OPINION: RE: Playing Politics With Power Sector
On the 28th June, 2020, a well respected journalist, Simon Kolawole, in his ThisDay Column “SIMONKOLAWOLELIVE!” wrote a piece titled “Playing Politics With Power Sector”, in which he expressed his opinion on the state of the Power Sector. You can read it here(https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2020/06/28/playing-politics-with-power-sector/)
In the Column, Simon Kolawole, while establishing the age long known excuses and shenanigans of the Power Sector, cunningly made attempts to defray the major and immediate challenges the sector faces.
In one of the opening paragraphs, Simon Kolawole laid this foundation, and I quote:
“But why are we still here? We can list a million reasons. When we were awarding contracts for the building of power plants in 2005, we did not think of how gas would get to them. We only remembered we needed to build gas pipelines after the turbines had arrived. Even when the turbines arrived, governors forced work to stop, arguing that the funding of power projects from the excess crude account was illegal. The multi-year tariff order (MYTO), designed to gradually phase out electricity subsidy and make the industry commercially viable, was not implemented for political reasons. The TCN does not have the capacity to “wheel” the power generated by GenCos. And so on.”
He further went on to question the motive behind the AdHoc Committee on Discos Ownership, formed by the National Economic Council(NEC), and headed by the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir Elrufai (who was also the Head of BPE while Privatization of the Old NEPA structure was being implemented). The Committee, (whose terms of reference was to determine the Equity Stakes of the 3tiers of governments in Nigeria in the Electricity Distribution Companies,) in its report, had recommended that a forensic audit of the Discos should be carried out, and this was after establishing the simple fact that the 3 tiers of government have not been effectively represented in the Boards of Directors of all the Discos.
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Mr. Kolawole waved off this cogent reason, alluding the effort at Audit of the Discos Books. In his words: “But the undertone, as I understand it, is that the government wants to reverse the privatisation of DisCos or dilute the ownership and take control of the entities.”
This is not good enough, as it distracts from the noble intention to ensure transparency in the spending and governance structure of the Discos.
Again, readers should note that the call for the Audit of the Discos Books and Governance Structure is consistent with the Terms of Reference of the Adhoc Committee.
It would be interesting to know if Mr. Kolawole did submit a Memo containing these views when the Committee asked for a Public Submission in December 2019.
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Simon Kolawole’s columns have built an enviable reputation for dispassionate reviews of the nation’s politics and contemporary events. In this particular case, it is apparent that his analysis is spiced with pro….. propaganda. It is a no brainer to know whose drum beats Simon was playing to in his audacious write up on his knowledge of the sector. An investigative journalist like Simon Kolawole should have gone further to discover that it is the DisCos that consistently fail to pick up this load; that of the little they pick, they only make settlement for about 20 to 25 percent. How can the supplier of a commodity who never fails to make the supply be the bad guy while the seller who makes a return for just a quarter worth of the commodity delivered to them be the good guy? It is strange that Simon sees nothing wrong with Ikeja DisCo, for instance, entering into an agreement with a segment of its customers, at more than double the prevailing regulated tariff but views NERC’s tariff order as unacceptable.
To drive home his point of “pointing fingers” at the power generating companies as well, he further went ahead to ask why we did bother to sign PPAs(Power Purchase Agreements) with the Gencos in the first instance. In his words, “Why did we enter into PPAs with GenCos, some of which obligate us to pay millions of dollars monthly to one company, when we knew very well that the TCN did not, does not, and will not, have the capacity to take power from these companies in the life of the contracts? Even if we produce 100,000mw today, TCN can only take 4,000mw, otherwise their system will collapse and the entire country will be in darkness.”
Some history lessons on how the power sector works will be beneficial to the well-respected journalist especially on his call for a forensic and technical audit of the GenCos and TCN. The GenCos generate power after a day ahead declaration to the system operator, who communicates to them how much they can transmit subject to the nomination from the Discos (mind you, power is instantaneous- must be consumed or it is subject to demand). On the day of generation, the generated capacity passes through verifiable check meters measuring the exact megawatts, which is then measured again at the TCN busbar before transmission to the Discos. The invoicing process equally follows a more stringent process with the Discos, GenCos, NBET and TCN verifying before the abysmal remittance is made. Does Simon recall that the Discos lack of performance led the federal government to rescue the sector thrice now? In essence, the 1.8 trillion is payment for discos inability to meet their invoiced amount. Research shows the FGN is subsidizing the Discos by 75% monthly. What has Simon got to do with the fact of financial under-reporting by the DisCos as was discovered during the open-book exercise by NERC prior to TEM?
