Power probe: How far can Senate go? By Chukwu David

Power probe: How far can Senate go?

CHUKWU DAVID examines the decision of the Senate to investigate the power sector from 1999 to date

The Senate, on Thursday, August 13, constituted a 13-man ad hoc Committee to carry out an in-depth and holistic investigation into the management of funds appropriated to the power sector from 1999 to date.

The implication of the action of the Senate is that the lawmakers would go into a comprehensive probe on how the Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan administrations managed funds allocated to the power sector in the past 16 years of this democratic governance. It is pertinent to note that similar inquiry was conducted by the House of Representatives into the sector in 2007 under the Ndudi Elumelu-led Probe Panel.

Unfortunately, the exercise ended up inconclusive as it degenerated into controversy. The Senate also instituted another probe within the same period under the stewardship of Senator Nicholas Ugbane as chairman of the Senate Committee saddled with the responsibility to conduct the investigation.

Again, the whole effort also ended in controversy. Ugbane, who was the chairman, Senate Committee on Power and his House of Representatives counterpart, Elumelu with the deputy chairman of House power committee, Hon. Mohammed Jibo; and chairman, Committee on Rural Development, Hon. Paulinus Igwe (now senator) as well as the permanent secretary, Ministry of Power, Alhaji Aliyu Abdullahi and the Director-General of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), Mr. Sam Gekpe, were accused of illegally withdrawing N5.2 billion meant for the REA. Consequently, the duo were dragged to court in December 2008. Also, Ugbane and Elumelu were investigated in 2010 by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over involvement in the alleged N5.2 billion contract scam in the Rural Electrification Project of the Federal Government.

It was the perceived rot in the power sector that provoked the probe in the National Assembly under the late President Yar’Adua’s administration. So much money was said to have been spent by the two chambers, probing the management of the power sector under Obasanjo.

However, the only noticeable impact was that it compelled Yar’Adua to suspend the Obasanjo power reform initiative which he inherited by suspending funding of all the power projects that were under construction. Two years after, when he re alised that those who had promised a new road map could not come up with any alternative and the power situation was getting worse, he established the Jonathan committee which toured the country to observe the situation of things in the sector.

The committee was reportedly taken aback by what was on the ground, and therefore, recommended that the power projects inherited from the previous regime should continue since there was no viable alternative in place and in sight. When Jonathan took over as president, he privatised the sector, believing that it would tackle the endemic problem in the industry. However, this did not actually solve the problem. In fact, the situation appeared to have aggravated.

The DISCOs seemed to have conspired to punish Nigerians with the unwholesome electricity billings in addition to the inexplicable fixed charge on daily basis, despite epileptic power supply and in some cases, no supply at all. As a way of trying to find answers to the seeming insurmountable problems in the sector, the Senate resolved at one of its plenary sessions to set up a committee to examine the problems of the power sector, particularly as it affects funding from 1999 to date.

The committee, which was headed by Senator Abubakar Kyari (APC, Borno North) was also mandated to investigate the unbundling of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). Other members of the committee are Senators Mohammed Hassan, Ali Wakili, Godswill Akpabio, Mao Ohuabunwa, Aliyu Wamakko, Shaaba Lafiagi, Olusola Adeyeye, Babajide Omoworare, Fatima Razaki, Ighoyota Amori, Mustapha Bukar and Dino Melaye.

The Senate further called on President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) to immediately reconnect the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, back to the national grid.

The decision to set up the probe panel was the product of a motion entitled “Disconnection of Maiduguri from the National Grid and General Power Degeneration in Nigeria” and sponsored by the Leader of the Senate, Senator Ali Ndume. The Senate also urged the Federal Government to complete the Mambilla Power Project to improve electricity supply, and condemned the inability of TCN to provide continuous and uninterrupted power supply to all parts of the country.

The lawmakers expressed concern that Nigeria, with a population of over 150 million, produces only 4, 600 megawatts while South Africa with a population of about 40 million people produces 40,000 megawatts.

The legislators observed that the disconnection from the national grid and poor power supply across the country had adversely affected economic activities because of the collapse of several industries. They further expressed concern that with an installed power generation potential of about 5000 megawatts, the output distributed at the moment is about 1,950 megawatts of energy.

They also said that it was disheartening to note that Iran with 74 million people generates about 42,000 megawatts, while South Korea with about 35 million people generates about 60,000 megawatts of electricity. The President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, while presiding over plenary, said the inadequate power supply in the country was worrisome as it had affected economic growth, stressing that besides corruption, lack of power supply had plunged the country in further hardship

. He said: “We thought that with the Power Reform Act and unbundling of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), we will begin to see a relief with regard to power supply, unfortunately it is not so.“The ad hoc committee we will set up should look at the activities of the DISCOs and what is preventing Nigerians from benefitting from the unbundling of the PHCN.” Ndume told the Senate that Maiduguri and its environs had been completely disconnected since the emergence of insurgency.

He complained that the situation had grounded economic activities in the state, saying, “I buy diesel to run my generator set and that costs me N10, 000 per day. “No country can be said to be near development when there is no power.

This Senate needs to investigate to give the government support. For years now a lot of money has been spent but there is nothing to show for it.” Also, Senator Danjuma Goje (APC, Gombe Central) said the motion was apt in view of the untold suffering lack of power supply had caused Nigerians. “The problem of power was on before 1999 and I am surprised that up till today, the power sector is grappling with sufficient power supply.

This motion is apt because there is a need to find out what happened in spite of the unbundling and huge amount so far spent so far,” he said Also speaking in support of the motion, Senator Akpabio (PDP, Akwa Ibom North-West), lamented that many companies had shut down due to irregular power supply in the country, noting that in spite of the financial contributions by some states in the South to improve power supply, Nigerians are still grappling with lack of electricity supply.

“In 2015, we are celebrating 4,000 megawatts. For me this is worrisome. We cannot have employment without power and Nigerians are complaining about the high cost and some localities who have not seen light for months are asked to pay high tariff,” he said. Akpabio said the Eighth Senate should do all within its power to assist the Federal Government in bringing an end to the problem. The ad hoc committee was directed to conclude its investigations and report to the House within two weeks. Some Nigerians are, however, expressing scepticism on the ability of the Senate to come up with a successful investigation that would bring the desired results in the sector.

These pessimists recalled that, in the last administration, the House and the Senate at various times, invited the power sector operators (authorities) to brief them on the problems and the way forward. In those occasions, both chambers were emphatically informed that even after the privatisation, the problems of inadequate gas supply and transmission would persist.

For instance, at one of the US-Nigeria bi-national Commission meetings held at the cabinet room of the Rivers State government, in which the current President of the Senate, Saraki, was  in attendance in his capacity as the chairman, the Senate Committee on Environment, along with the governors of the Niger Delta states, the power managers repeated that the problem would persist.

Subsequent discussions centred on how to make the gas sector attractive for investment. In the meantime, those who participated in the privatisation of the power sector have spent billions mostly borrowed from local and foreign banks to increase generation while on its part, government has not done much to improve on gas supplies or transmission. This explains why there has not been any significant progress in the industry.

Nigerians are definitely looking forward to a lasting solution to the multifarious problems of the power sector so that the national transformation and development agenda of the Federal Government could become a reality.