When in November 2013, the government of the then President Goodluck Jonathan unbundled and sold the power generating plants and 11 distribution companies from the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), expectations were high that the new investors will bring the expected succour and end the lingering power outages which had plagued Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy.
But reverse is the case as Nigeria currently has a lower electricity capacity than Slovakia, a country with about three per cent of Nigeria’s population.
This is because the current level of supply and the overall production capacity of around 6,427 megawatts remain grossly inadequate. In over 10 years, the Federal Government has invested billions of dollars in the power sector with nothing to show for it.
The power situation has also not improved in spite of the Muhammadu Buhari administration forcing frustrated electricity consumers to accept increases in energy tariffs so as to get constant, stable electricity supply nationwide. Investors had complained, among other things, that they bought these companies unaware of their true worth.
They alleged that they discovered the companies were not financially viable. Among the reasons the investors gave for non-performance is the staggering debt of government ministries, agencies and departments, put in the region of N100 billion which the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, said was subject to verification.
Other problems include shortage of gas supply for thermal plants via vandalism of gas pipelines, corrupt and uncouth staff inherited from NEPA/PHCN, the slump in oil prices and Nigeria’s currency, the naira, which discourage investors from coming into the sector.
There has also been a blame game between the power distribution companies (DISCOs) and the generating companies (GENCOs) over the N300 billion debt allegedly being owed the GENCOs by the distribution companies.
It is a shame that in the 21st Century, two-thirds of Nigerians have no access to electricity.
The one-third that have access to it are being treated shabbily. Many of them have not been given metres and so are being forced to pay for power that they don’t use through ‘crazy’ bills.
To cap it, blackout is the order of the day, and when consumers complain, they are rarely given the attention they deserve.
This must have prompted Fashola, at the 11th monthly meeting of power sector operators held in Lagos, to charge the operators and service providers to improve on metering and reduce estimated billings.
Senate President Bukola Saraki as well as President of Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote, had earlier suggested the revocation of the sale of the power companies if they would not perform to expectation, as power is the livewire of commerce. Inasmuch as we advocate Nigerians’ access to 24-hour electricity, the revocation of the sale of these power companies, as proposed, will send a wrong signal to investors and this will be counter-productive.
It is a fact that MDAs owe. Government and the DISCOs should meet to ascertain how much is being owed and clear the debts so that the distribution companies will have no excuse not to perform.
We subscribe to whatever will give Nigerians electricity 24/7. We call on the generation and distribution companies to wake up and live up to their responsibilities.
Whatever financial obligations that need to be settled among themselves should be settled.
It is a shame that in spite of the huge government investment in the power sector, we generate under 5,000mw in a country of over 180 million people. How does the country hope to get out of recession and back on the path of prosperity if companies do not have electricity to power their businesses?
It is a reality that both small (barbers, tailors, welders etc.) and large scale businesses need electricity. Government should not play the ostrich in this matter. All the challenges of these companies should be addressed. Government should fulfil its own part of the obligations by releasing part of the intervention funds.
Government should also tackle the problem of pipeline vandalism head-on so that the thermal GENCOS will have enough gas to generate electricity. Government should, most importantly, provide the enabling environment to attract more investors into the sector.
The more people investing in this sector, the better it will be for Nigerians. The issue of estimated billing should, by now, not be an option as every power consumer should be metred. It is wrong and fraudulent to expect consumers to pay for services not rendered. Nigerians need light and need it now.
Let there be light!