“I will never fail in this assignment.”
– Professor Chinedu Nebo, Hon. Minister of Power
It is one year and two months you assumed duty as the Honourable Minister of Power. More Electricity for Nigerians: “I will never fail in this assignment.” – Professor Chinedu Nebo, Hon. Minister of Power It is one year and two months you assumed duty as the Honourable Minister of Power. Can you tell us how demanding or challenging your tenure has been since February 2013?
It has been a very challenging job because power delivery is what every Nigerian expects. Those who are getting power (electricity) want more and those who are not getting it want power delivered to them, even if it is for a few hours a day. So many rural areas in Nigeria are not even connected to the National Grid. And so, it is a very heinous task trying to deliver power to all Nigerians and to do that in the quantity and the quality that they expect. In addition to that, Mr. President’s Transformation Agenda put a totally new slant to power delivery mechanisms in Nigeria. This is moreso because of Mr President’s commitment to his Transformation Agenda when he launched a Roadmap to Power Sector Reform in August 2010. That Roadmap entails setting up mechanisms to ensure that the Electricity Act was eventually and completely taken care of, so that Nigeria will move from the model of public sector-dominated market to the private sector-driven market model. That assignment (moving from the public to private sector) is a horrendous task for any government. Of course, you know that Nigerians fight anything that has to do with privatisation of government assets for reasons like government workers will be affected, and prices might go up. But Mr. President was doggedly determined to ensure that the Roadmap to Power Sector Reform is fulfilled to the letter and modified over time too, because things are dynamic and Nigerians will continue to need more and more electricity as our population grows. And so, I came in at a time when the whole privatisation process was just heating up, the PHCN workers were restive, power supply was at the low ebb and there were other challenges such as vandalism of transmission and distribution infrastructure and vandalism of oil and gas pipelines, which are still happening up till now. So, we had a lot of things to battle with, but on the whole, I would say we are doing well, trying to contain all the extraneous forces that we (the Ministry of Power) are not directly responsible for. We are diligently doing our own part to ensure that Mr. President’s Transformation Agendas is not scuttled.
At the time you assumed duty, the power sector reform process was at a critical stage. All eye were on you as the incoming Honourable Minister. How did you handle that process, seeing that it was a make-or-break assignment? How did you complete the sales of the power generation companies (GENCOS) and power distribution companies (DISCOS)?
First and foremost, I believe I am a very patriotic Nigerian and I was called to national duty at a very critical time when it appeared that Nigeria could either go forward or much more backward. And because of that responsibility and being a Christian and knowing that the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong, I had to go to God in prayers to help me, to strengthen me so that all the trainings I had received in the management of not only human beings, but also of systems, and being an administrator at the highest level in the university system and also running all kinds of enterprises of government; that those experiences would help me to address the new assignment before me. I must tell you I was scared a little initially, coming from the university environment into a political arena where you are not just measured by your performance or competence, but also by whether you speak politically correct or incorrect language. Some of these things were alien to me, but I had to brace up myself for these things. And judging by my antecedents, I have never been a failure anywhere and I will never fail in this assignment.
Let us go back to the issue of training. I remember quite well that following your appointment as Minister of Power, there were news reports that your core competence is not electricity or power engineering and that you had been an academic all your life, even though you had a successful tenure as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. People wondered how you would perform as Minister since you were never in the private sector nor in the electricity sector. What was your reaction to all these reports?
