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Steady electricity supply: A promise not kept

If there is one index that has shown that Nigeria is a state groping in darkness both literally and figuratively, it is electricity generation and supply. For Nigeria’s 200 million inhabitants, the country supplies just some 2,800 or 3,000 Megawatts of electricity.

That is not only shameful, scandalous even, but it is tragic. It simply degrades and takes the nation back into the dark ages because no nation can develop without electricity. Nigeria is currently producing two per cent of the total electricity it requires. Also, only four million of Nigeria’s 32 million households have electricity.

Now that there are indications that the Federal Government might, in the coming weeks, take punitive measures over the operating licenses of some power distribution (DisCos) and generation (GenCos), we had better buried our faces in shame. The Federal Government should lead Nigerians in this shameful poor performance. Despite the recent termination of the appointment of the Minister of Power, appointing Abubakar Aliyu in acting capacity, the power sector has failed woefully after the privatization of the sector. For electricity supply to hover between 2,800 megawatts and 4,000 megawatts in a country of more than 200 million people, it is really embarrassing.

Unfortunately for Nigeria, the All Progressives Congress (APC) government led by President Muhammadu Buhari is right now strolling down the electricity road that past governments also walked: make huge promises only to deliver nothing. It is likely that APC’s top shots have forgotten the party’s promise of increasing Nigeria’s electricity generation and distribution to 40, 000 megawatts. But we at THIS NIGERIA are not asking Buhari to do the outright impossible by taking Nigeria’s electricity supply from 3,000 megawatts to 40,000 in his second term which effectively started since Wednesday (September 11, 2019), the day the Presidential Election Appeal Tribunal delivered judgement in his favour and also the day he and his new cabinet ministers held their first Federal Executive Council meeting since their inauguration.

APC had stated that it would add an additional 5,000megawatts to the national grid every year and thus increase supply to 40,000megawatts in eight years. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had also through the late President Yar’Adua promised to increase electricity supply to over 10, 000 megawatts by 2013 and failed miserably. So, we are not about to knock the APC. But if the government had aimed and achieved its own timetable of making available 5,000 megawatts yearly as promised, it would have been able to outdo all the past administrations by raising Nigeria’s electricity supply to 26,000 megawatts – from just 6,000 they inherited from the Jonathan Administration in 2015 as at the end of their first term in May 2019. And since the government has surpassed its 6th year in the saddle, it would have generated over 36,000 megawatts as at May 2021.

Fortunately, for the Mohammadu Buhari administration, the immediate problem that would have been solved to up the present generation capacity of electricity in the country was not the problem of establishing new generating plants but that of making the seven gas turbines out of the 10 built under the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) to work. And the way to make them work was to ensure they were supplied with gas. To do this would have entailed three things: ensure that there was adequate natural gas production. Luckily for Nigerians, the country is actually sitting on a sea of gas. So the first step on this road was to enhance the collection and storage of the abundant natural gas that is routinely burnt or flared away during the collection of crude petroleum.

Then the next step was to successfully supply the natural gas to the already completed seven gas turbines. The only stumbling block here was vandalisation of pipelines. So the government ought to have dreamed up the effective way to actually stop that national scourge. Then we should have completed the construction of the non-completed gas turbines and ensure that gas was available and that this gas produced by the companies gets to the turbines. Fortunately, Nigeria already has 10 existing power plants.

Each unit of the gas plant requires 30million/scfs of gas a day and we have 35 of these units in the system as we write. That’s talking about 1,500million/scfs per day. Unfortunately, the supply of gas reaching the plants is about 400million/scfs of gas per day. So, most of the power plants are operating right now at about 20 or 30 per cent of installed capacity. Really, Buhari is not faced by the problem that demands new gas turbines to be built. Actually, the problem facing Nigeria now is that generating capacity is just lying idle while people suffer for not having power.

Many experts have posited that what has happened is that because the National Electricity Regulatory Commission has put a peg on the price of gas to the industry, the investors are not so much motivated by such price regimes and therefore prefer to sell the gas available to foreign countries. No, we think that because of pipeline vandalisation, suppliers may opt for the safer alternative: to send supplies to the overseas gas market – which is safer than the pipeline borne local electricity gas market. And here is the real problem: unless there is something the Buhari administration could do to ensure that local industries get all the natural gas they need, inadequate electricity supply will continue to dog the country. If the gas turbines are functional, and we extract at least 5,000 megawatts from them alone, if we repair the old thermal and hydro power plants, Nigeria would begin to inch towards the 10,000 megawatts level.

Of course, there is the problem of some of the distribution companies’ (DISCOs) refusal to invest money in buying metres, transformers or even to replace fallen poles or cut wires, or to even extend electricity to rural areas because they are focused on profits. Such cases are real, but the pale before Nigerians is the shameful level of general electricity supply in the country. South Africa generates 40,000 megawatts and Ghana’s 30,000 megawatts level may equal Nigeria’s but the two countries combined population is vastly smaller than Nigeria’s.

Then there is the king called coal. With coal, Nigeria can generate 17,500megawatts in 5 years and keep the manufacturing sector humming again and it is the cheapest electricity source. Nigeria’s Energy Mix is currently dominated by hydro (Water) and thermal (gas). It is strange that coal which we have in abundance is yet to find accommodation in our electricity generation. Yet, it is the main source of power generation in countries like the U S A , Germany, China, Japan, India and South Africa. China generates over 70 per cent of its electricity from coal. In South Africa, 90 per cent, the UK , 47 per cent, India, 73 per cent . And Nigeria has coal deposits in 18 states , estimated to last for 200 years.

Dangote Cement is already utilising coal as electricity generation source at its Obajana Plant in Kogi state, producing beyond the company’s needs and giving the excess to the national grid. Nigeria should follow the example of this Nigerian entrepreneur. What is more! The lingering problems plaguing the management of the small quantity currently generated must be adequately addressed. Government must augment the revenue shortfall of about N809bn in the industry to avert the ugly incident of 200 per cent tariff increase which would likely break the back of the ordinary consumer. The alleged outstanding debt of over N100bn owed the distribution companies, the DISCOs by government ministries, agencies and departments should be offset without further delay.

Again, all Nigerian homes must be provided with metres to put a halt to the menace of ‘crazy’ or estimated bills being used to swing Nigerians of their hard earned money by electricity marketers. Above all, while calling on the Federal Government to create the enabling environment and infrastructure that will attract investors into the sector, we urge the National Assembly to further liberalize the sector by abrogating Decree N0. 14 of 1973, which makes it mandatory for any electricity generated above 50 megawatts to be channeled to the national grid.

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This will encourage state or local governments, corporate organizations and even individuals to embark on the generation of energy. Finally, the lingering issue of probing the alleged wastage of $16 billion by the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to generate darkness in eight years must be given serious attention. No country can develop without steady power supply. Yet, indeed, in a country where the government deliberately budgets about N4 billion for generators, diesel, or fuel for electricity generation annually, what can the people do? This government must help local industries and domestic consumers to survive. Again, no country can develop without electricity. But does this administration have the political will?

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