Babatunde Fashola And Nigeria’s Coal Deposits

In 2006, when the then outgoing Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu anointed his then little known Chief of Staff, one Babatunde Raji Fashola as his chosen successor to the governor’s seat at Alausa, not a few feathers were ruffled.

Many of Tinubu’s disciples who had expected the Jagaban Borgu to name them as his successor had their hopes dashed, and many quickly decamped to other parties. As for the public, a lot of people were like; ‘Babatunde who’? So the then ruling ACN was left with a governorship candidate who didn’t have the support of a sizable section of the political elite in Lagos, and was almost totally unknown by the masses.

It looked as if the Jagaban had made a bad political move, but Tinubu, a politician known to follow his political convictions to the very end, irrespective of where the political pendulum seems to be swinging to, stuck to his guns, presented his candidate to Lagosians and managed to convince Lagosians to give Candidate Fashola a chance.

Today, millions of Lagosians are convinced that they and Tinubu took the right decision in giving Fashola a chance, as Fashola wrote his name in gold by many of his awe-inspiring actions as governor, and secured for himself a calling to Federal Service.

Clearing Oshodi

When Fashola came into office he immediately began to sanitize the unhealthy environment in many parts of the city. Take the strategic area of Oshodi for instance – it used to be an epicenter of traffic gridlock, and passing there was every motorist’s nightmare. It was more than that. Oshodi was a crime capital, a notorious place where pick pockets made fat profits plying their notorious trade virtually unchallenged, day in day out.

Oshodi was a place where muggers and molesters would operate boldly in broad daylight, not bothering to hide their faces. That was until hurricane Fashola assumed office. He fearlessly led a charge to sanitize the place, and today, the place, while still being far from perfect, has been transformed into a much safer, much more beautiful place than it used to be.

Where there was grime, there are now beautiful parks and strategically placed pedestrian bridges; and the police has now set up a permanent presence in several points in the formerly over-troubled zone. In this way did Lagosians feel the impact of Fashola’s administration.

The ex governor planted gardens in many areas of the state, and while the opposition sneeringly called him the Gardener Governor, they themselves cannot deny that their eyes have benefited from the lush green landscapes that wow by day and the street lights that wow by night which Fashola brought into being and which the current Governor Akinwumi Ambode has so creditably enhanced.

Many previously misguided youths that used to make that place a dangerous zone have been given training and gainful employment. All this is not to say that crime has completely evaporated from Oshodi, but that the level of crime there today was greatly reduced by Fashola.

Saving Nigeria From Ebola

Another place where Fashola wrote his name in the sands of time was during the Ebola epidemic of 2014. Someone who knew he had Ebola had flown into Africa’s largest country and began to spread the ‘incurable’ disease. By the time the man died he had spread Ebola to so many people, including some of the health officials that treated him.

Nigeria was thrown into an existential struggle and was in a state of panic, and even the violence in other parts of the country then couldn’t overshadow Ebola in the news. It was estimated that before the disease could be contained in West Africa, it would have killed thousands of people. But what was not added in the estimation was that the man Babatunde Raji Fashola was Governor of Lagos.

Fashola successfully coordinated the state’s response to the epidemic in conjunction with other organizations and the epidemic was put under control in a way that generated international praise for Nigeria, considering the currently incurable nature of Ebola. Without Fashola’s hands-on, insightful approach to the crisis, Ebola would have wrecked more havoc on Nigeria’s population.

Fashola’s fight against transport offences greatly reduced accidents on Lagos roads, where motorists often drove on the wrong side of the road, sending many people to unscheduled visits to the hospital, or even worse, to the mortuary. (Thankfully, Governor Akinwumi Ambode has introduced another dimension to this fight.)

Fashola’s achievements as governor, except in a few areas where his policies seemed genuinely anti-ordinary-people was stellar and exemplary. My NGO, the Prince And Princess Charles Offokaja Foundation even benefitted indirectly from Fashola’s good policies. Also, I remember once when I sent him an email over the need to build a pedestrian bridge in my area because of the high number of accidents affecting people crossing the road there – his response was immediate. So, once again I give him a Big Pass Mark on his performance as Governor of Lagos State.

Now That He Is Minister

But now that he is Minister for Power, Housing and Works, he cannot afford to rest on his laurels. Unfortunately that is just what he seems to have started doing.

His biggest policy to date as Minister of Power is to mastermind the increase in electricity tariffs as a way to solve Nigeria’s electricity problem. As far as solving Nigeria’s current Gigantic energy problem is concerned, that solution is an non-solution. In fact, the additional monies generated may just end up in the pockets of some very corrupt public officials if care is not taken, as has happened in the past.

The solution to Nigeria’s power problem starts with coal. The most fundamental problem in the power sector is the scarcity of gas supplies for our power stations. Nigeria depends on gas for 80% of its electricity, but there is just too much competition for gas for Nigeria to depend on it for most of its electricity. Besides there has been great reluctance to cooperate on the part the oil companies that provide the gas due to complaints that government is fond of owing them. These complaints have led to the collapse of several agreements between the companies and the government for the supply of gas for electricity.

While the Federal Government splits hairs trying to secure enough gas to give us a manageable power supply, massive coal deposits which would have given us stable power supply lie untouched in Enugu, Delta, Kogi and other parts of the country. There is no reasonable explanation for this.

One common explanation often mentioned whenever the issue of non-exploitation of  Nigeria’s coal deposits to solve our power problem comes up is that coal burning for electricity causes massive environmental pollution.

The people who say this often quote consultants from more industrialized nations who have propagated these views for commercial interest. What they fail to tell us is that in these consultants’ countries coal power is often the biggest source of energy they use to generate electricity.

For instance; coal accounts for: 93% of South Africa’s electricity; 79% of China’s electricity; 45% of the United States’ electricity; 40% of Germany’s electricity, 78% of Australia’s electricity – and it goes on and on.

So, if all these countries use coal power to generate electricity, what is stopping us in Nigeria from doing the same? I know an energy consultant that can set up coal fired plants all over Nigeria within 18 months at very affordable price when compared to our gas stations.

There is a reason President Buhari gave Fashola a super ministry to handle, combining Power, Works and Housing under one man. It is because President Buhari has great confidence in Fashola’s ability to make great impact in Nigeria to the credit of his administration. What better way is there to make such an impact than to diversify Nigeria’s source of electricity away from scarce gas and towards abundant coal?

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