OpinionIs Nigeria a Case of Beating The Dead Horse?

Is Nigeria a Case of Beating The Dead Horse?

May 13, (THEWILL)- “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” – Mark Twain’s Own Autobiography: The Chapters from the North American Review.

From airports to roads, from hospitals to schools, we call it elephant projects, they are dead horses for me, national embarrassments. If you’ve ever worked in government or the private sector, you may be all too familiar with similar projects running on life support.

In Nigeria, it is not just about airports, after all we were recently told that a whole airport in Abia state only existed in the figment of someone’s imagination, money gone, no airport anywhere, at least an airport is not something that just disappears or can be hidden.

Anyway, this admonition is nowhere near anything about airports, and talking about airports, how about the Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill, it is not a mill, it is not rolling and there are steel products anywhere near. You will be forgiven to think that this is about the Steel Rolling Mill, but again it is not, it is also not about the Lagos/Ibadan expressway of the Abuja/Kogi expressway, this episode of mine is not about the imaginary resuscitation of the Kaduna textiles.

But please follow me in this conversation.

The Dead Horse Theory states that “When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.” In the context of business and bureaucracy, the meme refers to a failed project which is nonetheless kept alive by wilfully ignorant management. Sage advice. But let’s start from the beginning.

The Tribal wisdom of the Indians, passed on from generation to generation, says that, “When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.” However, in modern business, education and government, far more advanced strategies are often employed, such as:

Buying a stronger whip

Changing riders

Threatening the horse with termination

Appointing a committee to study the horse

Arranging to visit other countries to see how others ride dead horses.

Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included.

Re-classifying the dead horse as ‘living-impaired’

Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse

Harnessing several dead horses together to increase the speed.

Providing additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse’s performance.

Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse’s performance

Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overhead and, therefore, contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses

Re-writing the expected performance requirements for all horses

Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position of hiring another horse.

I have yet to meet someone with experience in business and government to whom this bizarre analogy doesn’t make perfect sense. Would I be wrong to assume that you have no problem recalling your own personal dead horse story?

A story told with frustration, passion and incredulity. It doesn’t have to be a colossal airport disaster or Ajaokuta. Any lost cause or pointless project that mainly serves as a black hole for resources will do. The chance to save the dead horse’s life by doing a premortem analysis was missed. So, to figure out what happened, let’s do a brief post-mortem on the dead horse.

The first underlying assumption of the Dead Horse Theory is that the horse has in fact met its maker. This makes it seem like pronouncing it dead was an objective and straightforward exercise. The implication is: Dismounting and abandoning the failed endeavour is not only possible but highly advisable. The list of “advanced strategies” reduces the seemingly simple solution to absurdity. It implies that the failed endeavour is an open secret. Yet, there’s no shortage of plans on how to solve the unsolvable.

It looks like we’re dealing with an exasperating mix of groupthink, wilful blindness and wishful thinking. Something is keeping people from doing the obvious, from dismounting the dead horse, from abandoning the lost cause. On top of that, there are no mechanisms such as institutionalised devil’s advocacy that brings these issues to light. Let’s brainstorm a few reasons why:

Know-How: The will to dismount is there. But nobody knows how and what mode of transportation to take instead.

Responsibility: It’s not anyone’s call to issue the death certificate and arrange the funeral of the poor horse. Instead, they might be engaged in an eternal game of buck-passing.

Vested Interest: Whoever could make the call profits from the horse being deemed alive and well.

Investment: Similarly, there may be too much financial or emotional investment at stake.

Ego: As a result, the reputational damage of abandoning the dead horse is too high. Withdrawing gracefully feels impossible.

Whatever it is, living an awkward lie seems to be preferable over admitting the nag should be buried six feet under. That puts the virtuous and principled employee in a bind. On the one hand, you don’t want to pour fuel into the fire of collective delusion. On the other hand, dismounting and abandoning your post might not be your preferred course of action either.

You see the Nigerian looks upon his country as a theatre and the entire population representing and manifesting the full spectrum of acts and actors. In this revelry, life is the theatre; the nation is the stage upon which we perform. The politicians and a few of us are the actors, very often mediocre. When stars appear it is more often because a play must have a star rather than because the player is possessed of some dramatic genius.

We falter and we muff our lines; sometimes our performance takes on an aspect of the grotesque-nobody takes this seriously because it is perceived as being the nature of the play. Our people become the audience.

The fact is that in the last 24 years I have averaged a one per year article on fuel or petroleum motor spirit palaver in Nigeria, from subsidies, to scarcity, to long queues to price increase, it is a story that is as old as the first car driven by fuel in Nigeria.

It is one of our many dead horses, just some stone throw few years ago, the Federal Government blamed the ongoing fuel scarcity on increased demand by nations in temperate regions.

Addressing State House correspondents after a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, ex-Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said: “This is winter period. There is always more demand for refined products from petroleum during winter in the colder countries. This is what we are experiencing now.”

Mohammed also insisted: “The government has no intention at all to increase the pump price of petrol.”

Marketers meanwhile at same time blamed the NNPC for alleged favoritism in distribution of petrol. At the same time Kachikwu, the then Minister of state for Petroleum, at a press briefing in Abuja blamed the fuel crisis on the gap in supply of petroleum products. “There was obviously some level of gap in terms of volume. That gap arises from the fact that NNPC is the only one that is importing products currently.

This is a ministry that in the last 24 years the president has continued to oversee as senior minister, yet it remains a dead horse!

