In a rare cabinet reshuffle, President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday sacked the Minister of Agriculture, Sabo Nanono, and the Minister of Power, Saleh Mamman, about two years after they took office.

A surprising move from a president known for tolerating below-the-bar performance from his appointees, Mr Buhari said the effort was designed to “fix weak areas” in his government.

And, with the country still generating and distribution below 5,000 megawatts of electricity to over 200 million people, power had to be one of those areas.

“The power sector has proven to be one hard nut that has remained difficult for the president to crack,” said Jide Ojo, a political analyst.

Nigeria’s power challenge outlived all successive governments before President Buhari came. Nonetheless, upon assumption of office in 2015, the president seemed to underestimate the enormity of the task when he appointed the former Lagos governor, Babatunde Fashola, to be not just in charge of the power ministry, but also two others: works and housing. It was a responsibility many understandably saw as too daunting for one person, and that proved true.

Mr Fashola promised improved power supply and came up with an incremental, stable and uninterrupted electricity roadmap, but could not achieve much as there was no remarkable shift from the usual epileptic power experience Nigerians are generally used to.

At the inception of his second stint in office in 2019, Mr Buhari appeared to have realised his mistakes of not bringing on board a hands-on supervisor for the power sector – one who is available round-the-clock without any distractions like heading the ministries of works and housing.

The power ministry was among the five new ministries created by the president in 2019. While Fashola held on to works and housing, Mr Mamman, who holds a Higher National Diploma in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from Kaduna Polytechnic, took over the power ministry. Goddy Agba was appointed the Minister of State for Power.

Mamman in power

Mr Buhari apparently had high expectations of Mr Mamman, a master’s degree holder in Business Administration from Bayero University, Kano, and a former assistant director in charge of electricity in the Ministry of Works before his retirement in 2002.

When he assumed office, Mr Mamman identified the challenges confronting the country’s power sector, pledging to stem the tide.

However, after two years in office, evidence abound to show the pledge was not been matched with results as power supply has not only failed to improve but has become more exorbitant for millions of struggling Nigerians.

When Mr Mamman clocked one year in office in 2020, a scorecard of his performance by PREMIUM TIMES showed there was no remarkable improvement in the power sector.

Electricity supply, a perennial problem in the West African nation, remains erratic, with daily power cuts lasting hours, a fact of life even in the most developed urban areas such as Lagos, the country’s commercial nerve and its capital, Abuja.

Mr Buhari told a cabinet meeting Wednesday that the sackings were a result of a process of “independent and critical self-review”, according to a statement from his spokesperson, Femi Adesina.

“These significant review steps have helped to identify and strengthen weak areas, close gaps, build cohesion and synergy in governance, manage the economy and improve the delivery of public goods to Nigerians,” he said.

Mamman vs Fashola

Analysts describe Mr Mamman as a sharp contrast of his predecessor, Mr Fashola, who for all his foibles and apparent failure to improve power, went on and on about his incremental, stable and uninterrupted power road map to anybody who cared to listen.

The former governor, a bit of media savvy, always had something to say and adopted the ineffective pattern of the Buhari-led administration of always blaming previous governments and “corrupt politicians” long before he got the job for the woes of the electricity sector.

Mr Mamman on the other hand was quiet, barely held press briefings and hardly granted media interviews. In his two years in office, he did not embark on any notable tour of power facilities across the country reported in the media. His wikipedia page has very scanty information about such an official heading one of the most important ministries in the country.

Critics say he lacks the charisma to hold such an office adding that his quiet nature contributed to his inability to put his foot down in the turbulent power sector.

Disquiet in power ministry

Coming to office, Mr Mamman had pledged to focus on creating synergy within the sector between all government agencies under the ministry and pulling all “stakeholders” towards the same direction.

His coming was however heralded by electricity workers downing tools over unpaid wages in late 2019 with the national grid collapsing for the 12th time that year.

Mr Mamman’s reign was dogged by internal scuffles with top officials in the power sector, with the controversial probe of the now sacked managing director of the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading company (NBET), Marilyn Amobi, for alleged financial mismanagement, disrespect for due process, and contract fraud on the top of the list.

