MWs to 4600 achieved recently is as a result of improved gas supply to the sector. Since President Buhari became President, the vandalisation of gas pipelines in the Niger Delta region, which was a regular occurrence, has stopped.
“This is attributable to the body language of the President, which changed a lot of things in the country.”
Despite the different views on the state of the sector, the reality continues to stare in the face: Nigeria continues to suffer from an acute shortage of power generation capacity, in absolute terms and relative to other developing countries. Indeed, Nigeria is rated as having the lowest level of generation per capita of any country in the world.
Since the Generation Companies (GENCOs) and the 11 licensed Electricity Distribution Companies (DISCOs) came on stream, there has been little or no improvement in service delivery to the populace. Rather, what Nigerians experience on a daily basis is the epileptic power supply or outright blackout for a long period. What makes the situation more unbearable is the accompanying high tariff regime by the electricity firms, which many consumers have described as ‘crazy bill’.
An expert in the power sector, Engineer Festus Omogbai, who x-rayed the situation, blamed part of the problem on the faulty privatisation process, which did not take into consideration, the true financial standing of the firms that bid and eventually won the operating license to provide electricity.
He observed that the regular supply of electricity by the firms few months after President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in May was the usual trend to impress new leaders in order to curry the favour of the new government.
“The seeming improvement in the provision of service by the DISCOs in the early months of Buhari’s coming has nothing to do with their seriousness to render service. I believe they put up the ‘temporary show’ to impress the new leadership and in line with the change mantra that was in the air. The equipment during the period was overstretched to achieve a phantom success just to welcome Buhari because they simply don’t have the capacity currently to sustain the trend.”
The poor showing of the DISCOs, according to the expert, has raised serious integrity question on the nation’s leadership which promised to change the unsteady power supply situation as part of their electoral promises.
After the creation of the last set of new states, including Abia, the government reportedly awarded contracts for power projects in some of them. That of Abia was sited in Ohiya in Umuahia South Local Council, which is very near to Umuahia, the state capital.
Following this were, another big power project being undertaken by the federal government at Alaoji Aba, in collaboration with some states and the one being executed at Osisioma in Osisioma Council, also near Aba by the Geometric Power Ltd chaired by professor Barth Nnaji, former Minister of Power.
The combined output of these three projects, it was expected, would give the state, Southeast zone and its neighbours not only adequate power supply, but a sustained one that would boost the industrial activities.
The non-commissioning or non-takeoff of these projects has continued to affect negatively industrial activities in the zone till date.
The Guardian gathered that in Abia, it wasn’t about any body language, but power illusion and denial. At no time was there an improvement in power supply.
The Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC), the outfit that acquired the right to distribute electricity supply to the five states of the Southeast, from the outset, started with the slogan, “power to the southeast”.
When the company was being handed over to Interstate Electrics on November 1, 2013, its promoters had said that the slogan was carefully thought out, as “a true representation of our famous core values, which stand on the tripod of integrity, customer service and performance,” adding that the concern was how to improve the supply of electricity to the entire households of the zone.
Chairman of the Company, Sir Emeka Offor, promised to “efficiently distribute and market electricity to over 700,000 registered customers in the southeast,” stressing that stable power supply was necessary to improve the economy of the zone. Two years, down the line, the services provided by the EEDC in the zone do not justify the transformation process, which the Federal Government wanted in the sector that made it hand over the electricity distribution companies to private companies.
EEDC has throttled from one challenge to another and bringing to doubt their capacity to end epileptic power supply in the zone.
From load shedding to alternating supply in most cases, residents and businesses could go on for days, weeks and months without a sign of supply of electricity.
Other issues the residents face in the zone are inefficient services provided by the staff, the inability of residents to pay the bill without pre-paid meter system, over billing, faulty cables and transformers and poor response to reported cases. Since the company took off, it has not provided a single pre-paid meter to her customers.
The company has witnessed several protests from residents since the commencement of its operations in the zone over its inability to meet the power needs of the people.
Presently, the power supply situation in the zone has taken a leap downward. Residents attribute it to the tradition in the company whereby power situation improved only during the rainy season and becomes an essential commodity in the dry season.
Speaking on the development, Managing Director of the EEDC, Mr Robert Dickerman, said several factors militate against regular power supply in the zone, including vandalism, faulty transformers as well as structural issues in the Nigeria energy supplier industry.
Situating the problem to the GENCOs, which he said are run by hydro and gas, he said the industry was neglected for years and needs to be brought up to speed to improve the condition of the plants.
TO a majority of Nigerians, the power supply has been very poor. Many erroneously attributable the situation to distribution companies alone.
But experts posit that generation companies (Gencos), the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) and distribution companies co-dependent, as such, generation drives distribution, while Nigeria’s weak transmission infrastructure is a huge factor.
There is a general consensus in the sector that the Nigeria Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) is starving for capital and cash flow – all of which originates from customers who are said to be ill-informed, frustrated by poor reliability, poor power quality (low voltage, voltage fluctuations), frequency and duration of power outages, estimated bills and lack of meters.
To heighten tension in the sector, government’s 40-41 per cent remaining shares in the Distribution companies are said to have remained largely inactive, with the government seen to have left the sector to its own fate. Same with the seeming ‘insignificant’ government remaining shares in some of the Gencos