Contrary to what many Nigerians, especially those in opposition to the Federal Government, will like others to believe, the Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Ostadinma, says there is substantial improvement in electricity supply across the country. In this interview, Nebo speaks on what he calls the political dimension to the challenges facing the power sector. Excerpts:
Amid the allegations on corruption, vandalism and insecurity rocking our polity, how do you rate power supply nationwide under your watch?
The power sector has fared very well under President Jonathan’s administration. He has done so much for the sector. Things that appeared to had been jinxed, he broke them. The whole matter of privatisation is adjudged globally as a very successful exercise. Nigeria has the largest global privatisation utility in the whole world. We got it in one fell swoop, it needed a courageous, determined, articulate and visionary president to bring it to conclusion. In this regard, he performed very well.
When you think about the moribund, power development machinery that he met when he came on board, he revived it. And he is bringing it into fusion.
For instance the NIPP project is fantastic based on the benefit for Nigeria when it comes on stream. When the project was conceived by the previous administration, nobody thought about where the gas was going to come from. It is President Jonathan that is now working round the clock to ensure that the gas delivery infrastructure is put in place to make sure that all the turbines are fired and can deliver electricity to the country. For the first time, the transmission network of electricity in the country is receiving a robust attention and funding from both national and international agencies to ensure Nigerians get the promise fulfilled of delivery of electricity.
Do you think Nigerians have gotten the promise of stable power supply under GEJ’s administration?
Many people are receiving much better power supply than they have ever gotten. To mention some cases, few; there was a time Umuahia was in darkness, the town is presently enjoying steady power supply. Awka used to be a nightmare for several months without power; today Kaduna is getting up to 22/23 hours of power supply on a daily basis. Many parts of Abuja are enjoying steady power supply. But when there is a great need, and you begin to meet the need, it is like trying to nourish a child that is suffering from mal-nourishment, it definitely takes time for such a child to be healthy. Nigeria has a huge demand for suppressed electricity. In order to meet such demand, you have to multiply the efforts of this administration by four times.
Even when you add a thousand mega-watts, it just goes into trickles to people which is the imagery Nigerians don’t realise. When you begin to add it, people get a little at a time but if we decide to concentrate on one particular area, Nigerians will complain of favouritism. So whatever we have, we have to distribute. In the process of distributing, how do you make the whole country feel the impact at the same time in a very short time? But as I speak, many parts of Nigeria are receiving more power supply than they used to.
You are aware that the reason we are not doing better now in the capacity we ought to, is basically due to vandalism.
Any time we hit 4,500/4,600 maga watts, vandals go to tamper with our facilities. So I ask myself, isn’t this being orchestrated by God knows who? Could it be that some people do not want Nigeria to enjoy constant power supply? These are issues Nigerians should address. So, yes, Nigeria’s power sector is doing better than before.
But, on a contrary, some people in the opposition are of the view that President Jonathan failed to deliver on his promise of 5,000 mega-watt which they claim resulted to a high rate of unemployment among teeming Nigerian youths. What do you make of this?
It is absolutely ridiculous! It is untrue and a figment of their imagination. How come most of the intense vandalism we are encountering on electricity facilities are mostly from states where the All Progressive Congress, APC, is in charge?
I am talking about Rivers State, Lagos State in the eastern and western axis.
They know what they are doing. I am not saying they are, but they may be responsible. Because if you look at everything the government has done in respect of power, will you ever think in the past that a government will ever generate power for the rural communities. It is only this administration that sees the possibility of lighting rural communities 24 hours daily that are not connected to the national grid.
Young entrepreneurs claim they are yet to feel the impact of this administration on power. What could be the reason behind this?
It depends, sometimes perception could be louder than reality. But definitely figures do not lie. If you look at everything with regards to power delivery, every year, we have the record on daily basis the power delivered to Nigerians. Nigeria has never had it this good before. The problem is because we are getting to more rural areas, distributing what we have to larger numbers of communities, so places that have not gotten power before, are beginning to see power coming to them.
There is no way we can make Nigerians on the streets realise that power has improved. But go tell the people in Kaduna, Enugu, Awka and some parts of Abuja that power has not improved, then you will be amazed by their response faulting your argument and even calling you a liar because they know they are enjoying steady power supply than they used to.
What about Lagos State being the commercial hub of the nation?
There was a time many parts of Lagos were getting two hours of power supply per day, but under Jonathan’s administration, they have gotten more. Apart from the most recent bursting of pipe lines, Lagos has gotten for weeks 1,100 mega-watts dedicated to it alone, which has never happened before.
