THE RETURN OF DARKNESS

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Monday Editorial
Frequent power outages have once again raised questions about the competence of those in charge

The anger in the land is raw and the disappointment huge. When the last administration took the bold measure of privatising the power sector more than two years ago, as it unbundled the lethargic Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), many Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief. That has become rather premature. The six private generating and 11 distribution companies across the nation are, for now, evidently too weak to reverse the ugly trend of the past decades. Things are still getting worse, not better.
The overall impression is that the private companies are instruments of exploitation, out there to increase the woes of the consuming public. Till date, Nigerian electricity consumers remain grossly under-served with one of the lowest energy-per-capita rates in the world.

Indeed, President Muhammadu Buhari expressed misgivings over the privatisation of the power sector in the country during a recent National Economic Council meeting, saying that the process was more profit oriented than a thing of public interest.
In the past few months, power failure and outages have become so suffocating, emphasising the nation’s grotesque power poverty. Blackouts have become a regular staple of our daily living, taking the country back to the old bad days when the situation was considered normal. The magnitude of the problem was reflected in the fact that within the first four months of 2016, the electricity transmission system collapsed thrice, once on March 31, 2016 which was total and twice in April, both partial. The Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) blamed the low supply of gas to thermal power plants for the frequent system collapse.
Last Wednesday Mr. Babatunde Fashola, Minister of Power, Works and Housing, attributed the cause of the fitful power supply which had earlier peaked at 5000 mega watts to vandalism of the strategic Forcados pipeline in Delta State. “It is a Ministry of Petroleum issue,” said Fashola as he parried the blame, excuses that have been nauseatingly repeated over the years. “They are keeping us in the know about all of this and when all these will be  restored to normal service.” While on a visit to the Forcados terminal earlier, the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo called for the expedited repair of the pipeline damaged since February.
Even more astonishing is that in the midst of the darkness inflicted on the people, the energy distributing companies had already raised tariffs astronomically, choking individuals and corporate outfits, in obedience to the new tariff regime which took effect from February 1, but which is being contested in court and indeed, by the labour unions and National Assembly.
Many umetered homes that are barely supplied power once a week are charged around N15,000 or more a month, in arbitrary billings. Last week, the Kwara State House of Assembly summoned three business managers of the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company to explain what it described as “erratic power supply and overbilling” of consumers in the state.
The epileptic nature of power supply makes Nigeria one of the harshest environments to do business and also renders the country less competitive. In the face of the acute shortages, individuals and businesses resort to self help by generating their own power. Yet privately generated electricity also comes at a huge cost. This is aside the negative implications of the more expensive and self-generated electricity on the cost of living, on business profitability, on the incidence of poverty, on health, safety and the environment.
We had taken all these factors into consideration in previously and cautiously endorsing the new measures being put in place by the energy regulating agency. But we also demanded that the Discos should ensure that all consumers are metered, which is the only efficient way of measuring the energy consumed, and eliminate as soon as possible the extortionate billing method which comes in form of estimation.