A minister’s faulty theory

Minister of Works, Power and Housing Babatunde Fashola

The remark made the other day by the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, to the effect that the inadequate supply of electricity is not the only reason for economic stagnation may be a valid argument, but it is also patronising. And it seems to obscure the contribution of that energy gap to the dysfunction of Nigeria’s economy. While it may be true that availability of power supply is not a sufficient condition for economic growth, it is yet to be ascertained what the value of that remark could ever be, apart from being a mere response to polemics.

Fashola, who made the statement at the civil society engagement workshop in Abuja, was responding to the observation of experts who claimed that Nigeria’s slow growth is attributable to challenges in power supply.In a rather unnecessary expression of lawyerly logic, Fashola was quoted to have said: ìPower will clearly contribute to the growth but power is not the reason why the economy is not growing.î He also stated: ìI have also heard of the need for industrialisation and yes, that’s true. But there are nations that haven’t solved their power problems and are industrialised faster than us, and who are solving them and industrialising at the same time. Today, we import things from India; all of India is not powered.î

This is a needless fallacy of emphasis. It is a very selective instance that does not adequately address the point. True, there has been increase in the wattage and so too has population with the attendant proliferation of small businesses. If in years gone by Nigeria had economic growth with less power supply, couldn’t it be that the little amount the country had then was adequately distributed and was also constant? Has the question been asked: Why is it that with the supposed increase in power supply, most of the industries that left the country have not come back?

Concerning his comparison with a country like India, it is unlikely that India would have such phenomenal economic growth without adequate and efficiency power supply in critical sectors of the economy. The same cannot be said of Nigeria.It is difficult to swallow the minister’s argument without an annoying aftertaste. To claim that he made good sense by his remark is to be uncharitable to both individual Nigerians and the society at large. As current news reports have it, there is widespread haphazard power distribution across the country. Small businesses and cottage industries are closing up. People who have the means to keep their businesses afloat are groaning under biting scarcity and exorbitant price of fuel. For others who seek simpler alternatives to eke a living, the intense heat is creating depressive moods that are inimical to a productive lifestyle. What economy can grow with a preponderance of such situations?

Nigerians may not be in the shoes of the minister, but he owes Nigerians an explanation to the challenges his ministry is facing. His three-fold ministry is a super portfolio that requires a pragmatic, no-nonsense, go-getter who can deliver, and not a routine administrator who would man the post. Is he hamstrung to get the job properly done? Not many Nigerians understand the complex, long-term undertaking of his ministry. Few understand the erstwhile planlessness that greeted the privatisation initiative, the absence of thorough consumer data and appropriate consumption audit. The onus lies on the minister and his ministry to carry out awareness programmes in an effective manner that would convince consumers. This is what makes his job a very challenging one.

Furthermore, there is an inscrutable level of opaqueness in the management of power supply in the country. Nigerians are aware that just like the petroleum, oil and gas sector, the power sector is plagued by many competitive forces. While the Transmission Company of Nigeria is established as a state business, the Generation Companies (Gencos) and Distribution Companies (Discos) are private business concerns of some of the powerful and politically influential persons in the country. In a country where the operators are powerful, rules are selective and resources are scarce, the balance of interest is bound to be skewed. The system is more likely to serve the interests of the powerful.

Except Fashola gives proper perspectives to his remarks, if he continues to brandish this kind of logic he may mislead and lose many who respect his capacity as an efficient and result-oriented administrator.

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Babatunde Fashola

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