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Fashola, powering Nigeria with hot air

As many Nigerians groan under days with little or no electricity, Babatunde Fashola, the Minister for Power, Works and Housing, decided to do what he does best – talk about the issue in a question and answer session that lasted nearly an hour and half.

As governor of Lagos State in March last year, Fashola said: “Let the EKO DISCOs [Distribution Companies] sign a contract with me, giving part of their concessioning to the state government. In about six to eight months, there will be power in all homes in Lagos State.

“So, let no one say that he has no money to deliver power for the entire country. This is the limit to which the law allows us to do, but we have done this to make a statement that power can be generated.

“So, when they come with lies that power is impossible, you can tell them that we have power here; we make it possible.”

Now as the minister in charge of power, Fashola, in the words of James Brown, spent much of the Q&A session “talking loud and saying nothing” about what he could do to improve the deplorable state of electricity in the country.

Watch it here:

It was an exercise in excuse-making, spreading false information and flawed logic from the minister. He kicked off by claiming that the people of Nigeria said power supply should be handed over to the private sector. This is clearly false. There was no referendum on the matter. The government of President Olusegun Obasanjo started the power “reforms” in 2005 that led to privatisation, without consulting Nigerians. Many Nigerians, who are now facing increased electricity bills for poor supply, can relate to the words of Noam Chomsky: “As soon as you hear the word reform you can reach for your wallet and see who’s lifting it”.

Throughout the session, Fashola kept justifying power privatisation with what happened in the mobile phone industry. This is a very dodgy premise. Mobile telephony does not require the same level of investment in critical infrastructure as electricity. In fact, Fashola exposed the self-contradictory nature of his position in support of privatisation when he claimed that power couldn’t be left in foreign hands because it was a security asset and too strategic to be under foreign control. But if you hand over your power supply to the market, you leave it open to be bought up by foreign firms. One of the major players in the privatised UK energy industry is the French state-owned EDF.

He claimed that like mobile phones we will progress to competition in the power industry. The notion of a “free market” in electricity is a bad joke as was explained here:

Privatisation of PHCN is fraud – electricity union

Interestingly, Fashola talked about a power plant that was commissioned by Muhammadu Buhari in the 1980s when he was a military dictator. The plant needed maintenance every six years, but this was not done until 2013, under President Goodluck Jonathan. One of Jonathan’s biggest critics and current adviser to Buhari is Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo never bothered to undertake the required maintenance of that power station (and possibly others) in his eight years in office.

Sadly, there were no questions on the estimated $16bn that Obasanjo was meant to have spent on improving power supply that allegedly vanished into thin air.

Fashola also suggested that previous ministers for power were capable people and there were no improvements during their terms because of stuff beyond their control such as not enough power being generated for a huge population.

He said nothing about revisiting the arguments for power privatisation, but was rather in full support of it. This is despite what Joe Ajaero, the General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) said last year: “We want to say, as a union that the sham called privatization should be revisited. If privatisation, as we were told, was to bring us heaven-on-earth eldorado, and it has not done that, why should we insist on it?

“Of course, our position as NUEE, has been no to privatization, especially given that we are an underdeveloped economy. It is the function of the state to provide power.

“Even the so called privatisation, you can see that even this year alone, between January and now, they have even given the so called private sector over N200 billion. So, why fund them if you say the electricity is in the hands of the private sector? That brings you to the point of the fraud on who owns them.

“Why would you sell your house to somebody and you still give him money to maintain it? So, it’s a fraud.”

Fashola clearly supported the fraud and ended up creating the impression that improvements in power supply were no longer the responsibility of government. Anyone that had problems should just direct them to the transmission and distribution companies. He was only there to “regulate” – even that had been farmed off to a regulatory commission. Other people that should take responsibility in Fashola’s view were unions that disrupted the industry due to strikes, the communities that should police pipeline vandals, and so on. In short, the problems of electricity supply had nothing to do with Fashola – a man who was mouthing off a year ago about making things possible.

Fashola just confirmed what his boss Buhari said about ministers being nothing but noisemakers.

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