Saving Nigeria from suffocating darkness – The Guardian

By The Citizen

Without a doubt, incidence of power outage and the attendant highly unstable electricity supply throughout the country has massively dampened the euphoria that greeted the unbundling of the behemoth called Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). The action that gave birth to five electricity generation companies (GENCOS) and ten distribution companies (DISCOS) a year ago (on November 1) has, unfortunately, receded into frustration for hapless consumers who can now hardly differentiate between the two regimes. Clearly, government cannot stay away from the restoration process if it is indeed keen to transform the country into a leader in the global economy. The task of fulfilling Nigerians' aspiration for steady power supply, and to recharge the comatose industrial activities, is simply too crucial to be left solely to the new owners who evidently are overwhelmed by the many post-privatisation challenges that have been identified.

For a start, the Federal Government as the offering party in the unbundling process has been guilty of poor governance through successive administrations that for long cared less about a radical change in the industrialisation process. Neither has it provided a sufficiently enabling environment for small-scale entrepreneurs and artisans to thrive. The national economy has thus suffered from poor growth and huge unemployment.  On the other hand, the DISCOs are equally guilty of buying infrastructures without due diligence, notwithstanding the excuse from a concerned chief executive that 'the unions did not allow anybody to come in.' The excuse only portrays the buyers as being more interested in making fast profit rather than providing service.

The comments, the other day, of former President Olusegun Obasanjo (at a leadership and human security forum) in which he readily laid the failure or the decay in the power sector at the doorstep of his successors in office is unhelpful. Absolving himself or his administration from blame is insincere because his administration must share in the ineptitude and poor governance in the matter of power supply.

By his account, whatever is on ground that is even considered inadequate was achieved only in his intervening periods both as military leader and as a civilian president upon his return in 1999.  This is scarcely true, as the power situation during his tenure was no brighter than what it is now.  Instead of postulating that the country might not get it right again after 20 years of trying, he should, as a former leader and elder statesman, be more interested in renewed development of the country. According to him, the failure of those successors to 'reinvest proceeds from the sales of crude oil in building hydro-power dams explains the lean megawatts of electricity and attendant hitches in the march to greatness'.

Under him, Nigeria made more money than at any other time. He spent eight years in that second coming, following three years in the military dispensation. Although he started the National Integrated Power Projects (NIPP), were they given the fullest official support for an emergency situation? His administration was known to have pumped billions of dollars into the power sector with little to show for it. Obasanjo should not try to rewrite contemporary history. The lack of political will to tackle the power mess coupled with endemic systemic corruption has remained an impediment to efficient supply of electricity through his regimes till date. Besides, the former president should have better utilised the official channel of redress open to him at the National Council of State meetings.

The Federal Government's intervention loan of about N213 billion to the power companies to fight the crisis in their operations has been lauded in some quarters, but when would the disbursement start even as the Power minister only confirmed of recent that the fund 'is ready'? Too much bureaucracy attends to official matters.

As the companies' challenges have been identified, the job is cut out for the stakeholders to ease the suffering of the people. Among the lot is government's alleged failure to pay subsidy on electricity consumption as promised under the Multi-Year Tariff Order (MYTO); vandalism of infrastructure and electricity theft; revenue shortfall; low energy allocation and DISCOS's apathy for (new) investments. If these allegations are true, the government ought to quickly and meaningfully find ways of redressing the imbalances.

Perhaps there are some positives to take away from the whole process like the official claim of 4,937 new jobs in the power sector. The nation also anxiously awaits the imminent operation of a coal-fired power generating plant. The citizens are still interested in the much-talked about energy mix incorporating the use of alternative renewable energy sources such as biomass, solar, wind, hydro and thermal. Also, they can do with less of reassurances and more of the country having the wherewithal to deal with the monster of power infrastructure vandalism. That factor alone is enough to scare investors away.

It is a disgrace really that Nigeria of the 21st century is battling to install 4,000 megawatts of electricity for an estimated population of 167 million people when South Africa, with about 50 million people, can boast of more than 45,000 megawatts to drive its industrial capacity. Industrialisation is a nullity if there is no sufficient electricity supply.

However, things can be done better if the country's leaders can do things differently. They only need to imbibe a culture of possibilities in an atmosphere of transparency.