Olice Dickson Kemenanabo is an electrical engineer with several years of experience and exposure in the private and public sector. Long before his present position as the Special Adviser on Power to the Bayelsa State Governor, he was the General Manger of the Bayelsa State Electricity Board, the operators of the Kolo Creek Gas Turbine Station, Imiringi. In this exclusive interview with John Iwori, Kemenanabo who is a fellow of the Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE) and the Nigerian Institute Electrical and Electronics Engineers (NIEEE) bares his mind on poor power supply in the country, Nigerians’ attitude to use of electricity among other issues in the polity. Excerpts
What are the prospects of Nigeria achieving an uninterrupted power supply?
Thank you for making this the last question. Well Nigeria, claims to have a base generation of 4,000MW which peaked in February 2016 and the system operators proudly posted it on its website as an achievement. Just immediately after that, in just one month, there were six cascaded total system collapses. There is also the clear issue of politicising the location of power plants that run on specialized fuel in areas that will create multiplicity of various technical, commercial and social challenges that will culminate into maintenance issues to further complicate an already bad situation.
I was shocked at the wrong statistics reeled out by one of the presenters in this year’s annual general meeting (AGM) in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, tagged “Promise 2016” that the technical losses on the Nigerian power system constitutes 2% per cent. I do not know of any network in the world that has only 2% technical losses. I was even more worried when the same person said that there will be no reason for tariff upward review if commercial and collection losses are reduced just by 10% of the declared losses. That is fine but knowing where we are coming from, it behoves me to say that there is a fundamental lack of understanding of the power system and that is the misery that we face as distribution network operators. And for as long as these are the persons that have the listening ears of government, then you can be sure our problems are yet to be addressed. What we sincerely need is a serious retooling of the perception of both the end users and the operators of the distribution networks who are the visible face of the entire power value chain from viewing electricity as a socio-political tool to that of a commercial commodity driven by business initiatives. The Minister of Works, Housing and Power, Mr. Babatunde Fashola at the recent 13th Distinguished Electrical and Electronics Engineers held in Lagos made a valuable point in this perspective. Nigerians do not use electricity. They waste it. He asked a question “Do you keep your water taps open when you are not at home or even when you are brushing or shaving?” But here you see petroleum products filling stations, hotels and suya huts keeping their outside or security lights on and competing with the sun. Yet they are the first to protest loudly when they are billed.
Are you saying that this attitude is also responsible for the malaise that has plagued public utilities in the country over the years?
Does it not surprise you that virtually every public utility from water to train services and air transport that were functioning even up till the early 60s have all collapsed? Every household or neighbourhood rely on boreholes. You will with me that this was not so when we were growing up. Those who resist payment of electricity bills are those who have the capacity to pay. In PHED we have created 24/7 service lines with meters that even the uneducated can decode but you need to see how these people will curse the hell out of you. Some go as far as negotiating their payments with you whereas they spend much higher using their generators. It is therefore more of a perception issue in this case.
Lastly, until you make an engineer a Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation just as lawyers has been Ministers of Power from the late Chief Bola Ige to the present one, the power system in Nigeria will remain an enigma. Funny enough, I have met some engineers working in ministries that are engineering bias that prefer working with non-engineers for obvious reasons. It sounds sarcastic. Isn’t it? But it remains the Gospel truth.
How did you react to the Supreme Court judgment on your state governorship election?
As much as I parry political questions, I sincerely feel this is a question if you ask me ten times in an hour, I will not hesitate to answer. In fact, I will answer and very consistently that the 2015 governorship election which Governor Henry Seriake Dickson won resoundingly was ordained by almighty God and only He could have unturned it. The courts only fulfilled their temporal obligations. As humans, particularly in a nation where a goat can brazenly be called a lion and people including those to give the judgement can stampeded by forces, people could panic. Otherwise, there was absolutely no need for the court processes which remains senseless distractions as far as I am concern.
But the All Progressives Congress (APC) claimed that it was denied over 80,000 votes from their stronghold in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which was why it went to court to redeem those votes.
My brother, it is still the same goat is a lion scenario I just painted. Those who claimed that votes were in their pockets were economical with the truth. As far as I am concern, it was a figment of their imaginations. So those votes they banked on which were all procured was the reason they had that false confidence. Did you not see the outcome of the rerun elections? The APC was defeated. In short, it was fairly and squarely trounced.
What is your assessment of Governor Seriake Dickson?
His Excellency, Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, the Ofuruma-Pepe is a man of courage, bravery and a defender of his people. In him, we saw the identity of the Ijaw nation shall rise unto the horizon of the comity of nations. In him, we feel secured as the senseless wastage of lives and properties that reigned hitherto has stopped. Well the menace of kidnaping and piracy which tried to rare its head just before the elections has been contained. I recall meeting one of the persons referred to as notorious militants in Abuja recently and honestly I was shocked to my bone marrow with the eloquence he displayed. He even offered to present a proposal to do some power projects in the state in collaboration with the government. These were dreaded people before now. And this is because of the clear identity shift crafted by Governor Dickson against the notion that the average Ijaw person is a militant, kidnaper, loafer or never-do-well in the society.
Recently, the Deputy Governor, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John Jonah (rtd) was conferred a fellowship by the Nigerian Society of Engineers. Do you think it was a deserving honour or he got it due to his position?
First of all, let me say that I am a very critical person when it comes to awards but this particular fellowship of my Deputy Governor is not only deserving but long overdue. Here is a man whose entire career as a military man and an engineer has been first all through. To say the list, this man has an intimidating professional and administrative pedigree. And above all, his sense of humour is next to none. As an engineer, he has carved a niche for himself over and over again. It is on record that he edits as many times as possible my memos to him. Even as the write up may look impeccable and no matter how long, he will read through and find very worthy corrections and comments to make it and eventually turning out an excellent document for you.
It is on record that this man conceptualized, designed and built the first wholly Nigerian Navy ship over a decade ago and she is doing excellently well in the high seas. Therefore, his conferment with a fellow of the Nigerian Society Engineers (NSE) was very belated. Perhaps you should take a moment to read his profile on the Internet and it will surprise you what this man has achieved. He is my motivator, a role model and I admire him like the admiral he is. In fact, he is my mentor.