The writer should be informed that the DisCos utilise multiple payment platforms for energy consumed. This has resulted in the creation of multiple accounting streams for the different payment channels. This presents a loophole for unscrupulous operators to divert and hence under-report revenue inflows. Some of the identified revenue channels operated by most of the DisCos for energy payments are:
1) Analogue meter bill cash payments through the DisCo cash offices
2) Analogue meter bill cash payments through designated banks
3) Estimated bill cash payment through the Disco cash offices
4) Estimated bill cash payments through designated banks
5) On-line payments for all the categories listed above
6) Pre-payment meter token cash payments through the DisCo vending stations.
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I will like to refer readers to an important piece of Data at this point. This is an historical Power Generation vs Power Uptake by the Discos since privatization in 2013. While available data showed that Average Generation Capability has increased from 4, 214MW in 2013 to 8, 145MW today, Average Power Uptake by the Discos has hovered between 3, 183MW in 2013 and 3, 987MW in 2020 (See attached).
Impartial and concerned observers would be apt to ask what exactly have the Discos been doing in the last 7years. We have not even asked why the Discos has consistently been paying less than 50% of the Invoice Values from the Gencos. If Mr. Kolawole bothered to ask for these data, it would have been made available to him. At NO POINT has the Gencos received full values for their Market Invoice. This has accounted for the sub-optimal growth, inefficient operation and the current dire situation of the GenCos, which has huge negative impact on the entire power sector.
Allow me to also point out that while the Gencos has consistently been incurring costs for Gas, and in the case of the Hydro Plants like Mainstream Energy Services Limited (Concessionaires of Kainji and Jebba Hydro Power Dams) who has been paying an annual Concession fees of $50m(rate was around N160/$ in 2013 when they took over, now it is N420/$), the Discos has no similar liability on their books. The Story of GencosGenCos like Mainstream will still need to be told. The writer may want to appreciate that, every available capacity, whether dispatched or not, cost a huge amount of money to be maintained by the GenCos. There are massive fixed charges incurred to keep unutilised units available.
Mr. Kolawole went ahead to state the PPA signed with Azura, but what he cleverly omitted is the fact that Azura has NEVER received full value for energy supplied to the Discos. But hey! This agenda must be set.
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It is also unfortunate that Mr. Kolawole would conclude that “From 2015 till date, we have paid about N255 billion to five GenCos under the PPAs for power not delivered — principally because TCN does not have the capacity to take it.” First, it would be interesting to know where Mr. Kolawole got this information from, and secondly, why he deliberately pitched the GencosGenCos and TCN together. I can allow our readers to make up their minds on this. It is a fact that GenCos, who are entitled to about 60% of invoiced energy bills, face the greatest risk in the electricity value chain with an outstanding unpaid invoice of over five hundred billion (N500bn) naira. If at all, they deserve pity rather than ridicule and unfounded allegations is not only unfair but misleading to the Nigerian populace.
“If we are sincere about addressing the power issue and stopping our treasury from continuing to service the pot bellies of the buccaneers, let us conduct a wholesale forensic and technical audit of the entire industry. We need to identify whatever is responsible for this shocking state of the sector, re-negotiate the suicidal deals we signed (the coronavirus pandemic will, hopefully, provide a force majeure), align the necessary elements, and take the critical steps to help Buhari’s renewed power initiative achieve the outlined goals and objectives. Renationalising the DisCos through the backdoor does not look like the magic formula to me. Let us not frog-jump from frying pan to fire.”
To be clear on this, I am not a lawyer, but my little understanding of declaring force majeure is in unforeseen circumstances. Are we now saying that almost 7years down the lane, the Discos are just discovering unforeseen circumstances? And how did Mr. Kolawole arrived at the “Renationalising the DisCos through the backdoor does not look like the magic formula to me” junction?
Yes, readers who are able to read between the line would agree that Mr. Kolawole clearly played his card too openly, and as one of the comments under the publication rightly said, “Mr. Simon, either does not understand, or as usual, would rather obfuscate, what ails Nigeria as is evident in the power sector, as well as other service sectors”. There are other similar comments to the publication.
To my chagrin, Mr. Kolawole ended the piece with these words: “I’d be honest and confess that I am enjoying stable power supply where I live. Our estate has an agreement with Ikeja Electric which is going very well despite a few hitches — caused mostly by you-know-who: the TCN. We are not under MYTO, so we pay double the regulated tariff, and we are guaranteed at least 20 hours of power supply daily”. The mere fact that Mr. Kolawole concede that the Power Purchase Agreement signed with Ikeja Electric is not under the MYTO should have told him that though the regulators might have turned a blind eyes to it, THIS IS ILLEGAL. But because he enjoys an average 20hours power supplies at the detriment of other, and because he could afford it, he could care less about others who might have not been fortunate enough to afford it. I also wonder how many Transformers Ikeja Electric had to install in the PPA zones to make this magic possible.
