Dissecting A Senate Power Hearing

Ministerial-Nominees-Senate

But for a few slips in the proceedings, the Senate committee on power conducted its hearing of November 11 and 12 November, 2105, with high seriousness.

The hearing, which took place in Senate Conference Room 231, was attended by heads of agencies in the power sector and other stakeholders including members of the public and the media, and chaired by the chairman of the Senate ad-hoc committee on Power, Senator Abubakar Kyari.

The slips largely resulted from information gaps that partly showed the need for the committee to become better acquainted with the power sector – the focus of its interventions on behalf of the Nigerian people. And neither the gaps nor the related slips were bad in themselves. What would have been bad, and dangerous, would have been for the committee not to show the disposition, which it did, to correct the slips and fill the gaps by seeking to improve its knowledge of the power sector.

It would have been bad and dangerous in the general sense that it is bad and dangerous to not seem to know that adequate knowledge of any sector is critical for those who must supervise it at any level of national affairs, as the committee supervises the Nigerian power sector from the legislature.

In a sense, however, and as the chairman of the committee revealed during the two-day event, one of the goals of the hearing was to create a platform for stakeholders to share information and deliberate on the progress and issues in the power sector with a view to rely on the outcome of the deliberations to formulate policies to improve performance in the sector in the interest of the Nigerian people. And in this sense, the committee can be regarded as a genuine facilitator of national development due to the seriousness it brought to the conduct of the proceedings.

Of course, very few Nigerians would point to either chamber of the National Assembly as a source of inspiring patriotic deliberations. But the conduct of the power hearing was a silver lining in the dark cloud of this justified cynicism, a twinkling star of hope in a long night of legislative uncertainty.

On the first day, the former Minister of Power, Prof. Bart. Nnaji, gave what would amount to a keynote speech. He reportedly summarised poor performance in the power sector as resulting from poor regulation.

But even the committee would have recognised, from the multi-faceted issues that unravelled before it from the presentations of the various agencies in the sector and other stakeholders, that regulation is just one of the areas that needs attention if we must find a lasting solution to problems in the sector.

For, in a country that witnessed decades of underinvestment in the power sector in spite of decaying infrastructure until it recently saw the need to reform the sector, a country still seeking to overcome the challenges of fully mainstreaming generation from its NIPP plants, a country yet to develop its power transmission network to wheel even as much power as it could potentially generate at present, a country fighting a battle with vandals who sabotage its power infrastructure and gas pipelines linked to its power plants, the committee probably saw that to attribute all the problems in the power sector to poor regulation was reductionist or a simplification.

And it eventually didn’t disappoint with its grasp of the complexity of the problems, and its willingness to seek lasting solutions to them as expressed by its chairman and members at various points during the proceedings.

On the second day, a former Minister of Mines, Power and Steel Development, Alhaji Suleiman Bello, also gave the major speech. Seeming to prefer the system that preceded the power sector reform, when the power industry was a government-owned monopoly, he traced the problems in the sector to the liquidation of the old system or its replacement with the new, culminating in its reform and privatisation.

Perhaps it was an indirect response to this position that the chairman of the committee, in one of his interventions, hinted at the futility of expecting a reversal of the reform and privatisation in spite of their imperfections – to return to the old system whose shortcomings were apparently worse. Rather, that it is more realistic to continue to work on improving the power sector as currently constituted, and that the hearing was convened to facilitate the ventilation of issues whose understanding and resolution should result in such improvement.

However, Alhaji Bello also recommended that as Nigerians we should determine “what is our correct energy mix…” rather than adopt a “fire brigade approach.” This is important because, otherwise, the country might become embroiled in poorly coordinated development of its power sector, with unsatisfactory results.

He also noted that reliance on gas “has failed us,” which prompts the question whether the failure is because it is gas or due to our managerial inadequacies, and if any other resource would fail us if we don’t manage it properly, since gas has not failed all other countries that have relied on it to generate electricity.

And answering some of the questions from the committee as regards some of the challenges being faced by his agency and the various allegations resulting from its conduct of the business of the privatisation of the power sector, the Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Mr. Benjamin Ezra Dikki, defended his agency, the conduct of the privatisation exercise, and the current state of the enforcement of regulation in the sector. He however admitted that there is much room for improvement, but that the problems of regulation are part of wider systemic problems in the sector, emphasising the need to seek solutions to the sector’s problems holistically – obviously a better approach than the undue concentration of blame for the problems in the sector on one or a few agencies, and sometimes without proffering solutions to such problems.

Also, responding to questions from the committee, the then chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Dr. Sam Amadi, painted a similar picture of a sector whose stakeholders should evaluate its problems comprehensively and similarly seek solutions thereto, rather than engage in fault-finding or scapegoating within or across the agencies or other stakeholder organisations.

Oke is a public affairs analyst

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