Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: Wanted - New Approach to Nation's Unending Electricity Problem

Photo: Saragoldsmith/Flickr
Power lines.

Once again electricity supply nationwide is faltering; in most parts of the country, people now go for days without power supply. The power situation in some areas has declined to pre-1999 level, betraying the fact that the Roadmap Plan on power is not working, after billions of dollars was said to have been spent to improve generation and supply.

The Roadmap Plan on power was launched by President Goodluck Jonathan over a year ago amidst the euphoria generated at the time that the country would at last overcome its power generation and supply problems. At the time, I point-out that the Roadmap Plan on power was overambitious and would not solve the erratic power supply problem because of its wrong approach to the issues bedevilling the power sector, and that it was not the cure-all. Needless to say, I have been vindicated!

To start with, the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) is disorganised and there was nothing new in the Roadmap Plan to suggest that this serious problem was being addressed. It was the same old approach to the electricity crisis, which successive governments have applied, without achieving the desired results.

Second, the scale of the Development Expansion Programme being earmarked upon by the Jonathan government was too massive for execution to be possible within a time frame of five years to be of immediate benefit. It will take a long time (between 10 and 20 years) for some of the new projects to be completed.

Now, the capital cost, and that is what I am driving at, of producing this new power infrastructure of the industry alone runs into several billions of dollars. This means that you need billions of dollars to build the power facilities, not to produce any electricity, not to employ any people, just to build an additional capacity.

Why not scale down the size, taking the need of the country into account? So you can see why the need for an orderly expansion of the power infrastructure alone is a good reason why the Great Leap Forward in power development cannot occur overnight or even over a decade. I find this to be a politically and economically very important argument when people say that the present government is going to do this and that next year, next decade.

Clearly the Government lacks a clear overall strategy of what it is seeking in the power sector. It would be fallacious to believe that by random power development, through mere construction of new power facilities, provision of more equipment and machinery, tools and installations regular power supply will be established and maintained in the country. Government should not regard capital investment as a source of efficiency. There are other far more important organizational variables or factors, the interplay of which can readily solve the power problem, which the government has over-looked. So, a fresh look at the present approach is long overdue, if the country is to achieve its aim of providing uninterrupted power supply.

To cut a long story short. As I pointed out then, a 'new approach' is needed to tackle the electricity problem for good, without further waste of time. 'Needed' means that the country can't solve its power problem without this 'new approach' which I have put forward and the country wants to be amongst the 20 top largest economies of the world by the year 2020, and, in the fullness of time, will be, if it achieves regular power supply now. To achieve this, our country needs the 'new approach' to be able to overcome its electricity debacle. The 'new approach' based upon the use of certain organizational variables or factors will shape the PHCN into an organised company, through the effective and efficient application of resources, to provide regular electricity supply nationwide, at any generating capacity, as long as the generating capacity is bigger than the peak load demand of the country. I will expatiate on this later.

There are all sorts of stories making round about gas supply not being available to the thermal power stations or water table in the hydro power stations are below generating levels. These are problems engineers are trained to solve. They are not insurmountable, especially with the 'new approach', it would be automatically dealt with.

One of the more absurd ideas I have heard is to suppose that when the on-going NIPP projects scheme; which is expected to raise the country's generating capacity to 10,000MW, is completed. The country, they said, will start to enjoy regular power supply nationwide. Surely this will not happen at the present wrong approach to the problem, as recent events have shown.

Another vague idea they are eager to sell is that 'high tech' or 'nuclear power' is the answer, without understanding what the terms mean, their parameters, their limitations, or that it is a powerful tool that needs powerful scientist and engineers and good trained managers to use it as a sensible aid to good management and not to create enormous white elephants or endanger lives. Japan and Germany are already moving away from nuclear power. Beware!

But what else can one expect while all our electricity policy makers seem to have an inbred determination not to listen to professional advice.

What I am really saying is that, with the 'new approach' to the electricity problem in place, I have advocated, the country can really generate and supply regular power supply nationwide, at its current installed generating capacity of 5906MW, without any problem or difficulties.

Dr Muhammad is a former Policy Adviser of the Independent Policy Group (IPG), a Presidential Think-Tank

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