The Darkness Called Nigeria

Bythecrusadersvoicetm

Feb 28, 2024

TUESDAY FLAT OUT

By Suyi Ayodele

 

If you have not seen the one-minute-30 seconds video of Lagosians scrambling for rice at the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) facility, you must have read the news about the stampede that took place. Seven people died avoidably in that ugly incident foisted on us by bad leadership. I did not personally witness the Nigerian civil war. Archival family materials show that I was born the very day the General Yakubu Gowon government changed the police action against the Eastern Nigerian Government to a full-blown war. A child on his mother’s back does not have an idea of how long the journey is. So, I wouldn’t know if hunger killed people or not while the war lasted.

The only experience of the civil war I had was the influx of easterners to our community after the war. They came as farm hands, who were paid at the end of the year. We called them “onise odun” -yearly paid labourers. A room exists in my father’s house today that we refer to as “yara Ibo” (the room for the Ibo). However, I have read a number of books on the civil war. In all the literature that I have come across, one constant factor in the history of the war is the issue of hunger and starvation. Pictures abound showing Nigerians queuing up for food rations while the war lasted. The only message I get from all the write-ups and the pictures about the civil war is that it is only in the time of war that the government rations food to the citizens. Whatever is rationed out is just for sustenance purposes. Nigeria is not at war at the moment. But food is being rationed out to the people. What then is our problem?

The past weekend was an emotional one for me. Emotional from all angles. It has been a long time since I felt that way. From Friday, when I took the voyage of discovery, to Sunday when what I feared most for one of my big sisters happened, it has been from one mental torture to the other. I followed the media team of the Minister of Power, Mr. Adebayo Adelabu, to Ihovbor, a suburb of Benin City. The minister was in the community to inspect the power-generating plant located in the agrarian community. The plant, known as the Ihovbor Power Plant or Benin Power Generating Company, is owned by the Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC). Commissioned in May, 2013, the plant is described as |”an open cycle gas turbine power plant built to accommodate future conversion to combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) configuration.” The description of the plant is that it is owned by the government; has four turbines and has the capacity to generate 500 megawatts of power for evacuation (transmission) to the National Grid for onward distribution through the DISCOs (Distribution Companies) to Nigerians. The plant, as attested by the minister, “is a brand new one.” But that is not the sordid story of the plant.

Directly beside the NDPHC-owned plant is a private plant, owned by some individuals and consortiums. The neighbouring plan is described as “a natural gas-powered open cycle electricity generation plant, with a current operational capacity of 461 megawatts.” The Wikipedia entry on the plants says it is “an open-cycle gas fired power plant…. the finance required to build the plant was sourced from the private sector, rather than from the government. The private sector owners of the plant took the construction risk. The post-construction risk and the operational risks are also borne by the plant’s owners and their operations and maintenance contractors.” The private investors claimed to have invested US$900 million to build the plant. Nigerians would never know how much the State committed to building the NDPHC. That is who we are as a nation; a people!

The description of the private plant forced me to check out the owners of the company. After going through the list, the only thing that came to my brain is Tom Burgis’ 2016 book: “The Looting Machine – Warlords, Tycoons, Smugglers, and the Systemic Theft of Africa’s Wealth.” The sub-topics of “Incubators of Poverty” (page 61-79), and “God Has Nothing to Do with It” (page 175-208), should be of interest to anyone interested in how we arrived at this level of decadence. Suffice to say here that the private plant runs on the facilities provided by the NDPHC, and makes all the money at the detriment of the owner. Why, and how? It is the only one given what is known in the power circle as Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). The layman explanation of PPA is that whatever power the private plant generates, the government would pay irrespective of if the generated power is evacuated (transmitted) to the National Grid or not. In the agreement, the government is committed to paying the owners of the plant an average of $30 million (30 million US Dollars) every month. Now, how does this happen? This is where my sadness emanated.

In the course of the tour of the NDPHC facilities, we discovered that of the four turbines the plant has, only one was working. Upon enquiry, it was gathered that the remaining three, though new and in good shape, are permanently shut down so that the privately-owned competition plant can run its own plant, generate power and get paid $30 million every month. The problem of the NDPHC does not stop there. According to information gleaned, even the only turbine that is not shut down is never allowed to run for 24 hours in a day. The source hinted that but for the visit of the minister that Friday, the entire NDPHC plant would have been shut down for the neighbour to thrive! So, for a plant that has the capacity of four turbines which could generate a cumulative 450 megawatts at 125 megawatts apiece, what you have operational in the plant is a turbine which generates just 100 megawatts.

If combined, both the NDPHC plant and the private plant can give the National Grid over 900 megawatts. If you add the capacities of the other eight government-owned plants in Omotoso, Olorunsogo, Calabar; Geregu, Omoku, Gbaron; Sapele and Enugu together, Nigeria stands the chance of getting 4,700 megawatts of power! But that will never be. This is because we are in Nigeria and we are Nigerians. The case of the NDPHC plant and that of private plant is like a father who makes food provisions for his family but holds the hand of his own child so that the sons of strangers can eat to their fill. If the late Ekiti-centric traditional musician, Elemure Ogunyemi were to describe this scenario, he would simply say olule a lo a k’alejo – the owner of the house must leave for the guest to live in it! That is the typical monkey market.

