Of power probes and national interest
AS revealed by some recent newspaper reports, Nigerians are to expect yet another probe of the power sector by one of the two tiers of the National Assembly, this time the House of Representatives. This new probe, if and when it happens, would be coming at the heels of the probe of the same sector by the Senate, which had commenced on September 8, 2015, but whose outcome remains indeterminate.
So we have a situation where, in about two months, two probes of one sector of the economy have been proposed – and may be executed with or without clear results – by both tiers of the federal legislature. And the two are not the only probes of the sector to have been proposed or carried out by the National Assembly. In 2007, the Federal House of Representatives had also instituted a probe of the power sector, chaired by Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, whose outcome also turned out to be indeterminate, and during which the house committee directly responsible for the probe became mired in allegations of corruption.
These incessant – and alas indeterminate – probes may be an expression of the National Assembly’s commitment to its oversight function, which would be commendable depending on the outcome. But even if probes rather than oil were to be our country’s main revenue earner, and we could mine or manufacture probes for export to alleviate our present economic distress resulting from the slump in the price of oil, shouldn’t we on the other hand be interrogating the desirability of such repetitive and fruitless probes of the power sector by the same arm of the federal government, while pointing out the harm they can do to our national interest?
That harm is multi-layered. But even if such probes were to have economic value – like some minable, exportable, revenue-earning natural resource – their over-exploitation as it appears in the case of the National Assembly in relation to the power sector should still attract the condemnation due to any abuse. The main harm they cause to our national interest, which is insidious, begins with the likelihood of their portraying ours as an unserious country to the international community.
One of the news stories which announces the latest probe – published on page 8 of Vanguard of October 15, 2015, and entitled “Reps probe BPE over sale of power assets” – states that “the house, in a resolution on the motion entitled Alleged Non-transparent and Fraudulent Sale of Power Assets by the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE…, bemoaned what it called lack of openness in the processes leading to the sale of power infrastructure to private investors.”
The story also states that the house, having unanimously passed the motion through voice votes, “resolved to set up an ad hoc committee to investigate the processes and sale of all aspects of power assets …by BPE to determine if there were malpractices and misconduct in the exercise.” Also, that “the House will .., in the course of the investigation, determine whether appropriate value was had for money and if any person breached the rules and the law.”
Notably, the motion was referring to the same transaction lauded by Dr. Richard Ichord, the United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Transformation, while speaking at the Nigerian Power Sector Investors Conference held in Abuja on February 14, 2014.
During his remarks at that conference, Dr. Ichord revealed that in his “over 30 years’ experience in privatisation” Nigeria’s power sector reform and privatisation was “the most comprehensive and most transparent transaction in recent history.”
And here lies the contradiction that could portray ours as an unserious country to the international community: We expend a lot of energy and resources trying to project our nation in good light to the outside world, to convince the world beyond our borders that our country is being wrongly characterised with violence, corruption and such ills, and so is safe for investors and their money. Yet on such rare occasions when the outside world commends us as a country for conducting business transactions creditably, we turn round to call our integrity to question with the House of Representatives alleging “non-transparency” and “fraudulence” against such transactions.
A more grievous consequence for our national interest from such allegations is that, proven or not, and considering their sometimes high-profile government sources, they are likely to make investors, especially foreign investors, consider our country a high risk destination for investments due to such purported intractable moral challenges, with the result that they would prefer to take their investments elsewhere.
While we must continue to support President Muhammadu Buhari’s war against corruption, we must also guard against some fake moral zealots counterfeiting his genuine passion for probity in their quest to advance all manner of personal and group interests with the potential to undermine his government and our nation. And doesn’t it undermine his government – and our nation – to make unsubstantiated allegations about corruption in our country, which may repel those whose investments may help him revive our distressed economy?
• Oke, a public affairs commentator, has worked in various capacities in the Nigerian power sector since 1985.