by Luke Onyekakeyah
Among the many issues plaguing Nigeria and giving citizens sleepless nights, epileptic power supply could be ranked the most outstanding, confounding and shameful. Every other economic development objectives are frustrated by poor electricity. There are intractable problems. Nigerians must be patient with Fashola on the driving seat. Truth is a lot of electricity projects are underway. If they are not frustrated by powerful forces manipulating the system, power supply may improve in no distant time.
It is pertinent to ask how the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola is tackling the problem. Cracking the daunting power supply situation in Nigeria is a herculean task. I must say that Fashola is dealing with an intractable problem. Some entrenched interests and wrong policy directions constitute a stumbling block.
For instance, Nigeria produces gas which is not readily available to power electricity. The LNG gas facilities produce more for export than for internal consumption. This is compounded by unending vandalisation of gas pipelines by militant groups in the Niger Delta. The question then arises as to why put all eggs in one basket. Why focus on gas power stations, under the Independent Power Projects (IPP) programme, when gas supply is not guaranteed. That policy has failed. A new policy directive is needed to diversify the energy mix, which holds better promise.
Consequently, kidnapping, armed robbery and a host of other criminal activities would drastically reduce. People would be gainfully employed. Millions of able-bodied motor bike and tricycle operators would be more gainfully employed in industries. That would give rise to high productivity, which is what the country needs to make progress economically.
Ordinarily, not many people bother about what is happening in government. But there is mass awareness and consciousness about the goings on in government because people are idle and hungry. They look up to their leaders for succour and blame government for all their sufferings and hardship. Electricity, which, arguably, is the most critical element needed for economic advancement is a mirage.
Fixing electricity has become an intractable and embarrassing problem. All the policy thrusts geared towards improvement over the years appear to have failed. All the billions expended since 1999 in particular, turned out to be a waste. Rather than improve, the situation gets worse and Nigerians are subjected to more frustration and hardship. The irony is that as power supply goes down, people are forced to pay more.
There have been hikes in electricity tariff in recent times, which did not result in corresponding improvement in power supply. Over and above that is the issue of estimated bills imposed on electricity consumers. All the clamour and appeals to government to checkmate the practice have yielded no positive result. The problem is solvable if consumers have prepaid meters installed for them.
The recent ultimatum by Fashola to the distribution companies to install prepaid meters to consumers within a specific time is laudable if it can be enforced. Otherwise, there is blatant rip-off of hapless consumers for electricity not consumed.
The latest declaration by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) that without an increase in electricity tariff payable by consumers or an intervention in form of subsidy from the Federal Government to the power firms, the country would not be able to get steady power supply is disappointing. By that declaration, NERC may have sealed any hope of improvement, as the conditions it put forward are no longer popular.
First Nigerians are tired of being charged hiked electricity tariff without commensurate power improvement. Any attempt to raise tariff at a time when power supply is low could be counterproductive. The public would resist it.
Second, asking government to subsidize power supply that has been privatised doesn’t make sense. It is untenable. Having hands off power generation and distribution, would government be willing to subsidise what was expected to perform better under private hands?
We are in a dispensation of privatisation when government is no longer ready to subsidise anything from petrol to kerosene, among others. The question is under what terms was power privatised? Is there room for the kind of concession the private operators are demanding by way of subsidy?
Since 2013, when power was privatised, government became a regulator through NERC. At the same time, government is directly involved in the expansion and maintenance of transmission lines through the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN).
Just as several road projects were abandoned, several power projects were also left uncompleted. According to Fashola during a recent press briefing, his ministry inherited over 100 transmission projects abandoned by contractors who were not paid for about three years.
Part of the mess was that over 800 containers, which contained transformers and a host of other electrical materials, were abandoned at terminals with no provision made to clear them in 2015. These are critical materials needed to complete stranded power stations to boost power supply.
Adopting the same step he took on abandoned road projects, Fashola’s preoccupation is to resume work on the affected power projects. With a budget of N26 billion in 2016, as against a meagre N5 billion in 2015, action has already begun to get the contractors back to work.
Similarly, some uncompleted power transmission projects have been selected for completion. They include the Kaduna Power (215 MW), Kashimbilla Hydro-power (40 MW), Gurara Hydro power (40 MW), Dadin Kowa Hydro Power (29 MW0, Katsina Wind Power (10 MW) and 14 Solar projects (1,125 MW), etc. The interesting thing is that, for the first time, government is focusing on renewable energy, which was neglected in the past.
While effort is being made to change the tempo in power generation and distribution, the issue of gas supply should be addressed with the Niger Delta in mind. Local manufacturing of electricity meters should be encouraged. State governments should be involved in developing power supply at least for their states. A sustainable power sector model should be developed to forestall future hitches under any government.
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Luke Onyekakeyah/Guardian