The chairman of man committee on infrastructure, Engr. R. I. Odiah has said that electricity workers are responsible for the power failure in Nigeria. He told Ben Ndubuwa that manufacturers are most affected by the inefficiency of power supply in the country. Excepts:
Do you think the recent power outages and near total blackout nationwide that led the federal government to remove some top PHCN officials, were really acts of sabotage?
For me I think we have seen government beginning to take bold steps in ensuring that we implement the power sector reform programme. The reform is taking too long and it is two years, the reform should have gone far by now. So this definite decision taken by government could have been one of the ways of ensuring that government is establishing its feet on the ground.
There is need for serious action and not just talks. I think that is how government wants to show that its decision is firm and making sure that people that oppose the reform are given the boots. But I don’t think the action government has taken on these people has any major impact on the system itself.
We are having some problems and we have had problems all along in the power sector. The only thing is that we have more or less identified the major problems of the power sector as an infrastructure for development.
... what are these problems?
For example, we had 32 years of military incursion in the system and over those periods and years there was no addition to the power generation in the country. It was both the coal and the hydro-power generation in Kainji and so on.
So the error of power issue in this country started from there because within those periods we would have been able to establish gas turbines and these IPPs we have been talking about would have taken off then. We should have been comparing with countries like South Africa and looking at 40,000 MW by now. That is where the problem began.
What this administration has done by identifying these problems as started with the Obasanjo administration. Although one of the problems with government is the issue of trying to carry everybody along in decision making. So when government says it wants to move forward others will say no. Some are prepared to move forward with you but not at your pace.
Similarly, some people do not understand the structure on the ground but because of their position and authority, they tend to hold a lot of things down. It happens every where -in education, in the civil service and even in the military.
Do you share the stance of the electricity workers that the country is not ripe for the privatisation of the power sector.
I think what informed the government decision about privatising the power sector is the problem that developed. Agreed that parts of the country especially the rural areas are still battling with electricity problem.
In fact the record we have through the Nigerian Electricity Regulation Commission (NERC) and other agencies is that about 40 per cent of Nigerians have access to electricity, which translates to the remaining 60 per cent groping in darkness. The point is that even the 40 per cent does not have adequate and enough power supply and the same 40 per cent is said to require 10,000 MW. Right now we are having less than 5,000 MW.
There is therefore the need to ensure complete closure of the gap. So leaving government to do it alone is not possible. If you ask, I have not seen any government that wants to carry everybody along and drive through the Nigerian problem without having issues with the people, including the argument whether to privatise or not and it is obviously wrong for the workers to say we are not ripe for privatisation.
They are not the ones to say it because they are in the system. If we are to apportion blames, we should hold them grossly responsible for the failure of electricity supply in our country. For instance the ‘pay as you go’ meter that we have been talking about, up till now there have been problems in getting and using the meter. They have not distributed the meter as they should.
They know that with the prepaid meter they cannot play pranks and be giving Nigerians estimated bills at the end of the month as they are doing presently. And the issue of coming to disconnect your light or gratification before they connect you will not arise. These are some of the issues on the ground that privatisation will settle.
So the government is on the right track on privatisation. And I think we are ripe for privatisation of power. Government should hands off many of these things. Government does not have the capacity to run them. The best thing to do is to put them in the hands of the private sector. Government should only regulate and provide the enabling environment, policies and directions.
But the day-to-day running and management should be left to the private sector. For instance, if we have some private companies running PHCN and over this period of years, first and foremost the number of employees in PHCN perhaps would have been reduced by about half and the good thing is that those that are not employed would have had the opportunity of going into other areas of employment.
But what we have now is that most of them hang around the office instead, waiting for salaries at the end of the month. But if electricity was there and they are not employed by PHCN, I am very sure they will get other jobs. They would have gone into either maintenance of equipment which would have been contracted out or gone into their own personal businesses, even manufacturing.
Today you see artisans like welders, barbers and hair dressers buying generators just to power their businesses. Even those of us in the manufacturing, we depend heavily on generators, that is why I am saying that government should readily hands off the management of power and give it to the private sector and we must allow them to do so.
Give us a further insight into your claim that with energy efficiency and management in Nigeria, we may not need up to 10,000 mega watts of power in Nigeria.
Yes, those are some of the things we are talking about. When you have a system that has no direction you will find out that you cannot move forward. That is why government finds it difficult to pick up specific areas for development. Take a country like Ghana for example, they have done something about their electricity. When Ghana had problem with power and their hydro dams were failing them, they looked inward for solution.
In electricity, there are three major areas that should be looked at, one of them is generation, the other is distribution and the third is usage. When you generate electricity and you distribute it, you have to look at how people use it because if people are careless with it and you waste it, you have to generate more, you will be generating wasted energy.
Therefore, you must look at how it is used. It is this checked usage that we call energy efficiency. If each house-hold at the moment is consuming say 500 or 5,000 watts, do they really need the 5,000 watts? First we find out if they really need the 5,000 watts that comes to them. If they do not need this amount of energy then we can now encourage them to reduce the wattage they consume and that is where the compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) come in.
So far, Nigeria is not doing enough in terms of the end users. How we manage electricity, how we use it , in fact we are not using electricity well. Ghana discovered these wastages in their country and banned the importation of incandescent lamps and encouraged the use of compact fluorescent alone.
They had six million compact fluorescent lamps which they exchanged with incandescent lamps, they were able to save about 2,000 mega watts energy and one mega watt cost $1 million to produce and if say about 10 mega watts cost about $10 million.
If our government can take the same step and make the sacrifice of buying CFLs and exchange them with incandescent lamps, a lot of energy will be saved as well, like Ghana did. For example, if we can decide to replace the 60-watt incandescent bulbs throughout the country with 11 watts CFLs and one million of these are exchanged; that is change 60 watt to 11 watts, you would have saved a minimum of 49 mega watts which means $49 million have been saved clearly in terms of investment in generation.
You can distribute that to other areas. At the moment you are doing load scheduling. So Nigeria can save a lot of energy. We are not talking about other electrical appliances such as air conditioners and refrigerators that are energy savers. What the government need do is just have the legislation and the political will to enforce it, and our energy usage will begin to drop. In fact this our so called demand for 10,000 mega watt and 40,000 may not be real after all.
People are wondering how manufacturers in Nigeria are managing in the face of this near total power black out
It is a difficult time for us, it has always been difficult for us in the face of these power outages. I am the Chairman of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Infrastructure Committee and from our records we are about 35,000 strong members of MAN or more.
We have over 5,000 units of generators, some use diesel, others use petrol, while yet some other members are using gas turbines and the investment we have so far made in this direction is over N110 billion for generating plants and our computation is that this is about 30 to 35 per cent of our total cost of production excluding other infrastructure.
So manufacturing in Nigeria is about nine times the cost of manufacturing in China and in Ghana the cost of manufacturing is about half that of Nigeria while the cost of manufacturing in Nigeria is about four times that of South Africa.
Nigerian manufacturers are going through hard times and when you put all these together you will discover that manufacturing in Nigeria is a hassle.
About 60 per cent of manufacturers in Nigeria have closed shop and only a few of us are holding on and doing our best, but most of the ones still operating are the multi-nationals because they are getting home support.