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Unending grid collapse: How Nigerians pay for darkness

By Ben Adoga
It is no longer news that Nigerians are groaning under the weight of incessant national grid collapse resulting in almost permanent power outages nationwide.

Despite persistent darkness from the various electricity distribution companies, homes and small businesses are paying through their noses for power not consumed.

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So far, in the last six months, Nigeria has recorded a national grid collapse a record five times.

This has had a devastating effect on smallholder businesses, homes, and even the manufacturing sector which has gone comatose in Nigeria.

Most homes and small businesses in Abuja and many parts of the country are billed using the estimated billing system; this implies that people are not metered to appropriately pay for what they consume.

Since there must pay bills monthly, whether the power is used or not, or whether the power is adequate or not, it’s a well-known fact that the power supply has not been adequate and regular, despite the groaning Nigerians paying for darkness, for electricity not consumed.

Apart from affecting businesses negatively, it had driven the cost of doing business upwards which ultimately results in high prices of goods in the market.

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A barbing salon that used to charge N500 per haircut in the Karu area of the FCT now charges N700. Another in Kubwa satellite town charges as much as N1000. The barber said there used to cut hair for N500.

The manager of the saloon said with no public power supply and no premium motor spirit, or petrol to buy in filling stations, his hike is justifiable to stay in business since he relies on black marketers to fuel his generator.

The same goes for fashion designers and tailors. The regular tailor in the Nyanya area of Abuja used to charge between N4000 to N6000 but now they charge between N6000 to N8000 for regular sewing.

Mrs. Hafsat Ahmed said even at that it’s been difficult for them to cope as patronage has reduced, coupled with the cost of fuel, noting that she witnesses very few moments of light and that in recent times, there has been no light for days.

People in the manufacturing industry have their lamentations as the price of diesel has been high.

A noodle manufacturing industry off Abacha Road in New Karu, Nasarawa State, near Abuja is contemplating shutting down.

The manager who preferred to remain anonymous said even as they have increased their prices and reduced their quantity, it is still very difficult for them to break even because they operate in a competitive market. He said they have their integrity to protect and that further reduction in quantity would be devastating.

He, however, said they have tried very hard to maintain their quality as that is what stands them out.

In the homes, quality of life had drastically reduced as most families can no longer afford their normal lifestyle.

Madam Toyin Afolabi said she used to cook different soups, stews, and a variety of beans which she keeps for the family in the deep freezer since she works. Now she can no longer afford that as there is no power supply, even to refrigerate anything, talk less of the freezer. She said she is forced to cook for the moment for the entire family.

She lamented that the hardship this is causing her is enormous as she had to cope with the family challenges and that of the office. Returning from work late every day because of the traffic hold-ups and cooking for the family, making the family eat late every night and going to bed late, and preparing the children early in the morning for school, even without a power supply is more imagined than said.

Afolabi’s case is not peculiar as most households in Abuja and other parts of Nigeria are going through the same challenge.

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When our reporter visited the headquarters of the Power Holding Company in the Zone 4 area of Abuja, no staff was ready to talk on the matter, the Corporate Affairs Manager was not available and no subordinate staff was willing to speak or give his phone number.

At the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), they said it was not their mandate to either generate or distribute power but to take complaints from customers when there are infractions and wrongdoings, to give customers justice and value for money.

But when confronted with the fact that lack of electricity does not give value for money, the staff who equally preferred anonymity said they deal with individual complaints and not general issues like power outage: “Can’t you see, we don’t have the light too. We have been without light for days too, we are tired of buying diesel, and we can’t do anything about that.

*What exactly is responsible for the incessant power outage?

Special Adviser, Media Affairs in the Ministry of Power, Isa Sanusi told journalists that the major causes of the power outages across the country have been vandalisation of gas power plants, partial shutdown of gas plants to allow for repairs, and old and outdated power infrastructure he noted was low water level for hydropower plants.

However, these reasons may be germane but apparently, there is more to it than just these.

Power generation for a country as large and as populated as Nigeria needed to be far more than what is generated and distributed for the country.

Distribution infrastructure is not just inadequate, most of them are antiquated and only fit for the archives.

Nigeria’s power generation in recent times peaked at 3,281.50 MW while South Africa generates 58,095MW. London Heathrow Airport alone uses 13.57Kw of electricity and terminal 1 of John F Kennedy Airport in the USA uses 1,000 Watts of high pressure to illuminate the aircraft parking apron.

These clearly show that our generation capacity is damn inadequate, even at that, the Wattage generated cannot all be distributed because of the poor distribution infrastructure.

*Way out

According to Engineer Haruna Bagudu who said he has taken time to study the electricity distribution strategy of the US and Canada, the operational legal framework which is operational in Nigeria is defective.

Bagudu said the so-called national grid was an error, ab initio. Compelling all DISCOs and GENCOs to drop or rail all power generated into the national grid was ill-advised for a country as large and populous as Nigeria.

He recommended that the national grid be balkanised to allow more participation; that various sections be allowed to generate energy from any source and distribute it without emptying them into the national grid.

With this there will be competition and efficiency while consumers would have value for money and the standard of living will improve with more accessible energy for small businesses, manufacturing, and for domestic use.

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