Jonathan’s light up rural Nigeria initiatives

Thirty million Nigerians don’t have access to electricity. This was revealed in Nsukka last week by the Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, during the First African International Conference/Workshop on Application of Nanotechnology to Energy, Health and Environment. He also used the occasion to announce government’s commitment to “providing electricity to all households through the Federal Ministry of Power under ‘Operation Light up Rural Nigeria Initiatives”. In fact a “comprehensive road map on access to power which will systematically connect households through grid and off-grid solutions is already in place”, and according to him, “the pilot programme will provide energy-efficient lighting to homes, streets and community centres with up-to-date solar technologies.”

He also spoke of a plan to replicate this pilot project across 36 states of the federation.

First, the minister’s 30 million figures are questionable. It is on record that late last year, he had said “the situation where only 25 per cent of Nigerians have access to electricity is a nightmare caused by human beings used by evil forces”. His Minister of State for Power, Zainab Kuchi, after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC), late last year also publicly declared “We have 160 million Nigerians now and we are only giving power to 40 million of that population, what it means is that there are about 120 million Nigerians that are without power and wish to buy power.” It is obvious government has no record of those who have access to electricity and those who do not and those who live in partial darkness.

But beyond government confusion about statistics in a country known for planning without facts and records, government new love for rural dwellers will mean the fate of 130 million Nigerian who live in partial darkness and scores of industries shut down because of energy problems now stand on the balance. Before embarking on this unnecessary dissipation of energy, Nigerians would have liked to see partial fulfillment of the promises government made when it sold off generating stations built from the sweat and blood of the people to government-favoured private concerns. As at last week, most part of the nation was in darkness in spite of raised expectations and promises of government that sunk between $25 and $51 billion over a period of 14 years before the energy sector was handed over to the new owners.

Unfortunately, because of government past history of insincerity and unfulfilled promises, many Nigerians will probably express cynicism about the project. Government case is not helped by the fact that we are embarking on this new wave of contracts on rural electrification when no one has been held accountable for the N7billion PDP frittered away on derailed rural electrification programme in 2010 by some members of the legislature and their fronts.

It will be recalled that EFCC on June 14, 2010, had accused both Godwin Elumelu, and, Senator Nicholas Ugbane, his counterpart as Senate Committee Chairman on Power of misappropriating over N10 billion of public funds. EFCC claimed the rural electrification exercise “were used as conduit pipes with which funds of the Rural Electrification Agency were siphoned and were awarded to companies either not pre-qualified to be awarded the contract, or were phoney or existing companies”. EFCC even went ahead to add other offences- ‘misappropriation of N500million to buy houses; diversion of REA’s funds; flouting of government’s rules on award of contracts and award of fictitious and unnecessary contracts without following due process.’ But once Justice M.G Umar of Abuja High Court absolved all the PDP men and their collaborators on March 24, 2012, claiming ‘he was unable to find a prima facie case or complaint disclosed in the proof of evidence against the respondent’, the government did not even bother to appeal. Between seven and 10 billion naira earmarked for rural electrification went down the drains.

It is perhaps for the above reason, many think the new government frenzy for award of new sets of multi-million contracts without first tracing the funds EFCC alleged ended in the bank accounts of some PDP officials is informed more by concern to raise money for 2015 elections than the advertised love of the rural dwellers, who currently live in their perfect bliss unlike the 130 million Nigerians who live in partial darkness and are slammed with outrageous arbitrary bills monthly, by new owners of the PHCN.

President Jonathan should therefore understand why most Nigerians who are under siege from all corners now believe his administration is at war with Nigerians. While they are treated as a conquered people by government functionaries, they have equally become captives of government licensed importers of substandard products and inefficient service providers who declare annual profit that will make investors in the home of capitalism in America and Europe green with envy. Or how does one explain a situation where the new PHCN owners behave like bandits forcing consumers to pay for energy they knew was never generated let alone supplied?

And in all this, government has refused to take responsibility. For the on-going energy crisis, government has absolved the new owners of the energy sector from blame just as it has exonerated itself. The minister has attributed the crisis to ‘non-availability of gas, infrastructure vandalism, sabotage in the sector and low water-level to power the hydro power plants’. The minister pretended to have forgotten it was government and not helpless victims of government inefficiency that awarded multimillion dollar contracts to repentant militants to secure our water-ways and the pipelines such as Trans Niger, Trans-Forcados, ELPS A pipeline, Alakiri-Onne LBVS, Afam VI IPP, all of which recently came under attack by vandals.

Similarly left out in the minister litany of woes is corruption which Nigerians and the international community consider the bane of the energy sector. While the president has continued to play the ostrich claiming corruption is greatly exaggerated in Nigeria, his own PDP warring party members have insisted the nation’s inability to generate 3000MW in 14 years was the result of corruption of their members.

If the minister chooses to discountenance the claim and counter-claim of corruption of PDP members, ignore the N7 billion rural electrification fund traced to PDP members, he cannot feign ignorance of a piece of information given to us by Solana Oluhmense early this week to the effect that two United Nations Special Rapporteurs sent a letter to our president in November 2013 demanding accountability for a total of $51billion sunk in Nigeria’s power sector in the past 10 years.

Successive PDP governments since 1999 have shown their agenda is PDP and not Nigeria. Obasanjo, who inherited only a total power capacity of 1500mw in 1999, had also said while inaugurating the Nigeria Integrated Power Project (NIPP) in 2001 that the scheme would add 10,000MW to the national grid before the end of his term in 2007 and hoped his successors would be driven with the same zeal and moves the planned target up to 20,000 MW by 2015. Dr Doyin Okupe late last year told Nigerians that “before the end of 2014, Nigerians’ long held dream of joining the worlds list of countries with uninterrupted power supply will be closer in reality than it has ever been.” President Jonathan himself had earlier said any Nigerian with generator would by 2014 have no need for them. The reality today is that we are generating 3717MW.

The government has by its antecedents of failed promises shown it is deficit in honour. This is why many Nigerians will see the government promise to provide “electricity to all households” as just another avenue to raise funds for the 2015 election.

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