To be clear about the illegality of the Premium Power Agreement, which is not in the legal MYTO framework for Billing, I advise that Mr. Kolawole should go check out the daily power uptake of Ikeja Electric, and see IF it has increased, or simply if it is same power that should have been equitably distributed is just being redirected to the rich folks. These data from August 2019 is ready available from TCN and published weekly.
We are all bothered about the situation of the Power Sector, and continuous engagement of all the stakeholders is ongoing, but we should not protect our friends to the detriments of the nation.
Mr. Kolawole at no point mentioned the plights of Customers and the inability of the Discos to Meter customers, replace faulty Transformers, improve quality of service to customers, etc.
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The advent of Service Reflective will expose all these inadequacies, and it is my prayer that we would not have to continue this escapists arguments. And this is in no way advocating for reversal of the Power Sector, in fact, I have covered these issues and offer several recommendations in solving our Power Sector Challenges. You can read here(https://news.powerupng.com/editorials/editorial-reconsidering-our-approach-to-solving-nigerias-power-problems), it is still relevant.
God Bless Nigeria.
Adetayo Adegbemle is a public opinion commentator/analyst, researcher, and the convener of PowerUpNigeria, an Electric Power Consumer Right Advocacy Group, based in Lagos. (Twitter: @gbemle, @PowerUpNg)
Ooni: The Public Displays Of A King (1) [OPINION]
Nature was enveloped in darkness as dawn quickened in the womb of time, pushing towards the birth canal, carrying on its head daylight.
The cock, being nature’s timekeeper, knew the water was about to break. So, it sounded the flute in its throat, cookooorooocooo! And nature stirred awake.
Upon hearing the cock crow at the crack of dawn, the fox bolted madly up the mountain, panting and shivering. Again, the cock flapped its wings and crowed. The fox ran farther up the mountain, dreading death.
The cock jumped down from the branch of the iroko and went after the fox. The fox ran and ran and ran, and came to a precipice, stopping to weigh its options: fall from a mountaintop or death by fire. It chose the second option because, with fire, escape was still possible. So, it waited as the cock strutted majestically toward it.
Resplendent in gold, brown and black plumage, the cock smiled as it neared the shivering fox which laid flat on all fours, sinking its claws into the ground, wondering what language the earthworm speaks that makes the earth open up.
“Is this how far you can run?” the cock teased.
“I wasn’t running, sir,” the fox replied.
“I know you weren’t running, you were flying,” the cock said, asking, “Why’re you always running away from me when we should be friends?”
Fox: “It’s the fire! The fire!
Cock: The fire? Which fire?
Fox: The fire on your head!
Cock: Fire!? Fire on my head?
Fox: Yes, sir! It’s right there, burning. See! See it! On your head!
The cock touched its comb with its leg. “Is this what you call fire?” “Yes,” the fox replied, still terrified. The cock burst into a fit of laughter, tears rolling down its eyes. “Foolish fellow, this is no fire. It’s my comb; come touch it, touch it,” the cock said, moving towards the fox.
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The fox felt the meaty comb of the cock, took a deep breath and yanked off the cock’s head, crunching the comb and cranium.
I knew when the Ooni of Ife, Alayeluwa Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, the Ojaja II, was at King’s College, Ile-Ife, for the three-month seclusive tutoring in ‘Ipebi’, where royal secrets and etiquettes are taught to would-be kings.
However, I do not know how long he stayed there. I also do not know if Ooni Ogunwusi passed all the courses on rites of passage, discretion, dignity and tact before he was released to mount the throne of his forebears.
But being a legend himself, I’m certain the Ooni knows the legend of the cock and fox I just told. As the second-in-command to the gods, I’m sure the king can see through the stupidity of the cock. As a wise monarch, who knows the importance of bloodline and lineage, I know Oba Enitan is likely to spare a thought for the generations of the cock that has gone down the throats of foxes into oblivion.
Being a true Yoruba son, it doesn’t lie in my mouth to say many of the public displays of Ooni Ogunwusi fall short of royal expectation and dignity. I shouldn’t say that. Because no one rebukes the masquerader when it misses the road; you say, my lord, the road you took is a cul-de-sac. “A kii so fun eegun wipe o s’ina. Baba, ko s’ona nibe yen ni won n wi.” Who am I to teach the Ooni how to be a king?
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In the olden days, Yoruba beaded crowns were Almighties. They combine executive powers with judicial authority and legislative functions in a trinity of crown, sword and sceptre. Because they ensured security, monarchs of yore worked closely with hunters who double as police and army. Perhaps, the immediate past Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, ‘jingbinni bi atekun’, supernaturally saw that my forebears were hunters, so he made me, an obscure subject, a distant little friend.
After watching the controversial video of how Ooni Ogunwusi exchanged greetings with a Nollywood old-timer, Pete Edochie, and another Nollywood veteran, Kanayo O. Kanayo, I decided to peep into the lives of royals in and outside Nigeria – to see if the Ooni desecrated the stool of Oduduwa by his incessant star-struck public displays.
