Do we laugh or cry? Nigerians are yet to ‘see’ the light even after privatisation of the power sector
Less than a year after the private sector took over the generation and distribution companies unbundled from the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), power failure and outages have now become the order of the day. Suddenly the nation is witnessing blackout as a regular feature of daily living, thereby taking the country back to the old days when such situation was considered normal. Apparently reacting to the situation, the federal government has issued a 60-day ultimatum to contractors handling power distribution projects to complete their contracts or be sanctioned. However, against the background that power generation dropped to an all-time low of 1714 megawatts last week, it remains to be seen whether that is not a hollow ultimatum.
The Managing Director, Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC), James Olotu has identified some of the problems in the sector to include inadequate transmission capacity at some TCN substations and the delayed procurement of last batch of materials, including automation equipment as part of the challenges responsible for the poor state of power supply across the country. Senior officials of both the ministry of power and the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) have also, at different times, given reasons for the current challenge. But Nigerians are no longer impressed by what has become a litany of conflicting explanations.
From Kano to Calabar, Sokoto to Ibadan, Abuja to Abakaliki and Jos, indeed across the country, there is hardly any part that does not presently experience power failure on a daily basis. In most places several days go without electricity with its resultant effects on socio-economic activities. Today, the promise by the federal government that the reforms would lay a solid foundation for sustainable power generation and service efficiency and would lead to increased access to electricity, engender private sector investments, improve infrastructure as well as create employment for the growing population of jobless Nigerians, has become a mirage.
It is noteworthy that when President Goodluck Jonathan was elected in 2011 riding on 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 three years down the line, the persistent problem being experienced by Nigerians in power supply continues to draw attention to our inability to find a lasting solution to the challenge.
The reform has brought about 18 successor companies to the unbundled PHCN in three categories: generation (six companies), transmission (one company) and distribution (11 companies). When the new owner of Eko Electricity Distribution Company, West Power & Gas Limited, recently announced plans to invest $250m (N39.7bn) to transform the facility and improve its distribution network, Lagosians were made to see it as a sign of good things to come. Unfortunately, that money which, according to the chairman, Mr. Charles Momoh would be invested in metering, cleaning up of the system, cabling, transformers in the bid “to light up Lagos and keep it lit” has not translated to electricity for the people of the state. But that has also been the lot of other Nigerians in recent weeks.
However, we are not oblivious of the fact that there are many factors working against effective power generation and transmission in the country. These forces of negativism have always been around in the sector and they may indeed be working now to frustrate any attempt to improve on electricity power delivery in the country. It is the responsibility of the government to defeat those forces. Therefore, all the megawatts of excuses being offered by the stakeholders in the sector are merely begging the question. The federal government and the new private sector stakeholders in the power sector should work towards providing regular electricity for Nigerians.