Babatunde Fashola, the former governor of Lagos State and current minister for power, works and housing was a guest last night on Channels TV’s Hard Copy and it was clear he was not only running out of excuses for his inability to deliver improved electricity supply, but also running out of patience at the impertinence of host Maupe Ogun for asking mildly searching questions.
He started off trying to explain away the disagreement with the national assembly over the 2017 budget for his ministry in which he was accused of “spreading half truths”, but ended up saying he had said all that needed to be said on the matter. Ogun reminded him that many viewers were owed an explanation because they may not have seen his statement that allegedly addressed the claims by the national assembly against him.
Watch the programme:
Fashola appeared to have lost it when he claimed he didn’t know what “revisit” meant, in terms of whether he was planning to revisit the failed privatisation of the energy sector. He claimed that the problem with privatisation was that people were sold the programme as a “silver bullet” solution to Nigeria’s power problems and their expectations were not managed. He added that he was among the “voices of reason” at the time warning that the problem was complex.
In reality, Fashola was nothing of the sort at the time the sector was privatised. As governor of Lagos State in July 2014, he told Nigerians there was a “silver bullet”: “Yes I agree with you that it is possible to generate electricity and to make sure that everybody in this country has electricity, we have to do the right thing. But you know what, the only way that you and I will have electricity in this country will be to vote out the PDP.
“In 16 years hundreds of billions of naira have been spent and we cannot switch on electricity and in seven years we have created four plants. It shows that something is missing. So unless you vote for All Progressive Congress it is going to be difficult to have electricity”.
In November of the same year while commissioning an Independent Power Project (IPP) in his state, Fashola said: “There is a danger that very soon, we will miss the lesson we have learnt over the years. This is because if a government makes a public commitment, the government must fulfil that promise. Electricity was not discovered yesterday, it is over 100 years old and no excuses will be acceptable from the federal government for not providing electricity”. He has now spent the past two years as power minister peddling excuses.
One of his excuses on the programme was that 70% of the electricity system is in private hands. His ministry is not even responsible for making sure that the private providers are regulated properly. That has been abdicated to the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC). So it appears Fashola’s job is to just go around talking about the problem rather than fixing it. This lends credence to President Muhammadu Buhari’s claim, when he first came into office and took months to appoint ministers, that ministers were just “noisemakers”.
Despite the spectacular failure of privatisation, Fashola continued with his noise about it being right in principle. It just goes to show how much he has swallowed neoliberal dogma. The reality is that failure is inherent in privatising natural monopolies such as the supply of energy, as was articulated here:
But Fashola, despite being a lawyer, is not one to let evidence get in the way of whatever excuse he is trying to peddle. He said privatisation would have worked if it was done incrementally in small areas. He seemed oblivious to the fact that part of the problem with privatisation is the fragmentation that comes with, and further fragmentation only multiplies the problem.