Memory lane. In what appears like a coronation celebration in 1980 when Sijuwade became Ooni, an old video shows a brand new Oba and his guests being serenaded by Juju superstar, King Sunny Ade. In a combination of prostration and kneeling, KSA and his boys sang all through the time Sijuwade was on the dance floor. Neither KSA nor any of his boys got up all through the performance.
Ooni Sijuwade was simply majestic; he didn’t gyrate, he was just there, swaying, solid and confident, soaking in the songs of praise.
Nobody dared ‘spray’ Baba Tokunbo with money. But guests sprayed the queen dancing with him. Everyone maintained a respectable distance from Sijuwade, nobody turned Sijuwade’s ears into a microphone, neither did he behave like an usher or MC, ushering people to seats, telling them about the latest isi-ewu joints in town and where to get ladies in desperate search of husbands – like Oba Atilawi.
In England, there are protocols that even the high and mighty must observe when they are in the presence of the throne of England. Former US First Lady, Michelle Obama, caused a stir, in 2009, when she put her arm around Queen Elizabeth. You don’t touch the Queen!
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There are other non-steadfast rules to observe when you come before the Queen. You don’t show up empty-handed. You should bring a gift. “Ko si gberu mi laafin,” is a Yoruba proverb that equates to this English royal protocol. No one carries goods out of the palace, be it in England or Yoruba land. But you can bring gifts into the palace.
You must stand at attention when the Queen enters the room. Don’t eat before she does. Don’t leave before the does. Never turn your back on the Queen. You don’t call her by her first name or nickname. Speak only the Queen speaks to you. A lady must curtsey (bend at the knees) while a man must bow. These same rules apply to the King of England.
“Oba kii m’eje, iyi ni oba n fi ori bibe se,” says a Yoruba proverb. The king doesn’t drink blood, he beheads to affirm his glory.
Modern royalty, some may argue, is an extension of feudalism. Feudalism was abolished on August 4, 1789. But royalty has survived, albeit, with one kidney, one lung and an enlarged heart. In Nigeria, kings, queens, regents and the palace are the custodians of culture and tradition. It goes to say that each tribal royalty has its dos and don’ts.
In the second part of this article, I shall analyse Ooni Ogunwusi’s unkingly display when he publicly met some celebrities, particularly when he became the MC during the birthday of a celebrity named Elizabeth Itunuayo Jack-Rich.
To be continued.
Tunde Odesola is a senior journalist, columnist with The PUNCH newspaper and a guest writer in INFO DAILY.
Email: [email protected]
Facebook: @Tunde Odesola
OPINION: Akeredolu And Parable Of Onirese
By Suyi Ayodele
I am personally scandalised by the news coming from Ondo State about Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and the state of his health. This piece, I must confess, tasks my humanity more than anything I have ever written on this page. I however decided to do it because of the way I feel about it. Without any intention to disparage anyone, I make no bones saying that if the matter were to be about any other governor, I would not have bothered to dwell on it. Arakunrin Akeredolu occupies a position in the history of constitutionality in Nigeria such that we cannot ignore the news coming from his state. For whoever wants to contest it, Akeredolu is more than a governor of a state. He is, if all things were to be equal, the constitutional moral compass that Nigeria and Nigerians are expected to use to navigate through the shambolic democracy we are running in Nigeria.
Morally, nobody should play politics with the health of others. Doing so is completely inhuman. Only God knows who will live or die as well as the when and how of our transitions. As mortals who do not have any idea of what tomorrow holds therefore, we are enjoined to be circumspect when discussing the issue of death and illnesses. A very recent example is the brazen manner the former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, went about the health issues of the immediate past president, General Muhammadu Buhari. If Fayose were to be the giver of life, Buhari would have long been buried and forgotten. That Buhari lived and lives today, does not in any way, however, vitiate the fact that while he hid his health status from the Nigerian public throughout his eight years in office, he nevertheless expended our common patrimony to service his so many unknown ailments.
At a time, Buhari abandoned leadership and spent well over 100 days outside Nigeria attending to one health matter or the other. The only occasions we were told what ailed the Mai Gaskiya was when he could not make it to an official engagement in Lagos due to an ear infection and the last two weeks or so of his exit from power, when he had to stay back in the United Kingdom to attend to a toothache. God bless our leaders. They treat us like the proverbial iwofa (pun), who, when he is ill, the rich creditor says: “oh, the silly one has come up with his tricks again”, but when the son of the rich creditor is down with fever, his father says; “just try and swallow this fish stew” (bi iwofa ba nse aisan, won a ni alakori ti gbe ise re de; bi o ba nse omo olowo, won a ni ko ro ju fi obe eja s’enu). While Nigerians were dying in their hundreds, killed by treatable diseases, our president was in the UK to see a dentist! I know that one day, God will judge between us and our rulers.
