Saturday, 12 December 2015

POWER SECTOR: GREAT EXPECTATIONS FROM BABATUNDE FASHOLA

Barrister Babatunde Fashola, SAN
At a time doubts were rising and hopes receding as to the timely appointment of federal ministers by President Muhammadu Buhari, the list of the ministers emerged from the President with a bang and to the amazement of sceptics and others. Amazement, not so much because the ministerial list took so long in coming but more because of the novel way in which portfolios were assigned.

Barrister Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), the immediate past governor of Lagos State, was appointed as the new Minister of Power, Works and Housing, a position that was hitherto occupied by three ministers. Till this day, opinions are divided over this appointment. On the one side, is the group that says that the responsibilities that go with the portfolios will overwhelm him. They argue further that this may end up damaging his cherished reputation. On the other side, is the group that believes the assigned portfolios is an open endorsement and confidence in his ability by the President.

Given his antecedents as an achiever, a man of towering intellect and fierce passion for sacrifice and service, which led to what we call “the miracle of Lagos transformation” during his eight years tenure as governor of Lagos State, he is uniquely poised to seize the promise of this new assignment to make a national statement on the present administration’s resolve to provide stable electricity in the country. He is the right man, the right leader for the job, with skills capable of fast tracking and sustaining the gains already made in the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI).

There is no doubt that Fashola will justify his inclusion in the cabinet and the confidence reposed in him by the President and indeed Nigerians. This will certainly show in his conduct of business and performance in the upcoming days.

The review of the Electricity Power Sector Reform Act (EPSRA) of 2005 is one area that should gain the immediate attention of the new minister. The Act was enacted to NESI and with the successful privatisation of the generation and distribution companies, it has achieved one of its main objectives. Hence, the need for a post privatisation era Act/laws to deal with emerging issues that have arisen as a result of operation of the Act and to give statutory backing to the new entities that were established as part of the unbundling of PHCN.

An area that requires huge financial investment is the transmission network of the nation’s power sector. This is because the nation’s transmission wheeling capacity has not been given the desired attention and remains weak. This poses the serious challenge of evacuating generated power. The Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) should be made to embark on repairs and expansion of transmission lines to mitigate frequent system collapses.

As an accomplished lawyer, the minister should look into the Service Level Agreements (SLAs)/ Performance Level Agreements (PLAs) with DisCos to ensure improvement in power supply. At present, there are a number of complaints raging from estimated billings to poor transformer status, prepaid metering installation and load rejection. Many are of the opinion that one of the reasons for these complaints is the inability of the DisCos to fulfill part of the agreements they entered into to invest in and improve distribution facilities and network. The Minister should ensure that DisCos keep to the terms of these agreements. The metering gap in the country is huge; DisCos should be made to close up this gap, which is part of their responsibilities.

There are cases of electrical accidents and electrocution across the country in recent time. Undoubtedly, the recent death of Miss Justina Oluchi Anekwe, a 300 level student of University of Lagos, and also of a 15 year old pupil, Afusat Musa, in a mosque on Ishaga Road, Idi-Araba, in Lagos would have been averted if the DisCos were alive and responsible to their duties.

From the records available, the electrocution occurred as a result of poor state of DisCos’ network and negligence on the part of the distribution company in charge of the areas where the incidents occurred.

Shortage of gas and protection of gas pipelines have become recurring issues in the power sector. It is expected that the minister will rise up to the challenge of ensuring that thermal plants in the country are regularly provided with gas to ensure full power supply. There is also the need for protection of power facilities and the gas pipeline network nationwide. Gas pipeline vandalism has not only become a hard kernel to crack but has impaired growth in the country’s generating capacity.

Achieving a robust energy mix is one area of necessity that should engage the attention of the minister. At present, the major sources of energy supply in the country are in the proportion of 70 per cent thermal and 30 per cent hydro. In spite of the fact that the country is blessed with renewable energy sources like coal, wind, solar and abundance waste for biomass, harnessing the potential in these renewable energy sources in addition to embedded generation and distribution should be made a priority. Efforts should also be made to develop a clear cut renewable energy and energy conservation policies for rapid growth in the Nigerian Power Sector.

The minister is blessed with the right temperament and wisdom to bring about positive changes to ensure that NESI is a success story. He is a change agent and has been tested before. The testimonies are out there for all to see going by his “miracle of Lagos transformation” and the President’s confidence in him by giving him three big ministerial portfolios to manage at this early part of his administration. With the right team at the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, Nigerians will certainly see a glorious and massive transformation in his Ministry. (guardian)