Mr Mamman on December 24, 2019 suspended Ms Amobi, claiming the move was in continuation of the government’s effort to reorganise and sanitise the Ministry of Power and its affiliate agencies.

The suspension came after PREMIUM TIMES reported how Ms Amobi instigated the arrest and detention for several hours of nine top officials of the bulk trader by the State Security Services (SSS, also called DSS). The ex-MD had also been accused of abuse and intimidation of employees with concerns over workplace safety and teamwork among staff members.

In January 2020, Mr Buhari curiously overruled the minister, and reinstated Ms Amobi despite indictments by anti-graft agencies, EFCC and ICPC.

Months later, the president sacked the controversial official under mounting pressure.

The minister also had repeated squabbles with the management of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA).

Similar crises so led to the removal of the Managing Director of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), Usman Mohammed, in May 2020.

Metering

Early in 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic started, Mr Mamman’s power ministry said it was focusing on ending estimated and arbitrary billing for electricity through a nationwide mass-metering programme.

“Metering Nigerians is at the top of our Agenda and we hope to have some exciting news on that front soon,” he said while marking his one year in office last year.

The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) directed the Distribution Companies (DisCos) to ensure that all electricity consumers were metered by April 30, 2020.

The order said all other customers on higher tariffs shall be metered by April 30 otherwise they shall remain connected to supply, but without further payment to the DISCos until a meter was installed for them.

The order directed that any customer whose current estimated bill was below the capped price shall remain so without upward review until the installation of a meter by the DISCos.

The deadline elapsed yet, many households remained without prepaid meters and continued to pay exorbitant tariffs.

Until he was removed on Wednesday, the minister was unable to solve the challenge.

Rapid increase in tariff

Asides constant power outages despite Mr Mamman’s plan to deliver a minimum of 300 megawatts to every state in Nigeria, many Nigerians would remember the reign of the former minister for the rapid hike in tariffs.

In September 2020, PREMIUM TIMES reported how electricity distribution companies (DisCos) began implementation of their proposed hike in tariff which was greeted by outrage among Nigerians, including labour unions.

The government thereafter suspended the hike to hold talks.

In November, the tariff was eventually implemented while discounts were given for sundry categories of customers.

Two months later in January 2021, the Nigerian government yet again approved an increase in electricity tariff payable by electricity consumers.

Cosmetic achievements

Mr Mamman recorded a few pockets of achievements in his two years in charge of the power sector such as enabling Nigeria to participate actively in strengthening the ECOWAS regional electricity market and the completion of some abandoned projects.

The ministry and the Transmission Company of Nigeria partnered with the West African Power Pool, a specialised agency of ECOWAS, the World Bank, AfDB, and other development partners on a number of regional integration projects.

Key among these is the Nigeria-Niger-Benin/Togo-Burkina Faso Regional Inter-connector project, which will give some 611 communities under the power line route access to electricity.

However, his achievements were limited to what critics described as cosmetic approach to addressing biting power challenges.

Any solution?

Before appointing Mr Mamman as the Minister of Power, Mr Buhari had an arrangement with the German firm, Siemens, to help solve the country’s energy problem.

The plan by the German company has three phases, and ultimately targets 25,000 megawatts of operational capacity long term, from 7,000 MW and 11,000 MW, that are to be achieved by 2021 and 2023, respectively, through the first two phases.

“Removing severe bottlenecks within the transmission and distribution grid is necessary to allow free flow of electricity,” noted Siemens in its proposal seen by PREMIUM TIMES.

“This includes rehabilitating defective connections of key substations to the existing control center in order to improve the operation of the transmission network and to unlock its potential,” the proposal said.

In the proposal, there are no estimated prices for the phase 2 projects except the Abuja power project put at $770-$815 per kilowatt.

In May 2020, Mr Buhari commenced the second phase of a deal with Siemens, to upgrade the nation’s dilapidated power infrastructure.

In July 2021, power generation companies (GenCos) said available power generation capacity dropped to 6,000 MW from 9,000MW.

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