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Buhari left the Nigerian populace to speculate about his health issues for good eight years. He was not the first president to do that. Before the National Assembly invoked the novel “Doctrine of Necessity” on February 9, 2010, to empower the then Vice-President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to serve as acting president, his then principal, the late President Musa Yar’Adua, had been in and out of the Aso Rock Villa attending to his health challenges without transmitting a letter to the National Assembly or handing over to his deputy as required by the constitution. Yar’Adua left the shores of Nigeria on November 23, 2009, and it took the nation 47 days before Jonathan was asked to act as president. Even at that, not a few ‘erudite’ scholars picked holes in that noble decision of the National Assembly, describing the action as illegal.
For instance, the late Professor Omo Omoruyi, in his reaction to the decision, said that the National Assembly acted illegally, stressing that the legislators ought to have respected the sanctity of the constitution and its supremacy. It never mattered that Yar ‘Adua, who took an oath to preserve and defend that same constitution, openly raped it with impunity! Yar’Adua was eventually announced dead on May 6, 2010, days after he was sneaked into the country under the cover of darkness by his close associates. He was said to have passed on Wednesday May 5, 2020, at about 10.30pm. Nigeria and Nigerians have General Olusegun Obasanjo to thank for his infamous: “Umoru, you don die” telephone call to the ailing Yar’Adua, who, as the candidate of the PDP in the 2007 election, was hovering between heaven and the earth. While Obasanjo remains culpable for imposing Yar’Adua on the PDP and the nation, the late president, his immediate family, and those political profiteers, who knew well his debilitating health conditions but egged him on to take over the most tasking job in the land, have the greatest share of the blame.
The same was the case of the late self-over-indulged Governor Danbaba Suntai of Taraba State, who, on October 25, 2012, hopped into a light aircraft and flew himself to a dismal crash. Suntai, who flew an unregistered Cessna 208B Caravan plane, the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), said had no licence, no competence, and no qualification to fly that type of aircraft. Talk of what my Yoruba people call: “akeju tin ba omo olowo je” (over-indulgence spoils the child of the rich man). You may wish to ask what a governor was doing flying a private jet without a license when half of the people in his state were living below the world poverty standard and riding camels to their farms. After the unfortunate incident during which Suntai sustained brain injuries, he became a vegetable as he was moved from the Federal Medical Centre (FCMB), Yola, to the National Hospital, Abuja, then to Johns Hopkins University Hospital, USA and finally to the Government House, Jalingo, where his aides and acolytes kept prodding him like a sagging bag of maize. He remained the governor of the state in such a pitiable state and ‘completed’ his second term in office on May 29, 2015, and died on June 28, 2017, in his home. You may wish to ask the people of Taraba State what became of governance in the state while the governor’s aides and family members were the ones calling the shots.
This is why the story from Ondo State is particularly worrisome to me. I have never met Akeredolu in person, but I have seen his images (still and motion) on several occasions. When a man is handsome in my place, there is a way the women folk salute him. They will say: “omokurin lo dara bayi. Bi eleyi o se oko eni, hi ba se ale eni” (look at how handsome this man is. If this cannot be one’s husband, let him be the concubine). Akeredolu will, any day, answer that praise name. His figure, his gait, his well-trimmed white beard, and his infectious toothy smile are disarming. He is a man, like every other human being, nobody should nurse any evil against. So, when the news first filtered in over a year ago that he was dangerously down with an undisclosed ailment, the public sympathy was with him. His aides and political associates tried all they could to deny the ill health of the governor. However, all that crashed when Akeredolu appeared in public and his gait told the story, even to the blind. His wife, Betty’s video early this year, where she was castigating one female aide of the governor for bringing local concoction to the governor was the height of Akeredolu’s health misfortune. Not a few were scandalised that while many were deeply worried about the health of the governor, the only thing the wife could think about was the activities of a suspected side chick of the governor. It was akin to the case of an infirm for whom all villagers were fasting and praying but was caught eating three square meals. That video by Mrs. Akeredolu, I daresay, triggered a public debate about the governor’s health forcing Akeredolu to admit that, yeah, he was down health wise, though there was no immediate danger involved. He stopped at that, and nobody has ever volunteered to name what ails the governor.
