By SUNDAY ODIBASHI
THE Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola SAN, last week, unveiled the policy thrust of the ministries under his supervision. The former Governor of Lagos State unveiling his agenda attempted highlighting his framework version of state/citizens relations and the task of achieving the desired change. He noted: “We are not unmindful of the huge expectations of the Nigerian public who voted for the All Progressives Congress message of CHANGE and elected President Muhammadu Buhari to office. Mr. President promised to address the challenges of security, corruption and dwindling economic fortunes of Nigeria. This is the heart of the social contract… At this point, we can have no agenda other than the ones Nigerians voted for… We commit all our skills, energies, and collective integrity unreservedly to playing our part, but how much success we deliver is dependent also on the citizens commitment to their own part,” Fashola declared.
The Minister, however, decried that the administration came at a period oil prices have dropped remarkably.
Since the inauguration of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on Wednesday, November 11, 2015, few ministers have become trailblazers in showing clear direction of how they intend to effect change in the current administration.
Kemi Adeosun, Minister of Finance, introduced a marked innovation in establishing the Efficiency Unit Steering Committee for budget tracking. A Director at the Debt Management Office, Patience Oniha, was appointed to head the Committee. The Finance Minister is the Chairperson of the committee while other members include the Head of Service of the Federation, Accountant-General of the Federation, Auditor-General of the Federation and Director, Budget Office of the Federation.
More so, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, issued directive towards value re-orientation to the media organizations, namely, Nigeria Television Authority, Radio Nigeria, Voice of Nigeria, etc, under his supervision. He ordered the organizations to make their services accessible to opposition political parties, perhaps, in appreciation of the functionalism of communication net in liberal democracy.
Fashola on Roads
The Power, Works and Housing Minister gave credence to policy continuity when he declared that the short term strategy will be to start with roads that have made some progress and can be quickly completed. “We will prioritize within this strategy by choosing first the roads that connect states together and from that grouping start with those that bear the heaviest traffic,” he stated. Fashola added: “From these, we will move on to construction of biggest highways and bridges, sharing the specifics as we go on, with a view to ultimately updating the National Infrastructure Master Plan if need be, which we intend to retail to all Nigerians down to the schools, so that everybody in every State knows what is coming in terms of infrastructure, where it will be, when it will start and how long it will take.” He opened opportunity for transparency in the decision of who gets what, when and how from the body politic; making governance predictable.
However, the speculation about the return of toll gates across the country betrays the social contract if the government really considers the utilitarian duty of promoting the happiness of all citizens.
The Power Agenda
Fashola highlighted the framework of ownership of businesses in the power sector from generation to transmission and distribution. According to him, “Until around November 2013 the Government was the owner of all power assets in Nigeria except a few independent power plants and other smaller assets.”
The minister emphasised the imperative of privatisation which he said was completed in 2013 though the Electricity Power Sector Reform Act was enacted in 2005. Fashola was, however, silent on how to improve on the privatization or reviewing the concluded processes for effectiveness and efficiency; rather, he shifted the burden of the failure of governance to the citizens through projection of higher electricity tariffs.
The minister stated that private companies currently have the responsibility for generation. He highlighted that six companies are involved in power generation on the national grid; one company owned by Government, under a management contract with Manitoba of Canada, is solely responsible for transporting all the power, while 11 companies are involved in power distribution. According to Fashola, “They must buy the power from the Gencos, who must buy gas from the gas companies in order to produce power; they must, then, pay TCN to carry it to their substations, and distribute to the houses in their distribution areas; and this is where the tariff issue comes in.”
Apparently, he solicited for citizens’ cooperation in privatizing the power sector like was done in the telecommunication industry. As rational as he may sound in this argument, the minister did not indicate the willingness of the government to take further steps to encourage competition among investors in the power sector which is currently conspicuously missing and causing exploitation and punishment of Nigerian citizens. The best that the government has achieved in the privatization of the power sector is to shift from monopoly to oligopoly with respective investors allocated distinct units or an entity in the country to specialize in exploiting citizens within the respective business districts.
Fashola is aware that increasing electricity tariff will make him very unpopular. According to him, “Of course, this change of policy comes with its own challenges, human resistance, suspicion, vested interests, learning new things and so on, and all of these are quite normal when things change. It is our responsibility to navigate and overcome these challenges.”
The minister, on the telecoms privatization, observed inter alia that people have “ported” and changed their service providers…,” he did not tell Nigerians the possibility of changing service providers in the power sector with framework of oligopoly protected by government.
Reflecting on the complex challenge of tariff, Fashola argued that, “It is complex because it is more in the hands of citizens than in the hands of Government.” He said that the role of Government is to set the tariff and in doing so, Government has committed to what is called a Multi-Year Tariff Order. “This was done in order to attract investors to the market; otherwise, we will not have achieved the privatization if the price of the product is not attractive to the investors,” he explained.
Stakeholders in the Nigerian project have expressed concerns that the minister appears not to hide his penchant for imperial policies; including public policy formulation predicated on contents of modernization theorems. They contended that such policies have perpetually restrained Nigerian to the periphery of global economy and continued to increase the cost of production in the economy.
The minister threatened Nigerians that “the surest way not to have power is to oppose the implementation of the Tariff Order.” He appealed to consumers to forbear and accept tariff increase, arguing that, “This will help Government to maintain its credibility with investor…”
invariably, Fashola has abandoned interests of citizens to promote elitist interests of investors that further has a variant consequence of capital flight and minimal attention to development technology in the country.