THERE are not many things on which Nigerians agree as far as the achievements or non-achievements of the Muhammadu Buhari and Goodluck Jonathan governments are concerned. One of these contentious issues is about who should take credit for the observable improvement in power supply across the country in the last three months.
While this remains a matter of debate for many, what has not been open to debate is the fact that there is an obvious and measurable improvement in power supply since the end of May. If there is anything like a consensus today regarding the state of our country, it is on this simple point. But in spite of the degree of partisanship that has characterised the question of where credit should go for the improved supply of power, what should and would ultimately be of concern to Nigerians is how to sustain and, hopefully, improve on the 6, 000 megawatts or thereabout that is presently being generated and is sending many Nigerians into rhapsodies of celebration. No matter how we look at it, even 10,000 megawatts would still fall far short of our energy needs given our population should it be possible for us to generate that much this very moment.
The point needs to be underlined that we are yet far from where we should be with regards to power supply. More importantly, it is the sustainability of the present improvement over a long period of time that should matter to us all, not the gratification of our immediate needs. Which is to say that, it is only when Nigerians do not experience any shortfall in the supply of electricity over a long period of time, especially in the period of the dry season when water level drops- it is only then we can all begin to imagine a permanent and positive change in power supply.
Otherwise, the present chest-thumping and praises being heaped on the supposed facilitator(s) of our improved fortune may be short-lived. This warning is more for Muhammadu Buhari than it is for anyone else, least of all Goodluck Jonathan who is no longer in office.
It is Buhari who still has something to prove to Nigerians. It is his government that is being assessed- more or less on trial in the view of those who believe he is not the right man for Nigeria. Whatever credit anyone may crave for Jonathan, the truth of the matter is that he has had his opportunity and there cannot now be room for any kind of belated or ‘posthumous beatification’ of his administration. He cannot in my view take credit for what did not happen when he was in office. Nor can he be blamed for too long for whatever happens thereafter. Those in power now must take responsibility for whatever happens under their watch. The simple explanation that the few positive changes that have recently happened were due to the perception that Buhari would have none of the kind of rubbish many did around Jonathan is too difficult for some to accept or comprehend. Buhari would however have to do more than hope that people would continue to ‘behave’ based on his no-nonsense reputation/perception. Sooner than later, the people who did for Jonathan would get back to business.
They appear to be at work already, if one is to go by the greedy and unconscionable conduct of the operators of the power distribution companies (DISCOs), and the way the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission and the National Assembly appear to be turning a blind eye to their activities. The DISCOs look set to drag Nigeria back in its march toward improved power supply while both NERC and the National Assembly look on in bemused silence. These so-called representatives of the people in the National Assembly appear to be acquiescent, at least, if not conniving in the fleecing of Nigerians by the distribution companies. This for them is not new territory. They did it before when the mobile telephone companies first started operations and imposed cruel charges on Nigerians in the name of breaking even. Some of them claimed call rates could only be charged per minute even when the drop rate was abnormally high.
Rather than act for the people, members of the National Assembly with oversight role on the problem were content to enjoy the toll-free lines provided by the telecoms companies. This enabled them to talk for as long as they wanted without paying. Now, probably as chair holders in the power distribution companies, they are playing deaf and dumb to the plight of Nigerians as they suffer in the hands of the distribution companies. Perhaps, no two issues have got Nigerians more agitated and exercised about the activities of the distribution companies than the issue of fixed charges and estimated billing, aside constant power outages in certain areas. Both cases amount to a rip-off of Nigerians and it is just curious that our so-called law makers in Abuja pretend to be helpless as to what to do. While NERC continues to change positions on the issue of fixed charges, one moment opposing it while supporting it in the next moment, the Nigerian Senate recently invited operators of the companies and other stakeholders apparently to address some of the complaints made by the public only to leave the issue hanging unresolved.
The tragedy of the Nigerian system is that there are too few and limited protection available to consumers of goods and services. Worse yet, there are limited avenues for remediation where cases of infraction have been established against some of the multinational companies that provide these services. Thus, these companies can choose to disconnect the phone lines of customers without warning or make unwarranted deductions from their credit balance while sending them unsolicited messages without fear of consequences.
The power distribution companies are yet to provide any coherent reasons for their extortionist ways but from available information, it is obvious that the companies are trying to make Nigerians pay for their incompetence by imposing outrageous bills on their customers or finding diverse ways to make them pay for services they don’t enjoy. Nigerians have been told for example that the distribution companies use far less than the quantity of power generated and supplied to them even though they must pay for the excess generated.
Their own way of breaking even, it would seem, is therefore to employ different tricks to make the consumers pay for the unused power that is generated. If as a means of breaking even in the immediate people must pay for this, then such payment ought to be credited into their account. Otherwise, this is a case of robbery.