Nigeria as a country has never had as many promises in its lifetime as the PDP governments had promised, in vain, about improved electricity supply since 1999. I doubt that any country in the world has invested as much as we have on electricity as we have and yet we have nothing to show for it. I also believe that no other country in the world has patiently listened to false promises about improved electricity without showing anger as we have. False promises about improved electric power are one sure way of reviewing our history of bad governance since 1999.

The latest promise which is splashed in all the weekend papers is that the federal government has rolled out a “pragmatic and creative” short term approach to address challenges in the power sector, particularly the issue of adequate gas supply to thermal generation plants across the country. The new measures are expected to ramp up power generation and supply in the country by at least 5000 megawatts (MW) within the next four months. The measures were announced in an inter-ministerial press briefing involving the ministries of petroleum resources, power, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) among others.

The Government, we are told, has identified the challenge of inadequate gas supply as the principal challenge to electricity production and would fast track the development of additional gas supply sources which will in the short term result to an addition of at least 370 million metric cubic feet per day of gas to the power plants. In addition, the CBN and the Bankers’ Committee have agreed to setup a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to offset about N25 billion outstanding legacy gas related debts owed to gas suppliers by the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) while also working out further financial aid to the power sector. The Government also announced that further gas supply projects that would help cushion the effects of gas supply shortages in the short term had been initiated and were at various stages of maturation. With all these measures, Nigerians will enjoy 5,000 mw of electricity by the end of this year. They can say that to the birds.

Lets start by recalling that on 19th February 2008, the late President Yar’Adua had launched the Presidential Committee on the Accelerated Expansion of Power. He promised Nigeria that 18-months from that date, Nigeria would be producing at least 6,000 MW of power – that is by August 2009 (Leadership, 20/2/2008). Nigerians should have challenged Yar’Adua at that time because during the 2007 election campaigns, Obasanjo’s promise to Nigerians was that by December 2007, his NIPP projects would be producing at least 6,000 megawatts of electricity. So the promise of 6,000 MG for 2007 was shifted to 2009. President Yar’Adua explained that the reason that President Obasanjo power supply project failed was that sufficient preparation for gas supply was not made.

The Yar’Adua accelerated plan were designed to ensure that there would be abundant gas supply by August 2009. President Yar’Adua then went on to promise us that we were on course to enjoy 20,000 megawatts of electricity within two years. Going further back, the late Bola Ige had promised Nigerians in June 1999 that by 2001, there will be so much electricity produced in Nigeria that those with private generators will be sorry for themselves as they will not need it and it will have no second hand value as no one else will need it.

These repeated promises show a number of things. The first is that the quantum of the promise has been declining rapidly and we are being promised that we will get at the end of this year what was to have been delivered by 2001. The key issue here however is that successive PDP Governments have discovered that there is no memory in the country and the media and the research community do not keep records so anytime there are loud complaints about lack of electricity, the big people call a big media splash and make promises knowing fully well that no one will track the promises and ask for accountability.

In general, Nigerian governments have been very reckless in using precise dates to make concrete promises they never intended to keep. They do it to score cheap political points and pretend they are working hard to produce the dividends of governance. They have the CONFIDENCE TO DO IT BECAUSE WE AS A PEOPLE DO NOT CHALLENGE THEM.

Way back in 1988, the late Professor Ransome Kuti, Minister of Health, published with great fanfare a new health policy that was conceived to guarantee basic health to all Nigerians by the year 2000. Policy analysts still consider the policy package one of the best in the country’s history and health experts believe that if it had been faithfully implemented, the sorry state of the health of our people today would have been different. General Babangida made public commitments to achieving the targets but as we know, most of the resources for policy implementation were lost to corruption.

General Abacha took over from his friend Babangida and raised the stakes on promising precise dates when things will happen. He promised Nigeria comprehensive transformation of the economy to a developed state by the year 2015. His vision was to remove the country from the list of underdeveloped countries and make our economy an advanced one. Meanwhile, all the country’s resources that were not stolen were used for his plans for self-succession rather than achieving Vision 2015 until God called him. In the year 2000, no one remembered that we had been promised health for all that year by General Babangida so a new promise was made. General Obasanjo, back to power as a civilian President went to the United Nations, heard about the newly launched targets identified in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and committed the country to achieving them by the year 2015.

A close examination of the health goals of the MDGs shows they are less ambitious than the health goals defined twelve years earlier in the Ransome Kuti health for all programme. Obasanjo did not remember his MDG promise until 2004 when he set up the Office of the Senior Special Assistant on the MDGs. By losing almost four years before setting up the office, he almost guaranteed that the government would fail to achieve the targets.

One year after remembering to initiate a programme to meet his MDG promise, Obasanjo remembered the nice sounding Abacha Vision 2015 and quickly initiated his own Vision 20-2020, geared to make Nigeria one of the twenty leading economies in the world by the year 2020. All the economists I have spoken to about it assure me that it is a joke. Nigeria’s economy would have to grow at nearly 20% every year for us to realise this ambition, a feat that is yet to be achieved in world history.

In February 2008, we launched the Gas Master Plan to ensure that we will have abundant gas for industry and for domestic use by 2009. This weekend, we “discover” that we have insufficient gas supply which accounts for our low level of electricity generation. At the end of December this year, no one in government will tell us the promise they made for improved electricity production as the lies and deceit continue until we start make accountability demands on our governments.

Dr. Jibrin, a senior fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD, and Chairman of Premium Times editorial board, writes from Abuja.