Business - Energy - Viewpoint - July 15, 2021

Power sector & its critics: In defence of Sale Mamman

By Aaron Artimas.

Just recently, the former Presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, drew attention of Nigerians to a very innocuous, but utterly disturbing and irritating trend in the country. Since I shared his opinion on the particular matter, I wasted no time in posting the quote on my Facebook page.
Abati said, “Nigeria is the only country I know where everyone is a universal expert on every subject.”
Not many people will consider this assertion as very weighty. But those of us who have humbly been engaged in the business of relaying and managing information for decades know how extremely bad, the situation has become. The other way to describe this trend is to understand what many people often referred to as the ‘menace of fake news’, means.
Peddlers of fake, false or imaginary information, deliberately do so to cause hate, incitement, consternation or settle political scores. They are usually inspired by a deep seated animosity against targeted individuals, institutions or even the government.
These fake news merchants don’t care about the implications of their actions since they don’t even accept the fact that they are committing any act of misdemeanors.
Worst still, technological development in mass media dissemination offers them a wide range of space or opportunity to spew out their rotten, diversionary and misleading information to an unsuspecting society, which is also guilty of laziness in seeking personal knowledge or cross-checking the information passed to them.
As it now appears, the country has been trapped in the web of an indolent generation that offers no hope, but only promotes perversion and hatred in the name of promoting personal or group interest.
The greatest tragedy is that the government is seriously constrained against the regulation of its media industry that generously allows activists or politicians, religious and tribal bigots’ unlimited space to say what they want.
Since accepting to serve as the spokesperson of the Ministry of Power, I have come across all forms of bizarre, ill-informed and outrightly false information or commentaries concerning the Power Sector from social media users, newspaper columnists, electronic media analysts and other busy bodies.
They say all sorts of things, mostly lacking concrete information, knowledge or experience.
Now the political clouds of 2023 are gathering, political activities are heightening and the big and small political attack dogs are being let loose. As they say in the local parlance, “we no go hear word again.”
Barely one week ago, a Hausa talk show, “Idon Mikiya” which streams into some local radio stations across the North targeted the Power Sector, with particular focus on tariffs and the Mambilla mega Power Project. The show was hosted by an eminent journalist, Umar Faruk with equally weighty panelists, like Nasir Zahara Deen, a former NUJ National President and Mohammed Ishaku Usman who worked with an International News Agency.
Nobody could begrudge them the right to discuss or raise their concerns on the state of affairs in the power sector. But they clearly appeared not to have full knowledge of the issues they sought to discuss.
One of them, Mohammed Ishaku Usman was particularly focussed on the choice of Sale Mamman as Minister of Power. It was clear he neither made any background checks on the man, nor was he even interested in discussing the major issues before them.
Instead, the discussion degenerated to personal attacks and irrelevant talks on official trips; such trivialization of national issues.
For those of us who have sweated in the news rooms through the years to establish our noble profession or understand the rudiments of journalism, today’s personalization of national discourse has become a horrifying spectacle.
For the avoidance of doubt, apart from the time he veered into partisan politics, the over sixty year-old Sale Mamman had spent his entire life in the construction and engineering sector of the economy.
In other words, he rose through the ranks to the pinnacle of his profession.
Sale Mamman went to the Works Training School, Yola; Kaduna Polytechnic for his Ordinary National Diploma and Higher National Diploma, and then Bayero University Kano for his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Electrical Engineering.
He later did another Masters degree in Management. He is a fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, NSE. Now, what does it take to be a Minister of Powe?
If heading and delivering the mandate of the Ministry of Power is about endless paper qualification, Bart Nnaji, a Professor of Engineering as well as other eminent technocrats and professionals in other fields have headed the Ministry, why are we here today?
The truth is that a Minister is a directing staff in the Ministry, whose major responsibility is to drive policies and supervise the technical staff and professionals. He may take personal responsibility for success or failure. But the fact remains that the civil servants have greater role as professionals to ensure successful execution of government policies.
Failure by the established media or reputable journalists to properly educate the public portends grave danger to the society, as it now appears that many of them lack the ability to find and discuss concrete issues, instead of promoting sentiments or parroting market place opinions.
To set the records, Sale Mamman remains the only Minister to successfully remove the Mambilla Power Project from the drawing board it has languished for more than 40 years.
Before now, no government or Minister had taken the first step of acquiring the land, let alone commit the host communities and the state government towards starting the project.
To be sure, he is not the first Minister of Power from Taraba State.
In December, 2019, the Ministry of Power wrote twice to the Taraba State government requesting for dates for the elaborate presentation of cheques for the commencement of demarcation and survey activities at the dam sites in which it requested the full presence of stakeholders, Traditional rulers and host community leaders. But the Governor, Darius Ishaku was indisposed and the presentation was moved to Trancorp Hotel, Abuja. As a demonstration of the Federal Government’s seriousness in executing this project, the Minister has constituted two special committees on the project implementation.
First, the Ministerial Committee on the Mambilla Hydropower project, and second, the Project Delivery Committee on the Mambilla Hydropower project. The ministry also followed due process in financial regulation in accordance with the law which permit the release of funds to another tier of government for the execution of projects.
Apart from strictly following government guidelines, the Ministry was also conscious not only to expedite actions on the process, but carry the state government along as the lead host community. Involving the state government was a major incentive that should make the Taraba State government to take ownership of the project, instead of sabotaging it.
