Shameful plan to import electricity from Congo – Daily Sun

The tragic chain of events, which led to the death of 19 promising Nigerians during the last recruitment exercise of the Nigeria Immigration Service, is yet another sorry pass in the quest for employment by our youths. The human tragedy of that shoddy and horrific exercise only serves to highlight the expanding frontiers of criminality and corruption prevalent in the public service.

The absurdity of asking over 693,000 candidates (according to the Board of the Immigration Service), who applied for about 4,556 vacancies to pay N1000 each, thereby netting close to N700 million in the corrupt scheme (with a large chunk of such positions already ‘allocated’ to candidates of top government officials) only goes to show how far the frontiers of unbridled corruption have expanded.

From 37 centres across the nation (including Abuja), nothing serious was intended. The focus was more on the fees the Interior Minister, Abba Moro and the consultancy firm enlisted garnered than on ensuring jobs for the thousands of hapless applicants. The whole exercise was, at best, a ruse.

Obviously, it was not the first recruitment scam by a government agency, and indications showed that this “scheme “ has become yet another avenue for extorting money from unsuspecting and desperate job seekers. However, the NIS has become notorious agency for never getting it right with its various recruitment exercises since 2006. In the one conducted in 2008, which was equally shoddily handled, 15 deaths from stampede were recorded in Kwara, Enugu and Edo states. That of 2012 was dogged in controversy and it subsequently led to the early exit of the then Comptroller General, Mrs. Rosemary Uzoma. At that time, Interior Minister, Abba Moro was on the side of those condemning that particular exercise.

Today, Mr. Moro is at the centre of the raging storm as he struggles to retain his job in the wake of public outcry over the exercise. No doubt, like any government official, Moro is doing everything possible to retain his exalted job by passing the blame on “impatient” applicants who caused the stampede at various centres.

Expectedly, presidential reaction and palliatives came slowly after an unceasing clamour by an angry public for a decisive government response to the embarrassing situation. Apart from an outright cancellation of the recruitment exercise, the Dr. Goodluck Jonathan administration ordered that no agency, apart from the armed forces and the police, should embark on such exercise again. The embattled minister was also reportedly instructed to ensure a refund of the N1000 application fee to each of the applicants. This appears a tall order; in fact the Public Relations Unit of NIS has refuted that no such order was given. This throws up the moral question of why must the state defrauding the citizenry. The N1000 fees must be returned to the applicants.

In what appears a bid to salve the tragic loss of lives, government also directed that a new committee to handle the exercise should allocate three slots, one of which should be for a woman, to the families of those who lost their lives. This still stretches the imagination on the modalities for compensating the dead in this matter. Will the brothers, sisters or cousins of the dead applicants (who may not wish to work with government) now become beneficiaries of jobs they do not need or are not qualified to do?

Apart from the stereotyped expression of grief by those who hold the reins of power, many Nigerians have raised posers about the “Presidential palliatives” as well as the Presidency’s obvious reluctance to frontally address the situation. The continued stay in office of Interior Minister in the face of mounting public outcry and after his alleged indictment by the Board of the Immigration Service (as echoed by a commissioner on the board, Mr. S.D. Tapgun), shows that the fight against corruption remains a lip service. At worst, the embattled minister should have been placed on suspension while the matter is being investigated; and if found even vicariously culpable, he should not remain a day longer in office.

It is high time government set the right system in place by paying the required attention to merit in recruitment exercises across all arms of government and the armed services. The present approach of exploiting the unemployment situation to extort money from the growing and restive army of unemployed youths will only serve as a time bomb which will not augur well for all and sundry.

Shameful plan to import electricity from Congo – Daily Sun

With the serial promises and numerous plans by succeeding Nigerian governments to end the nation’s power supply nightmare, and the commitment of huge sums of money over the years to the provision of stable electricity in the country, it is scandalous to learn that the Federal Government plans to import electricity into Nigeria from the Democratic Republic  of Congo, a much smaller and less endowed African country.

The plan, strangely announced with ridiculous gusto, and without any hint of embarrassment by the Minister of State for Power, Mohammed Wakili, will see Nigeria buying electricity from Congo, which is reportedly planning to produce 40,000 megawatts of electricity from its dams through what it calls the “Grand Inga” project. Already, the Federal Government has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Congo on the planned electricity importation.

