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EDITORIAL

Electricity consumers still groaning

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When the Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, last September announced the names of the presumed reputable companies that bought the assets of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), electricity consumers all over the country heaved sighs of relief.  Everyone believed that the hitherto intractable electricity generation and distribution problems, which had defied the efforts of past administrations, would soon be a thing of the past.  Nigerians were assured that fixing the power sector was among the topmost priorities of President Goodluck Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda.

Nearly four months after the formal handover of the PHCN assets to their new owners, the causes of frustration to electricity consumers are still very much there.  Up till now, the new owners have not made the slightest difference.  Apart from the poor power supply and high tariff, many electricity lines are un-serviced while many fallen electricity poles and faulty transformers are still begging to be replaced with functional ones.

We recall that before the privatization, consumers clamoured for the Credit Advance Payment for Meter Implementation (CAPMI), otherwise called Prepaid Meter System, just introduced by the National Electricity Regulation Commission (NERC).  This device which records the quantity of power consumed and stops automatically to supply power the moment the advance payment made is exhausted, was cherished by consumers.  The Pre-paid Meter System would close the metering gap and curb the disgusting practice of “crazy” or estimated billing system.

Even the doubting Thomas expected that power outages, epileptic supply and “crazy” billings would not rear their ugly heads during the 2013 Christmas and New Year celebrations, but they still did.  Several months after taking over the responsibility, some of the new owners of PHCN facilities still beg to be allowed time to assess the situation on ground to know whether to go on patronizing the Federal Government approved manufacturers of the Prepaid Metres or import from abroad.  Others attribute their slowness in addressing the power distribution problem in the area they operate to the sorting out of the financial entitlements of the former electricity workers, as if carrying out that obligation has anything to do with ensuring that electricity consumers receive light.  The situation has become so frustrating in the past couple of weeks that there have been calls from concerned Nigerians for government to declare a state of emergency in the power sector since the private investors seem not to be measuring up.  Could it be true that the actual winners of the privatized power facilities have sublet the job to incompetent companies within their zone of operation?  The National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) must as a necessity, investigate this state of affairs to know exactly why some of the new owners of PHCN assets look so incompetent. The new operators should be given a free hand to massively import the Prepaid Meters if they chose not to continue with the previous arrangement by NERC, as this seems not to be effective.

Again, the consumers should be allowed to purchase their own meters direct from the approved manufacturers where they are readily available instead of waiting endlessly to receive them through the new Power Companies.  Unless this is done, privatization will continue to run at the expense of consumers and local manufacturers.

The power sector is yet to become competitive so long as electricity consumers have no choice than to patronize private investors operating in their districts.  There is hardly any difference between the present arrangement and what obtained when the erstwhile government electricity grants – National Electricity Power Authority (NEPA) or Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) held sway.  To break the present monopoly of the new electricity companies over their districts, government could float its own electricity company or allow more than one power distribution firm to serve a given district.  In this way, consumers would have a real choice of which power distribution company to patronize.

We therefore call on the new owners of the power facilities to wake up.  If they lack staff, why don’t they hire more workers or reabsorb some of the competent and resourceful former electricity staff?  We need to see real investment on their part into the company they have bought.

Steady electricity supply is the key to civilization, industrialization and accelerated economic growth. Therefore, individuals and corporate organizations must stop paying lip service.  The new captains of our power sector owe the nation the duty to unplug every source of consumer frustration in order to justify the necessity for their coming on board.

 

EDITORIAL

Increasing Fuel and Electricity Prices

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Increasing Fuel and Electricity Prices

Once again, Nigerians are digging deeper into their pockets to buy fuel. They are paying N162 per litre from N142 last month. While the five per cent or so Nigerians with deep pockets will not be bothered by the increase, the majority with shallow pockets will have to empty them to buy petrol to run their businesses or shut them down, fuel their vehicles, light their homes and pump water, among other things. Electricity bill has also gone up although the average Nigerian is still in darkness most of the time.

