1 March 2014

Nigeria: Power Outages Beyond Redemption?

Photo: Vanguard
Electricity in Nigeria.

The massive welcome party and the applause that greeted the conclusion of the privatisation exercise of the Power Holding Company Nigeria, PHCN had inspired confidence with the belief that very soon persistent power outages and irregular supply would be a thing of the past.

But recent development in the sector with the ever worsening condition of electricity supply have shown that Nigerians would still have to wait till eternity before the much desired 24/7 electricity supply becomes a reality.

The arrangement that heralded the end of federal government control of the electricity sector on November 1, last year indicated that both electricity production and distribution are now fully being controlled by the new owners with only the transmission under the control of the federal government.

The numerous post privatisation challenges seemed to be weighing down owners seemed to be. Since the take over, the electricity supply have become worsen, with many areas experiencing total darkness more than ever before. In many parts of Lagos, residents who spoke to Saturday Vanguard complained that the situation appears to defy the logic of privatisation.

Adedeji Emmanuel, a Lagos based enterprenuer said the situation seemed to be beyond redemption. "I can't imagine that we will not have light for more than two weeks. We run on generator every day both at home and in the office. I can't imagine how those who can't afford a generator or better still those who can't afford to run their generator will be living. It is very unfortunate that even with the new owners, it is getting worse."

Ayodele Badmus who resides in Igbogbo also told Saturday Vanguard that the area had been in darkness for about a week. "It had not been this bad, It seems the new owners of PHCN are confused, the whole of this area, Ikorodu to Igbogbo had been in darkness for about a week now. We don't know when light will come. "

I have not renewed my DSTV for some time and the operators called me to find out why, and I told them the same story of no-light. They said most of their customers don't rely on PHCN; I guess you know what that means."

Besides, the issue of pre-paid meter has also not improved. I thought that should be one of the first things they should tackle headlong. There are complaints here and there on pre-paid meters bothering on adjustment and efficiency.

A staff of the one of the companies who preferred anonymity noted that the issue of meter have been a daunting challenge which was not settled before the new owners came on board, adding that the issue made the collection of tariff very difficult. He said: "Recently, the Distribution Company sacked some workers and it compounded the collection of tariff and you know this will have a spiral effect on the entire system; both the Transmission Company and the rest."

Apart from the issue of labour which is yet unsettled, there is no increase in the generation of power. Authorities have attributed this to lack of adequate quantities of gas needed for proper generation which yet remained a teething problem.

There have been several unfulfilled promises on doubling the power wheeling capacity of the country from 4000MW to 10,000MW. Recall that former President Olusegun Obasanjo's administration's promise to increase power generation could not be realised even after over a whopping $16 billion was reportedly pumped into it in eight years. Late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's promise to achieve 10,000MW by December 31, 2009 was also broken.

Under the current administration, there were claims of a slight improvement but last year's records before privatisation of the industry showed power generation figures dropped to 2,987MW in April 2013 after a slight increase. Again, the government assured that power generation will peak at 10,000MW by the end of 2014. Now, the Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, says the Federal Government promises improved electricity supply by June, 2014 but not constant power supply.

From 1999 till date, about N5 trillion ($31.45 billion) had been spent without any tangible increase in the country's electricity generating capacity. This is aside $2.5million said to have been paid to Manitoba Hydro International, out of the actual cost of $23million for management and training of workers. Nobody is called to account for monies spent without result.

Now that the New Electricity Distribution Company and other companies have taken over, the project of searching for finance becomes another burden of both the private owners and the government. The over N5trillion could only take us to privatise our electrical companies?

The Federal Ministry of Power under the auspices of the Presidency recently held a conference on power sector financing. We gathered that the initiative was to augment the efforts of private sector investors who recently took over the Electric Power Generation and Distribution assets of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN).

This goes to show that the new owners may not have the financial capacity to drive the sector and deliver electricity to Nigerians, hence the need for a group of investors to team up with the new owners.

Over 300 investors attended the conference with readiness to invest in the ailing power industry.

Oladehinde Ajeniya, a business man maintained that in civilized climes, provision of stable and constant electricity like other basic amenities, is not a favour, but one of the statutory duties of the government that is responsible and accountable to the people.

He urged government to see the provision of electricity as reason why they are people's representatives in government.

"The people can no longer wait endlessly for broken promises. The next promise now is 2017 after which they must have achieved electoral victory in 2015 next year. They are only taking us for a ride even with the much-orchestrated reforms which in other words is all motion without movement," Ajeniya said.

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