Opinion: Exorcising the demons in Nigeria’s power sector

by Sunny Igbaonugo


What could be more demonstrable evidence of his ability and potency for exorcising the demons and witches in the power sector, which Nebo had promised the nation even before assuming his seat than this feat of taming this particular devil in the labour conflict?

Friday, August 2, Biola Sodeinde (not real name), was in her office in Abuja, when she heard a beep on her telephone. It was actually a bank alert, welcoming her into the club of millionaires. Although she confirmed that the account where the alert came in was actually hers, she was still not convinced about the reality of the figures before her eyes. Not with the numerous scam messages informing GSM users of billions of dollars they had “won” in strange promos they had no idea about.

Fidgeting, she went to contemplate, then came back and picked her bag, went into her boss’ office to ask for permission to attend to an urgent business and immediately rushed to a branch of her bank a few streets away, barely pausing to acknowledge any form of greetings. She had to double-check her information directly from the source. Of course, she did a few minutes later. Since then, she has not only become a new person, but the real import of one of the popular verses in the holy book “old things have passed away, behold, everything is new,” has come into a sharp focus.

Sodeinde’s story underscores the new gale sweeping across the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), since real cash started dropping into the accounts of some of its workers a few days ago. It is a phenomenon that is not only swelling their accounts but their confidence as well because a new window where opportunities meet realities has since opened.

For those still at sea, the implication of this landmark development, signposts the beginning of the end of a journey, which started exactly 13 years ago, when the axiomatic first step of a thousand miles was taken to meet the power needs of Nigerians.

Though it has been a journey through a thorny, winding and crooked road, strewn with landmines, broken bottles and other sharp objects that inflicted deep and enduring wounds and pains on many stakeholders that walked through it, some of which they are still nursing till date, the promises of its ending appear to be worth the wait.

That is the underpinning outcome of the privatisation initiative, conceived as the panacea to steady power supply for Nigeria, an idea that began to take effect with the development in the year 2000 of the National Electric Power Policy (NEPP), approved by then Federal Executive Council (FEC) under President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The development, which was hinged on making fundamental changes in the structure of ownership, control and regulation of the power sector, provided the framework for the eventual promulgation of the Electric Power Reform Act (EPRA), in 2005 that gave way to the transmutation of the defunct National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), to PHCN. By this metamorphosis, the new entity assumed the legal teeth to warehouse the assets and liabilities of the decades-old NEPA, including the staff.

However the concerns of workers as to their fate in the new formation, which began to manifest at this point added to other factors in stalling the process. The attempt by their leaders to cut out the fairest deal and the insistence of government stakeholders to grant only what was practical, realistic and legal, drove a wedge into what ordinarily was considered in certain quarters as a done-deal. The effect was a monstrous set of crises that burgeoned over time.

Recall the situation in the power sector by this time a year ago. Surely, nobody would have forgotten that era of long knives when the devil himself practically took over and held the entire sector and Nigeria at large by the jugular, threatening to snuff out life from the vortex of the privatisation engine, cause a crack in it and bring it to an abrupt and unedifying death. Recall the lockouts, the confrontation between workers and the security force; the vigils and prayer sessions and deafening din; the gradual push towards the edge of the precipice; the apparent fear of that final push to tip the entire process and bring the dream cascading down to the bottom of jagged rocks and eventually crashing to an inevitable death.

Compare the sharp difference of that era of despondency among the PHCN staff and now with the experiences of the likes of Biola. That is when the import of the new reality becomes evident.

At the centre of it all is the Minister of Power, Professor Chinedu Ositadinma Nebo. A few days ago, the minister gave the nod for the commencement of actual payment of the severance benefits of the PHCN workers. This was hinged on the completion of the paper works, including forensic assessment and documentation of the records of beneficiaries.

According to media reports quoting the Chairman of the Implementation Committee, for the exercise and Permanent Secretary Ministry of Power, Ambassador Godknows Igali, N118billion has been approved for the first tranche of the payment of about 20,304 staff who have been cleared for the Generation (GENCOs) and Distribution (DISCOs) companies whose names were sent to the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF), the outcome of which has already registered in the accounts of the beneficiaries.

What could be more demonstrable evidence of his ability and potency for exorcising the demons and witches in the power sector, which Nebo had promised the nation even before assuming his seat than this feat of taming this particular devil in the labour conflict? Of course other demons had fallen before now, one which also gave way for the enthusiastic payment of 25 per cent of the cost of the GENCOs and DISCOs by their new owners in April.

With the apparent demise of the “labour devil” and the expected burial by the time each of the PHCN workers smiles home with his pay cheques, the coast would have been clear for the handover of the facilities to private hands, signalling the safe berth of the privatisation ship.

That is when another phase will begin. Nebo enthusiastically calls it “Awakening the Nigerian Giant.” This is an era which he envisages will become a child’s play to the transformation experienced in the country’s telecommunications industry; where Nigerians, enjoying uninterrupted power supply will go back to work again, unleashing in the process, in their own country the full potentials and resilience through which they not only became indispensable elsewhere in the globe but practically squeezed water out of stones to eke out a living at home; where industrialists will no longer suffer huge costs of production as a result of generating their own power, the wielders, hairdressers, cold room operators and other artisans, who are actually seen by economists as the real engine of economic growth will be fully engaged and earn an honest living; where by so doing, few would have little time for the devil to use them as a workshop by leading them into unimaginable vices including crimes; where the gory stories of deaths by carbon monoxide from generators would be told in the past tense and where the revving engine of growth will continuously propel the nation to achieving its fullest potentials as one of God’s most endowed nations of the world.

That’s what is in the offing at the moment. Already, Anambra State, especially Awka, the state capital and environs now report almost a 24-hour power supply. In a few months time Abuja, Nigeria’s seat of government would start experiencing 24-hour power supply while strategic industrial cities like Lagos would get a minimum of 22 hours.

It may yet be early to roll out the drums and call the party right now. But who would blame Nebo if he takes a drink now as the nation awaits this great end?


Read this article in the Nation Newspapers


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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