Geometric Power and the Nigerian Electricity Market

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Ikeogu Oke

Recently the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, brokered a peace deal that resolves the issue of which company should supply electricity to the commercial city of Aba and its environs between Geometric Power Limited and Interstate Electric. The development should cheer every Nigerian.

There had been a three-year feud between Geometric Power Limited with its main promoter as former Minister of Power Prof. Bart Nnaji, and a rival Interstate Electric said to have businessman and politician Sir Emeka Offor as its main promoter.

Whatever the cause and details of this feud, the government of a country famished for electricity like ours should have seen it as unnecessary and counterproductive and so nipped it in the bub, reconciling both parties and harmonising their interests as Fashola has done, to facilitate the operationalisation of the Geometric Power plant and improve power supply in our country. But it is nonetheless gratifying that it has finally been resolved on terms satisfactory to both parties. With its resolution the cliché “better late than never” comes to mind.

Undoubtedly, the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan did so much for our power sector for which it deserves credit, especially by drawing attention – perhaps more than any administration before it – to decades of infrastructural decay and underinvestment in the sector and the need to reverse these through the power sector reform whose road map it launched on August 26, 2010.

Ironically, however, while the power sector reform canvassed for private sector investment in the sector of which the yet-to-be-commissioned Geometric Power plant, an Independent Power Project (IPP), is a remarkable example, the government allowed its feud with Interstate Electric to linger for several years and survive it, essentially frustrating the quick operationalisation of the Geometric Power plant, even though the result of Fashola’s intervention shows that it could have terminated the feud at any time through negotiation and the exercise of political will.

To have been calling for foreign investments in our power sector while we allowed what seemed to be an incubus of bad politics to hold down a rare example of such investment by one of our own was itself a case study in paradoxical messaging between word and action, in a world where action is said to speak louder than words.

But that bad politics was not a cloud without its silver lining, for as C.Don Adinuba revealed in his recent piece published on page 18 of Daily Sun of April 11, 2016, entitled “Aba Power Project and National Development,” the former Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Ms. Bolanle Onagoruwa, in a rare exercise of moral will, withstood political pressure to disregard the agreement the government had signed with Geometric Power Limited, which gave the latter the licence to supply electricity it produces to Aba and its environs, to which the BPE was a signatory.

In an intriguing turn of events, as recounted by Adinuba, the two business units owned by the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) in Aba as part of the geographical area covered by the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) were handed over to Interstate Electric on November 1, 2013, following the privatisation of the PHCN assets. “The handover,” he further notes, “flabbergasted many because the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) displayed documents and published notices to prospective buyers of EEDC stating categorically that the two business units in Aba had been exercised (sic)” [for “excised,” I think] “out of the EEDC coverage area based on the 2005/6 Federal Government’s agreement with Geometric Power Ltd.”
Alas, Ms. Onagoruwa lost her position as the BPE boss for resisting such impunity, fired, as Adinuba relates, by some powerful political entity unable to compel her to support a brazenly wrong act. And the silver lining – a clear and inspiring sign of hope – is the evidence, offered by her good example, that there are Nigerian public servants who can stand up for the right despite the risk of losing their positions, who can sacrifice their jobs for honour and conscience.

The Geometric Power experience is a clear indication that it would take more than technical expertise, passion, commitment, and the willingness to make investments – which those behind the project have to very high degrees – for projects in our power sector to become successful and yield the expected improvement in power availability for our citizens.
Such anomalies as undue political interference in the sector, apparently driven by vested interests and perpetrated by people capable of influencing public policy, will have to be eliminated if the sector must make genuine and sustainable progress. And the new government of President Muhammadu Buhari should be conscious of this, since it has listed power as one of its major concerns.

I happen to have considerable knowledge of the 188-megawatt Geometric Power plant located at Osisioma, near Aba, beginning with my first visit in 2010 to research a feature story on the plant commissioned by Toyin Akinosho for his magazine, Africa Oil + Gas Report. That was before I met Prof. Bart Nnaji. Again, I visited the plant in 2012 as a member of Prof. Nnaji’s entourage as Minister of Power which comprised his aides and the then Minister of State for Power and current the Governor of Taraba State, Arc. Darius Ishaku.
I dare say that the Geometric Power project is a hallmark of entrepreneurial genius, with its location of a plant that produces the most vital developmental commodity in our country today close to a city which desperately needs the commodity to drive its renaissance as one of our country’s leading industrial and commercial hubs.
But beyond its potential to prove that privately produced power can be affordable and good business, there is another nationally significant reason for which the operationalisation of the Geometric Power plant should be supported by our government and other stakeholders. Simply, as a pioneering venture, its operationalisation – and success – will be a major triumph for the can-do spirit of the Nigerian and encourage others to venture into private power production, which will improve the amount of power available to our people with overall positive impact on our wellbeing and economy. And it would be a shame for us not to make the most of such rare potential for inspiration and utility.

– Oke was a Technical Adviser (Media and Communication) in the Presidential Task Force on Power