The power sector in Nigeria is no doubt one of the most inefficient in meeting the needs of its consumers anywhere in the world. The Power Holding Company of Nigeria which before now was a wholly government owned venture before it was sold to private entities was the organization governing the use of electricity in Nigeria. Renamed PHCN, it was formerly the National Electric Power Authority (abbreviated NEPA).
For a better part of power generation history in Nigeria, consumers have experienced more power outages than supply. This accounts for why Nigerians humorously represented the acronyms NEPA and PHCN to mean – Never Expect Power Always Please Hold You Candle Now. For a better share of history, Nigerians have also blamed the power outages on the distribution company saying they are in the habit of always holding onto power and releasing only the bills. This is one of the stack truths and another is the fact that Nigerians seem to have gotten themselves used to the incessant power outages.
This leaves an inquisitive mind asking, who is to blame? Considering the history of system failures in Nigeria, can we say the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) is actually holding unto the power? The simple answer is not farfetched. There is no power to hold unto. The company cannot distribute what it does not have. The power is not available for them to transmit or said the other way. The quantity of power available as compared to the need is just too minimal that it should leave one confused on how best it can be fairly distributed. It is like giving a three square meal of one single rat to a thousand hungry lions.
At the end of 2014, according statistics gathered by the Heinrich Boll Foundation Nigeria, the country had an installed power generation capacity of 8,000 MW.
But only 4,000 MW was being fed into the national grid. Several reasons were given for this huge difference between capacity and actual generation but the reasons does not reduce the energy need of the country which is ever on the increase. As at the end of 2015, the electricity need of Nigeria stood above 40,000MW and research say 192,000MW will be needed by 2030. With this huge gap, 80 percent of the population is left in darkness.
With an actual generation of 4,000Megawatts in 2015, attaining 192,000 MW by 2030 will sound like a day dream but the pessimist will say it achievable.
EFFECTS OF LACK OF POWER ON THE ECONOMY
The almost non-existence of power adversely affects living standards of the population and reduces the income of small and medium scale businesses that form the core of the economy of most African societies. Right from the point of starting the business, they are made to spend a bulk of their started up budget on ensuring there is power. Billions of dollars leave the shores of Nigeria in exchange for generating sets and their spare parts.
For an SME to start business in Nigeria, the entrepreneur must consider a budget for a power generating set that would be able to power his business premise and equipment or production area. He/she must also consider the cost of having to buy gas (petrol) to keep the power going. This becomes a serious hindrance to economic growth, more also that, the economy of the nation is vastly running on these SMEs.
From the Suya (barbecue) seller on the street to the medium size production companies, power is a must have to continue in business. They all need power in one way or the other and with no power coming from PHCN, generators always come to the rescue. This means, there will be increased pollution and the demand for fuel will increase. That will be good business for fuel importers but bad business for the nation.
The fuel import need of the country is greatly increased since there is no sufficient fuel refined locally. This will result in the reduction of the nation’s foreign reserves as huge sums are used to import fuel to keep the country running.
ELECTRICITY AND POVERTY
In Nigeria, where the poverty level is said to be one of the highest according to statistics from the World Bank and others despite the enormous natural resources. One cannot explain why a country with such enormous wealth cannot power herself. Most of the electricity used by both businesses and homes in Nigeria is generated using generating sets. In an economy where the majority of the people live on less than $2 a day, depriving them of one of the basic item in the list of social amenities like power in the 21st century makes the poverty bites even harder.
Professor Iwayemi, Akinbolaji Philip an expert once said “Energy and income poor Nigeria is energy resource rich and the sixth largest exporter of crude oil in the world. Nigeria persistent energy crisis has weakened the industrialization process, and significantly undermined the effort to achieve sustained economic growth, increased competitiveness of domestic industries in domestic, regional and global markets and employment generation” and that is our truth in Nigeria.
Lack of electricity also hampers employment generation. When SMEs spend more than they can afford to pay the few staff they can hire on generating their own power, they will sure hire few hands to remain in business. Where there are no jobs, the poor will remain poor in their poor state. If the burden of having to privately generate power is removed, SMEs will engage more hands or at least have more to pay their few hired hands a better wage. The informal sector of the Nigerian economy has proven over the years to possess the ability to keep the unemployment level down but lack of electricity is said to be partly responsible for why the sector cannot take more jobless youths off the streets.
Nigeria is known for its rich deposit of fossil fuels. In the list of these natural blessings are natural gas, coal and of course solar power. At the moment, 22% of global electricity comes from renewables such as solar, wind and biomass. Nigeria currently is underutilizing these resources. It has been noted that if and when Nigeria effectively harness them, the country will be able to generate 40 percent of the electricity Nigeria needs to provide the economic backing she needs for development, improve infrastructure, create employment and importantly – improve the standard of living in most communities.
But the reverse is the case. Instead of increase, our power generation is on the decline. Few weeks ago, power generation went below 1000 megawatts. Meaning, there was no electricity in the entire country for hours. It is like going back to the Stone Age in the 21st century. In the new order, even our yam pounder runs on electricity.
What is then responsible for this? Experts say lack of commitment and vision may be responsible for this. There is no concrete road map to combat the energy crises in the country. I fact, the political class do not recognize the absence of power as an energy crises. Every yearly, various government agencies budget millions for generating sets and the gas to keep them running not minding what it takes the common man on the street corner to do same for his business or his home. And for a larger percentage of the population who cannot afford GEN, the darkness continues.
That we have a huge power generation gap in Nigeria is no longer news. The existing power generated in country according to experts; is not up to 15% of the power required in Nigeria. What may also not be news is that, the political will and policy direction to quickly resolve the crises for now is not in sight. How do we close the gap, what source of energy will be more efficient, sustainable, cost effective, less time consuming to set up (since the need is immediate) these and more are some of the questions that the nation struggle to answer the question of how long the darkness will continue.