By C. Don Adinuba —
I have in recent times been warning the Igbo people that contrary to the popular notion that Jonathan is a great facilitator of development in Igboland, the outgoing president will end up as perhaps an unintended great destroyer of Igbo socioeconomic development. But I did not know my warning would prove prescient so soon.
The news from the southeast geopolitical zone and the rest of Igboland is quite dispiriting. It speaks of unprecedented de-industrialisation: the media is awash with reports of how terrible electric power supply has been of late even by Nigerian standard. The situation has become so unbearable that, for the first time in history, both corporate and individual consumers have been out in the streets in Enugu and Ebonyi, two states well known for docility, demonstrating against the paradox of poor power availability and unprecedented high bills. According to the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), about 600 companies employing one million people in the southeast are threatened by the deteriorating power condition.
In Anambra State the situation may be worse. As The Guardian disclosed on Wednesday, February 8, every town in the state is enveloped by darkness. A few days after the president-general of the Nnewi Town Development Union addressed a press conference bemoaning the situation which has led to the closure of 16 manufacturing firms in the town in the last few months, MAN addressed the press on Tuesday, February 17, 2015, alleging that the privatization of the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company since November 2013 is sounding the death knell of its member organisations. Innosons Industries say that despite spending a whopping N60million monthly on diesel used by their numerous giant generators, they are compelled by the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company to pay N100m every month for providing power epileptically. For those who may not know, Enugu Electric Distribution Company is the only firm supplying power to the whole of the southeast.
No person should be surprised at this sad turn of events. The Jonathan government was strongly advised by both experts and non-experts in 2012 and 2013 against selling Enugu Disco to Emeka Offor’s Interstate Electrics. For instance, the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and the National Council of Privatisation (NCP) in a joint report stated that Interstate has neither the technical expertise nor the financial wherewithal to do the business. But within 72 hours, the NCP reversed itself in a show of what Nigerians call “government magic” and, in October 2012, announced Interstate as the preferred bidder for not only Enugu Disco but also Abuja Disco, thus becoming the only consortium to win two bids! It eventually settled for only Enugu Disco. Even when it was time for payment of $126m required from the preferred bidder, Interstate did not have the money. The August 21, 2013, deadline was extended by 20 days for it alone of all the consortia which bid for Discos. The rest is now history.
Why on earth should the Jonathan government insist on handing over Enugu Disco to Offor? Does the outgoing government want Enugu Disco to go the way of the petroleum refineries which have not recovered since Offor’s turn-around maintenance (TAM) contract under the Sani Abacha dictatorship? The electricity crisis in the southeast is far worse than many people would seem to appreciate. Power distribution in Nigeria is a natural monopoly. A customer cannot switch from utilizing the service of a supplier in one part of the country to another. Once you operate in a place, you are stuck with the distribution company in the area. In other words, all the individuals and organizations in the southeast are stuck with Enugu Disco owned and operated by Offor’s Interstate. They cannot choose another power supplier. Put succinctly, the southeast cannot develop significantly anymore because the modern economy runs on electricity.
The more painful part of the southeast electricity tragedy is that the Eastern Electric consortium promoted by the five southeastern state governments and such personages as Diamond Bank founding chairman Pascal Dozie, ex-power minister Bart Nnaji and Ernest Obiejesie of Nestoil was described by the BPE/NCP as financially and technically suitable for the job, only for the government to violate its own rules in the most brazen fashion and hand over Enugu Disco to a favoured group in a sweetheart deal.
The supreme irony is that the same prominent Igbo elements who are victims of Jonathan’s record of disdain for Igbo interests, as brilliantly articulated recently by Chief Chekwas Okorie of the United Progressive Party (UPP) on the back page of The Sun of Thursday, February 19, are the greatest fanatical promoters of the campaign for Jonathan’s re-election. Innocent Chukwuma, the founder and chairman of Innosons Industries whose firms are being profoundly undermined by Jonathan’s policies and actions is one of them. In fact, in the midst of the controversial prequalification of Interstate Electrics for Enugu Disco, Mr Chukwuma took out a full-page colour page in every major newspaper to congratulate Offor on “the feat”. Now, the chicken has come home to roost. This is the paradox you find in a people whose leaders are guided by sentiments instead of strategic thinking in the 21st century.
Meanwhile, the Southeast continues to lag behind economically in absolute and relative terms, as revealed by figures from the National Bureau of Statistics. We sorely miss authentic Igbo leaders — the Great Zik of Africa, Dr Michael Okpara, Dr Akanu Ibiam, Dr Pius Okigbo, Dr Ukpabi Asika, Dr Sam Mbakwe and a host of others. These were men imbued with knowledge, wisdom, foresight, patriotism, commitment to the common good and strategic thinking. When can we have such men and women again?
Adinuba is head of Discovery Public Affairs Consulting.