Acid test for Fashola

Posted by News Express | 11 February 2016 | 2,705 times

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The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, is in the eye of the storm. But he does not appear to know that. As governor of Lagos State, Fashola was known for his stellar performance. He left enviable footprints on the sands of time.

The ovation that defined his tenure as governor was yet to peter out when he stepped into another big shoes. He emerged as President Buhari’s super minister in the cabinet that took six long months to constitute.

Regardless of Fashola’s unequalled performance in Lagos, many have had cause to feel that he would not have a smooth ride in the federal cabinet. Their reasons are not far-fetched. For one, Fashola will be operating on a larger canvass as minister under a president whose decision or indecision must necessarily affect whatever his minister may have envisioned.  For another, the power situation, which Fashola has been asked to superintend over, is as hydra-headed as Nigeria itself. Electricity generation and distribution have defied solution in the country. It has demystified even those who thought that they had all the answers to Nigeria’s national question. These hangups were expected to constitute difficult times for Fashola.

His involvement in the power sector is particularly dicey. The power issue in Nigeria is a demystifier. It has taken the shine off those we used to hold in very high esteem. Bola Ige, the man who was once called the Cicero at Agodi, owing to his intellectual bent, was one such fellow. After pontificating for so many years about Nigeria from the roof top, Olusegun Obasanjo, as Nigeria’s president, handed over the power sector to Ige to manage. A few months into his tenure, Ige, as Minister of Power, began to gasp for breath. The power situation was choking him up. To get a breather, he had to confess to his incapacitation and strangulation by forces beyond his powers. He lamented that he never imagined the level of sabotage he met in the system. The consequence was that Ige crashed from his Olympian heights. The rest, as they say, is now history.

Many others like Ige have failed to nail the coffin of Nigeria’s power sector. It has been so bad that Buhari, on the day of his inauguration as president on May 29, last year, reeled out the trillions of Naira that Nigeria had spent on power since 1999. He promised to halt the haemorrhage that is snuffing the life out of Nigeria.

Fashola is the man on whom the mantle has fallen to carry out the onerous task on behalf of Buhari and his team of change-mongers.

Some four months or so into his tenure, Fashola and the government he serves are being tested. Nigerians are up in arms against the new Multi Year Tariff Order, which took off on February 1. The new regime empowers Electricity Distribution Companies to increase tariff by 45 per cent.  Labour unions and civil society groups have risen against the new tariff regime and Fashola, as the minister in charge of power, is expected to deal with this messy issue. Fashola’s problem, under the Buhari regime, I suspect, may begin from here.

Before we worry further about Fashola, let us recall that we are dealing with a government whose arrowheads and promoters, before their present privileged position, were riding on the wings of populism. They are people who derived their relevance through a somewhat dubious alliance with the people. Fashola was certainly not one of them. But he has the unenviable task of carrying their cross.

Like every appointee of government, Fashola has aligned himself with government’s position. He is against the protest over the new electricity tariff. He has asked Nigerians to swallow the bitter pill. He has told them to pay for electricity first and expect improved supply later. This, for me, is the sore point in the ongoing struggle.

It is a worrisome fact that Nigerians have borne the brunt of government’s inability to provide them with electricity. They have been made to pay for energy they did not consume. Their complaints have always fallen on deaf ears. Government is usually simply insensitive to the outcry of the people in this regard.

While private homes and offices have borne the absence of energy supply with stoic resignation, many industrial concerns, especially small scale ones, have been sent out of business because they could not sustain the runaway cost of private power supply. And this has been happening in a country that claims to be interested in improving and broadening its industrial base. The lethargy and disinterestedness of government in this matter has been a part of our national life. It has been a major sore point of our effort to build a strong economic and social base for the citizenry. It is so bad that those who aspire to lead this country have been using it as a campaign issue. They always promise to give us electricity and all other essential amenities if we give them our votes. The ruling All Progressives Congress did the same. That was why Buhari paid more than a passing attention to the power issue on his Inauguration Day.

The days of promise are over. It is now time to deliver on the promises. Regrettably, however, a government which held out so much promise on assumption of office is singing a new song. The much vaunted solution, which the government said it had to the power issue is turning out to a muddle in its hands. It is becoming more complex than ever. Government’s response to the unjustified electricity tariff increase is that Nigerians should pay first and expect power later. They should pay, irrespective of whether they have electricity or not. The golden rule is: Pay first and complain later.

This rule runs against the grain of fair play. It has no element of welfarism in it. Since government exists in the service of the people, any policy thrust which neglects the people’s interest is not worth pursuing.

The problem we have on our hands derives from the lack of courage on the part of government to take another look at the sale and privatisation of the unbundled Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). Government is constrained to act in ways and manners that take more care of the companies that bought over the PHCN than the consumers of electricity. Part of the deal between government and the private firms that took charge of electricity generation and distribution is that the final consumer of electricity should bear the brunt of the hiccups that may or may not lead to improved power supply. This is unfair through and through. Government should have the will and courage to reverse this anomalous situation. Nigerians need to see and feel the energy they are being asked to pay for. That is the only way government and the power companies can make sense in this matter. Fashola should tailor his thinking along this line. His tomorrow in public service largely depends on this. This is an acid test for him.

When next we return to Fashola, we may be reflecting on the road sector, especially in the light of the suggestion by the Governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, that there should be a legislation that will compel the federal government to reimburse states monies expended on rehabilitation of federal roads in their domains.

•This piece column originally appeared in today’s edition of Daily Sun. Amanze Obi can be reached via amaobi@yahoo.co.uk


Source: News Express

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