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Last weekend however, changed the entire narrative about Akeredolu and his health. The news came in vide the uncontrolled social media that the Ondo State governor had passed on. Sahara Reporters, an online platform, in what it termed ‘exclusive’, on Thursday, June 1, 2023, posted the following news item: “Exclusive: Ondo State Governor, Akeredolu Incapacitated, Bedridden in Ibadan; Unable to Sign Documents Yet Refuses To hand Over To Deputy.” Shortly after the publication, the rumours of the governor’s death hit the town, such that the state government had no choice than to issue an official statement. The terse statement, titled: “Ignore The Rumour On The Governor of Ondo State, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu SAN, CON”, and endorsed by Bamidele Ademola-Olateju, Commissioner for Information and Orientation, states: “We have been inundated with calls and messages concerning the state of health of the Governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, CON. We had chosen to ignore this wicked fabrication until it appeared that certain persons seek to draw political mileage from the disinformation. Though the Governor has been indisposed, he has been attending to state matters and delegating functions to functionaries of the Government, when necessary. We enjoin the members of the public to ignore the rumour. Aketi is very much alive”. The statement emphasised that the governor was very much alive without being specific about his condition.
The opposition PDP in the state would not have such an incomplete statement. In its “Theater of The Absurd: Akeredolu’s Whereabouts Should Not Be A Secret” statement issued by Kennedy Ikantu Peretei, the party’s State Publicity Secretary, the PDP admitted that, while “As mortals, any human being can fall sick. Whether in public office or private life. Rotimi Akeredolu is employed by the people of Ondo State, maintained with taxpayers’ money. So, it is criminal and a great disservice to keep mum over his health status and his whereabouts”. The party demanded that: “Those hiding the governor should tell the people where he is to save the state from speculation.” The Ondo State chapter of the PDP alluded to the 2010 health challenges of the late President Yar ‘Adua, when, “Akeredolu was one of the most vociferous voices, calling for his resignation and allowing the then Vice-President to take over.” The party added that: “If for whatever reason, Akeredolu can no longer discharge his official responsibilities, the most reasonable thing to do is to hand over to the Deputy Governor as required by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).” If you ask what I think of this demand, I will tell you right off that the party is right, absolutely right! I will explain why.
Like I mentioned in the introduction, Akeredolu is different from any of the run-of-the mill governors we have around. For one thing, the man who adopts the sobriquet of Arakunrin (Mr.) is a constitutional lawyer. He is not just one of the lawyers in town, but a very big masquerade in the legal profession. He is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and a former National President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). His pedigree in civil society circles stands tall. He was once the voice of the voiceless in this country. He joined forces with other Nigerians to fight the military and earned democracy for Nigeria. As a sitting governor, Akeredolu took on the Federal Government on several issues. He championed the birth of the Western Nigeria Security Network, otherwise known as Amotekun, to fight killer herdsmen in the South-West. He was, and the only governor, who issued an ultimatum to the killer Fulani herdsmen occupying any forest in Ondo State to register or vacate the forest. He backed that up with action. Even when the agents of darkness took the battle to his Owo homefront and killed innocent people in a Catholic Church, he remained uncowed and soldiered on like an akoni okunrin (courageous man). So, what has changed? Do we now have another Aketi in power? Is Governor Akeredolu saying that he does not know the capacity and ability of his current health? I ask: what spoils if Akeredolu resigns to go and face his health challenges? Will he no longer be reckoned with as former governor of Ondo State or what? Can anything, or anybody ever obliterate his achievements as the governor of Ondo State, if he resigns to attend to his health? What has he got to lose? While seeking answers to these and many more questions, I leave Akeredolu, his immediate family and his handlers to the legend of Onirese.
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The story of Onirese is a lesson in the perpetuity of good deeds. It tells us that no matter the circumstance, one’s good deeds live forever as testimonials of one’s sojourn here on earth. Onirese was an Oyo calabash carver. He was the best in the guild of carvers of his epoch. He had a long list of clienteles, among whom were kings and the nobles of the land. The then Alaafin of Oyo, satisfied by the works produced by the carver, made him the head of Irese quarters. But at one time, due to marriage and exposure to other climes, Onirese abandoned carving for other engagements. Whenever people came to him for carved calabash, he would simply direct them to his other fellow carvers. When it dawned on the people that Onirese would not carve calabash for them again, they reported him to the Alaafin and asked that he should be compelled to resume the craft. Alaafin listened attentively to the people and when they were through, Iku, Baba, Yeye, answered them thus: “Bi Onirese ba ko to lohun o fin’gba mo, eyi to ti fin sile ko ni parun” (If Onirese refuses to carve calabash again, the ones he carved before will endure forever). Nothing in life obliterates good works. How I wish Akeredolu will see the wisdom in the saying of our forebears and take time off the government house to attend to that which should matter to him most. Or is health no longer wealth? What other fame does the governor crave? What is more important in life than health? Or is there anything else in the government houses such that even at the point of death, every invalid wants to remain there?
OPINION: Still In The Forest Of The Heartless
By Lasisi Olagunju
It was quite nice seeing President Bola Tinubu as he waltzed into the chambers where he met security chiefs last Thursday. “Morning,” he greets the chiefs. “Shall we sit or…” They murmur. His gaze is fixed on his guests. What are they saying? “Eh?” He asks; they murmur.
“We just sit?” The president asks again.