The Federal Government explained that the removal of fuel subsidy, froth with duplicity and corruption, was responsible for the increase. For electricity, it said only consumers who get 12 hours or more of electricity per day should pay the new rate. Electricity Distributing Companies (DISCOS) may not agree.

Vice President Osinbajo has advised Nigerians to bear the pain and not go back to the fuel subsidy regime. He said the Federal Government is aware of the suffering and working out ways to alleviate poverty. This sounds familiar. Poverty alleviation doesn’t mean much in Nigeria anymore.

Petrol is at the heart of Nigeria’s economy. It drives everything. Whenever there is an upward review, the cost of living skyrockets. For the poor masses, the present situation spells doom. Fuel subsidy was introduced to alleviate poverty but instead it became a curse, benefiting only a few.

The Buhari Government announced early in the year that it will stop the subsidy payment. It said the downstream sector of the oil industry will be fully deregulated so that prices of petroleum products will fully be determined by market forces.

We have nothing against deregulation or removal of the ‘dubious subsidy’. The question is why now? Another is, if not now when, as things seem to go from bad to worse?
By failing to flush out the criminals benefiting unduly from the fuel subsidy, the Federal Government has proven that some people are, indeed, untouchable.

What will the Federal Government do now to cushion the effect of the hike on the poor, that it has not done before and it didn’t work? Poverty alleviation without improvement in quality of life means nothing. If for example, a commercial vehicle driver buys fuel at N162 per litre but drives on good roads and has access to portable water, he would charge commuters less. It has a ripple effect and vice versa.

When the Federal Government compares the price of petrol in Nigeria with those in neighboring countries, one wonders what indices it uses? Does it consider the minimum wage and the fact that Nigeria is the seventh world oil producer?

Nigeria produces crude oil but imports petrol. If the refineries are broken down, why can’t they be repaired? It is unfortunate that from time to time billions of Naira is gulped by so-called Turn-Around Maintenance of our refineries without anything to show for it in the end.

President Buhari promised to support the creation of modular refineries. Yet those in the riverine areas are being shut down and labeled illegal. What a contradiction! Why can’t the technology used in those refineries be harnessed?

Nigeria prefers to import what it can produce locally. By that, what Government is telling people is endure poverty. Don’t try to get out of it.

Removing subsidy in the midst of poverty is bad. But policy inconsistency and double standards will do Nigeria no good.

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EDITORIAL

Security operatives, IPOB and Emene massacre

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Security operatives, IPOB and Emene massacre

The high-handedness of security operatives towards members of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, is truly a concern. The ruthlessness with which they deal with the unarmed youths whenever there is a clash, is worrying and unacceptable.

What happened at Emene Enugu State, last Sunday, is not an isolated case. It stirs up memories of “Operation Python Dance” Egwu Eke, and others which saw the cold-blooded murder of many Igbo youths. When Ndigbo are trying to put one incident behind them, another occurs as a reminder, making it hard to forget.

Ironically, what police insensitivity, hatred, and the proscription of IPOB, have done is win sympathy for the unarmed youths, agitating for a cause. Police brutality on IPOB increases the nostalgia for Biafra, even among those who through fear or faith oppose it. It also gives credence to those comparing Nigeria with George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” a euphemism for discrimination and corruption. This is glaring when one compares how police treat unarmed IPOB members, and the real terrorists such as armed Fulani herdsmen, the so-called bandits, Boko Haram and other hoodlums operating across the country.

Although there are conflicting reports about what took place at Emene. what is most regrettable is that lives were lost. It is also clear that the conflict started when security operatives stormed the venue of an IPOB meeting. There is no report that the youths were carrying weapons or marching somewhere to attack the police or anybody else. What happened to the tear-gas which police use to disperse unarmed group? Perhaps, life has become so cheap in Nigeria that police do not care who dies anymore.

But the killings have been widely condemned by Nigerians at home and abroad. Here in the South-East, Ohanaeze, MASSOB, Nzuko Umunna, town unions and others have called for a judicial inquiry into the incident.

