Wednesday Column by Garba ShehuI am of the generation of Nigerians who cut their teeth on candle lights and rechargeable lamps and given the way things are going, from bad to worse, I have come to the inescapable conclusion that the vision of 24-hour, seven-day-a-week electric power supply is unreachable in my lifetime. Toyosi Akerele, an inspiring youth leader recently announced, in a fanciful pun, that the present generation of leaders had handed nothing but generators to this generation of Nigerians.
At home in Kano last weekend, neighbours said they hadn’t seen light for five days in my part of the GRA. In normal times, you got more power supply here than those who lived in slum sections of the outer city. I met someone from there who said for fifteen days they hadn’t seen a blink. In Abuja and the other cities, power continues to deteriorate, with just few cities and towns enjoying very little supply.
On one of those days last week in Kano, radio news announced the allocation 12 megawatts to the Kano distribution company with Kano, a megacity by all standard, getting six megawatts, Katsina four, Dutse two and Azare zero.
In February 2013, soon after the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE, executed share sale agreements which saw the “historic” hand-over of the 14 out of the successor companies carved out of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, the federal government with a fixed eye on propaganda proclaimed 2013 the “year of power”. Much hope was raised that the take-over of generation, transmission and distribution by private investors – someone called them asset strippers – would see the new owners revamping the sector and impacting positively on the nation’s power supply.
Last year, however, most Nigerians celebrated Christmas in darkness. Wherever a new leadership takes over a political or even a business entity, there are changes that often come with that. The new leaders start with a zeal to score quick runs, in this case, improving the level of service to make an immediate good impression. Since the time the new owners of the power companies took over, what Nigerians have experienced is a slip-up. Apart from introducing quite a few faces, nothing by way of improvement has come to the consumers.
In a hot season such as we are now in, with temperatures hovering above 30o Celsius in the majority of cities, and 40oC and above in the fringe cities of the North, this is a period where there is usually an increase in the demand for power for cooling the environment as well as food storage. An increase in demand and declining supply make for a very bad combination. With a population of 170 million, Nigeria requires an average 40,000 megawatts of electricity. As it is, less than 4,000 or 10 percent is available for both industry and domestic consumption.
After surrendering to the deteriorating situation for many years, those citizens who believed the government that things would get better and delayed such investment decisions as the purchase of generating set are now the wiser. They are bringing out money from savings to buy their own units. For those who can’t afford to do that, there is a booming electricity supply underground by retailers who wire up shops and houses in neighbourhoods, selling power per minute and hour. Without this, women can no longer prepare soup and store is inside refrigerators. They will also have to buy beef and poultry on a day-to-day basis. Government offices that cannot power a whole establishment now buy 2 – 5 KVA generators exclusively to power the office of Permanent Secretary or even Minister.
As a television reporter covering the ministry of power, this was how bad things were in the final days of the Shagari administration. At that time, overall national output had dropped to a miserable 900 megawatts. The only difference is that you had the power sector under a state monopoly. You could then by right, hold the Minister and his government responsible for the situation. But state control of the power sector, as argued by many, was counter-productive and eventually was dismantled. With this so-called “significant milestone” by which generation, transmission and distribution are driven by the private sector, government officials are already pointing at the new owners as those responsible for the terrible situation. But government can’t run away from the public.
With 80 percent of power plants which are gas-fired deprived of regular gas supply amidst increasing sabotage of gas and oil pipelines in the delta region as illustrated by the recent bombing of the gas supply pipeline between Excravos and Warri, it is hard for the government to play ostrich on this matter even if that is their wish. They can’t run away from responsibility by abandoning consumers to the antics of “asset strippers” exploiting the ordinary citizens to their marrow. You wonder why you have a minister of power, with the addition of a junior minister if all they have to do is to drink tea at the Council of Ministers and draw fat salaries and allowances if they have no power and will to regulate the sector.
Why the hell do you have a huge government agency, the National Electricity Regulatory Commission, if they cannot ensure market and operating rules in the power sector? Who is there to right the wrongs in the power sector? It doesn’t sound like we have a government in place. If we had one, someone should start worrying about the sliding power supply, insisting on performance and righting the wrongs that are right there before everyone’s eyes. Should government be running from its responsibility?