Friday, November 12, 2010

Real Partnership

There’s a scene in the Godfather Part II, where the heads of the major Mafioso families are meeting at a luxurious hotel in Cuba. Hyman Roth there announces to his fellow criminals that Cuba is paradise for them because there they have what they have always wanted: real partnership with a government.

The Cuban government was not naive or stupid, it knew that it was dealing with criminals, men under investigation in their home country for crimes ranging from racketeering, prostitution, and drug dealing, to murder. It is safe to say that every man at that meeting had “made his bones” in his respective family, and indeed, to rise as high as they did, each man present there must have had a collection of skeletons that would make any graveyard jealous. However, I digress.

The other day, Dimeji Bankole, Speaker of the House of Representatives declared that the generator importation industry to be a billion dollar industry worthy of protection from the effects of power sector reform. In other words, Dimeji Bankole, in his official capacity, considers the interests of generator importers to be more important than those of the millions of his countrymen who cannot afford generators and must live in darkness.

My first reaction was that either the man was high or he had spoken tongue firmly in cheek. Surely, no sane elected official would declare himself opposed to the interests of the electorate? But then again, this is Nigeria we’re talking about, and anything goes in the mad country we call home.

For starters, generators are not manufactured in Nigeria. If it was a generator manufacturing industry that he declared worthy of protection, one could attach more merit to his position. As it is, Nigerians spend billions of Naira each year importing generators from all over the place. The attendant capital flight doesn’t bother our Speaker, oh no. The fact that he’s not even concerned about it tells you how insulated he is in his lofty position.

The true function of a generator is to serve as a back-up to main power. Generators are accordingly in use in developed countries in sensitive institutions like hospitals where electricity cannot be done without for any extended period of time. It is Nigeria where main power is now the back-up to the generator, but Bankole clearly sees nothing absurd in that situation. Besides, he doesn’t pay for diesel, does he?

In Nigeria, we cannot have a working rail transport system because long haul transporters would lose business to a far more efficient system. In Onitsha, we cannot build an airport because operators of luxurious buses would lose business as people happily take to the skies to avoid the death traps that roads have become. Our local refineries cannot work because fuel importers (a breed largely unknown to Nigerians until the regime of Khalifa) would lose business. And we cannot generate and supply enough electricity because generator importers would lose business.

Something similar happened when mobile phones were introduced. At the time, we had NITEL payphones which used smart cards, installed in several places. To make a call, one had to buy a card with units on it. It should come as no surprise to your average Nigerian therefore, that with the mobile phone revolution, the card phones stopped working while the call centres set up a few feet away did a roaring trade. In some cases, the handsets were actually ripped out of the phones. Why? Because if the card phones worked, the call centres would lose business. The only force at work here is pure insanity. And Nigerians, so used to accepting the absolute worst in terms of rulership, will quietly swallow this latest insult and move on with their lives.

The really funny thing here is that in the developed world, they have railways, and long haul truckers. They have airports in major cities, and people still take the bus. They have constant electricity, and the generators serve as back-ups.

Generator importers are no doubt a powerful cabal, and going by Bankole’s comment, they are in real partnership with a government too, just like la cosa nostra in Cuba. The glee with which they supply traffic control boxes for police officers to use at junctions containing traffic lights which depend on PHCN tells you all you need to know about how entrenched they have become.

If someone finds a way to import the air Nigerians breathe...

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I love my country, enjoy a cold beer once in a while, rabidly support Arsenal FC, but I don't get Diet Coke...