19 March 2013

Nigeria: Worsening Power Supply


President Goodluck Jonathan was ebullient in his assessment of the electricity supply situation in Nigeria last January when he told a live Cable News Network (CNN) interview from the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that things were looking up.

He asserted that power supply in the country had stabilized mentioning, before an international audience, that Nigerians were indeed full of commendation for his administration for the improvement. He said, "I would have loved that you ask ordinary Nigerians on the streets of Lagos, Abuja or any other city this question about power. This is one area that Nigerians are quite pleased with the government that our commitment to improve (sic) power is working. So if you are saying something different, I'm really surprised. That is one area that even civil societies agree that government has kept faith with its promise".

Contrary to those claims, accounts by consumers of the public utility Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and media surveys indicate that the epileptic supply has actually worsened in the past few weeks in most parts of the country. The readymade excuses often proffered by government officials, to the effect that drops in water level in the three national hydro stations at Kainji, Jebba and Shiroro, are to blame, have ceased to be convincing. Because this not a seasonal occurrence, and has been happening for decades, the authorities ought to have figured out by now how to overcome it. This negligence amounts to a lack of political will by government to address the problem, and it has consequently persisted to this day.

This much was underscored at the recent inauguration of a new board for the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), where its chairman, Alhaji Hamman Tukur, decried the poor power supply situation, noting that Nigeria had all the resources to get electricity to the people all over the country. He remarked that it was an embarrassment for a country of 160 million people to depend on 4,000 megawatts of electricity, and urged the government to take measures that would effectively tackle the challenge with a view to providing reliable electricity to Nigerians.

Apart from the realities of inadequate capacity to generate the requisite megawatts required to provide stable electricity in the country, transmission has long being identified as a major challenge. At the TCN board inaugural, the minister of power, Professor Chinedu Nebo said that the TCN would be the fulcrum on which power delivery in the country would revolve. That is easier said than done.

Yesterday, without laying the road map to achieve such a lofty goal, the minister said that government was planning to generate 40,000mw of electricity by 2020. The current power generation status frequently fluctuates between 3,000 and 4,000 megawatts

TCN is one of the 18 successor-companies that stemmed from the unbundling of PHCN, considered a strategic step in the power reform programme. TCN is responsible for channelling power generated from the power plants to the distribution companies that will then take it to consumers.

However, after months of uncertainty largely orchestrated by government officials, Manitoba Hydro international of Canada, the authorities have wisely given it the go-ahead to take control of the management and daily operations of TCN. Manitoba had won the $23 million bid to run the TCN for a period of three years. With the loose ends now tidied up, there should be no more excuses for failure to deliver.

Checking corruption in the power sector is a major measure that can turn it around in the long run. The government should also hasten to complete the implementation of the power sector roadmap, including the completion of 7 power stations, which the National Integrated Power Projects (NIPP) planned to commission this year.

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