Vanguard (Lagos)

22 November 2012

Nigeria: Spare the Rod and Spoil PHCN?

opinion

There Has Just Been a Major Re-enactment of the Amakiri Episode of 1975. Amakiri was a practicing journalist in the then Rivers State, when on the orders of the Military Governor of the State, Commander Alfred Diete Spiff, he was thoroughly flogged and his hair shaved perhaps with pieces of broken bottles.

Some 37 years later, the Business Manager of Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, Gwiwa Business Unit, Sokoto State, Moses Osigwe, an engineer, has just been flogged by Governor Aliyu Wamakko, for failing to provide light to his community.

The world is still one of different strokes for different folks. There were similarities, though. Both victims were adult workers, husbands and fathers. But while the Amakiri incident was condemned by all, Osigwe's was hailed by many. In the case of Amakiri, people were, perhaps unwittingly, reacting against the military junta. Unwittingly too, people's aggression for PHCN was quickly transferred to Osigwe. All those who slept in darkness on the eve of the incident, and those in areas that have not had electricity for long simply concluded that any treatment is good enough for PHCN.

For us, any act of brutality is condemnable. In the civilized climes, corporal punishment has been totally outlawed. Even for the lower animals, there must be decent treatment. In England, for instance, try maltreating that dog or cat and you will see how the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, RSPCA, will descend on you. You will be lucky not to spend the rest of your life in prison.

We shall now look at the genesis of the current problem. For some time, Governor Wamakko has been worried that his people have no light. He invited the PHCN official, Osigwe, to find out what was required to provide the much needed light. He was told that N17 million would be needed to procure a new transformer, cables and all the necessary items needed for installation. This amount was quickly provided.

Still, the situation did not change. That was when the Governor invited the Business Manager to his office to ask why there was no improvement. When there was no satisfactory explanation from the Business Manager, the Governor gave him the flogging of his life.

Certainly, Gov. Wamakko cannot plead extreme provocation for his action much as it is sufficiently painful and even provocative for a person to be paying for service not rendered. At the political level, it can hardly be explained that a state governor has been unable to supply light to his own community. The general question on the lips of his people is, if their son is unable to give them light while in office, is it when he leaves office that he will do so?

Contrary to PHCN's insistence that customers are not required to pay for the replacement or repair of their equipment, it is common practice that communities would normally contribute for the same purposes so that they would not remain in the dark.

PHCN's insistence succeeds in leaving all such transactions behind the door in which there are no receipts and they remain confidence games in which those who would have reported the crime are at the centre of it.

All the same, resort to self-help is not an answer. Wamakko's action may be akin to stoning every policeman you see because the police authority is not rendering the service you desire.

Apparently, the law is asking the PHCN Business Manager, Osigwe, to stop crying and begin to thank God that his case ended at the "bulala" stage - he did not die. Ordinarily, by Monday morning, he would have rushed to the next "charge and bail" lawyer to demand that Governor Wamakko meets them in court. But Osigwe and his lawyer will soon find that the Supreme Law of the land, the Nigerian Constitution, provides that for as long as the Governor is in office, he is immune from any civil or criminal prosecution.

This is where some think that the President, Vice President, the Governor and his Deputy have, perhaps unwittingly been promoted above the law. This issue is on the front burner in the ongoing Constitution review process across the country. Until it is changed, those executives can literally get away with murder, no thanks to a nation where laws are turned upside down. Elsewhere, the immunity clause is the greatest guarantee that chief executives are not distracted from the serious business of governance, with frivolous court cases. But in Nigeria, it has been turned to a license to kill and to plunder the public treasury with impunity.

By way of using what you have to get what you want, the PHCN workers in the Kaduna zone have demanded an unreserved apology from Gov. Wamakko as well as the payment of reparation to Osigwe within seven days. The seven days notice has since expired and we hear that Wamakko has not moved an inch towards meeting their demands.

The cure for darkness is more darkness. By the time this piece hits the news stand, the PHCN staff in the zone may have withdrawn what remains of their shaky services. When that happens, Wamakko may only have to approve the procurement of more fuel to power the several generating plants in and around Government House. All that the ordinary citizens get for their innocence are more smoke emission from the generating plants of the rich, more noise and more heat! For Wamakko, life goes on.

Where do we go from here? It is painful that PHCN is not living up to expectation; it is more painful that we still have leaders, here symbolized by Wamakko, who live in the past, where they believe that might is right; and it is most painful that in whichever direction we look, the end is not in sight. We see darkness. We see despair and despondency.

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