Dilapidated infrastructure, erratic power supply and moribund refineries are some of the problems inherited by Babatunde Fashola, Rotimi Amaechi and Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu in the ministries of Works/Power/Housing, Transportation/Aviation and Petroleum Resources. Adeyinka Aderibigbe and Emeka Ugwuanyi capture what the trio must do to make the difference.
GOING by the applause their announcements as ministers of Petroleum Resources and Power drew at the swearing of ministers at the Presidential Villa in Abuja on Wednesday, Dr. Emmanuel Kachikwu, Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and Mr. Babatunde Fashola have their jobs cut out for them.
Kachikwu (Minister of State), who doubles as the Group Managing Director (GMD), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Amaechi, former Rivers State governor and now (Transportation, who combines Aviation) and Fashola, who combines Power with the ministries of Works and Housing, face some herculian tasks.
Reason: The tasks ahead are enormous in view of the huge debts and challenges they are inheriting in the two ministries. They would constantly be on the spot.
Save for Kachikwu, whose appointment had long been foretold, the appointments of Amaechi’s and Fashola’s appointments, ended speculations over who man the critical sectors. Their emergence as helmsmen in the three important ministries, have been applauded by operators in the energy and petroleum sectors, considering their antecedents in their previous assignments.
As NNPC’s GMD, Kachikwu has had a taste of the challenges but Fashola and Amaechi, who are coming from the state level, must brace to crack some unimaginable and embarrassing nuts in their respective ministries, now that they have the entire country as their constituency.
Despite being substantially controlled by the private sector, the power sector remains problematic across the value chain of generation, transmission and distribution.
The distribution companies (DISCOS), which feed the entire value chain financially, are facing funding deficit, a challenge that has affected the generation and transmission segments. The two legs depend on revenues collected by the distribution companies.
According to operators in the power sector, the transmission network, is very weak, the weakest link in the chain. The transmission company can at its peak, wheel 5,300 megawatts (mw). Therefore, even if the generation companies can pool 10,000Mw, customers can only get 5100mw because 200Mw may be kept as spinning reserve to balance emergencies.
The distribution companies take at best 60 per cent of what they are supposed to get. No thanks to technical and commercial challenges. Power is lost in transit due to poor equipment and facilities as well as the unwillingness of some customers to pay their electricity bills.
As at the last count, the DISCOS were being owed N32 billion, the bulk of which was, ironically, in the hands of Federal Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), and the military.
According to the Chairman, Egbin Power Generation Plc., Mr. Kola Adesina, the company is owed N39 billion by the Federal Government, which accumulated from when they took over the asset in November 1, 2013 to October this year.
The Director, Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED), Mr. Sunday Olurotimi Oduntan, told The Nation that the appointments of Fashola and Kachikwu are fantastic. He believed the woes of the power sector would become a thing of the past with synergy between them.
Oduntan said: “The appointment of Fashola and Kachikwu is a welcome development for the sector. They have integrity and have legacies that speak for them; therefore they will not fail in these new assignments. With Fashola and Kachikwu, the days of impunity are gone, I assure you. They will make gas available for power generation.
“Fashola should focus attention on the entire power value chain, and ensure that the funding gaps in the sector are bridged. He should ensure that the sector gets cost-reflective tariff to keep it running.
“The transmission is the vehicle of the sector because if the country generates 20,000mw and the transmission can only wheel 5,000mw, the distribution companies will not have power to give to customers. The cost-reflective tariff has become imperative because banks are not lending to distribution companies.
“Also because the gas market and other equipment, which sustain the power sector are dollar dominated, the minister should appeal to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to give concession to operators in the sector by giving foreign exchange rate that will not hurt the sector.”
Fashola should do everything to improve and expand the transmission network (national grid) by ensure that the government invests in it.
“The sector is in dire need of funds, investments to prevent the sector from collapse,” Oduntan said.
Amaechi, who now sit on an expanded Ministry that now includes aviation, would have the responsibility of giving to the country a modern transportation system and end the monolithic transportation system (road mode) nationwide.
As Transportation minister, Amaechi will be sitting as the Chairman, National Council on Transportation – the highest policy formulating body for the transportation sector – that supervises states to implement same resolutions relating to transportation initiatives.
What is Amaechi inheriting?
Amaechi is coming to the ministry at a time when the transportation sector is in the limbo. At no time in history were Nigerians faced with the grim reality of the derelict transportation system.
Not only have all the roads, especially those classified as federal roads become death traps, the over concentration of movement on the roads have left in its trail an impact that has earned Nigerian road as one of the most unsafe in the world.
But more worrisome, according to experts, is the total absence of a road map for the nation’s transportation sector.
Transportation and logistics experts have decried the absence of a national transportation policy in the country.
Deputy National President of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transportation (CILT), Prof Olakunle Oyesiku, said the absence of a transportation policy and an enabling law regulating the operations of the sector has led to the gross under development of the sector.
Besides, Amaechi would be inheriting a chaotic sector where at every turn, private initiative and investment, rather than government’s, has driven the sector. Though, government recognised the sensitivity of the sector and the need to assure mass transportation, yet, it has continued to pay lip service to critical interventions that could bring about a virile, safe, affordable, reliable and comfortable public transportation.
