By; Sunday Ode, Abuja.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday decried the poor power supply situation in the country, observing that it had become a major subject of jokes for citizens.
Speaking at the opening session of National Economic Council Retreat on the economy at the State House Conference Centre, Abuja, Buhari, however, gave a target of 10,000mw to be achieved in the three years left for his administration.
The President expressed regret that despite the privatization of the power sector, not much had been achieved in terms of performance as the old problems had remained.
Accordingly, he stated that what had been playing out since the privatization of the power sector was the dilemma between profit motive and national interest.
According to him, “Nigerians’ favourite talking point and butt of jokes is the power situation in our country. But, ladies and gentlemen, it is no longer a laughing matter.
“We must and by the grace of God we will put things right. In the three years left for this administration we have given ourselves the target of ten thousand megawatts distributable power. In 2016 alone, we intend to add two thousand megawatts to the national grid.”
“This sector has been privatized but has yet to show any improvement in the quality of service. Common public complaints are constant power cuts destroying economic activity and affecting quality of life, high electricity bills despite power cuts, low supply of gas to power plants due to vandalization by terrorists, obsolete power distribution equipment such as transformers, power fluctuations, which damage manufacturing equipment and household appliances, low voltage which cannot run industrial machinery.
“These are some of the problems, which defied successive governments. In our determination to change, we must and will, insha Allah, put a stop to power shortages.”
He therefore suggested that the retreat should consider the privatization exercise, noting “we are facing the classic dilemma of privatization: Public interest Vs Profit Motive.
“Having started, we must complete the process. But National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), the regulatory authority, has a vital job to ensure consumers get value for money and over-all public interest is safe-guarded.
“Government to fast-track completion of pipelines from Gas points to power stations and provide more security to protect gas and oil pipelines.
“Power companies should be encouraged to replace obsolete equipment and improve the quality of service and technicians,” he argued.
Buhari also charged the 22 states of the federation being governed by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to build 250,000 housing units per annum to enable the party meet up with its election promise of providing one million houses annually for Nigerians.
The President invited foreign investors and local construction companies to join in so that the country could overcome its housing deficit.
He said: “Some estimates put Nigeria’s housing deficit at about sixteen million units. In our successful campaign to win the general elections last year our party, the APC, promised to build a million housing units a year. This will turn out to be a very tall order unless:
“The Federal Government builds two hundred and fifty thousand units. The 22 APC States together manage another two hundred and fifty thousand units.
“We invite foreign investors together with local domiciled big construction companies to enter into commercial housing building to pick up the rest.”
President Buhari identified the concerns of Nigerians regarding housing sector to include severe shortage of housing, high rents, unaffordable prices for prospective buyers especially middle and low-income earners.
He noted: “In addition, red tape, corruption and plain public service inefficiency lead to long delays in obtaining ownership of title documents.
“Again, there are no long term funding sources for mortgage purposes.
“These hurdles are by no means easy to scale, but we must find solutions to the housing deficit. This Retreat might start by looking at the laws.”
The president also spoke on the precarious situations in agriculture and manufacturing and health sectors, noting that presently, both the peasant and the mechanized farmers agreed with the general public that food production and self-sufficiency required urgent government action.
“For too long,” he said, “government policies on agriculture have been half-hearted, suffering from inconsistencies and discontinuities.”
According to him, the issues that worry the public included rising food prices, such as maize, corn, rice and garri; lack of visible impact of government presence on agriculture, lack of agricultural inputs at affordable prices.
He said cost of fertilizers, pesticide and labour compounded the problems of farming while extension services were virtually absent in several states, among others.
On manufacturing, he regretted that lack of foreign exchange had hampered import of industrial raw materials and spare parts but gave assurance that the situation was temporary.
He added: “It grieves me that so many manufacturing industries in the country today are groaning and frustrated because of lack of foreign exchange to import raw materials and spare parts.
“Painful though this is, I believe it is a temporary phase which we shall try to overcome but there are deeper, more structural problems bedeviling local industries which this Retreat should identify short and long-term answers to.”
This he said included “Inadequate infrastructure: Power, Roads, Security leading to increase in costs of making Made-in Nigeria goods pricier than imports, high cost of borrowing money. Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) has been hammering on the fact that high lending rates make manufacturing unviable and unprofitable.”
He further said: “Lack of Long Term Funding, the Nigerian Capital Market has not completely recovered from the 2008 worldwide crisis. Banks’ funding sources are short-term in nature due to sources of the liabilities.
“Under-developed Science and Technology Research: As with Agriculture, Nigeria’s industries are in the main outmoded and industrial practices far behind those in advanced countries.”
resident Buhari recommended that a fresh campaign to patronize Made-in-Nigeria goods should be launched saying: (Example: all uniforms in government-sponsored institutions should be sourced from local factories.”
On Labour, he said: “We need to protect our workers from exploitation, but unions must cooperate with entrepreneurs to substantially improve productivity and quality of products if we are to move forward.”
The two-day retreat is to generate immediate, medium and long-term viable policy solutions to the economic challenges facing the country at both the Federal and State levels.