It is true that no economy can develop without the intervention of the private sector. The government is right, in my own little knowledge of Economics to have invited the private sector to play in our power industry. But the question is: why pay $30 million dollars every month to a private company when the same government has a similar facility that is rendered impotent? Who are the promoters of the various IPPs that are holding the nation by the jugular? What is the wisdom in shutting down three brand new turbines just for another company to be able to operate? Again, if we may ask, why would any government build power generating plants and then license private sector players to build more when it has not expanded its transmission capacities? Who does that? Who are we as a people? The PPA with all other privately-owned plants, is that whatever those plants generate that cannot be transmitted would be paid for, yet, we have government-owned plants with the same or more capacities rendered dormant!

 

The Ihovbor Power Plant was commissioned in 2013. As the Minister, Adelabu, pointed out after inspecting the facilities, the plant is running at about “20 percent capacity utilisation and which is a gross lack of optimisation of our investment as a country. If we have put in so much into establishing these power plants, it should be able to give us the kind of power that we require.” The minister further lamented that the plants “are well maintained and the running hours of each of these, they are all below 30,000, which means that, effectively, they have not been run more than three years even though they have been installed almost eight or 10 years ago. They are as new as a brand new turbine but surprisingly, it is only one turbine that is operational today, generating about 100 megawatts of power as against the installed capacity of 500.” The plant was conceived by the “clueless” Peoples Democratic Party-led government, while the lethargic All Progressives Congress government sustains the strangulation of its operation through the unfavourable advantage given to its private sector-driven counterpart through the denial of PPA.

 

I hate making conjectures. However, the only explanation one can easily give in this case is that there are locusts feeding fat on the pains of the people. This is what my people call apapin (kill and divide). Except for Sunday night when the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) ‘flashed’ light in my neighbourhood, I cannot recollect the last time we enjoyed electricity supply. And I guess, and rightly too, that the company decided to do so because the month is almost over for the distribution of bills and collection of money! Yet, less than 30 kilometers from my neighbourhood are two power plants with a cumulative 900 megawatts. Our case has become like those unfortunate people who live by the river banks but wash their faces with spittle! The rots in the power system cut across every other segment of the country. This is why it is possible for seven people to die while on the queue for rations of rice, and nobody is going to be made to answer for that.

 

That Comfort Funmilayo Adebanjo and six others died in their bid to get a ration of the 25kg rice is painful. Enough. The manner in which they died and the justification given by those who organised the distribution is even more annoying. If we should ask again, why must Nigerians be made to queue for rice or any other food item in the 21st century? Why is it difficult for this government to know that there is no shortage of foodstuffs in our markets? How long would it take those in authority to realise that what Nigerians are grappling with now are the costs of the food items? If you open up all the Customs warehouses in the country today, how many bags of rice would that give Nigerians? What about my folks in Odo Oro Ekiti or Aparaki in Ogun State and other remote towns and villages; where are the Customs offices located in those areas? If my cousins travel to Ado Ekiti, the nearest Customs office, how much will they pay to get to Ado Ekiti and back home? What guarantee do they have that the ration will get to them?

 

The NSC spokesman, Abdullahi Maiwada, while rationalising what caused the stampede in Lagos said the avoidable incident happened “because Nigerians, who came for the exercise, did not obey simple instructions for the distribution of the items.” He added that the stampede was not because NCS was not properly coordinated but the “attitude of Nigerians”. Really? Hear him again: “We started an orderly process, and people benefited from it until Nigerians decided not to be orderly and conform to simple instructions and directives. That is what led to what happened. The CGC was at that scene from the beginning to the end of that process. He pleaded with them to comply with the simple directive, and that we have more than enough to distribute. Some Nigerians decided to go on a round trip. At a point, we stopped collecting money and started distributing it for free. But Nigerians, in their manner, started round-tripping and this is what caused what happened.” Thomas Erikson, author of “Surrounded by Psychopaths”, has an idea of characters like Maiwada and the system he represents. Erikson says what Maiwada said is the way psychopaths behave. The author gives a list of items on the psychopathy checklist to include “lack of remorse or guilt; callousness and lack of empathy; pathological lying; shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness and irresponsibility” (page 23-24). I add no more! As a people, Nigerians deserve a good life. The present government should note that and go after that. Stephen Watt, a UK professor of Philosophy, in his introductory notes in: Plato Republic, says living a good life “consists in being a certain sort of person rather than merely doing certain sorts of actions: from an act-centred morality where the primary question is ‘what should I do’? to an agent-centred morality where the primary question is ‘what sort of person should I be?’ Then I ask, again: Who are we, really?

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