The dearth of these has forced Nigerians to result to self help, a situation where everyone saw the necessity to own a vehicle, while others even ventured into commercial activities, all because the government has given room for a vacuum.
The unregulated operations have led to the presence of all manners of vehicles on roads. From a two wheeler bicycle, motorcycle and tricycle to cars, midi, mini and high-capacity buses and trucks as well as articulated vehicles, Nigeria has become what Patrick Adenusi, founder, Safety Without Borders, called “a dumping ground for all sorts of vehicles from all over the world”.
Apart from pothole and crater-riddled roads, Amaechi will also be inheriting an almost moribund National Inland Waterways whose impact have been felt more on the pages of memos than in real life.
The present generation of Nigerians may go without having any knowledge that alternatives routes such as water ever existed as a viable option promoted by the Federal Government.
The former Rivers governor will have to decide what to do with a train service that has in the last decade battled to justify the multi-million dollar investment sunk into it by the Federal Government.
Despite gulping over $4 billion in the last eight years, the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) operates below par. The rickety locomotives and coaches, most of which are refurbished colonial heritage, continue to run on the tracks.
In the last eight years, the NRC has spent billions revamping a network of ancient and outdated narrow gauge tracks, an effort flayed by development transportation experts.
Prof Oyesiku contended that what the country needs is not the rehabilitation of these “worn out lanes,” but a replacement of same with “standard gauge”.
Oyesiku, of the Department of Transportation, Ogun State University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye, said only a total overhaul would bring Nigeria at par with global trend in rail transportation.
Amaechi is going to inherit an auto policy which broadly aims at making Nigerians patronise made-in-Nigeria vehicles. Piloted by the National Automotive Council (NAC), the policy’s target is to encourage local production of vehicles, yet, there has not been any resolution about the kind of vehicles to come out of such assembly lines.
Critics and pundits have said the audacious policy which came into being about three years ago has largely failed because of visionless leadership.
From the states to the national, the transportation sector has been dominated by private union leaderships, who over the years that have become powerful “institutions”.
Unions such as National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN), Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD), among others have become islands unto themselves as they dictate the policy directions of successive governments.
Changes Nigerians want
Nigerians would want to see a transportation sector that would be the pride of Africa.
Within the remaining 45 months, they would want to see all modes of transportation working even as government increases its stake in mass transportation via public transportation system.
The government should draw up a workable transportation policy that would be implemented across all states to include forms and nature of transportation options to be deployed for commercials purposes nationwide.
It must deepen its investment in railway services as it remains the backbone of mass transit option for the government. Efforts, experts insist, must be made to replace the out-of-fashion narrow gauge with standard gauge and modern locomotives and coaches/wagons for the easy transportation of goods and passengers.
Adamson Williams, a train locomotive engineer said government must be more serious with rail-based system of transportation to achieve tangible result in mass transit.
He said though the present locomotives of the NRC can make 150 km/ph, the weak tracks had forced them to be making only 80 km/ph.
He noted that if actualised, a standard gauge from Apapa Ports and quays to all tank farms and stations would guarantee the most efficient mode of rail transportation in the country.
The bill presently before the National Assembly seeking to repeal the draconian NRC Act is a good point on which the new minister may act to bring about the innovations he may have for the rail sector.
Having tried to introduce a mono rail in Port Harcourt in the last dispensation, Nigerians look forward to the minister giving the necessary backing to the move to repeal the old law.
Another urgent task before the new minister is the issue of petroleum tankers and containerised trucks that has sacked residents of Apapa and its environs.
More attention, experts say, must be given to the rehabilitation of the Apapa-Oshodi truck-only lane, which had been abandoned by trucks and trailer drivers because it has collapsed.
Much as the existing roads must by urgently fixed, efforts should be geared at providing another alternative as well as providing a trailer park for the trucks and trailers that now besieged the roads over the full concession of Apapa Ports.
The greatest challenge before the new minister is to make the nation’s roads safe all-year-round, a feat that could be achieved by Amaechi with the introduction of fresh initiatives to reduce the vehicular density on the roads.
With over 100 million of its 170 million population relying road transportation as the only means of transportation, the roads with an unfair share of burden couldn’t have been less risky and unsafe.
“If he can achieve a situation where 50 per cent of the present road users make use of other alternatives in the next four years, Amaechi would have gone into the history book as the most remarkable minister to have ever manned the transportation ministry”, Williams said.
The route to doing that is to make other alternatives as safe, comfortable, affordable and available.
Amaechi must also give the nation’s airports the needed facelift as not a few admit that the aviation sector, which has held the short end of the rod for a very long time, needs urgent rehabilitation.
Pitfalls of predecessors
What the minister told reporters after taking the Oath of Office should be his guiding principle. He told reporters: “People say I am not afraid of anything but I’m afraid of jail.” His predecessors, especially in the Aviation ministry – from Prof Babalola Bosishade to Femi Fani-Kayode and Stella Oduah – faced allegations of financial impropriety after completing their tours of duty.
It is a fact that the Transportation ministry is a cash cow and money-spinning portfolio. But will the enormous resources be deployed to provide the best transportation system? This lies in the realm of conjectures.