The unending problems in the power sector that Nigerians have had to face in recent decades must be attributed to leadership failures and poor governance. In the international community, Nigeria is ridiculed as a country administered by a group of mindless gladiators who consistently juggle knives in the dark. At home, President Muhammadu Buhari and his ministers insist there is no reason to worry about the collapse of infrastructure and social services, including the adverse political situation and state of the economy.
The difficulty Nigeria faces is that it has been disappointed by various political and military leaders who put up their hands over the years to provide the kind of valuable leadership the country has pointedly aspired to have.
For many years and up till today, electricity supply has remained volatile. Hospitals operate on patients in darkened theatres. Business owners manage their businesses with no guarantees there would be light. Public and private universities deliver lectures in the most difficult environment. Laboratory experiments are conducted in disused buildings overrun by rats, lizards and snakes. At night, the streets are not lit. Our capital cities exhibit the image of a country in mourning. How would the police and other law enforcement agencies provide security in darkened corners?
At local and international airports, passengers are checked-in with the aid of torch light or candlelight. You must wonder how pilots are able to land their aircraft and take off in that dreadful environment. We may live in the 21st century but we still do things in the way people operated during the Old Stone Age.
The history of electricity problems in Nigeria is epigrammatically the story of the collapse of virtually every institution, public or private. Consider the following. Higher education is imperilled. The healthcare sector is a physician that cannot heal itself. It needs help. Petroleum exploration and production, the sector regarded as the country’s largest foreign exchange earner, has been left in the greasy hands of pilferers who have developed unimaginable skills in illegal oil bunkering.
A nation that cannot manage a critical sector of its economy is dead, not alive. The complexities of managing Nigeria’s power sector have exposed the lack of abilities and good management skills among political leaders, senior public servants, and electrical engineers.
In the electricity sector, every incoming President or military head of state vowed to fix the problems but the difficulties became quadrupled by the time they left office. Who is fooling whom?
In September 2022, former President Olusegun Obasanjo said, almost like a saint, that efforts to develop Africa economically and socially without adequate electric power would not yield good results. He spoke at an event at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. At the same forum, the director-deneral of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, echoed the same sentiments when she said the development of a strong continental manufacturing base would continue to elude Africa, if there was no developed energy sector.
In a 2014 address titled “First Green Legacy Moment with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo on Leadership and Human Security in Africa” that took place in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Obasanjo said the country needed to produce 2,000 megawatts every year for the people of Nigeria to enjoy stable electricity. He blamed poor management of electricity on the governments that served after his reign as military head of state between 1976 and 1979. He said those governments achieved little or nothing to improve electricity generation until he returned in 1999 as elected President.
Obasanjo then boasted about his track record of improvements in the power sector. He said: “When I was military head of state, I developed the Jebba Dam, I developed Shiroro, I started Egbin. (Ex-President Shehu) Shagari came and completed Egbin and commissioned Jebba and Shiroro…Between Shagari in 1983 until I came back in 1999, there was no single dime invested in power generation. If anything, the ones that were there were allowed to go down.”
This is not the first time Obasanjo would exaggerate his achievements in the electricity sector. The first question that Obasanjo must grapple with is this: If he achieved those miracles in the power sector over those years, why are Nigerians still subjected to unstable electricity supply? Why are surgeries in Nigerian hospitals still disrupted by power failure? Why are owners of small and medium-scale businesses struggling to provide services because of regular power failure?
Nigeria is a country without memory. Consider the following historical facts. Goodluck Jonathan promised in the early days of his government to fix electricity problems within six months. Many people doubted him because he was not known to be a magician. The cynics were correct. Jonathan’s noble plans failed to get off the ground.
Rather than take blame as a President on whose desk the buck must stop, Obasanjo shifted the problem in the power sector to his minister, the late Bola Ige, whom he appointed minister to oversee, once and for all, professional management of the intractable problems in the power sector. Here is Obasanjo, the unblemished and immaculate man, with his own flawless narrative again:
“If you will remember, when I came back in 1999, my first minister of power was late Bola Ige. I won’t say Bola didn’t know what he was doing and he said publicly that he would fix the power problems in six months. After one year, Bola with his capacity couldn’t fathom what was wrong with power. It was riddled with corruption.”
How easy it is for Obasanjo to twist facts to suit his preferred narrative. It’s unfortunate that Bola Ige is not alive to challenge Obasanjo’s unsupported record.
Obasanjo referred to South Africa as a model of a country we should emulate in terms of electricity generation and reliable supply. He said South Africa, with its population of 55 million people (as at 2014), generated 45,000 megawatts, while Nigeria with about 180 million people could not generate 4,000 megawatts.
Here are indisputable facts Obasanjo cleverly avoided in his talk. Obasanjo’s government spent $16 billion (not naira but US dollars) on the power sector with nothing to show for it. Yet he claimed his government fixed all the problems in the electricity sector before succeeding governments undermined his good work. How fallacious. What a one-dimensional tale we have been offered to digest. We are meant to believe that it was not Obasanjo’s fault but Bola Ige’s responsibility that Nigeria had problems in the power sector. In essence, it’s everyone’s fault and most certainly not Obasanjo’s inadequacies.
Sadly, when journalists met Obasanjo at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, on Tuesday, July 22, 2008, they asked him: “Sir, what advice do you have on the power problem in the country?” Obasanjo’s answer was as treacherous and defective as it rolled out of his mouth. He replied: “Anything you don’t have or you cannot get, then leave it to God.”
There are critical questions Obasanjo must answer. They are: How many megawatts did his government generate? How uninterrupted or regular was power generated by Obasanjo’s government? Obasanjo now finds it convenient to blame the governments that succeeded his administration. He must give an accurate and honest account of what his government did with the US$16 billion that he said was invested in the power sector during his time as President.
It is important that all former and current Presidents, military heads of state, energy ministers, state governors, and National Assembly members should give an open and unadulterated account of what they did to advance or undermine the power sector during their time. Anything else is sheer drivel.