Power: Roadmap Without the Road?

23 Apr 2012

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The persistent problem we face in the area of electricity power supply continues to draw attention to our inability to find a lasting solution to the challenge. In this latest episode of our national disgrace and shame, there was problem with Kainji Dam as well as gas supply to the power turbines. The result was that power supply dropped drastically across the nation.

As if this was not enough, electricity workers unions were threatening industrial action. Then there was the not so small matter of missed deadlines in the Roadmap that President Goodluck Jonathan drew up for the power sector, and the frustration it has caused potential investors in the sector, many of whom are now suspected to have lost interest in the project. In the midst of this we learnt that the Minister of Power, Prof. Barth Nnaji, summoned all the top management staff of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), presumably for the same tonguelashing that had not produced any measurable result in the past. And then we learnt further that Nnaji fired three top executives of the power company, which, in the light of the monumental incompetence that has characterised the sector, cannot be described as drastic or even the correct action. By the end of what looked like an eventful week, we ended up with a great deal of motion and no movement.

But in truth that has been the nature of efforts by successive federal governments to solve the power supply problem. We have gone through layers and chains of committees; we have experienced commercialisation; we have witnessed the "unbundling" of the power sector; then there was the National Integrated Power Project which was more noted for its corruption that even tainted a committee of the House of Representative that tried to probe it. Then wehave President Jonathan's Roadmap.

Let us look briefly first at this Roadmap, which should be our last bus stop in the journey to sustainable power supply. The privatisation process of a behemoth organisation that supplies power to a nation as vast as Nigeria was scheduled to be squeezed into a time-line of eight months: March - October 2012! This, we must bear in mind, is a process that involves legal, technical and other specialised elements. It also involves foreign bidders who are much used to allowing themselves time to get their numbers right and their acts together. Not surprisingly, one delay has had a knock-on effect on the entire chain and today, the presidential roadmap appears to be a bus ride to nowhere.

Our next observation on the longterm prospects of power supply is perhaps a belated one. It is our view that the privatisation of the power sector should have been preceded by the completion of the various on-going constructions of new power plants. At the completion of such plants, the Nigerian public should be made aware of what the country has expended in upgrading its power supply sector so that an informed citizenry will be better equipped to understand the value of the sector at the point of privatisation as well as appreciate what would be a realistic income from the exercise. The bidders themselves would also be well aware that they are buying into a healthy and technically sound power sector and would not later try to play smart by charging exorbitant tarrif on the claim that they have been investing in new plants and equipment. Failure to do this would land the country in the same situation that the botched privatisation of NITEL has left us.

Instructively, when President Jonathan came to power nearly a year ago riding a crest of popular support, he acknowledged that the first challenge of his transformation agenda would be in the area of power supply, without which other elements would suffer. But a mere one month before his first anniversary as substantive president, Nigerians are still waiting for just a chink of light to show that the promised transformation is on course.

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