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• Okorocha has one year to change
Dr. Sam Amadi, the immediate past chairman of Nigria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), in this interview examines challenges facing electricity generation and distribution in Nigeria. He says the problems facing the power sector are proving intractable due to politicisation. He spoke to LEO SOBECHi, (Assistant Politics Editor)
Is it true you were not retained in NERC for average performance?
Never heard such baloney. We finished our tenure and a new government expectedly made new appointments. Don’t forget that after we finished our tenure it took close to a year before new commissioners were appointed. It is too late to revise history. Everyone, including those who did not like our policies, acknowledge that we were very professional, competent, independent and honest. Somehow, NERC under our leadership earned the reputation of a credible and competent regulator.
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Well, if you are rated by the World Bank as the most effective and credible regulatory agency in Africa; if the House of Representative Committee on Reform of
Government rates you as the most transparent and accountable public agency in Nigeria; if the Public Private Development Centre rates you as the most honest in public procurement in 2013; if you came to office with former commissioners removed amid accusations of corruption and you left office without even a whisper of allegation; if it did not have a corporate headquarters and left behind a nine-storey corporate headquarters and zonal office; if you have established highly respected regulation, including the first local content law for the electricity industry and embedded regulation for the sector, then average is far from you.
We were excellent and everyone acknowledged that, even the government and those who succeeded us. Our successors are doing a good job. I am happy we met a dysfunctional organisation and left a very functional one. Today, there are no rumours and scandals about NERC. NERC is stable, no queries and rumours.
We were the first to comply with the FOI (Freedom of Information) law. I was the first chief executive in Nigeria to have everyone declare openly to a Code of Conduct. We are the only one who never flew first class throughout our tenure. I never had a police officer or SSS operative for five years. We were so prudent that in two years we took NERC out of national budget for overhead and personnel. We still left behind the most sustainable mortgage scheme in Nigeria and the best retirement scheme. We surpassed all expectations: administrative and regulatory.
If you earned such plaudits, what can you say about the recurring issues of non-metering and estimated billing that continue to bog electricity supply?
Metering and estimated billing have been the biggest embarrassment to the electricity sector in Nigeria. I regret that we could not end estimated billing, but we tried. By the way, there is estimated billing in most electricity jurisdictions in the world. But, Nigeria’s is too grave. By the time I became chairman of NERC, we did not have any credible data on metering. I constituted the Bamidele Aturu committee and they went round the country and found metering level to be at 40 per cent. I took action to remedy the situation. In 2012, I refused to sign off a new tariff unless the Discos agreed to a short period of time to complete metering.
I know it would take a lot of finance and time to meter most of Nigerian 60 per cent customers. If it took the country over 50 years to get to 40 per cent metering, it would take some time to meter the rest 60 per cent. But, I was determined to do everything to end the scandal and exploitation of customers. I negotiated for 18 months deadline.
This was aggressive, but I pushed. In the end, they could not deliver within the time because the Federal Government continued to negotiate more benefits for workers. Ten months after, I discovered that the Discos have not made progress on metering because, as they claimed, they didn’t have the funds. After much brainstorming, we came up with CAPMI, which allowed customers to pay for meter and be refunded. We saw some improvement on metering because, when customers pay, Discos have no excuse not to meter them. This was an innovative method of crowd source funding. South African regulator has come to borrow it. They consider it the answer to sustainable funding for metering.
Later, we discovered that some of the Discos were defaulting on CAPMI and we penalised them millions of naira. Later also, I signed a new tariff with a strict provision that if a customer pays for meter and after three months he has not been metered then he will no longer pay an estimated bill until he is metered. Immediately I left office. So I am pained that we did not solve this decades-old problem. But, we worked hard and provided an innovative approach that if vigorously pursued would result in significant improvement. This problem was created in 50 years; I could not solve it perfectly in five years.
Can Nigeria ever get over the challenges associated with energy supply and distribution?
The problem of the power sector is proving intractable because of its politicisation. We need two things: First, we need to revise the model. The model implemented so far, is premised on the false assumption that once the private sector comes, the problems will be over. We need the private sector, but there are strategic regulatory and corporate governance issues that need to be fixed to achieve sustainable improvement. So, we need to revise the model away from market fundamentalism. This crisis of performance afflicts all the countries that followed sheepishly the neoliberal model. We need more sophisticated approach to public and private partnerships.