The taste of the pudding is in the eating. Some people may not know what a pudding is, so let me rephrase it this way: “the taste of the akamu (corn pap) is in the drinking of the akamu”. How do you look at an academic, especially one who has been substantially successful in getting to the highest level of engineering, which is professorship and getting to the highest ranking of administration in the university which is vice chancellorship, not only of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, but also of the Federal University, Oye Ekiti, where I started or pioneered a brand new university. I think it was uncharitable for people to make such statements that because one is not essentially in the core electrical engineering discipline or one has not been in the private sector, therefore one couldn’t handle this assignment successfully. What is needed in this work essentially is engineering management, the management of engineering systems, management of market systems tied to engineering, management of human beings that are exposed substantially to engineering systems and yet interfacing with market forces 24/7. These are things you don’t get in the classroom, you get them from experience and I have the relevant experience for this work. Let me also clarify that an engineer is an engineer. In fact, there are some universities across the world that when you graduate and get your engineering degree, they just say “engineer”. They don’t state that you are an electrical engineering or mechanical engineering graduate, they just say you are an engineer. It is when you go for Master’s degree that you specialise. So, basically there must be that engineering mindset when you study and graduate as an engineer from any university. And once that mindset is there and you have had exposure in handling human beings, handling both private and public institutions, then it shouldn’t be a problem or an issue handling the Federal Ministry of Power.
Just as you should be relaxing and basking in the accolade of successfully managing the sales of the DISCOS and GENCOs, a new development came up in late December 2013 and January 2014. This was the drastic drop in electricity generation and supply nation wide, which was attributed to the vandalism of electricity infrastructure. Nigerians want to know what is going on concerning the vandalism of these infrastructure and how can an end be put to this? What is the Ministry of Power doing about it?
The issue does not just concern the Ministry of Power alone, but also the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, and more importantly, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The last Presidential Action Committee on Power that we held was devoted to gas and gas pipeline protection. Mr President has put his foot on the ground and said it (vandalism) must stop. A lot of things are now being put in place to ensure it stops. Vandalism comes in two or three forms. One form occurs mostly in the Eastern and Western axes when oil thieves break the oil pipelines in order to steal oil; and because many of these pipelines have associated natural gas in them, once that happens, gas may continue to build up, but when the tanks for the condensate are full, there is no other thing to do than to shut down the entire pipeline so that gas will not even flow. So, when these thieves are stealing oil, they are not only destroying the pipelines and preventing oil from flowing, they are also preventing gas from flowing. And when gas does not flow to the power stations, there will be no electricity and manufacturing will be at its lowest ebb. In addition to that, without gas, you can’t produce fertiliser and things like that, even cement companies, you name them, they can’t function at their maximum capacity. Almost all the manufacturing companies are gas dependent. So, that is one form or area of vandalism (oil theft). The other form is pure sabotage. People just go and destroy oil and gas pipelines that bring gas to power stations. And they have done it severally. The Escravos-Warri-Lagos pipeline that was destroyed, we found nearly two dozen (24) blowholes in it. And when you thought these are few and you repair them, and test, you will found other leakages. It took us seven months to repair that pipeline. And just when that one was getting completely repaired, they went to blow up some other pipelines. That was why the nosedive (in generation and supply) occurred. It is even worse now than in January (2014) which you mentioned. Some of our power stations are presently down because no gas is going to them at all. And this is because of vandalism, sabotage and oil theft. On the western axis (western part of Nigeria), it is mostly vandalism that is occasioned by sabotage motive. You don’t really know who is paying these people to do this. You begin to ask and wonder: “you (the criminals) are not getting anything out of it; you can’t steal the gas, so why are you bursting the pipes?” So, that is where we are really today, but we are hoping that in the next couple of days, final repairs will be done on the pipeline and as we begin to intensify surveillance and protection of these facilities, the occurrences of vandalism will recede until it finally goes. I plead with all Nigerians to be patient with us. We will get to the end of this matter and there will be much more supply of electricity nationwide.
People have not been arrested and prosecuted for vandalism or sabotage and this is one of the major problems in Nigeria – criminals get away with their deeds. Even when government finishes repairing all these pipelines, these criminals will still go back and do the same damage with every Nigerain suffering from their acts. Why have we not been able to arrest, prosecute and jail these offenders to serve as deterrence to others?