The panel is expected to unravel the truth about what happened, as there are suspicions of a sinister motive. South-East governors should speak out also before things get out of hand.
Clearly, Nigeria is engulfed in countless security challenges. People are wondering why the same security agencies who have guts to murder unarmed Igbo youth have displayed helplessness in containing more vociferous security challenges, elsewhere?
Nigerians have enough experience to know that if one ethnic group keeps quiet while another unjustly suffers, soon the others will also be at the receiving end because, as they say, what goes round, comes around.

Furthermore, it beats one’s imagination that the IPOB should be labeled ‘terrorist’ while the real terrorists continue to massacre and kill and maim across the country.

We agree with many Nigerians that unarmed IPOB youths, who have not shown the cruelty and callousness of Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen and even bandits in South Kaduna do not deserve, proscription, constant harassment and killings.

We condemn violent agitations in all forms. But when armed law enforcement agents descend on unarmed youths at their peaceful meeting, we wonder who sent them and what the motive is.

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ARTICLES

Imo as Unemployment Capital

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Imo as Unemployment Capital

Former Governor Rochas Okorocha understood clearly that Imo State needed jobs and factories. The question is what did he do about it?

Imolites are familiar with the mantra “Job, Job, Job, factory, factory, factory,” which he orchestrated in his second term. That was his way of telling Imolites what was lacking in the state. He gave the impression that his government was about to tackle unemployment, by rehabilitating moribund factories and, building new ones. Many people believed him.

Now, the National Bureau of Statistics NBS has come out with the figures stating that 23 million Nigerians are unemployed and that Imo has the lion’s share of 48.7 per cent. One wonders if the NBS report would have been released had Governor Okorocha still been in charge. The NBS report showing Imo State as Nigeria’s new unemployment capital can only be annoying to Imolites when viewed in the prism of Okorocha’s factory, factory factory, jobs, jobs, jobs.

Imolites cannot even point to one “hot” industry or employment generating project created during Okorocha’s eight years. But that is typical of our politicians. Yet, one can still ask where the factories and jobs promised by Okorocha are? Knowing Governor Okorocha, he would not deny that he promised “factories” but the problem will be telling people where they are located.

If Governor Okorocha was honest with his “factory, factory and job, job” utterance, he would have done something to stir up activities in the so-called Owerri Industrial Layout along Onitsha road Irete, which is almost a forgotten area. The industrial hub is now more of a hide out for miscreants, with all its roads in deplorable condition.

Several of the factories are overtaken by grass, as they have either been shut down in frustration or relocated. Individuals and private businesses use some of the large expanse of land to dump solid waste, including faeces.

We are not holding former Governor Rochas Okorocha solely responsible for this abysmal neglect of the Industrial Layout. Apart from the first civilian Governor of the state, Chief Sam Mbakwe, who saw wisdom in setting up several industries across the old Imo State, that extended to present day Abia and Ebonyi States, none of his successors either military or civilian did anything in that direction. The successive administrations paid mere lip service, to job creation.

It is also important to point out that previous governors remembered their promises to create jobs just when they were about to leave office.

It was only then that they created dubious and questionable jobs that run into thousands but which are practically impossible for their successors to fund.

Charity must begin at home. Any Government desiring to create jobs and kick-start manufacturing in Imo State must uplift the Industrial layout and not neglect it. No entrepreneur, investor, local or expatriates, would set up business in a place with virtually no roads, to begin with.

We only hope and pray that the present Government would be grieved by the unflattering NBS report, which ridicules Imo State and decide to take some positive steps towards developing the Industrial Layout.

We know Government cannot employ everyone. But we know also that it can create the enabling environment where virtually every eligible person can get employed.

If Governor Hope Uzodinma is touched by the ugly NBS report, he can do something about it. He can put politics and his personal interest aside and rehabilitate old factories as well as revive the Industrial Layout. Anything short of this will be another exercise in deception.

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