Government should borrow to finance production, using private enterprise to deliver result. Power is too essential to be left to the incentive structure of private sector investment. It is difficult for private firms to secure enough funds to upgrade electricity supply in a short time with all the uncertainties we have in our system. Let us review our power sector policy and be more realistic on what the private sector can do in the circumstance
Another problem is project execution. As a regulator, we did a good job of laying down good structure. Previous governments failed largely on project management, especially with NIPP (National Integrated Power Projects). Poor contracting and corruption deprived us of additional 7,000 megawatts. NIPP was poorly managed and was mostly outside our regulatory control. Hopefully, we will do better this time around.
Imo State recently held a council poll after seven years’ absence of elected officials. What is your estimation of democracy in the state?
Democracy is merely a shell in Imo State as it is in many other states. What may be the difference is the queer manner the government is going about the erosion of democratic values. For three years, the government did not conduct any democratic election into the local government councils. That is a gross constitutional violation. Governor Okorocha has practised much deception against the people. He promised a fourth tier of government, which did not happen. He has balkanized many communities and is leaving a legacy of division and politicisation of grass roots governance.
Now, towards the end of his tenure he hits on the idea of conducting local government election without a credible framework. There is absolute lack of credibility and legitimacy in the process and that was why there was massive boycott. I was in Owerri on the election day. No one cared. The people have totally given up on the governor. They hold on to the hope that by May 29, 2019 the nightmare and its haunting memories will be over.
The governor came into office with much acclaim and public goodwill, seven years after, do you think the expectations of Imo people on good governance have been met?
No, it has been a story of disappointment, huge disappointment. By the way, I don’t blame the governor much. It was a case of recruitment error. Governor Okorocha has no aptitude for leadership as a chief executive. He has no preparation for the responsibility of the office of the governor. But, he has one great skill; he can charm his way into the hearts of the people. Of course, he was a philanthropist or so people thought.
So, they expected a huge amount of compassion. But today, Imo people know better. This government has failed in everything, including the smallest things. Infrastructure has dilapidated in Owerri. Owerri is not passable, even with a little rain. There is so much dislocation of livelihood in the state. Poverty has increased with the destruction of means of livelihood for many through a disoriented urban renewal programme. So, the people are totally disappointed.
Most observers say after Dee Sam Mbakwe, Imo has not been very lucky with governors, would you subscribe to such assertions?
Imo has a leadership recruitment problem. We know that Nigeria is a country defined by failed leadership. Imo has been more so since the late 1980s, after the exemplary and competent leadership of Dr. Sam Mbakwe. Mbakwe was not a saint, he had his own failings. But, he had the integrity, compassion and competence to be a governor.
Under Mbakwe, Imo was the fastest industrialising state in Nigeria. Mbakwe established many industries that his successors have worked hard to destroy. Today, the Okorocha government does not generate more than N6billion annually. As at 2017, the IGR (Internally Generated Revenue) was N5.8billion. Our position in key human development and economic growth indicators do not fit a state with such potential. We should be doing far better.
But, we can put our finger on the problem. It is called a 419 culture. After Mbakwe, we have had leaders who were either 419 operatives themselves or manifest the values of 419: hubris, deception and manipulation. These barely educated, and very audacious characters have descended on political leadership in Imo State and are producing the destruction of infrastructure and value system in the state.
What is wrong with leadership selection in the state?
Since the end of Sam Mbakwe, we have failed to elect as governors and House of Assembly members persons who have the pedigree in terms of integrity and competence. In the state legislature, we had the likes of Mike Ahamba, who stood tall. We don’t have such anymore.
We now have a state assembly as a rubberstamp to the governor. Things are also so bad with governance and democracy across Nigeria. But, Imo is now exceptional, because we have done a bad job of electing leaders and getting successors. In Imo, politicians have turned thousands into beggars. So you will hear persons who ought to be enraged at the fraud and wickedness of incompetent and corrupt leaders, but instead they are jubilating and receiving pittance to endanger their lives and those of the future generation.