“Yes, sir,” one of them finally answers. But Tinubu did not sit as ‘instructed’. Where he comes from, you don’t enter a river without greeting the crocs and the frogs of the deep. The Yoruba man stretched out his hand for a one-by-one handshake with the men who apparently were sizing up their new Commander-in-Chief – and comparing him with the ramrod one who left last week. That first encounter and what was said to have been said there made a very good start. But Nigeria is not a place where ‘friends’ are not kept under what Shakespeare describes as “thy own life’s key.” I wonder who else Tinubu has been meeting and what they’ve been telling him.
The week President Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in in 1999, Dr. Omololu Olunloyo, a former governor of Oyo State, fired him a congratulatory letter; and he showed it to me before faxing it to the State House, Abuja, using our newsroom fax line. Two clauses there were my takeaway; I try to recall them: “The Nigeria you left in 1979 is not the same as today’s. Today’s Nigeria is a much more dangerous country to govern…” Olunloyo proceeded to pray for his fellow Owu man. I do not know how many of the prayers were answered or how much of the advice in the letter got heeded. But, I am sure, the Balogun of Owu soon found out that Aso Rock, Abuja, was a much more lethal enclave than the danger in Dodan Barracks, Lagos. If Olunloyo felt in 1999 that Nigeria was very dangerous even for a four-star General and ex-Head of State, I wonder what he would say of 2023 Nigeria.
“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” William Shakespeare, who wrote this in ‘The Tempest’ in 1610/1611 AD, was referring to this space. You need not go to hell again to engage Satan; he is here. President Goodluck Jonathan came into office in 2010 with a lot of goodwill. But he soon got abducted by interests who withered the lush in his verdant green. A governor of one northern state told a Lagos editor (who told me) before Jonathan ran into the storm that sank his Titanic that “we will help him to make enemies. Nothing he works on will work.” And it happened exactly as that governor promised. Jonathan assisted his enemies to succeed. That was more than ten years ago. The beasts of the Nigerian forest have since become more in number and have grown longer and deadlier horns.
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There should be a description for today’s Nigeria in Yoruba language; it is Igbó Òdájú (forest of the heartless). I have no doubt that the new man knows how poisonous the Nigerian snake is. The new president must have been receiving pieces of advice, many of them downright self-serving and wicked. But a man who has finally become what he has always wanted to become should have no problem deciding what end-of-office reputation he wants. One of my favourite Islamic preachers, Musbau Orimadegun, has a proverb for the new king: Oyè tí a bá fi òtè je, kíké ni àá ké e (One pampers with extreme carefulness a throne which one has won through extreme intrigues). Who advised the new president to hedge his throne with footstools of controversy so soon after he took the seat? He has incensed the poor by increasing the price of petrol. Could his advisers be the same forces who pushed Jonathan’s boat into storms and abandoned him midstream? Maybe no one advised Tinubu; maybe he advised himself after he was convinced of the rightness of the step he took. After all, he has guts; and it takes a lot of guts for a president to hit the ground running the way he did last week. Within his first 24 hours in power, his sword halved the real income of every citizen – rich and poor. That is what last week’s fuel price increase has done to all Nigerians.
A friend complained that elite propaganda was everywhere on subsidy removal and they appeared winning. I replied him that “harmattan has a way of teaching the loin-clothed what cold means.” He said he loved the proverb; I told him that in the village, every hen lays proverbs which, like running water, help us to cut through mountains and maneuver around rocks. I know Tinubu promised in the last election campaigns to end subsidy on petrol which the NNPCL said gulped $9.7 billion last year. In this year’s budget, $7.5 billion was entered for the first six months’ as fuel subsidy. I also know that the three big candidates, Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, solemnly swore to stop subsidy on petrol if they became our president. They are too tall to see the ground. They said they had to do it to save Nigeria. I heard them then and remembered the apocryphal US Major who famously said his troops had to destroy a town “in order to save it.” But what this government has done is not yet subsidy withdrawal; it is what it described as “price adjustment” – an alias for price hike. Like a pilot on his maiden flight terribly bad-landing a plane, the president did it in a what-will-they-do manner. Truly, what can the shrub do when the elephant chooses to rumble his way through the forest?
The fuel price increase is costly for the poor; it, definitely, will be costlier for the new government. The NNPCL has spoken; persons who claimed to be speaking for the Federal Government have spoken too. They were diligent enough to tell us the cost of fuel subsidy but they did not tell us, and have not told us, the cost of removing fuel subsidy. They want us to figure it out by feeling it and that is exactly what we are doing. You can see the costs in hundreds of the poor trekking to work; in cabs without passengers; in filling stations without sales. The cost is more than what the streets say. Every home is counting its ceiling boards, thinking hard on how to survive these expensive times. With NEPA oscillating between the morgue and the ICU, it is generator to the rescue. But that alternative has been priced out of the reach of everyone, including the over 22 million Nigerians who voted for subsidy removal in the last elections and the over 60 million registered voters who did not vote for anyone. An average university professor has a family; he has a small generator; the family generator consumes 10 litres of petrol per night which translates to 300 litres per month. At N500 per litre, how much will the professor buy 300 litres? People in government would say that is just N150,000; the professor would say that is a third of his whole salary! That is if he gets paid at all.
