Nigeria may be moving nearer the solution to its energy quagmire with the autonomy granted state governments by the Federal Government, to generate their own power. This had been the dream of some state governments because we do not require any prophet to tell us that we can never have steady power supply under the present arrangement. It can only continue to be as epileptic as it has always been, with all kinds of reasons or excuses for the usually uninterrupted darkness that Nigerians have been paying through their nose for in the last few decades. The Federal Government’s approval, coming barely a few days after Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, requested for a no objection letter from the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) for Lagos State Government’s Embedded Power Programme, is something to cheer.
Ambode, who led some members of the state executive council, lawmakers and other stakeholders to a meeting at the NERC headquarters in Abuja, said the embedded power project was his administration’s flagship programme for direct intervention in the power value chain towards achieving a 24-hour power supply for Lagos. He said the proposed power programme would generate up to 3,000MW through accelerated deployment of various power plants in strategic locations across the state by private sector power providers, within three to six years.
“Embedded power was designed as our flagship programme for direct intervention in the power value chain towards achieving a 24-hour power for Lagos. Lagos State has always demonstrated its capacity and willingness to play a leading role in resolving the power sector challenges in the state, subject to the limit of the federal authority allowed regulations”, Ambode said.
I got wind of the embedded power project in Lagos at the Alimosho Economic Summit endorsed by this newspaper and Alimosho Mail in May, this year. It was a direct focus on Alimosho Local Government Area, the largest in Lagos and one of the largest in the country. The theme of the summit was “Exploring real investment opportunities for economic and development rebirth”. As a matter of fact, participants were told at the summit that the project would have taken off in the local government area last December but for politics associated with such projects, among other factors. What fascinated many people at the summit was that the power generated by the scheme would not have to go into the national grid; that it would go directly to consumers through the transmission network of Ikeja Electric which services the area. More importantly, the operators said they were ready to provide their customers with prepaid meters for free as soon as they hooked up to the project which, we learnt, would give uninterrupted power for 24 hours a day. We were also told the cost implications; for instance it is going to be a little costlier than what Ikeja Electric charges but is far cheaper than using generator to supply power. The way the artisans and others at the summit spoke, it was obvious they could not wait for the experience. Not many Nigerians ever witnessed uninterrupted power supply in their lives.
For a state that has significantly succeeded in powering government facilities, there is nothing wrong in seeking to extend same to other stakeholders, particularly those that can use power to rewrite the story of the state and the country at large. This is good thinking, even if some people as usual see the embedded power programme as one of enlightened self-interest. Lagos is the commercial and manufacturing hub of the country and there is no way the country can make progress with the present power supply strategy. Power is key to development.
It is important to stress that the embedded project will also benefit other parts of the country because, as the governor noted, “We are convinced that the offer by our government to deploy the state’s balance sheet in support of power generation, transmission, distribution, gas supply, metering, collection and enforcement in Lagos State will significantly relieve the national grid and free more energy for distribution to other parts of Nigeria.” Again, since the state government will support the distribution companies in installation of smart prepaid meters in the areas where embedded power is deployed, this means more meters will be available for other electricity consumers through the other channels. So, the project will benefit the country in many ways.
It is on record that the Lagos State government took what was a pragmatic step early in this democratic dispensation to sort out the power problem, with the Enron project that was meant to supply electricity to the state. But the Obasanjo administration did not allow the project to see the light of day as envisioned. His argument was that power supply was under the exclusive list, meaning it is the responsibility of the Federal Government. This is true, at least as far as the constitution is concerned. But, for God’s sake, what is the sense in the Federal Government holding on to power supply exclusively? Whatever the argument for such when it was done, it has become anachronistic today. It is no longer tenable.
We do not have to be slaves to laws since we made the laws, and not vice versa. Even now that the Federal Government has given the nod to state governments to generate power, some people might still be talking of the place of the law that puts power in the exclusive list. For God’s sake, what are the National Assembly lawmakers doing if they cannot work with alacrity to review that law that has stunted the country’s growth and development for years, if they are serious? Why are they in their fattening chambers?
Although Enron eventually ran into stormy waters, we can only imagine how far the state and, by extension, the country would have gone if the Enron project had worked according to plan. Many other state governments that are desirous of having electricity supply would have taken advantage of such pioneer effort to do their own power projects.
But it is gratifying that all that is about changing. Some of the other stakeholders have begun to see the need to embrace the embedded power project. Only an enemy of progress will not support this. Media reports said representatives of both Eko and Ikeja distribution companies at the meeting where Fashola met with the NERC officials declared their support for the 3,000 megawatts project, saying that it would be detrimental to the progress of Nigeria if they opposed it.
We need no one to tell us that this is the way to go. Even NERC’s commissioner in charge of legal license and compliance, Dafe Akpeneye, who stood in for the commission’s vice chairman, promised that the NERC would work with the Lagos State Government to ensure the success of the programme. “Within the ambit of the law and existing regulations, you have our unflinching support in this project. So, in response to what you said in your prayers to us, Your Excellency, I reaffirm the support of NERC towards this project. Our commitment is to create a viable electricity industry that works for Nigeria and Nigerians.” So, what are we waiting for? Stakeholders should arrange to sort out the gray areas. Things like the right of way, standards and designs, electricity theft as well as customers’ enumeration must be addressed as quickly as possible to make the dream come true. No one is saying that we can have power supply 24 hours by seven days immediately because there would sometimes be hitches; call them local faults if you like. But the situation would be far better than it is today, because the embedded power scheme, for instance, would take care of areas that they have the capacity to manage, unlike what obtains now. There would be no incentive to sort problems out in a situation where the power firms are at liberty to bill people arbitrarily as they presently do even when they have not supplied commensurate electricity.
Some of us were privileged to know what stable power supply was like in those days when electricity consumers were usually told in advance if they would experience blackout, as well as the nature of the fault and likely duration of the blackout. We are nostalgic about seeing a return of that golden era. The truth is; we have been doing things in the power sector the same way and yet expected a different result. This cannot be; it is now that we are beginning to see the need to do things differently that we can begin to expect a different result.
One must salute the tenacity of purpose of the Lagos State government in pursuing some of these issues to the logical conclusion in spite of many needless hurdles on its way. It has been able to secure several concessions from the Federal Government in the overall interest of the state and Nigerians in general, because many families across the country are well represented in Lagos. The Federal Government too deserves commendation for letting go some of the things that are beyond its control in spite of the enormous resources at its disposal. This is the way it should be. With this attitude, things can only continue to get better.