With highly enlightened populace, what could be done to get governance right in Imo State?
Interestingly, Imo boasts of about 98 per cent literacy rate, the highest in the country. As Franklin Benjamin opined, where the people can read and write and the press is free, the people are safe.
So, ordinarily, with such high literacy and very educated people we should have the best crop of leaders and very good governance. But we don’t. So, it means the very educated, the best and brightest have abandoned political leadership to the worst of us.
We have erred by allowing men and women with oversized ego, little competence and humility to take over governance. We are determined to reverse that dangerous trend. We want to offer to this beloved state a new beginning based on open and competent leadership.
We are assembling the best and the brightest, we are reaching out to everyone everywhere in the state to emphasise the common destiny and the need to create a new beginning in Imo State. So, to fix Imo the intellectual class, the entrepreneurial and the technocratic classes need to come back home, register to vote and work hard to get the parties, especially APGA (All Progressives Grand Alliance) elect the best person to become our next governor
What is your take on the nagging issue of zoning and political power distribution in the state?
Zoning is inevitable in Imo State. Of course, we all want to see a great leader, who will mobilise the abundant human and natural resources to rebuild Imo after these years of depression. But, we can see from Anambra that zoning helps to stabilise the polity and allow leaders focus on delivering development and good governance. So, in Imo, I salute Orlu zone for stating clearly that it is the turn of Owerri. I also believe in micro-zoning, which means that in Owerri zone a place like Ngor Okpala, more than deserves the next shot as governor than any other subzone in Owerri. I am sure APGA will pay attention to what has worked in Anambra and implement it in Owerri. That is the responsibility of the Board of Trustees and the national working committee
Recently you led the legal offensive to free some women protesting against the collective silence on the fate of the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, what motivated you?
First, I was not a lawyer to IPOB (Indigenous Peoples of Biafra) or those women. I am just a human rights lawyer and activist, who decided to join other local activists like Aku Obidinma and Barrister Emenalo to get the women out of prison. I read online reports of the situation of those women, particularly relating to those who menstruated while in custody. I decided to do something about their situation. I went to prison to see what can be done and this led me to court to meet and work together with the lawyers on record to secure the release.
Let me say this, over two decades ago, while working with Chief Gani Fawehinmi, I was counsel to one of the prodemocracy activists who was arrested on spurious ground of planning treason during the June 12 struggle. Those activists were arrested and arraigned before an incompetent court just to remand them in prison. This is what is called ‘Holden Charge’. I went to court to challenge such police practice as unconstitutional. So, when I read about the Owerri 112, my adrenalin shot up and I went there to fight against this very abusive form of policing. I am sure we succeeded. More than the release, we are mounting a campaign for fair policing in the Southeast. The Southeast is a victim of discriminatory policing. We intend to start a peaceful campaign to point this out and get fairness for southeast.
But grapevine sources said your gubernatorial ambition propelled you…
This is far from the truth. Over the years I have been part of the human rights community and its activities, especially in Imo State. For instance, two years ago I collaborated with Chidi Odinkalu, the late Chyna Iwuanyanwu and Obidinma Aku to organise a prodemocracy summit in Owerri. I have organised a couple of such meetings myself, even as Chairman of NERC. I have never quit as a human rights lawyer and activist. I am primarily a human rights lawyer, a scholar and governance professional.
You are associated with Imo governorship, but as activists rarely make it in politics, what do you want to do differently and how?
I have already indicated interest in my party, APGA and have been holding consultations. I hope to be chosen as the flag bearer.Activists sometimes miss it in politics because they don’t pay attention to how politics and activism are similar and different. Politics is not a beauty contest. If you are the best and the people are not comfortable with you then they will not vote for you. So, you have two approaches. Make yourself the best. Then make it difficult for the people to reject you. It does not all depend on what you do. What you do matters a lot. But, sometimes, the great result is produced because of other intervening factors. So, you can’t fully predict that you will win. But, you can do a good job and then be hopeful.
If you are to rate the outgoing administration, what are the bright sides and sore points?
It has underperformed in the views of many. But it still has a year left on its tenure and so it could quickly change direction.