So it baffles me, when people who are beneficiaries of the drastic change in the sector are trying to deny obvious facts on GEJ’s performance in the power sector. And the figures are there to substantiate the rate at which electricity is distributed.
With these figures, are you impressed with the rate at which power is being distributed under your watch?
I am impressed because of lots of challenges facing the sector. But I am thankful that we have a president that is dogged and has not given up. That is the reason we are looking for alternatives.
If you are in the shoes of Mr. President, I don’t know how you will feel when you have power plants, you make sure that infrastructure is being put in place, and each time you get to a certain point, they vandalize the facilities and even when you have not gotten to that point, they keep vandalizing. To make sure there is no gas, they steal the oil.
They sometimes go under the sea to burst the gas line pipes. One of the worst vandalism occurred recently when over two dozen places were vandalized at different pipelines in a stretch. Is that not sabotage! What are they getting from such wicked act? Since they cannot steal the gas, why are they bursting the pipe lines if is not to score political points!
Are you of the view that its has political undertone?
Then who is doing it. I believe, strongly, that vandalization of the gas pipe lines to power our facility has political undertone! Who is fooling who! Why would people go under the sea in horrible terrain to use highly efficiency dynamite to burst gas pipe lines knowing that you have to spend months to repair the pipe lines? Who could be doing that if it has no political motives or motivations? There must be something to it. Because they are not getting money from it, they are not collecting gas from it or getting any physical benefits, then why are they doing it if not to score political points?
I think Nigerians should shine their eyes! There are people who do not want the efforts of Mr. President to be achievable and they want to take power at all costs. God will not allow them. If they are doing this now, to retain power, if they ever get it, they will kill humans being to do so. I don’t think Nigerians are ready for such people.
President Jonathan is working seriously, to making sure that the gas pipe line goes up North. But he is being frustrated. If we cannot protect what we have now, how can we take it to far hinterland and be sure that it will not be tampered with? That is why Jonathan is working hard to ensure that fuel diversification is in place for energy generation.
Today, coal mining licenses are being issued to companies that demonstrate that the coal they will mine will go to power generation. In a couple of months, Jonathan will fire up the first coal mine power generation in Nigeria. We are also increasing the hydros because we cannot afford to put all our eggs in one basket.
Gas is the cheapest and the cleanest source of power generation, but if people who hate Nigeria, with the selfish aim of scoring political points will vandalise pipelines, thus robbing themselves and their communities and the entire country the opportunity to enjoy regular power supply, then we have to find a means of not delivering gas through pipe lines.
That is the reason we are adding coal and hydros, large, medium and small. Zugeru power project in Niger State was flagged off by Mr. President on May 28, 2013, and will generate 700 mega watts of power when completed. Mambila will generate 3,050 mega watts in Taraba State in a few months time. Kashimbila will be commissioned very soon. When you look at all these, you will realise that the president has performed marvellously in four years than many presidents added together.
How many thousands of mega watts is GEJ administration targeting because the main opposition party has vowed to generate 40,000 mega watts if it eventually emerges?
Well, it is difficult to say how many this administration is targeting, but for the opposition, I have looked at their manifesto, it is a laughing stock, a target of 40,000 megawatts is not possible.
There is nothing much in their manifesto with regards to power and infrastructure. What they said they will do if they eventually come on board, we have not only done it but we have exceeded it. If they want to prove to Nigerians that they will do more, let them tell us how they intend to do it!
They are talking of energy mix, we not only talking energy mix, we are already doing energy mix. Its like a mother that goes to the market to buy foodstuff, comes home and prepares a very delicious meal for you, few minutes for her to serve you, somebody out there is now promising to go to the market to prepare what is not even up to what your mother has dished on the table for you. We have not only done what they promise the people, we have far exceeded it, and are on the path way of realising far beyond what they say they will do.
Is this administration aware that previous administration promised steady power but failed. How soon will Nigerians start benefiting from regular power supply?
We are already doing much more than Nigeria had ever done. We have generated much more than Nigeria had ever generated. Even the opposition acknowledged that there is severe vandalism which has made it impossible to generate enough power. You can think of a situation where vandalism cost you 1,200 mega-watt, when its happens like that, how do you improve electricity? You cannot!
Now think of the alternatives we are now developing; coal, more hydros, renewable energies. You don’t go to shops to pick these up. They have to be designed, constructed, procured, brought into the country, installed and commissioned. We are already there!
One of the coal-fired EPP contract has been awarded. Look at Azura, never have we had such before at that level! 450 mega-watts coming from an IPP. But these things do not happen over night.