If you look at the whole thing, it becomes obvious that this pipeline vandalism is not something the Ministry of Power can handle alone. That was why I quickly ran to the National Security Adviser to the President who summoned the Army, the Navy, the Ministry of Power, Ministry of Petroleum Resources, the Civil Defence Corps and all of us to come together and marshal out concrete plans to stop them (vandals). If you look at where these people do these damages, you will pity Nigeria. They do these damages where you, the ordinary Nigerian, cannot venture or reach. And so, unless the security forces have the right apparatus to reach those places and monitor the pipelines; there is no way you can even easily get these people. They go at odd times, in the night and to places where no one can reach. And that is why Mr President insists that the surveillance (of the pipelines) must have digital and electronic components, so that we can monitor the pipelines metre by metre; this is what will guarantee security of the pipelines in the long run. And this (digital surveillance) is an expensive thing. But if it has to come to that, we will invest money to protect these infrastructure. We cannot continue to let a few Nigerians damage what is beneficial to all of us. And concerning arresting them, how do you arrest them, where do you begin? Where they go and do their business, you cannot reach there, the time they go are odd hours and because you do not catch them red-handed, the courts will say you have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they committed the crime and at the end of the day, they are given the benefit of doubt by the courts because you did not catch them committing the act. That is the reason we want to install surveillance devices to make sure that if you say you want to destroy the country, we will find a way of making sure you are called to book, that you will not get away with it.
There are reports that some of the new owners of the GENCOS and DISCOs are complaining that they found skeletons in the cupboards of the generation and distribution companies they bought which now limit their capabilities to deliver. How is your ministry helping them to overcome these challenges that the new owners face? It is unfortunate if they claim they have found skeletons in the cupboards of the companies they bought which now limit their capabilities to deliver. How is your ministry helping them to overcome these challenges that the new owners face?
It is unfortunate if they claim they have found skeletons in the cupboard of the companies they bought because they did due diligence before buying them and they had caveats, but maybe they had expected, especially the distribution companies, that it will be just so easy to collect money. But it is more than that. There are issues such as customer satisfaction, public relations between the supplier and the purchaser, camaraderie between the communities they operate in and them. There is more to it than meets the eye. I would not say they are disappointed, but I know that there is a major problem of metrering. We have not saturated the country with metres. In fact we need about 2.7 million metres in order to meet the demands of Nigerians for metrering. And these metres are very expensive to procure. These are teething problems you would expect when such a massive privatisation goes on. Let me state that there is no country in the world where government has done the level of privatisation as we have done in Nigeria. No place in the world. It is so massive. Entire GENCOs and DISCOs being privatised at the same time, retaining transmission. Nigeria took the bull by horns. Indeed, Mr President took the bull by the horns and should be congratulated for this. These teething problems that accrue from going from public to private will eventually go and we will find solutions to them. As they say, ‘Rome was not built in a day’. Look at what happened in the telecoms industry. You will remember that there was a time when sim cards were being sold for twenty-five thousand, thirty thousand naira, but today, with just one hundred naira, you can get a sim card. Today the telecoms operators are competing well, offering various bonuses, incentives to get and retain customers. In those days, if you bought one thousand, five hundred naira worth of airtime within a day it is finished. In fact, the very first time I bought airtime, I had to call the company and complained that my credit was finished and asked what happened. I loaded a one thousand five hundred naira and, made a few calls and it was finished. But today, you can talk for a long time. Things will improve over time, you know this thing they call inertia, that objects remain at a particular spot until they are induced to move to other positions by extraneous forces. That inertia (in the power sector) is gradual being overcome and eventually we will get there.
At the Power Investors Summit recently held in Lagos, you noted that government will divest from the Transmission sub-sector of the electricity industry. What informed this decision?