Deceased horses are an opportunity to accept things as they are. As soon as you realise you’re riding a dead horse, feel free to dismount and find one with a better health record. Alternatively, you may want to stoically commit yourself to the horse’s resurrection. In order to show the futility of the whole effort, or on the off-chance that you were wrong and the hors

About the Author

Prince Charles Dickson PhD
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Electricity Consumers, industry experts, insiders and other stakeholders have expressed the doubt about the relevance of the recent unbundling of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) into two entities in solving the notorious electricity challenge that has bedeviled Nigeria for decades. The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) recently announced that it has unbundled TCN by establishing the Nigerian Independent System Operator of Nigeria Limited (NISO). NERC made this known in a circular dated April 30. By this development, TCN is expected to transfer all market and system operation functions to the new company, while TCN takes charge of transmission of power to the distribution companies (DisCos) while the generating companies (GenCos) remain the source of power . According to the announcement, the commission had previously issued transmission service provider (TSP) and system operations (SO) licences to TCN, in accordance with the Electric Power Sector Reform Act. However, the Electricity Act 2023, which came into effect on June 9 of that year, provided clearer guidelines for the incorporation and licensing of the independent system operator (ISO), as well as the transfer of assets and liabilities of TCN’s portion of the ISO. Therefore, in the circular, the commission ordered the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) to incorporate, unfailingly on May 31, a private company limited by shares under the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA). The company, NERC said, is expected “to carry out the market and system operation functions stipulated in the Electricity Act and the terms and conditions of the system operation licence issued to TCN” “The name of the company shall, subject to availability at Corporate Affairs Commission, be the Nigerian Independent System Operator of Nigeria Limited (“NISO”),” NERC said. Citing the object clause of the NISO’s memorandum of association (MOU) as provided in the Electricity Act, NERC said the company shall “hold and manage all assets and liabilities pertaining to market and system operation on behalf of market participants and consumer groups or such stakeholders as the Commission may specify”. The new ISO, the commission said, will also be responsible for negotiating and entering into a contract for the procurement of ancillary services with independent power producers and successor generation licensees. Also, it will generally carry out market and system operations functions as specified under the Electricity Act and the terms of its licence in the interest of market participants and system users. NERC said the company is expected to carry out all market and system operation-related contractual rights and obligations handed over by TCN, THEWILL sought clarification of the new arrangement from industry experts and, more especially, employees of TCN who volunteered the necessary information but pleaded for anonymity as they do not have the authority of their employer to speak on the matter. A management staff member of the organisation in Lagos said that the arrangement is not new. He explained that four entities emerged from the carcass of the unbundled national power company, Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) which the Power Reform Act of 2003, enacted ten years after the unbundling of PHCN in 2013, substituted. These are the GenCos (power providers), Independent Service Operators (grid operators), Transmitting Company (power conveyors) and the DisCos (distribution of power to the final consumers). According to the source, the ISO has been existing and performing its function of evacuating power from the GenCos, and selling to the DisCos via the Transmitting entity. He said, successive administrations and TCN leadership were reluctant to allow the ISO operate independent of TCN because “that is where the meat is”. According to him, the ISO ‘unit’ under TCN relates with the GenCos and the DisCos buy buying power from the GenCos) and selling to he DisCos but “the DisCos are the trouble Nigeria has”. He explained to THEWILL that the DisCos do not accept the volume of power alloted to them by the GenCos on the flimsy excuses that they do not have the capacity to carry the entire volume. Some also claim that a large population of their consumers are chronic debtors and would not pay for the power they receive. “The GenCos constitute a cesspool of corruption. They would prefer to sell power to unmetered consumers on estimated billing band and charge them outrageously far above the service actually rendered. “Again, under the Electricity Reform Act, the DisCos are required to provide and elevate the power infrastructure such as the transformers, transmission wires, cables and metres to the consumers. But the consumers most of these items yet they do not enjoy electricity supply that is commensurate with the money they spend,” the source said. He lamented that the DisCos collect the money from the consumers but fail to invest in infrastructure thereby defeating the purpose of the initiative. “It is not a matter of unbundling, it is tackling the corruption in the system. Why do the DisCos play tricks with the metre supply? Why has it taken us this long to have every electricity consumer metred?” Is it not the same people that will man the unbundled entities?”asked another insider in Abuja TCN. The Nigeria Electricity Report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) for Q3 2023 revealed that the number of estimated-billing customers of the 11 DisCos increased to 6.03 million from 5.9 million year-on-year. The report stated that “estimated customers during the quarter were 6.03 million, higher by 0.53 per cent from 6.00 million in Q2 2023. On a year-on-year basis, estimated customers increased by 2.02 per cent in Q3 2023 from 5.91 million in Q3 2022”. TCN contacts reached out to say they have changed roles and are no longer in the position to speak on the matter. A member of Ikeja Electric Distribution Company who would not want his name disclosed, denied the allegation of corruption against the DisCos. “We distribute what we receive, we are in business, why would a DisCo decline off-take of the volume of power allotted to it?” he asked. Nigeria, with a population of over 200 million rely on about 5,000 megawatts of electricity which makes life and businesses unbearably expensive. Amid this challenge, the federal government recently approved a tariff hike in electricity which makes the people pay more for darkness than electricity supply. The new electricity Act signed by President Bola Tinubu, which allows states to establish their own power generating facilities will help to ameliorate the situation eventually.

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