Africa viewpoint: In the dark

Market sellers in Lagos, Nigeria, using lantern lights

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Sola Odunfa considers how many US dollars it takes for Nigeria to change a light.

It was good luck that I was prevented by electricity workers from watching live TV coverage of President Goodluck Jonathan's launch, last week, of his government's electricity reform plan.

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Nigerians love figures, the higher the better”

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I had watched and read so much of similar plans over the years that I found the workers' nationwide strike very well-timed.

In the past 10 years alone I have listened to so many presidential lectures on power reforms from Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar'Adua and this same Goodluck Jonathan that I would regard yet another sermon on the subject via my home television and radio an assault on my privacy.

So thanks to the national union of electricity workers who chose to begin their strike on the eve of the president's presentation, I was spared the lecture.

And nobody could fault their action. They were merely reacting to the failure or, more appropriately, refusal of the government to pay them legitimate emoluments which it had agreed to pay two months earlier.

And the strike worked wonders for them. As soon as it dawned on officials that the entire country had been plunged into darkness, the government released money and gave the order for immediate payment of the workers.

But, thank goodness, power was not restored till the evening of the second day, by which time the president had long finished his show.

Raising the bar

I read details of the power reforms in the dailies at my own pace in the morning.

When you removed the figures, you found there was little new to excite.

Electricity cables in Lagos

In the four years up to 2007, former President Obasanjo spent about $16bn (£10bn) to power his "reform" of the sector, with the aim of producing at least 5,000 megawatts.

Today many of the turbines, we are told, are still lying uncleared at the Lagos port and, of course, not a single watt has been produced.

Two years ago then President Yar'Adua announced at a live television press conference that efforts to privatise the Nigerian power industry had failed.

The principal reason was that Nigeria had sold all its gas production up to 2015 for export, therefore the country would have to go into re-negotiation with international companies to be able to use some of its own gas for domestic purposes before that date.

Nigerians love figures, the higher the better!

A demonstration in Nigeria calling for electricity and water There is real anger about the power cuts in Nigeria

We are no longer impressed by millions - what can a government do with a mere million dollars? - for example, it does not pay one member of the National Assembly for a year.

Raise the bar. Talk of a billion dollars, and people will start seeing you as a serious leader.

Talk of trillions, yes, and you daze Nigerians. They will say you have finally gone nuclear.

Mr Obasanjo spent only $16bn, no wonder the country got nothing out of it.

Two years ago, Mr Yar'Adua's adviser on petroleum gave his boss a report which upped the investment needed to produce round-the-clock electricity to $85bn.

That sounded more like it!

Power Eldorado

But pity, Mr Yar'Adua's subsequent poor health did not allow him to spend that much.

Now we may be starting on the journey to the power Eldorado with Goodluck Jonathan, who became president after the death of Mr Yar'Adua earlier this year.

He is talking not just one trillion, but nearly $2tn.

And as a demonstration of seriousness, his government has already started to award the necessary contracts. The good times are returning!

Even his critics may now admit that Mr Jonathan's good luck will, sooner or later, rub off on all Nigerians.

In the very short time until the January general elections, it is now reasonable to conclude that they can now be adequately powered for success.

Here is a selection of your comments about this story:

All the problems of lack of portable water,shortage of electricity supply etc are just symptoms of a much bigger problem,which is the lack of understanding that development and education of the human resource is at the core of the uplifting of any soceity. Until the nigerian government decides to take these factors as the bedrock of it's developmental policies, i am afraid nothing will change!

chris okeke, lagos, nigeria

Two things: The fact is, efforts have been made to reach electricity. However, what Sola did was to bring out the extent to which these efforts worked or did not work....And when Nigerians think trillion just as the Americans would think when they face the global recession, I think both countries now think same. Probably, an era of equality in approach to gargantuan national challenges is here. In Nigeria it is the power to light up the country while in the USA it is the power to lighten the economy.

Tanu Jalloh, Freetown, Sierra Leone

Another Great report by Mr. Odunfa. The "power" situation in Nigeria is pathetic, embarrassing, wicked, malicious and rebellious. Nigerians have been duped for too long by a few guys who think they can fool all the poeple all the time. This problem can be corrected only if on assumption of office, public officers should not be allowed to use generators in their houses. they must use the general source of electricity everyone else uses. How can the minister of power (electricity) have a generator in his quarters while millions of Nigerians (especially babies) have heat rashes all over their body just because they cannot afford "I PASS MY NEIGHBOUR" in a country where it is illegal to carry petrol in jerry cans. Nigerian leaders should please wake up to there responsibilities and stop messing around when small countries like Benin, Ghana and Togo are celebrating decades of non interupted power supply. Rubbish.

johnson, Lagos, Nigeria

It it not about spending billions or trillion but about achievement.I hope the current reforms works cos nothing as ever worked in this country's of ours on power supply from previous administration. God help us.

Emmanuel Aloysius, Calabar, Nigeria

Power reform in Nigeria as outlined by Sola Odunfa has undeniably become a means for every regime to score cheap political points against its predecessors; typical of politicians when they take the reigns of power. But just like their predecessors, it is also an avenue for them to fail the nation by siphoning of huge amounts of money running into billions of dollars. Jonathan's committiee to cordinate his power reforms who presented a huge budget of almost a billion Naira (approx £5 million pounds) dominated by for flimsy luxuries and official perks like jeeps, mobile phones etc. This coordinatng committee will not add a single watt of electricity to the national grid but will cost tax payers £5 million which can fund a few rural electrification projects. Sola Odunfa excellently exposes the failures, corruption and lack of cordination and transparency.

Akin Ogunmodede, London, UK

I find your analogy of the Nigerian power problem very interesting but let not forget I hope this is not an attempt to woo Nigerians into voting him into power at the next election. I am almost of the believe that if power was liberalised like the Telecommunication industry. The power problem would eventually be brought down to it knees.

Seun, Essex, United Kingdom

I keep laughing whenever i read about all this promises our politician made to Nigerians. Even a councellor will tell you during his campaign that he will restore power to every corner of his constituency and construct roads and bridges. Well, only God will help Nigeria. I used to live in Pretoria South Africa. I did not witness a power failure for the 10months i spend in that country. somebody tell me, What is the difference between Nigeria and South Africa? With all the billions of dollars we generate from our natural resources,we are still way back and Can never boast of a 5hours uninteruptable power surply. whenever we are planing to visit Nigeria. We don`t think of the ticket only, we also think of the generators and also how to get a diesel for the generator. To conclude my comment. let mr goodluck jonathan promise whatever he has to promise and go. baba iyabo did same thing,what did we see. Late yaradua also promise we get nothing. They should allow babatunde fashola to be the next president of Nigeria and let us see how he run the country. he has done a fantastic and well recommended job in lagos. I was so impress the last time i went back home. Well,God Bless Nigeria. We Nigerian should never stop praying and i know someday soon,God will answer our prayers. Thanks,

Abayomi M Egbayelo, Tokyo, Japan

I just hope the president is giving these contracts to the best foreign power companies and not to the local ones because we've been there and done that on so many occasions. If Goodluck succeeds the he'd be the best president this country has ever had since its existence 50yrs ago.

alex onyeonwu, lagos, nigeria

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