Transmission is so critical, it is not something that government alone can find the billions of dollars needed to reach every community in Nigeria with electricity. There are thousands of communities in Nigeria that are not connected to the National Grid. How then do you connect these communities? Government now intends to invite the private sector to come and invest and recoup their investments from what we call weighing charges. These charges are costs that you pay because electricity is passed through the transmission lines. So if people build these transmission lines, they should be able to recoup their investments from erecting and servicing those transmission lines. It is a beautiful market for them (investors) because countries like Brazil that have done that and a quasi-government owned transmission company in India, I learnt that the quasi-government owned transmission company in India, gives the India government a billion dollars a year as profit. I don’t see why Nigeria cannot use internationally proven best practices, we can’t continue to do things because that was the way it was done in the beginning and is being done now and ever shall be. No. Only God is that way. But we human beings are dynamic, our philosophies are dynamic, our technologies and other devices are changing rapidly, from analogue to digital. Whatever best practices we find in the world we ought to give it a chance in Nigeria.
Why do we want to import electricity from the Democratic Republic of Congo as the newspapers told us?
Let me state ab initio that we are not importing electricity from the Democratic Republic of Congo. There is no such agreement, no such memorandum of understanding (MoU) has been signed. However, there is a big dam in Congo, they call it the Grand Inga Dam that the whole of the African Union (AU) is interested in developing. And so, the Democratic Republic of Congo is asking other nations: “In case we go on with this (developing the dam) and the funding or financing is found, will you be interested in procuring power from it in the future?” And Nigeria’s position is that well, if South Africa has signed on and if other countries are signing on, and take note, it is an insurance policy for the future, let us begin to talk with them. But I think it is good for our country to think futuristically, that even if we produce forty thousand megawatts for Nigerians today. It will not be enough. And so, it in the future there is need to sell power to other countries, we will, and that is why we are talking about the West African Power Pool. Eventually we may have transmission infrastructure cutting across entire Africa so that no country will be prevented from selling their power if they use much less than they produced. Nigeria will benefit from these future projections and as President Jonathan is thinking, we could end up generating a lot more power than we need and also sell to other African countries in the future. On the other hand, our population keeps growing. By 2050, Nigeria will be the third largest population in the world. We should start making plans today asking ourselves; “How do we produce electricity for the future?” And if other people are buying and selling electricity cheaper than we can do, what prevents us from talking with them now?
What roles will the Ministry of Power play, post-privatisation?
Policy, policy, policy. We will be involved in the stabilisation of the electricity market to ensure that a positive and enabling environment is created and made attractive for investors. For instance, we are developing a policy for energy conservation, energy efficiency as well as renewable energy in Nigeria. So it will be policy, policy, policy to ensure that every Nigerian gets enough electricity.
Lastly, in the course of your academic life and as a leader in Nigeria, what have you seen and can say about Nigerians? I ask this question because leadership is a major challenge in country. How do our leaders, including yourself, see Nigerians?
From the time I was very young, I have tried to adopt the principle of servant leadership. I don’t see myself as know-it-all. I always consult. I almost always operate by consensus. I believe strongly in and have always practised the principles of accountability and transparency. I believe that the only way I can really serve my people is being accountable to them, being transparent in my doings. I also believe in the principle of open governance so that I can interact with people and so that they will know what is happening, at all times. With regards to what I think about Nigerians, Nigerians are very interesting people. Frankly, we have a wonderful country. It is true that people complain a lot and there are criminals amongst us, but I say that every other nation has its own share of criminals. Nigerians are not the most criminally minded people in world. Nigerians are very likeable, very welcoming, very friendly. There is hardly any part of the world you wont find Nigerians. We are hospitable. Yes, we have our own bad eggs and it is unfortunate that these bad eggs do so much bad and because the media believe that bad news is good news, they publish these bad things. The good things other Nigerians are doing hardly come out (in the press). The negative public perception is that Nigerians are doing this bad thing Boko Haram is doing that. But nobody talks about the good things also happening in the country. Why do you think foreign investors come to Nigeria? Why do you think they keep coming? In fact, they go back to their countries and bring more people to come and invest in Nigeria. They (investors) know that it is not as bad as what the media say or write. I think the media should be publishing the good things about Nigeria. Yes, we have bad eggs, we have vandals stealing our oil, breaking pipelines or stealing money meant for every one of us, but these people are few and far between. The damage they do to all of us is very serious, but the majority of Nigerians are not like that and we should never forget that.