By Babayola M. Toungo
The Mambilla Hydro-electric power project, a $5.8 billion, 3050MW project was given a Federal Executive Council (FEC) approval and an EPC contract was signed with a consortium of Chinese companies in November 2017.
After the media hype on how the government has succeeded in making the project a reality (?) where past governments failed, not much is happening at the site. This is a project that is guaranteed to provide no fewer than 55,000 jobs during the construction period; inject about 30 per cent of the total project cost into the Nigerian economy as local content and add 3050MW of electricity into the hungry Nigerian power sector. Much as the project is of national benefit and importance, the North in general and the North East in particular, stand to gain the most if the project takes off because the number of people to be attracted by the construction will buoy the local economy.
Alas, almost four years after the FEC approval and the signing of the contract, not much is on the ground to indicate that the project will see the light of the day. Sadly, with all the anticipated benefits to the local economy (northern) I can’t remember any northern leader calling on the federal government to facilitate the construction of the hydroelectric dam. The 15 per cent counterpart funding to be provided by Nigeria is less than $900 million. Northern leaders? Who are they? Where are they?
Conversely, only last week the government announced with fanfare that a whopping $1.5 billion dollars will be spent to rehabilitate the Port Harcourt Refinery. It is easy for the government to raise $1.5 billion for the rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt refinery but difficult to provide $900 million for the construction of the Mambilla Hydroelectric Project, with all its multiplier benefits to the nation. Incidentally, for those who want to know, there is zero allocation for the project in the 2021 federal budget despite having the Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation from Kano, the Minister of Power from Taraba State (where the project site is located) and the Senate President from the North East. Very interesting. Northern leaders?
When Obasanjo wanted to beef up electricity supply in the country, he set up the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) which identified the available sources of electricity supply as hydro, wind, solar and thermal (gas). A Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) was incorporated to deliver 10 thermal power plants. This SPV – the Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC) – delivered the 10 plants and all were funded from the Excess Crude Account (ECA), an account that belongs to the three tiers of government. Obasanjo spent this money from the ECA illegally because he didn’t seek the consent of the other tiers of government. This illegality was redressed by ‘Yar Adu’a when he sought and obtained a retroactive approval from the states while he held sway. Till date not a single power project is executed in the northern part of the country. I am yet to hear any “northern leader” say a word on this. Northern leaders?
The North East is the most devastated zone among the whole zones in the country and all the statistics coming out of the zone are grim, to be charitable – collapsed infrastructure, out of school children, IDPs, name it. The zone has been under siege for the past 10 years and therefore needs serious injection of funds to bring it back to civilization. What was allocated for Capital Projects for the zone in the federal budget? N45 billion for all sectors in the six states in the zone. Dear reader, please can you check allocations for the Second Niger Bridge, Apapa – Oshodi Expressway, repairs of the Third Mainland Bridge? Compare these with the capital allocation to the six states in the North East. Yet the Senate President is from the zone and the Chairman Senate Committee on Appropriation is from the North. Northern leaders?
We like boasting that the North is the food basket of the country. Fine. How did the agriculture sector fare in the recent past? Are we still the food basket of the country? Have we truly taken cognisance of the activities of bandits and insurgents in the region and their negative effects on agricultural production? Farmers don’t dare go to their farms for fear of being killed or abducted. What are the northern leaders doing about it? Just politicising the issue and no more. Travelling by road is now becoming old fashioned and nobody is saying anything about it, and this leads us to economic and commercial ruin, which in turn leads to moral ruination, which in turn leads to erosion of human empathy and ultimately leads to killings without feeling. Northern leaders?
It is estimated that there are 10 million school age out of school children, and I will bet my last kobo that over three quarters of them are from the North. What are our leaders doing about this? Nothing. These kids, who we deny the basic right to education will surely come back to haunt us – they have even began doing so – or where do you think the bandits and insurgents come from. While we steal money budgeted for education and use the proceeds to send our wards to schools in Europe and the Americas, those the money are meant for wander the streets and graduate from the same streets as petty thieves, killers and so on.
The so-called Northern leaders as they exist today are more interested in peer rivalry and competition among themselves. They are more interested in bringing down each other than in building communities and societies. These products of the society are more engrossed in bringing down their societies than in giving back to the society. They literally must become the lords of the manor by gobbling up lands and other properties belonging to their neighbours; have the biggest houses and biggest cars in the communities; oppress the poor and indulge the vagrant, while they watched, the northern economy completely crumble under the twin evils of insurgency and banditry. Instead of trying to find a solution to these, the “northern leaders” are playing blame games while the region burns.
We have northern leaders who willingly and willfully created monsters, who are now terrorising the northern poor; leaders who confiscated grazing lands and drove away herders who in turn turned to banditry because their way of life as they know it has been permanently disrupted; northern leaders who destroyed public institutions and built theirs; northern leaders who denied the poor northerner education and healthcare delivery; northern leaders who fed fat on being “northerners” and destroyed the very ladder they used to get to where they are.
The North has about 58 Senators, 191 members of the House of Representatives, 19 governors, countless number of ministers and other presidential appointees, yet the region is the ‘sick man’ of Nigeria. We also have the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Northern Elders Forum (NEF) and other sub-national groupings. Where does that leave us? Insulting each other. You talk about Northern leaders? Please spare me.
The North is an orphan and the earlier we all realise it is leaderless, the better for all.
Toungo can be reached via email@example.com