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No power for power show

There were several power cuts yesterday during a Senate committee session looking into corruption in the supply of electricity in Nigeria.

The committee was meant to investigate what happened to the billions of dollars invested in power supply by the Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan administrations. Obasanjo was alleged to have spent about $16bn on power projects with very little success in terms of improving power supply.

Three former presidents, Obasanjo, Jonathan and Yar'Adua, a lot of money, little electricity
Three former presidents, Obasanjo, Jonathan and Yar’Adua, a lot of money, little electricity

On the second day of the Senate committee investigation, there were three power cuts in less than an hour. The Chairman of the committee Senator Abubakar Kyari could barely conceal his anger and asked the bosses of generating and distribution companies present: “Are you tired? Are you guys calling your people to do this?”

Senator Abubakar Kyari
Senator Abubakar Kyari

Soon after he spoke the lights went off again twice. At one point the hearings continued by using light provided by the cameras from the media and rechargeable lamps.

Kyari said later: “The power outages experienced here today further underscores the relevance of this committee at this critical time but we shall investigate whether they are deliberate or not”.

But how relevant is this committee? Or are they just engaging in what Fela called a “power show”.

In 2012 a House of Representatives committee investigated the same issue of billions of dollars sunk with little result in power supply contracts. The committee made several recommendations including:

“In view of the enormity of issues entailed in the findings above, it is recommended that former President Olusegun Obasanjo should be called to account for the recklessness in power sector during his time.

The Committee recommends that EFCC [Economic and Financial Crimes Commission] and ICPC [Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission] should investigate him.”

Others recommended for investigation included former ministers Liyel Imoke, Abdulhamid Ahmed, Olusegun Agagu and several senior officials in the power sector. Several companies were also recommended for investigation, including Rockson Engineering, Pivot Engineering, Marubeni International, Lahmeyer International (blacklisted by the World Bank but getting business in Nigeria), ABB Powerlines, Energo Nigeria Ltd, Chrome Energy (owned by Obasanjo crony Emeka Offor), etc.

There was little action on those recommendations. Nothing suggests the current power probe would be different. After all, Obasanjo just met the president two days ago and the likelihood of him being visited by the EFCC is very remote.

A committee member asked Benjamin Dikki, the Director-General of the Bureau for Public Enterprises to “tell Nigerians how much the power plants were sold because during Tuesday’s hearing, the committee was told $8.23bn was what was spent on these plants prior to the privatisation.’’ Dikki responded that he did not know. To highlight the farcical nature of the proceedings, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Power also gave wishy-washy evidence to the committee. His name is Godknows Igali.

Only God knows if the power show by the committee would emit anything beyond hot air. And hot air alone would not be enough to power Nigeria’s electricity.

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