What is stalling the Aba Power Plant?

Posted by Luke Onyekakeyah | 29 July 2014 | 4,975 times

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There is a friend of mine who lives in the United States of America. Each time I call him, which is usually late evenings, coinciding with daytime there because of time difference, I would tell him there is no light. Most of the time there is no light and his response is it has always been like that! The question is whether Nigeria will ever get out of the electricity quagmire? Why is it impossible to fix electricity in Nigeria despite all the promises and funds pumped into the sector since 1999?

Against the backdrop of the disgusting power supply situation, I cannot understand what is stalling the Aba Power Plant built by Geometric Power Limited, the first indigenous power supply company in Nigeria. The Aba plant was conceived and executed under the power reform programme, whereby power generation and transmission was removed from government and handed over to private concerns. Why is the Aba Power Plant left in limbo, still un-operational more than one year after it was completed? The plant has the capacity to generate some 140 megawatts of electricity and give job to millions.

Why is the Aba Power Plant not allowed to kick-start operation and by so doing bring succour to millions of homes and industrial concerns in that section of the country? As a model private power plant, by now, the impact would have begun to be felt. And that will be credit to President Jonathan and not the builder. Aba is the Taiwan of Nigeria, where all sorts of industrial goods are produced. It will be a historic achievement for President Jonathan to revamp the dead industries there.

Why are we crying wolf about mass unemployment and criminality and at the same time blocking an avenue to create jobs? It is common knowledge that one of the cardinal programmes of the Jonathan administration is the reform of the power sector. The gusto and fanfare that marked the power reform programme, which was well received by Nigerians, is yet to be realised. Is government still committed to breaking the culture of national darkness?

Soon after the creation of the Presidential Task Force on Power (PTFP), President Jonathan had expressed his strong commitment to a new dawn in the electricity sector when he said, “As President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, I and my Vice President, Arc. Namadi Sambo, GCON, are conscious that what we do with the Nigerian electricity supply industry will go a long way in determining whether Nigeria remains in darkness or joins the rest of the world in the race for development. Our commitment is to bring an end to our nation’s stunted growth and usher in the fresh air of prosperity by pursuing a new era of sector-wide reform which is driven by improved service delivery to every class of customers in the Nigerian electricity sector.”

There is no doubt that President Jonathan has taken steps to realise this goal. It is the president’s commitment that led to the unbundling of the omnibus NEPA since November 1, 2013 when private companies took over across the country. This is what many of us have been advocating. It is also under the same reform programme that Geometric Power Limited (GPL) was licensed to help bridge the electricity gap. The company has reportedly invested a whopping $500 million (about N81 billion), to build the state-of-the-art power plant designed to supply uninterrupted power to Aba and environs. This huge investment is now laying waste, while the responsible government agencies dilly-dally.

Reports say a high-wire politicking between the National Council on Privatization (NCP) and the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) is stalling the power plant. Who controls the distribution assets in the Aba area is the crux of the matter. The interest of the people is nowhere in the picture and the economic leverage is discountenanced.

My investigation shows that the Federal Government granted exclusive right to Geometric Power Limited in 2004 to build a power plant in Aba to supply power to the commercial city and its environs. By the terms of the MoU executed, NEPA assigned its distribution rights in Aba to Geometric. Geometric Power Limited is the brainchild of Professor Barth Nnaji, former Minister of Power. It appears his honest effort to give power to the country is being frustrated.

Subsequently, the same Aba franchise already granted to Geometric Power was resold to Interstate Electrics. During the 2013 privatization exercise, the BPE went ahead to list the Aba assets as part of the Enugu Distribution Company (Disco), without recourse to Geometric Power. What happened is like selling a piece of property to two different buyers and leaving them to slug it out. In that situation, only the seller has the power to resolve the matter. None of the buyers would just give up. The onus is on the seller, in this case, the Federal Government, through its agent, BPE, to resolve the matter in the public interest. It is curious why the BPE, fully aware of the earlier transaction between government and Geometric Power, still went ahead to list the power distribution assets in Aba in its 2013 privatization exercise for sale. Given the huge investment already committed by Geometric Power and the high expectation placed on the project by the people, the matter should be resolved in favour of the first buyer. The integrity of government is at stake.

President Jonathan, who presides over the Presidential Action Committee on Power (PACP), as Chairman, should take steps to resolve this matter in the public interest. The President is the one who made commitment to Nigerians. Besides, the buck stops on his table and no other person. Whatever happens to the power situation under his administration will be his legacy.

I was reading this morning on Yahoo! News that President Obama unilaterally banned the sale of AK-47 riffles in America as punishment for the gun manufacturer for the involvement of Russia in the Ukraine crisis that led to the shooting down of a commercial Malaysian jetliner last week in which 298 persons perished. The presidential decision carries the day whether anyone likes it or not. President Jonathan should do likewise and not leave this matter to political intrigues swayed by greed and self-interest. The public interest should come first.

•Excerpted from today’s edition of The Guardian. Photo shows former Minister of Power, Prof. Barth Nnaji, the brain behind the Aba Power Plant.

Source: News Express

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