Electricity Supply: Beyond the Temporary Setbacks

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When President Muhammadu Buhari assumed the mantle of leadership, a year ago, one of the promises he made to Nigerians was tackling the malignant issue of poor electricity supply in Nigeria and bringing the situation up to the point of power availability and stability. Interestingly, at the beginning of his administration, there was improved electricity supply across the country and Nigerians were happy and full of praises for the development.

Regrettably, the power situation suddenly took a nose dive to the extent that there was public outcry and disenchantment. Public outcry not because the government had failed or reneged on its promise but because of man-made problems caused by vandalism and resurgence of attacks on critical oil and gas pipelines in the Niger Delta. This sudden development erased the first-time-ever record of 5074 MW of power generation and distribution achieved by this government.

Government is making effort to address the situation. However, the attacks on pipelines have had significant toll on the power generation capacity and distribution, reducing it to a little above 2000 MW and resulting in poor electricity supply across the country. In view of this, many questions have arisen from the general public, which require urgent answers.

One of the questions is the ability of the Federal Government to revitalize the power sector. The other question borders on the rationale behind the merging of the Ministry of Power with that of the Ministries of Works and Housing. Closely following this question, is why the appointment of Mr Babatunde Fashola, a lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, not an Electrical Engineer, as the Minister of Power. The next question queries the continued life span of the privatization process in the power sector which ought to have been cancelled due to aappalling performance by both the generation and the distribution companies. The questions are endless but the important thing is that these are genuine concerns from Nigerians who appear to have lost patience with the government in its determination to fulfil its promise of providing stable power supply to its people.

It is true that there has been epileptic power supply and that the GENCOs and the DISCOs to some extent have not lived up to the expectations of the public. At the moment, there is a consensus of opinion that these two companies have not demonstrated enough ability to generate and distribute any extra power other than relying on the existing generation and distribution infrastructures they inherited after the privatization. There are also instances of increase in the electricity tariff and Nigerians being forced to pay for electricity they did not consume due to estimated billings and non-provision of prepaid meters.

What is not true however, is the question being raised about the ability of government to revitalize the power sector. Clearly, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has demonstrated its commitment to achieving this goal. Aware of the enormous challenges that abound in the power sector, President Buhari appointed a seasoned technocrat, a former Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, to head the sector and that of the Works and Housing. Mr. President cannot be faulted on this appointment. Undoubtedly, Mr Fashola has the mental and physical abilities to transform the sector. It does not matter whether he is an electrical engineer or not. Since he took over the headship of the power sector, he has shown clear leadership. First, he was able to attract a total of N99 billion Naira to the sector in this year’s budget. This money is dedicated to revamping the nation’s power sector. Already, 24 transmission projects have been earmarked for execution in the 2016 budget. The same number will be undertaken in 2017 and then be expanded in 2018. The 2016 budget also captured more than 2,000 rural electricity projects for completion.

The Minister brought a novel approach to the sector by introducing a monthly sectoral meeting of operators in the power sector. It is on record that deliberations from these monthly meetings have helped to shape and resolve issues affecting the sector to the satisfaction of industry operators. Such issues revolve around safety in the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry, gas supply and constraints, provision of prepaid meters, estimated billings by DisCos and handling of customer complaints etc. Not long ago, while delivering a lecture titled ‘Nigeria’s Electricity Challenge- A Road Map for Change’ the Minister expounded how he intends to boost power supply through a three pronged process: incremental power, stable power and uninterrupted power. He also facilitated the disbursement of fund by the Central Bank of Nigeria to Distribution companies which will enable them improve service delivery, upgrade their equipment, provide meters and resolve customer complaints.

Being aware of the need for the country to seek and explore alternative power generating systems, the Minister is accelerating work on four hydro power plants in order to boost energy supply in the country. Speaking on this initiative, Mr Fashola stated that government would increase work on Gurara hydro power plant phase one and phase two, Zungeru, Dadin Kowa and Mambilla power plants to solve energy problem. He justified his action thus “to us, this is a journey of diversification, a journey of electricity security for Nigeria, it is a journey that has already started and it is a journey that will ensure that in future, it will be impossible to hold this country to ransom by controlling any particular source of fuel for electricity”. In addition to this, government is pursuing an energy mix and energy preservation policy aimed at boosting power supply. As a follow up to this, government gave approval for 15 different solar projects to generate a combined capacity of 1,286MW.

On why government has not cancelled or reversed the privatization in the power sector, Fashola believes that there is no need bemoaning the past and I agree with him because looking back, is the shortest route to failure. Supporting this position, a former American President, Lyndon B. Johnson, once said “Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose”. What is important which the Minister has done is to focus on the present; get the priorities right and move forward to revitalize the power sector.

The issue of epileptic power supply for now may continue until cessation of attacks on oil and gas installations takes place. It may continue also until the options of alternative power generating systems embarked upon by the government are fully developed. Little wonder then that the Minister said “we have seen from events that started from around 14th February this year, repeated acts of vandalism on our gas pipelines and infrastructure that render us clearly vulnerable to one source of fuel for our energy development”.

For now, it takes a discerning mind to appreciate the efforts of the government to transform the power sector. This is even more difficult in the face of the present epileptic power supply which government is genuinely addressing. The fact remains that in no distant time, President Buhari and the Minister of Power will be applauded for taking bold steps in solving the electricity challenge in the country.

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