Olatunji Dare: Matters Arising

Six hours before they rang in the new year, I was already responding to wishes of Happy New Year with great diffidence.

I was hoping that, no later than June 2014, when the municipal power supply will be so abundant that private generators would become sentimental archaisms, I would be able to snag up one at a bargain price for the house up-country as an insurance against any relapse of the bad old days of darkness.

Going by what President Goodluck Jonathan had given the public to understand some three years ago, generators would no longer be the prized assets that they were; they would be little more than junk and just a shade less than toxic machinery, and their owners would be locked in a fierce competition to determine who could give them away fastest – “dash” them out —as Dr Jonathan phrased it.

My dream generator was a 25KVA affair that could light up the premises and power all the appliances in full throttle. I harboured no illusion that I would qualify for that kind of dash or any dash for that matter from Aso Rock. But I was hoping that if they decided to auction the gensets (shorthand for generating set) instead of dashing them out, I might with some luck post a successful bid for one on offer.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when I read an advance copy of Dr Jonathan’s New Year message in this newspaper saying that despite the great progress that has been made in that sector, no more than 18 hours of electricity a day was guaranteed for 2014. For 18, read 12 hours of power supply on the average.

No individuals and no organisations, it is now clear, are going to be auctioning their generators, much less dashing them out. In fact, Aso Rock, which had floated that beguiling idea, has wisely provided some N700 million in its budget for the fueling and maintenance of its gensets that are said to number close to a hundred. With that kind of hardware to manage and coordinate, it is a surprise that they do not have a cabinet-rank Senior Special Adviser on Generators in residence.

As things stand now, it is unlikely that I will be able to acquire the genset of my dream this year, or even the next. Not a promising note to start a new year.

A friend tells me that the uncle of his grand nephew also entered the 2014 on a note that is just as discomposing. On learning several months ago that the government was set to privatise Nigeria’s oil refineries that had been advertised for decades as irreparably broken, he had raided his investment portfolio to position himself to function as a major player whenever the plants come under new management, convinced that privatisation is just what is required to turn them into high-yield gold mines.

The announcement had been made by the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Ms Diezani Alison-Madueke, no less, in London, before an audience of hard-headed businessmen and women who can sniff an investment opportunity from a thousand miles. That was good enough for the uncle of my friend’s grand nephew, who is as cagey as they come in this business.

The well-known fact that the Minister has the President’s ear to at least the same extent as the Princess Stella Oduah, boss of the scandal-plagued Ministry of Aviation, virtually settled the matter. Even if Dr Jonathan had not confirmed from on high that that the refineries were indeed marked for privatisation, the uncle of my friend’s grand nephew would still have considered the whole thing a done deal.

You cannot imagine how shattered he was when word came from Aso Rock the other day that the refineries were not slated for privatisation, that no decision had been taken to that effect, and that no Minister – not even one who has the President’s ear, they should have added – could take it upon herself to contemplate, much less actualise, such a proceeding.

Those elusive foreign investors, disobliging even when there is policy consistency backed by attractive inducements, can hardly be blamed if they concluded that Nigeria is not yet safe for capital and that they are better off taking their funds to friendlier climes. I hope Dr Jonathan and his oil minister will offer them and the nation’s creditors, not forgetting the IMF, clear and convincing answers for this policy somersault.

In this season of goodwill, it is meet and proper to dwell on one image of Dr Jonathan that brightened my holiday, in case you missed it. The picture shows him in a church or chapel, surrounded by the faithful, an acoustic guitar strapped across his shoulder. It was not clear whether he was preparing to strum or had just finished strumming the guitar.

But it was clear that he is a practised performer on that instrument at praise worship, most likely of the traditional type rather than gospel pop. For, I cannot imagine him rocking and swaying and strumming lustily as the band belts out tunes evocative of rock ‘n’ roll or rhythm and blues.

But who knows! It may well be that such a setting offers him a chance to shake off that starchy gait, to loosen up, to escape from the burdens of office and savour the kind of life he has not known since they railroaded him into this presidency thing.

If that is the case, I say ride on. Mr President. That office needs to be humanised the way President Bill Clinton humanised his office when he donned sun glasses and played the sax in prime time on the Arsenio Hall Show.

President Barack Obama humanises the office not just by the way he relates to his daughters in public, but by playing basketball with his friends on the White House grounds. Pardon me for inserting him into this matter, but your predecessor, our own Olusegun Obasanjo, did the same through his exertions playing squash. He still plays squash these days when not writing missives.

Can The Presidency imagine how electrified the audience and indeed the nation would be if Dr Jonathan were to shed his habitual resource-control outfit or his federal-character ensembles for snazzy Giorgio Armani suit or designer casuals and take the stage at a cool nightclub in Abuja –no, Lagos – to accompany the resident band on his guitar and may be throw in a solo rendition as a bonus?

It would be worth at least a million additional votes in 2015.

And if Aso Rock were to take the road show nationwide, with Information Minister Labaran Maku in tow preaching the Gospel of Transformation and Agriculture Minister Akinwumi Adesina heralding the end of hunger as Dr Jonathan’s guitar belts out stirring tunes, this could turn around the PDP’s sinking fortunes, lock up the 2015 race, and shame all those noisy defectors.

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In the beginning...Let there be Light

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