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Electricity crisis and the illusion of ‘body language’

By Ugochukuwu Ejinkeonye

BY Wednesday, April 1, 2015 when Nigeria ‘s Independent National Electoral Commis­sion (INEC) announced General Muham­madu Buhari of the All Progressives Con­gress (APC) the winner of the March 2015 presidential elections, the rainy season was already here with us. And as all keen and in­formed observers of Nigeria’s power sector were already fully aware, at that particular season each year, we usually witnessed some improvement in electricity supply due to the increase in the water level usually witnessed at our dams; and 2015 was certainly not go­ing to be an exception.
While the APC and its supporters were all over the place immersed in boundless revel­ling, chest-beatings and other self-congratu­latory gestures, and asking anyone whose ear they were able to attract to await the wonders and miracles which the APC had so freely and loudly promised during the elections now that their “Wonder Man” has won the election, I visited a shop near my office. And there I saw a barely literate young man who was so happy with himself as he confidently told the few people who had some time to spare for his poorly coordinated lectures about what he perceived as Buhari’s pre-inauguration accomplishments:
“You see what I have been saying? The man has not even been sworn in and we are already enjoying light [electricity supply] every day! What will happen then when he is sworn in? Just wait and see! Once he en­ters there, you will see how everything will change!”
His cocksureness was amazing. He spoke pidgin English, and so what I have attempted here is a mere paraphrase of his happy out­burst.
Now, one could easily ignore this clear advertisement of ignorance, but after lis­tening to that fellow that bright afternoon, and thought about the matter later, I begun to have this fear lurking somewhere in me that the APC, given its antecedents and dis­tinguishing character, might soon start re­echoing this fellow. Anyone who closely observed the party during the campaigns and elections would readily recall that, somehow, it does not easily recoil from saying just any­thing that can help it win a few more ears no matter how easily such claims would simply evaporate in the face of reality.
And so, I had to quickly write an article entitled, “Electricity: Can Buhari Break The Jinx?” in which I attempted an analysis of why, in my view, former President Goodluck Jonathan could not achieve an impressive re­cord in the power sector and urged Buhari and his people to hasten to do the right things to achieve a name for themselves since they had unduly raised the people’s expectations during the campaigns. Then I gave them the timely counsel which is contained in the fol­lowing extract:
“Now, it is a known fact that during each rainy season, there is usually some improve­ment in electricity supply as currently being witnessed by Nigerians. But instead of de­ploying solid effort to increase the amount of electricity generation and distribution in the country, the government may naively choose to sit still and start announcing this develop­ment as one of its ‘great achievements.’That would amount to repeating the folly of previ­ous administrations which had also done that forgetting that the rains would soon go away and they would run out of lies trying to ex­plain away the biting reality that would dawn with the sudden return of darkness.”
Sadly, the Buhari regime ignored my widely circulated counsel, and almost im­mediately, the news everywhere was that the improvement in power supply was as a result of “Buhari’s Body Language.” I had also en­tertained the faint hope that President Buhari would be able to avoid Mr. Lai Mohammed, but soon, he proved me wrong and unleashed him on us as information minister and the “body language” thing degenerated into a sing-song and became so unduly stressed, embellished and stretched far beyond its malleable limits. The simplistic point about the whole “body language” theory is that the fear of Buhari had put all the workers at the electricity companies on their toes, and so they had to wake from their slumber to ‘light up’ the country!
But the question the APC megaphones did not bother to ask themselves was: How many megawatts of electricity can Buhari’s “body language” possibly generate? Even if the power sector workers sat up on sighting Buhari, how would they be able to achieve an improvement if there were no capacity in the available infrastructure to do so? Many people now are using pre-paid meters so it is even in the interest of the private electricity companies to generate and distribute power, because their ability to make people pay heavily for protracted darkness has become grossly diminished; they stand to lose each time there is a blackout as the pre-paid me­ters would simply not record any consump­tion.
But the APC had become obsessed with its own voice, so it continued to unduly trumpet the “body language” melody, embellishing it beyond belief until the rains began to re­cede, taking the “marvelous achievements” of Buhari’s “body language” away with it. Now we have returned to the status quo ante: the oppressive heat has once again unleashed its wrath on hapless Nigerians as the generators roared back into life, wreaking untold havoc on sensitive eardrums, driving sanity away from the helpless masses and emitting dark, poisonous fumes into the atmosphere, thereby, threatening to turn the country into a dangerous gas cham­ber. And since the APC cannot blame former President Jonathan for the thick darkness that has now descended on the nation, it has been forced to keep quiet hoping we’ll all forget to ask questions, especially, as it has also ensured we are perpetually distracted by the headline-grabbing anti-corruption “bombshells” which it is carefully releasing with each passing day..
And this very effective intoxicant seems to have driven everyone into some frenzy and tak­en virtually all minds and eyes off the little or no governance happening in Abuja and the epilep­tic power supply (compounded by a worsening fuel crisis in several parts of the country) that has once again become the country’s nightmare. But the question is: how long would the intoxi­cating (and equally sedative) powers of this an­ti-corruption drug last before Nigerians recover themselves and resume their demands for actual governance? What exactly are the current poli­cies and programmes of this regime which won an election since March and was inaugurated in May 2015, and when would their implementa­tion commence?
For the first time since Nigeria came into be­ing as an independent country, the Naira is ex­changing N370 to one US dollar – under a re­gime that promised to make One Naira equal to One US dollar? Are we now on our own road to Zimbabwe ? Where is Nigeria heading to under the perilous direction of an obviously dishonest and hypocritical political party that appears so blank and is perpetually groping for direction?
. Ejinkeonye, a public affairs analyst writes from Lagos