The rot in Nigeria's power sector was caused by long years of neglect and not presence of "demons" or "mafia" as claimed by the presumed incoming Minister of Power, writes Ejiofor Alike
The presumed incoming Minister of Power, Professor Chinedu Ositadimma Nebo, had at his recent screening reportedly told the Senate that he was aware that some highly placed Nigerians had constituted themselves into a "mafia" in the power sector.
The revered professor however noted that the same God, who helped him salvage the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), which he said had been taken over by cultists before he became the vice-chancellor in 2004, would also give him the strength to "chase away the demons" who have taken over the power sector.
Nebo, no doubt, transformed the UNN, which was not only taken over by cultists but was also littered with abandoned structures, especially at the Nsukka main campus. As the pioneer Vice Chancellor of the Federal University Oye-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Nebo also successfully set up the institution, with its recent matriculation of 500 pioneer students. The university was one of the nine universities established by the Federal Government in 2011.
Within six months of his stay in the university, Nebo transformed the once thick forest into several world-class structures that constitute the two campuses at Oye-Ekiti and Ikole.
It is presumed that Nebo would most likely replace Professor Barth Nnaji, who resigned from the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in August last year. However, this is a presumption that is not guaranteed, as the ministry he is given to head is at the discretion of President Goodluck Jonathan who might elect to reshuffle the cabinet.
But contrary to Nebo's submission before the Senate, the power sector has no demons, neither is there a mafia that is working against the attainment of improved electricity supply in the country. As a Reverend of the Anglican Communion, Nebo might have viewed the problems of Nigeria's power sector from a religious perspective when he added the demonic angle to it.
There is also no sufficient evidence to justify his claim that highly-placed Nigerians are working against the achievement of sustainable power supply in the country. The problem in the power sector stems primarily from long years of infrastructural neglect, with no 'demonic', 'mafia' or religious connotation.
Nebo also advocated the need to put in place an effective Power Training Institute, to champion efficient training of personnel. However, the country already has a National Power Training Institute of Nigeria (NAPTIN), located in Abuja, which was established on March 23, 2009, when Dr. Rilwan Lanre Babalola was the Minister of Power.
The institute was established in anticipation of the competition and the related need for skilled manpower and expectations of higher levels of performance, which the ongoing power reforms would bring to the sector.
Modelled after India's National Power Training Institute (NPTI), which was established in 1965, as a national apex body for training and human resources development in the country's power sector, Nigeria's NAPTIN was established to train existing and new entrants to the sector.
NAPTIN is targeted to positioning Nigerians for the new but more demanding opportunities, greater investment and private sector management that the recent privatisation would give rise to. The institute was rehabilitated by the Jonathan-led administration because of the belief of the administration that the power sector suffered from a shortage of engineers and other skilled technical staff.
The Jonathan-led administration also believes that the private investors would not be able to bring in expatriate staff to replace Nigerians, who best understand the infrastructure challenges in the power sector.
With the establishment and rehabilitation of NAPTIN, the issue of manpower challenges is being aggressively addressed.
Years of Neglect
There is no doubt that the main problems facing Nigeria's power sector stemmed from long years of neglect, rather than the presence of demons or lack of qualified manpower.
Nebo also scratched the problem on the surface when he told the Senate that there had been significant losses in power generation and distribution in Nigeria partly because cables used in generation were sub-standard.
The use of substandard cables and other equipment in Nigeria's power sector is not so common as to constitute a major problem.
The greatest problem is that the sector was left to rot for several years, when other countries were making sustained investment to add to their existing generating capacity on a yearly basis.
For instance, statistics have shown that Nigeria, Iran and South Africa had the same generating capacity in the 1970s. But while Iran and South Africa were adding thousands of megawatts of new capacity to their grid yearly, successive administrations in Nigeria abandoned investment in the sector.
According to statistics, Iran generated 90MW in 1948, 1,500MW in 1970 and 7,025MW in 1978. Today, Iran, with a population of about 75 million, has a generation capacity of about 43,000MW.
However Nigeria, with a population of over 160 million, has been struggling to sustain 4,000MW of generation capacity.
In the vein, in South Africa, the country produces an average of over 800 watts per person, but Nigeria's per capita consumption hovers around 30 watts per person. With Nigeria's rising population and stagnant power supply, it would take 110,000 megawatts of electricity for Nigeria to match South Africa in per capita consumption.
Before former President Olusegun Obasanjo came to power the bulk of the electricity network was built between the 1960s and 1970s, and to a limited extent in the 1980s. While no new capacity was being added by previous administrations, lack of maintenance left the existing generation, transmission and distribution facilities comatose.
It was already too late when Obasanjo came to power in 1999 and demonstrated unprecedented commitment to address the rot in the sector, after inheriting less than 2,000MW from the previous regimes. With Obasanjo's commitment, the then Minister of Power, the late Chief Bola Ige, kick-started the process of reform, which gave birth to the Electric Power Sector Reform Act of 2005.
Obasanjo pursued the reform aggressively putting new power generating stations in place even though there was no gas to fire the plants. Unfortunately, Obasanjo's predecessor in 2007 suspended the projects and it took the political will of President Jonathan to resuscitate the reform and pursue it to near completion.
At no time in the history of this country's power sector has the sector witnessed unprecedented level of investment as it has done since the return of democracy in 1999. The current enthusiasm from local and international investors in the sector is equally unprecedented.
If the administrations of Shehu Shagari, Mohammadu Buhari and Sani Abacha had invested heavily in the sector like the Ibrahim Babangida, Obasanjo and Jonathan administrations, Nigeria's power supply would not have been in its current epileptic state.
Babangida completed the 1,320MW Egbin Power Station in Lagos, which is the biggest power generating station in the country. He also inaugurated the Shiroro and Jebba hydroelectric power stations, with total combined capacity of 1,140mw.
His administration also completed Delta Power Station. However, it is doubtful if these power projects were commensurate with his eight-year sojourn in the corridors of power.
But if the other administrations had followed Babangida's footsteps and added at least 2,000MW each to the national grid, Nigerians would have been enjoying relatively stable electricity supply and Nebo would have had no cause to blame demons for the country's self-inflicted woes.
As such, no matter what Jonathan's current efforts are, the damage caused by the previous administrations that abandoned the sector for over 30 years cannot be repaired within the time frame available to the current administration.
Irrespective of the number of "demons" Nebo chases out of the power sector during his tenure as minister, it will take several years of sustained investment by future administrations in the transmission grid and by the private sector in incremental generation and distribution capacity for Nigeria's power sector to fully recover and keep pace with that of Iran and South Africa.