• Thursday, May 30, 2024
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Re: Govt (CBN) N300b bonanza; the gas-to-power infrastructure conundrum, and other related matters (1)

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On Friday night I watched Mr Kemi Agbejule an NNPC spokesperson on NTA. It was an advertorial on the oft repeated plan to make gas massively available for power plants. It dwelt partly on the news that the CBN was providing some N300b subsidy to the “privatised” power companies.  We have heard those promises very many times before. This has prompted me want to make my long deferred unsolicited and probably unwanted contribution on the matter at hand.

I still hold the view that the many arms of the NNPC constitute an unrepentant and irredeemable criminal enterprise. How I wish that the organisation would succeed in convincing most people otherwise.

NOT A MONEY PROBLEM

The past several governments of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, including the present one, have been busy throwing money piecemeal at the problem of power as if that would take care of several decades of outright neglect. The planning, if any, has been sub-optimal, a reflection of the “Yes-Prime-Minister” culture (aka Oga-at-the-Top) that pervades government decision making process, a veritable infinite series of hare-brained schemes.

THE ROLE OF OUTSIDERS AND OEMs

The complete absence of a home grown planning capability, with a 20 to 40year time horizon, has made it possible for the field salesmen of every Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) in the western world, including the much revered Jeffrey Inmelt (the Salesman-in-Chief at GE), to have unfettered access to our Minister of Power and hence to our President. I shudder whenever these gentlemen claim to know what is best for Nigeria or that they step into the breach and plan for us. Even the newspapers offer the GE boss space to express his views whereas GE can afford to pay for its advertorials.

On another front, one can only imagine the negative impact of this state of affairs on our avowed policy thrust for Local Content. When was the last time anyone contemplated retubing by ourselves, a small or medium size boiler/heat exchanger at any of our power plants? It was only recently that we have come to recognise the place of the certified welder in this huge construction spread called Nigeria. However many gaps remain.       

THE SAD STORY OF NETCO

Three decades ago I worked in one of the several design offices of Bechtel Power Corporation. Although I had moved on to other engineering endeavours, I was still excited on my return to Nigeria to learn that the Bechtel Group was to partner with the NNPC in its joint venture engineering subsidiary the National Engineering and Technical Company Limited (NETCO). The aim was to pursue the domestication of engineering capacity in Nigeria’s Oil and Gas industry. Most of the skills are routinely applicable to other sectors. The sad story of the breakdown of the JV after internecine squabbles with NAPIMS is for another day.

NETCO was always underutilized and that was the main reason for Bechtel Inc to pull out after eight years. None of this development can be gleaned from the rosy account of the state of affairs at NETCO posted on its website. The truth is that whatever good that NETCO has achieved today, stature, prestige, technology and man-hour jobs billed, pales in comparison to its true potential. With the deep pockets of the NNPC, the NETCO should have achieved a lot more for Nigeria, hence pulling other stunted sectors like power along. Sadly, in collaboration with NAPIMS, NETCO happily turned its offices into an avenue for farming out hundreds of thousand man-hours engineering design jobs to overseas outfits. So much for Local Content.

RESERVING RESPECT FOR (GOOD) IDEAS AND NOT PEOPLE

I recall that as an undergraduate at The University of Lagos I used to have a running battle with some of my professors, routinely disagreeing with them when the occasion demanded. Yes it was risky but then what can I say. Years later we remembered each other with genuine fondness. Both sides benefited from the exchanges including the many others who were often too scared even to whimper. I just wonder whether The Manhattan Project and the like could have succeeded if the participants were simply yes men!

I know it for a fact that a good many of the decision makers in government are actually not competent to discuss the many ramifications of electrical power. It is often generally assumed that once an observer is capable of listing the many ills of the electrical power conundrum (often only from the consumer perspective) then that implies knowledge about the viable solutions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Complaining with righteous indignation is basically cheap. Anyone, even a fool can do that. I have stated elsewhere that the issue of electrical power is not an equal opportunity topic. All views are certainly not welcome. Wrong and ill informed opinion constitutes a serious distraction no matter how vigorously expressed. It is on record that at times the government falls for such for such falsehood because a good number of WELLMEANING individuals with the ear of the government said so.

GAS SUPPLY NATIONWIDE

Some 15years ago, I was present at the occasion of the commissioning of the NGC Metering Station at Alausa, Ikeja serving Gaslink Nig Limited. During the discussion event that followed at Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Ikeja, I had publicly drawn the nation’s attention to the need to establish a comprehensive natural gas grid. The idea was to empower investors to make investment decisions with the availability of gas as a given. I was speaking from sad personal experience. At that very time I was firing my furnaces with trucked in LPG (often not available) sold to me at street retail price.

It is instructive to note that the Chairman of the occasion, a former NNPC guru(?), disagreed with me, giving of all reasons that the concept is expensive. That same issue came back to haunt us later during the later years of the same Obasanjo presidency when even the grossly inadequate NIPP power plants were built but had no gas supply. That this problem has persisted till today indicates the quality of the decisions that has emanated from Abuja over the years dating back to the days of the military.

REALLY, ARE OUR LEADERS KNOWLEDGEABLE?

A few years ago at the Newswatch Colloquium on Power where I was dragged in to be a participant (having shown up just to observe and listen), I was dismayed that not a single one of the leading lights present that day could get around to asking me even one question or answering the few simple ones that I asked. Sample: What is 1megawatt? Is it big or small? What can 1megawatt do? Can anyone of you visualise a 1megawatt pump?. . Resounding silence. That’s your decision makers for you. If one cannot wrap his mind around 1megawatt, the basic unit of count, then any further discussion of 100, 400, or perhaps 1,200megawatts is meaningless. I am sick and tired of attending events where the smartest of the participants regales us with the sad news that industries HAVE STARTED RELOCATING TO GHANA! News indeed. Often figures are quoted credited to Alhaji Aliko Dangote to illustrate how dire the circumstances are. For goodness sake, we already know that.

TARIFF

Now let me tackle a very unpopular subject, tariff. The glitteratti of the Nigerian professional and social landscape, who on the average are far smarter than I am, studiously avoid this topic despite the data at their disposal. It was this same mindset that made it impossible to create the critical mass of enlightened opinion necessary to push through the very necessary removal of the wasteful fuel subsidy. No matter how long it takes, we will yet come the realisation that the removal of fuel subsidy remains one of the strong legs on which will ultimately rests the very economic survival of Nigeria. To be seen cavorting with the masses at the Gani Fawehinmi Park, became a badge of dubious honour. Well, somebody has to SAY IT AS IT IS (apologies Tunde Fagbenle). If not me, who?

ENGR ODUCHE AZIH