HomeOpinionsWake-up call for Nigerian engineers by Bashorun Randy

    Wake-up call for Nigerian engineers by Bashorun Randy


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    Rather than await the filing of charges against them, our engineers – civil, electrical, structural, chemical, mechanical, petroleum, among others, have gone on the offensive by filing their statement of defence against allegations that they are culpable with regard to the disaster that has engulfed our nation.

    Recently, Christian Purefoy of CNN devoted prime time to long queues all over our beloved country for petrol, diesel and virtually everything else, while our entire nation was grinding to a standstill. We had no electricity, no water, no food, no work. Purefoy was genuinely bewildered by the graphic but grotesque pictures he was relaying to the entire world – Africa’s largest producer of oil could not provide fuel for its own citizens!

    The four refineries – two in Port Harcourt, one in Warri and one in Kaduna, are comatose. Hence, our nation is forced to import fuel, but the importers insisted on being paid their outstanding arrears running into billions of dollars before the last government expired. The former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was adamant, saying it was all blackmail. Besides, there was the unresolved issue of the subsidy scam and the gargantuan corruption on which it is anchored.

    In any case, under cover of darkness, the engineers insist that the fault lines are obvious and self-evident. It does not require rocket science to figure out that without fuel, the power stations cannot generate electricity. Even when we rely on gas or hydro-electricity, the vicious circle of incompetence and corruption remains the permanent devil in the equation.

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    Officially, we have only four refineries but there are myriads more in the cranny creeks of the Niger Delta for which business is brisk. Any law enforcement officer or intrepid auditors who dare venture into their domain is destined for kidnapping, followed by demand for ransom or fed directly to the crocodiles as lunch to serve as a warning to others.
    It’s a huge mess. Nevertheless, the engineers insist that they are not guilty. They would rather point accusing fingers at the financial engineers, otherwise known as chartered accountants. I am here to deflect the totally unfounded allegations against chartered accountants. Our role has been limited to auditing the accounts, if and when we are engaged to do so. We also offer professional advice which the government is at liberty to entirely ignore.

    Ample evidence was provided on the front page of Daily Trust newspaper of 25th May 2015:
    “Nigeria faces a shutdown as fuel becomes increasingly unavailable nationwide and prices doubled or tripled in some places.

    Petrol, diesel and even kerosene are no longer being sold in 80 per cent of fuel stations across Nigeria, according to reports by our correspondents.

    The situation is so critical that motorists are stranded at filling stations for a whole day.

    As a result transport fares have shot up sharply – in some places rising by 100 per cent or more.

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    Airlines have also cut flights by half, leaving passengers stranded and some angry for being forced to miss crucial business trips.

    The pain and suffering are compounded by power generation which has dropped to all time low forcing critical services like hospitals, banks and telecoms to depend ever more on generator plants.

    But our correspondents report that even such alternative services are themselves threatened by the current fuel shortages.

    Telecom operators have warned that the nation faces shutdown if the situation does not improve immediately.

    A few hospitals have also expressed concerns that they will no longer be able to carry out operations should the situation continue for a day or two.
    The fuel crisis is coming at a time when about 50 foreign leaders are due in the country for the inauguration of a new president on Friday.”

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    Regardless, the engineers are adamant that they cannot be held responsible for the “system collapse” that has literally thrown the spanner in the works. In their statement of defence, they have reminded us that they, like the rest of us, are still trying to figure out whether what plagues our nation is a design fault or engineering problem. It may even be a maintenance issue or a total mismatch between the computer model/engineering drawings and the finished (or unfinished) product.

    However, what is puzzling is that the engineers have been stridently protesting that the chartered accountants must join them in the dock and be ready to face public umbrage. This is regardless of the fact that there are so many branches of engineering/consulting engineering and project management, and they are more than enough to take the rap without looking for scapegoats.

    Al Jazeera appeared to be as puzzled as the rest of the world over the chaotic situation in Nigeria. It was always monitoring the crisis and had relied heavily on the front page report of ThisDay newspaper of January 25, 2015.

    “The Senate Committee on Privatisation at the weekend disclosed that the decision of the federal government to sell eleven power distribution installations and six generation infrastructure at once, contrary to its informed advice, compounded the prevailing epileptic power supply in which the country had been in since the post-privatization era.
    The committee added that the private investors who bought the country’s power distribution and generation installations lacked financial capacity and wherewithal to transform the sector as speedily as possible and guarantee stable power supply within a period of 24 months specified in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

    The Chairman of the committee, Senator Gbenga Obadara, said this in an interview with THISDAY in Lagos, pointing out that Nigeria might not achieve stable power supply as quickly as possible due to the fact that the country’s power equipment “has become moribund and obsolete. The power investors are starting afresh.”

    Obadara, who is currently representing Ogun Central in the Senate, explained how he personally tried to persuade President Jonathan and Vice President Namadi Sambo, who chairs the National Council of Privatization (NCP) not to sell all the power installations in the country at once to no avail.

    He explained that the Federal Executive Council also constituted part of the problems, which he said, worsened the power supply in the country, pointing out that the Senate Committee on Privatization advised the federal government “to privatize the power infrastructure which should be sold in three phases to avoid unforeseen situations.
    “We told them not to sell the 11 distribution installation in one day. We advised them against selling the six generation infrastructure in one day. We advised them to sell the power installations gradually. If the installations were sold gradually, we will not have possibly got to this situation.

    I had meetings with President Goodluck Jonathan on the need to sell the power installations in three phrases. I spoke with Vice President Namadi Sambo, the Chairman of National Council of Privatization (NCP). I advised them not to sell the entire power installations in one day. But the Executive went ahead without listening to good advice.”
    He lamented that the federal government “has made monumental mistakes,” explaining that most of the investors that bought the power distribution and generation installations lack finances “to overhaul the companies.”

    He said the committee could not really look into the investors before they purchased the installations because it was not within its power “to look at their books. It is the duty of the executive to look at the books of the investors and determine whether they have the financial wherewithal to transform the country’s power sector within the specified time.”
    Since BBC sacked Jeremy Clarkson from its vastly successful “Top Gear” weekly programme about cars, it has replaced it with a new programme: “Driving In The Dark” which is very much a reality show.

    Last week, it featured a report based on the front page headline of “Vanguard” newspaper of May 21, 2015:
    · Pay your debts, get electricity – BEDC
    · Says Sapele residents owe N4bn; Oghara, N800m
    · Outstanding bills owed by old, disabled consumers – RESIDENTS
    · Claim power off from 4 am to 9 am; 12 noon to 3 pm; 5 pm to 11 pm
    “Hundreds of people stormed the streets of Sapele, Delta State, yesterday, in protest against unending blackout in the city.

    The protesters, mainly artisans and small business operators at Ugwaja, AT&P and Mowoe Quarters, said the situation had made life unbearable for them, since they could no longer run their businesses due to the blackout.

    The declaration of officials of Benin Electricity Distribution Company, BEDC, that solution to the problem was not in sight because of failure of consumers to pay accumulated bills further fuelled the anger of the protesters, who claimed they were being charged for services not rendered.”

    Until recently that it is being said that the electricity situation has improved a bit, we must say that Nigerians have not had the best of times in the area of electricity. I, therefore, hope Nigerian engineers will rise to the occasion.

    •Bashorun JK Randle is a former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and former Chairman of KPMG Nigeria and Africa Region. He is currently the Chairman, JK Randle Professional Services. He can be reached on jkrandleintuk@gmail.com

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