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Buharists and the Politics of Megawatts, By Professor Moses E. Ochonu

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Buharists and the Politics of Megawatts, By Professor Moses E. Ochonu

NEWISSUES, Abuja

Nigeria’s electricity generation has plummeted to 1,580 megawatts. I ask, where are those who were talking about body language when electricity generation rose, as it normally does during the rainy season when water levels at our hydroelectric dams rise?

There is a limit to propaganda because sooner or later reality, cold, hard reality, intrudes. Let the Buharists ask the propagandists of previous governments. Buhari’s government is the not the first to promise to deliver the now mythical level of 5000 megawatts of electricity, which, by the way is at least 20,000 megawatts below what experts say Nigeria needs. Nor are Buhari’s supporters the first group of pro-regime vuvuzelas to take credit for the aquatic dynamic of our hydroelectric dams and their fluctuating impact on power generation.

In 1999 Bola Ige, Obasanjo’s first minister of power, was the first to brag about fixing Nigeria’s power crisis only to be humbled by its seeming intractability. In his case he gave himself and Nigerians six months and publicly stated that if Nigerians didn’t see dramatic improvement within that time, he would resign. As it turned out, not only was there no discernible improvement at the expiration of his self-imposed deadline, he would not resign and Obasanjo had to mercifully reassign him to the Justice Ministry to which his training and temperament as a lawyer was better suited. Obasanjo barely saved him from further humiliation and Nigerians’ wrath.

Subsequent governments and their propagandists learned from the Bola Ige debacle, saw it as a cautionary tale of hubristic haste, and became a little more modest in their promises regarding electricity generation. But they did not learn a crucial lesson from Ige’s period in the power ministry. Bola Ige had assumed office in February and the rainy season had set in a few months afterward, raising the water levels at our hydroelectric dams, raising electricity generation, and giving Ige a false sense that whatever he was doing had begun to work. Dry season came and wiped the smirk off his face.

But subsequent ministers and subsequent governments did not learn from that aspect of the Bola Ige story. Every rainy season they would say, “see, our power sector reform is working, electricity generation has risen to 2,500 megawatts and we are on course to reach 5000 megawatts in 2005.” The next dry season would arrive, bringing with it a dramatic drop in electricity generation and putting the propagandists to shame.

You’d think that the subsequent governments would learn not to take credit for what they didn’t cause. You’d be wrong. The boasting continued, followed by the humiliation of the dry season. It was very predictable, this cycle of boom and bust in electricity generation following the vagaries of the water level. They would boast about the government finally fixing what ailed the electricity sector when generation rose during the rainy season. Then when dry season came and reduced the water level at the dams, they would utter some empty officialese about how “we continue to face challenges in the sector but indicators are pointing in a positive direction.”

When the inevitable dry season drop arrived or was about to arrive, they’d blame reduced gas supply, vandalism, and even the conspiracy of generator importers and then wait impatiently for the rainy season boost to happen and give them a reprieve and cover their behind. Rinse. Repeat.

That has been our routine in the power sector since 1999. When the Buharists were writing peans to body language as electricity generation ticked upward and stabilized over the wet season months, Nigerians with a sense of history told them to stay humble and grounded in reality lest they eat crow later. It is March and the drop in electricity generation that began in November after the rains stopped, has peaked. Nigerians are groaning in darkness and the suffocating heat, a crisis compounded by the scarcity of petrol.

So I ask, will the Buharists, the apostles of body language, who were too eager to give their man credit even before he did anything in the sector, before he even appointed a minister for the sector, remember the follies of past government propagandists, get a grip on reality, and hold Mr. Fashola’s feet to the fire, or will they continue, like propagandists of past governments, to use the seasonal water cycles at our hydroelectric dams to deceive Nigerians?

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