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Is it subsidy that is bad or the corruption that has taken it over? NNPCL’s evacuation/dispatch data in March said we consumed 80 million litres of petrol daily. A few months earlier, the figure was 68 million. We must be sharing those litres with ghosts. If subsidized petrol is smuggled into neighboring countries, why should that sin be the burden of the poor vulcanizer and hairdresser who are now being forced to buy petrol at N500 per litre? What is the job of men of the Customs Service at the borders and who is to make them do their work? Nigeria is a very unfortunate country. Misfortune is finding a bird to kill but finding no stone to do the killing; it is finally finding a stone but seeing the bird flying away. Nigerians are the proverbial children of the butcher who eat bare bones. A producer should be happy when their product attracts higher price in the market. But Nigeria is an oil producer for whom high crude oil price is a curse, not a blessing. The country does not benefit from global crude oil price increase because, like non-oil producers, it imports refined petroleum products at a price that is determined by forces outside Nigeria.
If you see the new president, please tell him: You can’t withdraw subsidies amidst mass poverty and without refining petrol at home. The poor will die; there will be problems. The country has four refineries that eat money instead of making money. Their dead wheels munch old and new Naira notes in billions. Eight years ago, former President Obasanjo warned that any further money spent on those refineries was money wasted. Indeed, the NNPC, in a document reportedly submitted to investors at a road show in China in 2016, said it would require between $1.4 billion and $1.8 billion to rehabilitate the refineries. Obasanjo told Channels television in 2015 that the refineries had become scraps after their sale to investors were cancelled by his successor, Umaru Yar’Adua. “Eventually Aliko Dangote led a group that paid $750 million for the privatisation of two of the refineries – 51 percent privatisation – and my successor (Yar’Adua) came (in), he turned it down. In fact, he paid back the money because they (investors) had paid the money. And I went to him; I said ‘look, do you know…? And he said well, he did it because of pressure. I said ‘pressure?’, so to you what matters is pressure, not what is in the best interest of Nigerians. I said, but you know it will not work. Then I said in 10 years, if you continue, you would have spent two times the amount that these people had paid and it still would not work. And that is what happened. Today those two refineries, you can never make them work. And if we are going to sell them, we would be lucky to get $250m out of them because they have become a huge scrap…” The two refineries, the Port Harcourt Refinery and Kaduna Refinery, made combined losses of N208.6 billion in 2014; N252.8 billion in 2015; N290.6 billion in 2016; N412 billion in 2017 and N475 billion in 2018. The profile did not change in the years that have followed.
Tinubu is our kinsman; if you have access to him, tell him to use his eyes to see his nose in this subsidy removal matter. ‘They’ advised him to do it and cushion the pains with salary increase. I am not sure ‘they’ showed him where a broke government would find money to finance that increment.
I do not envy Tinubu; the country that was handed over to him last week is a huge scrap. But, if subsidy withdrawal is the magic bullet for what ails Nigeria, then let us apply that ‘solution’ to all other subsidies. Start with elite privileges, scrap them. Stopping consumer subsidy on petrol without doing same to producer subsidy is one-sided. Asking Nigerians to stop enjoying subsidy on petrol because Nigeria is broke may sound like sound judgement, but it will be easier to do if those taking the decision are not enjoying subsidies at the people’s expense too. How much does it cost Nigeria to maintain the president and his family? In the 2023 budget, the president was allocated N331.79 million for feeding, the vice president N176. 92 million. The American president and his family pay for their meals and their drinks, their groceries. They buy their toothpastes. They pay for their personal guests too. When they throw private parties in the White House, they pay for everything, including for the service of servers and waiters. When they give gifts to visitors, including foreign leaders, they pay for the gifts from their pocket. When they go on holiday, they foot the bill; they settle everything, including their hotel bills, from their own pocket. We can copy that culture here and free the millions to provide infrastructure. Fortunately, our brand new First Lady, one week ago said that her family was blessed enough not to eat from the bowl of Nigeria. Mrs Oluremi Tinubu told a church congregation in Abuja last week Sunday that “Nigeria’s wealth is the commonwealth of all. It belongs to everyone. God has blessed my family. We don’t need the wealth of Nigeria to survive…” So, the millions budgeted for feeding, for entertainment etc for the First Family and the other big families should be freed for what benefits all. That example, when set, may make points for sacrifice and fuel subsidy withdrawal easier to argue.
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