Reports of an imminent nationwide blackout on account of a likely shutdown of Nigeria’s largest thermal power generating plant, the Egbin power station, cannot but raise anxiety. Operators of the plant raised the alarm last week over unpaid debts totaling over N110 billion owed it by the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trader (NBET). Everyone knows the importance of electricity to daily living and overall economic development, but making the vital resource available to the people has remained a sore point in our national life.
However we look at it, N110bn is a humungous amount to owe any business and still expect that concern to be on its feet. The situation is worsened by the fact that virtually all of the nation’s other power generating companies are in the same desperate situation, on account of the huge debts owed them, and the shortage of gas to fire their operations. With the already precarious power situation in the country, we cannot afford a shutdown of any of these power plants.
The Egbin Power Station in Egbin, Lagos State, is in particular too important to trifle with as it generates more megawatts of electricity than any other power plant in the country. It has an installed capacity of 1,320 megawatts at this time that the total power generation in the country is just over 3000 megawatts. It has not been receiving the volume of gas it requires to operate at maximum capacity from the Escravos-Lagos Pipeline System. The huge debts owed it are crippling its operations.
By the time the NBET debt portfolio is properly analysed, it would be discovered that government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), as well as military/para-military formations top the list of these debtors. It is surprising that government agencies neglect to pay their power bills, yet they expect adequate power supply. Do they realise how expensive it is to provide services along the entire power chain?
Our candid advice to all power sector debtors is to pay up to stop the power stations from going under. MDAs, military/paramilitary agencies and all other persons and organisations owing power companies should fulfill their financial obligations. We are aware of plans by the Federal Government to address this issue by making specific provisions for the outstanding debts in the budget, starting with that of this year. That should help to reduce the huge indebtedness to the power plants, so we urge the federal legislature to dispassionately consider the provision and approve it.
It will help to redress the impunity of government agencies refusing to pay their power bills. The age-long attitude of regarding electricity as a free resource for government agencies must change. This is more so as most of the power infrastructure in the country are now in private hands.
The Egbin Power Plc occupies a crucial place in the power availability equation. If it shuts down like it is presently threatening to, the whole nation will suffer as the drastic loss of its power supply to the national grid can lead to a collapse of the system. In the current unbearable heat which has seen an alarming harvest of deaths resulting from extreme heat afflictions like meningitis, the imperative of power supply cannot be overemphasized.
The NBET must rise up to this occasion and show the Egbin power authorities and other power plants it may be owing a new commitment to ensuring that these debts are paid so that they do not withdraw their services. This is not the first time the power entities have been forced to contemplate this extreme measure. Power sector debtors should, therefore, turn a new leaf.
Power shortage has been a major reason for the relocation of many businesses from Nigeria to neighbouring countries like Ghana, where electricity is stable. This has led to massive job losses. Is the country going to continue along this path of forcing manufacturing companies out of Nigeria into our neighbouring countries?
Just last week, a national economic recovery plan was rolled out by President Muhammadu Buhari, with a power adequacy plan expectedly occupying a pride of place in the initiative. How can the economy recover from recession in the face of acute power shortages in the country? And, how do we end the shortages when the operations at power generating companies are floundering on account of shortage of funds and gas? These are questions in need of urgent answers.
State and local governments, too, must copy from the Federeal Government’s new approach and make copious and specific provisions in their budgets for the settlement of outstanding power debts to companies like Egbin Power Plc. This message also applies to private businesses and individuals. Let there be a new day in the power sector. Let it not be business as usual.
Source: Nigeria Today