For instance, look at transmission, the infrastructure was dilapidated, and we never had a national grid. We had radial grid all over. It is under President Jonathan’s administration, we are now transforming radial grid into national grid. It is under this administration that we are getting alternatives to power generation and less collapse of the entire power system in Nigeria is being done. Eventually Nigerians will heave a sigh of relief. But it takes time. Somebody who is making a promise and the other who has put in mechanism in place to realise it, who is better off to deliver to Nigerians?
I keep telling people, just to deliver what South is delivering presently per capital, we need 160,000 mega-watts.
If you ask top turbine manufacturers in the world, they can not deliver it in five years, it is not possible! Nobody can do it! But a journey of a thousand miles begins with a step and we have actually taken so many steps. We will do what we have promised Nigerians but Nigerians have to cooporate. Not when we do it, you go and vandalize our facilities. You see people cutting down transmission masts, some melt transformers and sell them as scraps. Vandalism of the power sector and the oil and gas pipe lines, no country can be pleased with such challenges.
Mr. President is just being attacked from every corner. It is like telling somebody to do something, and you lock him up in room. You cannot destroy everything he is doing and keep complaining that he is not doing more. Vandalism does not do the country any good. I have been to conferences in most parts of the world but yet to see a country where vandal operates to the detriment of the masses. We have enough to generate 5,500 mega watts but where is the gas?
Any time we want to shoot over 4500 mega-watt they burst the gas pipe lines. Mr. President realises this and we have decided to put a device in place to track every metre of the pipe line so that when these vandals go near it will stimulate impulses that will scare them away. But it has not happened yet. Currently, we are at the mercy of vandals. We are fighting Boko Haram, vandals and miscreants and sometimes we are fighting importers of generators.
What do you make of the dust raised on the 2015 budget in which your ministry and the NNPC are to spend N213 million on fuel and maintenance of plants and generators?
We are seriously cutting down on that. As a minister of power I have no generator in my house. I cannot be running on generator and be promising Nigerians regular power supply, it is not possible. But there are times we need to prop up when there is a collapsed system or when there is a significant down turn due to unfavourable weather condition that locks down the system but you can’t just fold your arms and watch. Even in countries like America, France and Germany, they have generators. It is just that they are used for emergency situations. So there is nothing wrong preparing ahead of emergency situations. But me as an individual, I don’t have generator.
Do you think the N213 million is justified for maintenance and fuelling for just one year?
It is very justified. That is the reason we want to knock people out of generators, and if vandals will allow us, we will definitely do. When I was a Vice Chancellor, I was spending about N10,000 a day on my generator, which amounted to N300,000 in a month, which is N3.6m in a year. This was on diesel alone not on maintenance. But this budget is both for mentainance and fuelling for two ministries. People sometimes are just in the habit of running down this administration for unknown reasons. And if you are not calculating enough you will tag it as corruption.
But the opposition has always tagged such as an act of corruption.
The opposition is giving a dog a bad name to destroy it. It was in the previous government that a special assistant to an official actually made trillions of naira. Think of an issue such as corruption; recently the presidential candidate of APC, facts are coming out. N25billion was corruptly siphoned out of the country’s treasury when he was heading the PTF; at that time, naira was superior to the dollar.
N25billion will approximately be equivalent to about $32billion. Convert $32billion of that time to the value now, you will be amazed. Then tell me who is corrupt? The problem is that Nigerians are not ready to intellectually analyse issues. Is certificate racket not corruption? The President Jonathan that I know will never endorse corruption. He has been tested and proven as outstanding compared to others. The person that wants to take over, during his military reign, he did not rule the country, the late Gen. Idiagbon was the one making the marks and everybody knows that.
What capacity did he have 30years ago that he still possesses now, because he has not improved himself. So what is he going to deliver to the country. Even at PTF, he also allowed his subordinate to run things.
My fear is the West sees Nigeria on a trajectory, and the West knows that if Nigeria’s economy continues to move at that trajectory, if we deliver power to Nigeria and our industries grow parallel to the trajectory, they will see our country moving and we will eventually become a world power and they do not want to see a super power in Africa. Unfortunately most Nigerians do not realise this. If not, why are they opposing us?
The World Economic Forum was held in Nigeria, which has the next highest attendance and it was not even mentioned on cable network like CNN. BBC just brushed it briefly and their focus was more on Boko Haram. What are they trying to portray about us as a nation? Our people are yet to realise it? And it does not matter whom they want to use in achieving that. The opposition elements are only being used to pull Nigeria backward.
What do you think is the way forward for Nigeria?
President Jonathan has performed creditably well in various sectors like power, railway, air and sea ports, agriculture. It is time to allow him to complete what he started because he knows the way through this puddle and wilderness of confusion. He has been able to put this country together, let not play with fire, let massively support the president.