Tuesday 28 June 2016

#MustRead: The Nigeria Of Possibilities

by: Eze Onyekpere

Nigeria is in crisis; but it is a crisis of opportunities and possibilities. It is a crisis of the road we decided to take and the road we ignored at the fork. It is a crisis of vision and lack of vision. It is a crisis of self-limitation where the bird refuses to use its God given wings to fly but rather hangs around like any other wingless animal. I see possibilities; I see probabilities, a vision of a Nigeria where things work but with a great caveat. The leadership must rise up to lead and if the extant leadership cannot lead, it must give way to the “philosopher kings”, the great men and women of vision, with a clear mission and understanding of the trajectory to the Promised Land.

Yes, we can develop; uninterrupted electricity supply, housing for all, great highways and railways, fast speed internet; schools and universities, hospitals and medicare that rank among the best in the world. All the above are possible and doable if and only if we get the leadership with the right skills in the right places. We need a leadership recruitment process that is based on knowledge and skills. The cries of today can lay the foundation of the joys of tomorrow. The dirty and soiled hand provides the bedrock for rest, holidays and the pursuit of noble passions. Workers are owed arrears of salaries across the federation, four hours of public electricity supply is a privilege and good public transport is unimaginable. The Federal Government and some states have been building railways and tramways for over a decade as if they are preparing for space travel.

Can we replicate the imagination and vision that worked in the past in some key specific sectors? We will all recall that we had over 85 banks with very little capital base before the Chukwuma Soludo-led banking revolution. When the idea of N25bn capital base was muted, many said it was not achievable. They derided the idea and introduced all kinds of reasons in their minds, being reasons supportive of their position that the idea would fail. What happened thereafter surprised the nay-sayers. But the idea sailed through and the banks were re-capitalised and became stronger. The successful banks even went ahead to exceed the capital base and some had capital formation more than treble the required sum. I recall that some banks that came to the capital market were oversubscribed and had to ration their shares among applicants and later returned over 75 per cent of the money of many who applied for a large number of shares. The strong capital base of the banks helped them to weather the banking crisis of 2009 and thereafter. The success of the banking revolution was because a man and his team had a vision and the tenacity of purpose to drive it through. Of course, they had the support of the government of the day.

During the same period, we had the idea of self-sufficiency in cement production. Before anyone could realise what happened, the Dangote Group and a few others took up the gauntlet and today, we produce enough and have the capacity for export. I may not be so happy with the ownership structure of the cement industry in Nigeria which tends towards a monopoly and we may not have arrived at the point where we get cement at the cheap price available in other countries but at least, but the cement sector has created thousands of new jobs and stopped the foreign exchange waste used in cement importation. Successive Nigerian governments have been complaining about our importation of refined petroleum products without lifting a finger in the direction of solving the problem. Rather, they have kept repeating outdated ideas and mantras about deregulation and price increase. Today, the same Dangote Group is constructing a 650,000 barrels a day refinery which will come on stream in 2019. The Dangote refinery capacity is larger than the four refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna combined! As if that is not enough, while successive governments have been mouthing gas to power, the same Dangote Group is investing in a pipeline that will bring three billion standard cubic feet of gas from the Niger Delta to Lagos every day. What is the secret of the success? Dreams, vision, a supportive environment and the will to pull through despite all odds.

Can we replicate these examples in other sectors, with some modifications based on lessons learnt from the mistakes of the past? Enter the challenge of the electricity sector. I strongly believe that the electricity challenge will be a thing of the past in a couple of years if we have a President and minister of power who can dream big and have a clear vision of solving the challenge. The central poser for them will be: How do you reform laws and policies and thereafter attract massive investments into the sector? The answer is not beyond the contemplation of Nigerians. The Federal Executive Council and the National Assembly are there for policy and law review which will liberate the electricity industry from the stranglehold of a few who have captured it. The bulk of the companies who took over our power sector after privatisation neither have the finances, managerial or technical capacity to take the sector to the next level nor are they ready to open up for other Nigerian to invest in the sector. Clearly, a dog in the manger situation has arisen in the relationship of the present GENCO and DISCO owners in the electricity industry and the Nigerian public.

It will not take rocket science to understand that the Federal Government needs to keep the peace in the Niger Delta through negotiation and continued development of the region for gas to flow. Threats and brute military force will not solve the militancy challenge. The government needs to treat every section of Nigeria in a way and manner that gives them a sense of belonging. If there is peace in the Niger Delta and gas flows, then we can start the forward march. For the transmission lines, the investment needed to make them more functional is not beyond the capacity of the government and citizens. The estimate of between $7bn and $10bn needed to fix transmission, which is lesser than the $17bn raised by the Dangote Group for its refinery and gas pipeline will not be difficult to finance either by equity or debt. The government needs to create opportunities for Nigerians to invest in the electricity sector. The idea of ring-fencing the sector for investors without capacity is incredible. The mindset of refusing to define the energy challenge as the right of all Nigerians to access electricity, rather than the right of investors to a ring-fenced market share is at the foundation of the current electricity crisis.

Deploying renewable energy and enhancing efficient use of available energy is also another way to meet the electricity challenge. Developing local capacity to produce renewable energy components, though a long term project, should start today whilst tariff, non tariff measures and standardization, etc are used to facilitate the roll out of renewable across the country, especially in off grid situations in far flung places. We cannot continue to have a disjointed policy space where the government says that for instance, solar panels are duty free whilst the customs insists on collecting duties.

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