In the last couple of days, the altercation between President Muhammadu Buhari and Former President Olusegun Obasanjo over the purported expenditure of over $16 billion in the power sector has dominated the media space. The amount was said to have been expended in the years Obasanjo was in government and also part of the period his successors, late Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan were also in charge. With the claim that this humongous amount was spent in the sector, we are compelled to flash back to an editorial we wrote in January, 2014 with the above caption as our contribution to the debate to show that the situation today is still as bad as it was in 2014 if not worse.
Contrary to President Goodluck Jonathan’s assurance that Nigerians will enjoy a minimum of 18 hours electricity supply daily because his administration is boosting power transmission with $1.5 billion, what is on ground, according to Chairman, National Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, Dr Sam Amadi, is the nation’s deteriorating power supply. Amadi blames this on the capacity constraints of the generating companies, GENCOs, resulting from under-utilisation of capacity. About 2,859 megawatts are unutilised due to gas shortage. An indigenous opinion research firm working in partnership with The Gallup Poll (USA), NOI Polls corroborates Amadi with its empirical findings: Nigeria’s electricity supply has worsened since November when the power sector was handed over to generating and distribution companies, DISCOs – new investors. In the past year, the Federal Government completed the privatisation of four power generation companies and 10 power distribution companies. We are also in the process of privatising 10 power plants under the National Integrated Power Projects (NIPP).
It goes without saying that no value had been added to the assets of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, in the intervening period. The report, stated that “the power situation has worsened considerably with a 13-point decline in the proportion of Nigerians that experienced improvement from October (39 per cent) to November (26 per cent). This represents the lowest power rating in 11 months. It also indicated that 49 per cent of those polled said that the power situation had deteriorated, 25 per cent said that there was no improvement whatsoever, while 26 said that there was little improvement. 53 per cent of the males were of the opinion that power supply had worsened, while 45 per cent of the female said same. Similarly, out of the number that said the situation had not improved, 36 per cent are men, while 31 per cent are women. The methodology used meets all requirements for scientific enquiry and research.
While, it may be too hasty to pass judgement on the new regime, it is not too soon to notice that capacity constraints with regard to the output of the generating companies have hampered the optimal distribution functionality of the energy sector. The economy itself will be better for such inquisition that is aimed, not at finding fault, but at improving this critical infrastructure. The debilitating electricity situation is killing small businesses and increasing cost of living for the working class. We now get criminally high tariffs and crazy (estimated) bills. We would enjoin those concerned to expedite action on contracts for the expansion of the transmission grid and reinforce the transmission processes in a manner that will be both viable and resource-wise. The effect of these is that Nigerians seem to be wondering aloud whether the recent power privatisation exercise will actually change the power situation for the better as nation-wide power outages have shot up recently since after the handover to new owners. The power sector privatisation exercise had engendered a body language that suggests that incessant cases of power outages will be thrown to the back foot of history. But the reverse appears to be the case.
While sabotage cannot be ruled out, the new owners should up the ante, be more focussed and strategic in the selection and retention and deployment of personnel and resources from the transition company. Some disengaged staff in the retrenchment and severance exercises were engrained technocrats in the power sector. It is not unlikely that those thrust with some generation and distribution secrets have been sacrificed and are secretly jeering at the new owners for naivety. New technologies will help but the transition has to be done in a manner that the unutilised generation capacity of 1,761 megawatts due to gas and transmission constraints from the Independent Power Projects (NIPP) will be incorporated into the transformation agenda. They should also delve into more sophisticated power transmission infrastructure, eliminate sabotage from vandals, and guarantee steady or at least, an improved electricity supply to the nooks and crannies of the country, which has an installed total capacity of 6,976.40MW but unfortunately always generate around 3,500MW. This darkness cannot be what we will reap from the privatisation that has led to an astronomical rise in electricity tariffs and mass job loss.