“Nigeria is a place where the best is impossible but where the worst never happens.”
-John Gunther “Inside Africa” Harper & Brothers 1953 page 776
Recently President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua made a major announcement on the perennial power outage problem in Nigeria in far away Paris, France. He declared that beginning from next month; he would formally declare a state of emergency in Nigeria's power sector. At about the same time, the three tiers of government (federal, state and local) unanimously agreed to pump $5.375 billion (N639.625 billion) into the power sector for rehabilitation and expansion of Nigeria’s power generation, transmission and distribution through the Independent Power Project (IPP).
This of course is a “causa celebra” for those of us who have been very impatient with the “go slow” approach of the present regime to governance in Nigeria. I was genuinely elated on hearing the announcement, despite my disgust that such an important announcement had to be made in Europe. Declaring a state of emergency in the most debilitating sector of the Nigerian economy deserves kudos, it shows the government is at last getting grips of the endemic problem of power outage in Nigeria.
My celebration was however cut short, when I start to reflect on the practicability of the major policy announced by the government. I suddenly discovered that without a holistic look at the plans one may end up celebrating a hollow and pyrrhic victory. The plan calls as usual for a massive injection of funds, something we have done time and time again in Nigeria without success. One of those exercises in futility undertaken by the preceding regime of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo is currently under probe by the National Assembly.
Such funds according to the news report is expected to come from excess crude account based on the projection that exploration and production of oil in the Niger Delta will continue uninterrupted by the crisis in the region.
I got worried that the government might not have thought the entire plan through, when I realized that majority of the power plants are anchored on regular supply of natural gas from the Niger Delta. A region of Nigeria currently embroiled in crisis due to the criminal neglect of the region by successive government in Nigeria, which led the people of the region to take up arms against the government.
The Federal Government’s projects in Niger Delta under the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) are the Omoku Thermal Power Station, Rivers State, Gbaran/Ubie Thermal Power Station, Bayelsa State, Sapele Thermal Power Station, Delta State, Ikot Abasi Thermal Power Station, Akwa Ibom State, Ihovbor Thermal Power Station, Edo State, Egbema Thermal Power Station, Imo State and Calabar Thermal Power Station, Cross River State.
How anyone could fathom an idea of uninterrupted, free outflow of gas out of this region with the prevailing environment beats me. And yet, according to the Federal Government, the sites for the project were chosen because of nearness to gas supply. The country does not have a gas grid yet. Establishing the projects in far-flung places would require additional funds to lay gas pipelines as well as increase the risk of vandalization, the government explained.
News report out of the Niger Delta is grim. The militants in the Niger Delta have done a lot to shut down oil exploration in the region and in the recent past they have moved on to shut down off shore oil platforms that hitherto appeared unreachable. There is no doubt that some criminal hoodlums had taken advantage of the crisis to perpetrate evil on the Niger Delta people themselves. The thought of an exploding gas pipe in the midst of this crisis looms large as a possibility.
Any power surge plan involving gas supplies without a final resolution of the Niger Delta crisis is a tinder box waiting to explode. Rather than declare a month of power emergency we are better served declaring a 90 days emergency summit on the Niger Delta crisis. Here is an opportunity to once and for all call all stakeholders in the region to task.
The futility in the Federal government power generation plan is clearly manifested in the attack on offshore oil platforms we witnessed recently. Something that has never been done before, the militants have surely made mincemeat of any gains we hope to derive from excess crude oil funds. So I wonder where the three tiers of government alluded to above are going to realize their contribution without a resolution of the Niger Delta crisis. We are at present at a position where we would find it difficult to produce enough crude oil for local production, not to talk of export in the next 7 years.
Any attempt to “wish away” the crisis in the Niger Delta will remain a chimera, an illusion, an apparition that will refuse to go away. Confronting it with an “Odi-like-attack” mentality will surely backfired as we learnt from former President Obasanjo’s experience. The fact that the serious militants among the varied groups have repeatedly called for truce and get ignored by politicians in Abuja is a testament to the tone-deafness of the traducers in Aso rock. An insurgency such as the ones in Niger Delta cannot be quelled by tanks and ammunitions. If you like you can buy up the guns, ammunitions, chiefs and the elders within a five mile radius of the last attack! Until the grievances of the people are addressed, peace will continue to elude the land.
We need to take a page from the United States government power/troop surge in Iraq, and embarked on a multi-faceted approach to the crisis. This is no longer a civil disturbance as the Federal government will have us believed. There is a war going on in the Niger Delta. Abuja cannot pretend to be stone deaf! We gain nothing by the present hypocritical stands of politicians in Abuja. The militants may have some thuggish elements in their midst but majority of them do have genuine grievances that needed to be addressed. Calling them to the table to address their grievance is not an act of cowardice!
My recommendation, which I confessed, mirrors another “troop surge” elsewhere, is not fool proof, but it will at least start the national conversation which has been lacking for too long. First of all, we need to admit that there is an ongoing war in the Niger Delta. It is only after then we can justify an increased military presence in the Niger Delta. Such military presence must be led entirely by soldiers from the Niger Delta. The present exercise where military task force are led by soldiers from North or West is at best condescending and counter productive.
The goal of any military presence must be clearly spelt out and the intent should be to “take hold and build.” I am privileged to have lived and traveled in the region during my national youth service and the infrastructures required for growth is none-existent. The troops send to the Niger Delta must have a clear mandate to help protect the population and not mown them down as they did in Odi; every efforts must be made to isolate extremists, kidnappers and thugs; create space for political progress, the attempt to installed political office holders vide “kangaroo” election must stop! The People’s Democratic Party and its retinue of thugs and political profiteers have a lot to do with the festering crisis in the region. They need to be told to stop imposing candidates in local, state and regional elections.
Next, attempt must be made to diversify political and economic efforts. The earlier we make Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), answerable to the people it is meant to serve the better. Creating a gargantuan bureaucracy answerable to politicians in Abuja is antithetical to all tenets of democracy and accountability. The Chairman of NDDC should and ought to be made accountable to the people he or she is required to serve. So, there is a need to amend the Niger-Delta Development Commission (Establishment etc) Act 2000 Act No 6, to accommodate the diverse community it is meant to serve with their input taking into consideration and its political office holders made answerable to the people vide free and fair election.
Finally, situate whatever strategy for combating the problem in a regional approach. A top down solution approach to the problem as we have learnt from OMPADEC to NDDC remains a dumb approach to the most important crisis facing the Nigerian nation since the Civil War.
We cannot afford to fail, power surge without a comprehensive resolution to the Niger Delta crisis will remain an illusion, a mirage, a chimera and apparition in Nigerian politician’s befuddled minds. A mere conduit for another “merry go round” waste and spend. In my next piece, I intend to tackle the issue of “none-natural gas” procured power generation solution including solar and wind energy.