Away from any form of criticism against anyone, the Minister deserved particular commendation from his people, because he was not the first Taraba State indigene to be, appointed Minister of Power.
If the previous regimes played their own part as we are seeing, we should not be talking about land at this stage.
The anticipated area of coverage is about 25 kilometres radius, which cannot be covered in a couple of months. The consortium of surveyors engaged on the project have hired aircrafts from within and outside the country to carry out the aerial surveys, while the ground activities have to be meticulously undertaken to compile comprehensive inventories of community settlements, farm lands and government institutions for proper compensation.
As background information, the Mambilla Power project was previously awarded to a local contractor, Sunrise Power Transmission and Procurement Company in 2003 at a cost of $2.3 billion. But as it turned out, the company was merely fronting for a foreign company.
Under President Mohammed Buhari, the Ministry of Power, during Babatunde Fashola’s tenure, decided to deal directly with Sinohydro, the Chinese Company engaged by Sunrise. Sunrise then took the Federal Government to the International Chamber of Commerce Court of Arbitration in France, since the project would be financed by the China Eximbank.
However, last year, Sunrise accepted a settlement of $200 million, which the Federal Government is trying to pay so as to free the project from any legal encumbrances.
Presently, while the Ministry of Power has gone very far in collaborating with the Taraba State Government to secure the project site. President Mohammed Buhari has also directed the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) to re-evaluate the scope of the project, so as to make it less cumbersome and bankable in order to facilitate easy foreign financing.
Expectedly the dam will be scaled down to 1,500MW instead of its previous status of 3,050MW. This will reduce the cost and period of execution of the project.
It should be a huge relief to those crying more than the bereaved, to understand that the Mambilla Power Project is neither abandoned nor the enthusiasm for its construction diminished.
More than everyone else, the Buhari administration is determined to deliver this project, despite the seeming intractable obstacles on its path. It is also very important to note that Sale Mamman continues to widen his scope of progress as the most successful Minister of Power.
Apart from achieving a transmission record of about 8,000MW through infrastructural improvement, distribution of electricity had reached a record of about 6,000MW, while the generation capacity has increased to 13,000MW from 8,000MW in 2015.
Perhaps, Nigerians should be reminded that following the partial privatization of the Power Sector, the distribution companies had signed a multi-year tariff order (MYTO), which prescribed a periodic increase of electricity tariffs in collaboration with their regulator, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).
However, the government continues to subsidize the sector with billions of Naira every month, as Nigerians continue to cry over high tariffs and in-efficiency in the distribution of power.
Nigerians should know that the country’s decision to divest 60% stakes in to the distribution companies in 2013 was greatly flawed. The government now pays for unused or undistributed Power through Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Company (NBET). This situation has created a huge liability since failure to subsidize means increase in tariffs by distribution companies.
The government has also stepped in to provide about six million meters, a responsibility which the DISCOs also accepted when they bought the companies.
Doing the right thing is always a challenge for every leader who is serious about delivering on his mandate.
It may be the reason, Sale Mamman may not be popular to some.
When he assumed duties, he met a Ministry that was almost uncoordinated as many agencies under the Ministry claimed some measure of autonomy and they gleefully told him so. It took tough measures to whip them into line.
Sale Mamman made it clear that his mission was to achieve an effective energy system that aligns generation and transmission of power with distribution so as to avail improved power supply to the country.
With the categorization or banding of consumers based on the capability to pay, electricity supply has generally improved and the supply now ranges between seven and 20 hours in respective areas, barring any challenges of faulty equipment. The Minister is equally committed to the Presidential Power Initiative, otherwise known as, the Siemens project. The project which takes off shortly, targets the distribution of 7,000MW of electricity in 2021, 11,000MW in 2022 and 25,00MW by 2023. It aims at providing high tension substations, thousands of transformers and thousands of transmission lines across all parts of the country. This will further consolidate Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN)’s transmission rehabilitation and expansion programme for which foreign financial supports have been secured.
To answer some questions on the 40MW Kashimbila dam; yes indeed the project has been completed. What remains is the evacuation of the Power into the national grid. The contract has been awarded for the construction of a 133KVA transmission line to the Yandev substation before distribution to parts of Benue and Taraba State, where the dam is located. Activities are also on top gear to evacuate power from the 70MW. Dadinkowa dam in Gombe State. With these and other on-going projects, the Power Sector under Sale Mamman is not only improving, but holds great potential for monumentally mitigating the fustration of Nigerians in the performance of the sector.
It is very obvious that some of the critics are not even concerned about his success story in the Ministry of Power, it is about 2023.
Although, Sale Mamman has yet to formally declare his interest in contesting the governorship seat, interested parties are already threatened by this prospect. And that’s why we are beginning to hear some bizarre questions like: What has he done for Taraba State? If you understand that he is not the first Taraba to be Minister of Power, you will also appreciate that he is the first to get the biggest Nigerian Power Project off the ground. Others did not even go near the site. He has delivered the Kashimbilla Power Project and diligently pursuing its connection to the national grid. Apart from the expansion projects carried out at the Jalingo substation and the installation of transformers in many locations, the Minister has also successfully obtained approval for the establishment of a power institute on Mambilla Plateau for the training of artisans in anticipation of the completion of the Mambilla hydro power project.
These and many other projects should answer this needless question.
On the whole, Sale Mamman’s problem may not be his lack of performance, but his inability to run his mouth like other empty politicians are quick to do.

Artimas is the Spokesperson of the Ministry of Power, Abuja

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