Between Unpaid Salaries and Electricity Supply

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By Adetunji Makinde

Let me confess that I rate Nigeria, and its leadership, as a nation with conflicting priorities. A case in point is the issue of state governments that could not pay their workers’ salaries for over six months, using the bailout funds given them by the Federal government for things other than pay the workers’ salaries for which the bail outs were given. The other case is the ordeal of electricity distribution companies, called discos, which are to deliver electricity to our homes and industries but which have no electricity to distribute.
Regardless, the discos have been given a deadline of a year to deliver a million meters to consumers yearly without being given financial assistant by government to fulfill this important function. Assisting these discos is far more important than the bailout for unpaid salaries given out by government to insensitive, profligate and dishonest state governments.
One cannot but wonder which is more important to government between ready supply of electricity, which we have been lamenting from time immemorial, and unpaid salaries for which state governors should have been readily condemned or prosecuted according to the rule of law for fiscal indiscipline and recklessness. The advantages and benefits of regular supply of electricity are so numerous and important for Nigeria or any nation for that matter. If power is regular and generated as expected in the best practice of electricity generation and service ratio of 1000MW to a million people, then Nigeria would need 175,000MW for our reported population of 175m Nigerians. Yet, the highest we have ever generated here in Nigeria is less than 5000MW. Funny enough, it was reported that the President promised 10000MW of power generation by the end of 2016. But, just after that, the Minister of Information was quoted as saying that the 10000MW would only be generated by 2019, which is when new elections are due.
It would appear, therefore, that politics has relegated the goal of regular power supply to the background in terms of government concern and priority and that is just very wrong. Obviously, workers’ salaries are being paid so that state governors can deliver their states to their respective parties, especially the APC and PDP-governed states.
There is also the issue of averting industrial actions, strikes and demonstrations and agitations that may overheat the political system and embarrass government. But what is the opportunity cost of that in terms of steady and regular power supply to our hospitals, factories, universities and homes nationwide? The alternative cost of regular electricity supply are immense and include the resuscitation of our industries, the production of goods and services and the creation of decent jobs for our teeming unemployed and well  educated  youths. Surely that makes the prospects of people, including unpaid workers voting for any government in power better. I do not see why the Buhari administration cannot make power supply its absolute priority.
Indeed, the time is ripe to bailout the generating and distribution companies called Gencos and the Discos in this regard. The looted funds being recovered can be channeled to fund the Discos to provide the one million quota of meters allotted to them by the authorities which have put a cap on their capital expenditure while it is well known that their tariffs are cost reflective and they cannot make profit for about five years after their huge capital expenditure to come aboard the electricity distribution industry. There is nothing new in this regard except that the recovered looted funds will have a direct, positive and beneficial effect on the economy and its revival which is a priority of this government. It is relevant to mention that the CBN’s intervention fund of N213 billion earlier given, benefitted the National Integrated Power Project, the Niger Delta Power Holding Company and the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc. It is with that in mind that we call on government to make funds available to the Discos and Gencos to kill two great political and economic birds with one mighty stone.
In making money available for the Gencos and Discos to make power available, the government will resuscitate the poor and ailing economy we have and galvanise the goodwill and political capital of the voters to return it to power in 2019.
––Makinde, an analyst, writes from Abuja