17 December 2012

Nigeria: The Return of Darkness

Nigerians are again getting depressed as a result of poor supply of electricity

As Nigerians enter the festive season, power outages have gradually set in. Suddenly the nation is witnessing blackouts as a regular feature of our daily living, thereby taking the country back to the old days when such situation was considered normal.

Explaining the rationale for the current situation, authorities of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) blamed it on a system collapse that occurred on Thursday, November 29, at a 330kv transmission line from Onitsha to Benin and the shutdown of the Escravos Gas Plant, thereby causing nationwide shutdown of 3,716mw of power and three units of the Egbin Power Station.

The current outage was also said to have been caused by the loss of about 1,100 Megawatts of electricity from the national grid. Unfortunately, the TCN says with the onset of dry season more power blackout was imminent.

From Kano to Calabar, Sokoto to Shomolu, Abuja to Abakaliki, indeed across the country, there is hardly any part that does not presently experience power failure on a daily basis. In most places several days go without electricity with its resultant effects on socio-economic activities. Yet until recently Nigerians had witnessed a fairly improved and steady supply of electricity power both in their homes and offices.

They were indeed getting attuned to paying the recently introduced higher tariff if that was the only conditionality for uninterrupted power supply as promised by the ousted Power Minister, Prof Barth Nnaji. In fact the former Minister had assured the nation of more regular power by the end of 2012.

When he spoke at an extensive interview with THISDAY Board of Editors on June 3 this year, Nnaji said he was targeting 5,400MW by this December. And somehow, between June and August there was incontrovertible proof that the target looked feasible.

In fact shortly before the former minister left office on August 28, the country had achieved a new high in power generation of 4,307.7MW and an additional 170MW, which served as spinning reserve, bringing the total quantum of electricity generated to 4,477.7MW.

Although it may sound too simplistic a proposition, it is instructive to note that with Nnaji's departure, power availability dropped significantly by about 1,000MW within two months that it seemed as though the former minister left with the reform magic. Unfortunately we do not agree that the fate of a nation and a great institution like the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) should be seen to be tied to any one person.

And this is not to diminish any credit due to Nnaji for the great work he did while he was around. The point here is that we should have ensured that the targets Nnaji set for improved power generation and supply continued to run on course. After all that is the essence for the existence of PHCN and its successor company, the TCN.

We are not oblivious of the fact that there are many factors working against effective power generation and transmission in the country. There is the diesel Mafia, the generator manufacturing and distributors' Mafia, the deliberately institutionalised corruption at the PHCN both at the management level and the power-drunk labour unionists.

These forces of negativism waged relentless battles against Nnaji even as he defied them in his single-minded pursuit of an agenda to make blackout a thing of the past.

It is just possible that these forces are back to their trenches and would certainly seek to frustrate any attempt to improve on electricity power delivery in the country.

We therefore urge those presently running the power sector to borrow a leaf from the Nnaji template by taking on the Mafioso. Nigerians need steady power supply not just at this festive period but all round the year. All the excuses being offered by TCN are merely begging the question.

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