For all the famed brilliance of BRF, there is often something disconcerting about his logic, no matter how eloquently advanced, especially when it comes to defending anti-people ideas. It is a role he often craves. A few years back, Fashola went to town with all forms of warped logic to justify the increase in tuition of Lagos state university (LASU) from 25,000 to a maximum of 347,000. He entertained very little dissent over the matter, and equally threatened academics in the institution to desist from discussing the issue in the media. After about three years however, with the negative impacts of the increment so glaring and the general elections approaching, the academic union and students pressed harder for a downward review. Fashola did not only grant the demand, in view of the embarrassment to his person and party occasioned by the obnoxious policy; he effected a total reversal. There was no apology to the numerous applicants who did not apply, or those who did and got admission but were unable to enroll because they couldn’t afford the fees.
As he laboured to explain the unreasonable logic behind the increment in electricity tariff last week, I could not help telling myself that we have been here before. Fashola admonished Nigerians to ‘swallow the bitter pill as there is no alternative to power generation’. That could only have been induced by a cocktail of ignorance and arrogance. To be fair, it is not his fault that Jonathan sold the Disco’s and Gencos to former heads of state and power brokers who knew next to nothing about manufacturing candles talk less of generating power. It is also not his fault that those buyers who promised a massive investment of fund and foreign expertise came back to blackmail Jonathan for funding, few months to the election. Jonathan approved public funds to friends who had bought our common patrimony for peanuts. Now, these asset strippers are asking us to pay more when service has not improved.
Fashola, however, could have asked them to live up to the terms under which they bought those assets. He should also have known that while it is okay to pay before service, it is fraudulent to be asked to pay for service that is not available. I may pay the BRT conductor for ticket before leaving Oshodi for Egbeda, but I won’t pay him if he says payment is a condition precedent to go and fetch the bus from Ojota or Obalende. A food vendor who means business will not ask hungry customers to pay before going to the market to buy ingredients. But then, Fashola is not the guy who likes to look vulture capitalists in the eye. He shivers when they sneeze and calls them, euphemistically, ‘investors and development partners’. Well, that is what they ought to be. The problem is that there is a huge gap between the ideal and the reality on ground. That is why fashola’s new gospel that Nigerians must provide the funds to be injected into power generation and distribution is bad music to the ear.
To worsen the matter, the increment is coming without a resolution of the metre scarcity fraud. Even if Nigerians are to pay exorbitant costs for power, it is only fair that they are metered, so that the exploitation will only occur when service is rendered. By increasing tariff under the estimated billing system, you take away the incentive for delivery, as the investors know they have a guaranteed stream of income even without service rendered. On top of that, Nigerians continue to buy their own transformers, poles and cables.
Fashola does not see all of that, and if he does, they don’t seem to matter much to him. It is enough that investors are happy. Nigerians can continue to pay for heavy kilowatts of darkness, with no hope for stable supply of power anytime soon. Indeed, there is a big difference between being knowledgeable and using same to advance the cause of collective good, and eloquently parroting the views of those bent on squeezing the last ounce of blood out of the common man. The former is a competent leader, and the latter a merely over-excited errand boy of vampires and gluttons. The conditions may vary from time to time, but the thinking, and the logic behind it, is always that of a comprador bourgeoisie.
The energy investors must be made to understand that no business thrives without trust, and Nigerians don’t trust them because they are the same set of people milking the masses across different sectors of the economy. It is thus their job to build confidence by providing meters to all consumers, notably improving on supply, and proposing proportionate adjustment of prices in view of what is being offered. More important is the need to further decentralize control in the power sector. There is no reason why states should not explore their own power generation strategy, even if there is an overarching national framework. Government oversight on the sector must be to safeguard national interest, a significant aspect of which is to protect consumers from predatory venturists. That requires among other things, a conscientious public servant at the helm, committed to the delivery of quality service that attracts fair returns. Fashola is too steeped in his commitment to powerful interests to be that. Just my view.