This pact with Congo, which Wakili happily confirmed at a recent investors’ conference organised in Abuja by the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), ought not to elicit the glee with which the power ministry officials announced it.

This is because, by all indices, Nigeria boasts some of the largest dams and thermal gas stations in Africa, which are basic platforms for stable power generation. We also have much more stronger financial muscle than Congo. It is ironical, therefore, that our leaders are rejoicing, and actually expect all Nigerians to share their enthusiasm, on the plan to import electricity from a country with far less infrastructure and manpower that is planning to provide 40 percent of Africa’s electricity needs.

While we do not begrudge Congo’s commendable right thinking on this ambitious plan, we think this planned electricity importation calls for deep introspection by Nigeria’s leaders. Instead of rejoicing, as our power ministry officials appear to be doing,  over the opportunity to buy electricity from Congo and “sell” it to neighbouring African countries, we think we all ought to be bemoaning the poor management of our power sector and the misuse of huge sums of money allocated to the sector over the years, which has made us beggarly purchasers of electricity.  We ought to be ruing the poor planning, misapplication of funds and the lack of strong political will to end the nation’s power sector woes, which have brought Nigeria to this sorry pass.    It is disheartening that the power sector in Nigeria has become a  “white elephant”, with little results to show for the huge investments we have made in it since the return of democracy in the country.

For instance, between 1999 and 2007, over $16 billion was reportedly spent on the power   sector. Also, at a recent power sector financing conference in Abuja,  the federal government said it would require $900 billion (about N143 trillion) to fix the sector in the next 30 years. Only last week, the MD/CEO of TCN, Mr Mack Kast, said N1.2 trillion was required to expand and improve electricity supply in the country within the next five years.

It appears, therefore, that the nation’s power sector has become the proverbial bottomless pit of fruitless investments. Rather than improving, power supply in the country is declining. Even with the takeover of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) by independent power Generating Companies (GENCOS) and Distributing Companies (DISCOs), from which government raked in $480 billion, there is still no light at the end of the nation’s power sector tunnel.

The different discordant tunes on the need for fresh investments when old ones are yet to yield appreciable results, now appear to be a mere fig leaf to cover the apparent failure  to deliver on the power sector.

It is sad that after the fanfare that greeted the unbundling of PHCN and the emergence of DISCOs and GENCOs, the power sector reform seems to be running into a hitch. The speculation that some of the GENCOS and DISCOs could be fronts for some people in government is gaining ground.

Public expectation is that almost one year after the formal takeover of 14 successor Generation and Distribution firms by private investors and administrators, there ought to be a remarkable improvement in power supply across the country. Instead, power supply has worsened.

We wonder whether the deal with DR Congo is one of the ways  President Jonathan intends to fulfill his promise to achieve stability in the power sector by 2016. That would be an unwelcome option.

The vital role that the power sector plays in the economy, as well as in the lives of ordinary citizens, cannot be over-emphasised. Apart from being the engine that drives economic development, stable power supply is vital for foreign investment inflow into the country.

The poor power supply situation has resulted in the closure of many industries in the country, with attendant job losses. Some of the industries have relocated to neighbouring countries. Those that are still operating in the country often complain over escalating cost of production because of unstable power supply, and their dwindling capacity utilisation. The time has come for the government to translate every promise made in the power sector to concrete action. The World Bank, last year, ranked Nigeria low on the scale of countries that are conducive to doing business in the world. It blamed the situation largely on the terrible state of the power sector.

While we appreciate that the enthusiasm on the plan to import electricity from Congo by our leaders might be out of a desperate desire to improve power supply in the country, we do not see the buying of electricity as a good solution to the country’s power problem. We have what it takes to produce our own electricity, if our leaders are committed to making it happen. We should, therefore, not add electricity to the long list of items for which we are dependent on other countries.

Moreover, our power sector reform will be meaningless if it does not lead to  a successful destination, but ends with dependence on importation for our electricity needs. While we commend DR Congo on its foresight and laudable plan for electricity generation and export, Nigeria’s plan to import electricity from Congo, or any other country, will likely to lead to a blind ally.  Let the Federal Government strengthen its reform of the power sector to achieve its stated objective, and also create jobs for engineers and other workers in that sector of the economy. The promises in the nation’s power sector  reform plan should not be jettisoned for a nebulous electricity importation scheme.

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