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.
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.
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.
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.