By Uche Aneke
One of the greatest gifts any government can give to Nigerians is stability of power supply in the country. In spite of the genuine attempts by successive governments and considerable amount of money expended on the power sector to resolve the electricity challenges in the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI), there is much to be done to meet the yearnings of Nigerians.
Stability of Power supply in Nigeria is beyond partisan political interest. For this single reason, the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has elevated the fulfillment of this expectation of Nigerians to a top priority agenda. In addition to several commendable steps, the Minister in charge of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola SAN recently delivered a public lecture titled, “ Nigeria’s Electricity Challenge: A Road Map for Change.” This Road Map is a three–phase plan, comprising the provision of incremental power, from which we will move to attaining steady power, and to the final phase of uninterrupted power in the country. This is a lofty ambition and the audacity of this administration to envision comprehensively is admirable.
Regrettably, the resurgence of attacks on critical oil and gas pipelines in the Niger Delta by the Niger Delta Avengers poses serious constraint to these efforts aimed at achieving stable power supply. For instance, the new militant group has within three weeks crippled oil and gas supplies from major facilities belonging to the Shell, Chevron, Agip and the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). This worrisome attack has within three months depleted the nation’s electricity generation capacity from the highest ever level of 5,074 MW, in February 2nd this year to just over 2000 MW presently. More worrisome is the fact that the militants are continuing with their attack on oil and gas pipelines signaling fresh hurdles for the petroleum and power sectors.
Sometime ago, in my opinion column, in one of the National Newspapers, I stated that vandalism of gas pipelines has become an albatross on the nation’s journey to deliver stable power supply in the country. I went further to recommend attitudinal orientation as sure bet to addressing the problems. This recommendation is based on the fact that it is only when the mindset of the vandals is changed to know that political agitation can be pursued by others means rather by destruction of national assets and power infrastructures.
The implication of continued destruction of gas and power infrastructures is far reaching. It is an invitation to absolute darkness in the country. It is a danger to government’s Road Map to resolving the myriad problems in NESI. More importantly, it is a veritable source of economic depletion and underdevelopment. Every time an oil pipeline is damaged, oil production decreases, so does the sale of crude oil, and this means income accruing to the Federation account is depleted and the three tiers of governments suffer as a result.
Obviously this will negatively impact on major power projects across the country, and significantly on the on-going Federal Government’s Amnesty programme which former Niger Delta militants are benefitting from. Recent statistics from the coordinating agency reveal that apart from 30, 000 youths being paid monthly stipend, 2,152 Niger Delta Youths have been given full scholarship to study in 32 higher institutions abroad across five continents. The statement further states that 2,723 youths from the region have been given full scholarship to study in 32 Nigerian Universities, while 76 of them graduated from Novena University this year.
Also on record are a total of 728 beneficiaries who are in the final year and expected to graduate this section. With all these taken into account, common sense dictates that it is in the collective interest of the Niger Deltans that these renewed attacks on oil and gas installations stop. In an appeal for their immediate cessation , the Minister of Power, Works and Housing recently stated that it would be a decision that fosters national development and a shared prosperity. He also stated as follows, “However, I must emphasize everybody who cares about our prosperity must get involved in this conversation and act positively to help to bring an end to the unpatriotic actions of those who attack our oil platforms and gas lines”.
In the face of the present danger and in its resolve to ensure stability in power supply, Government has begun the process of diversifying the country’s Energy Mix and to a large extent reduce the dependence on gas and the risk that over- dependence on this power source poses to the government’s plan for incremental, steady and ultimately uninterrupted power. One of these approaches is the Ministry of Power’s effort to stimulate the use of solar power.
In this regard the Ministry recently approved about 15 different solar projects to generate a combined capacity of 1,286 MW of power. It is also accelerating plans to complete Zungeru hydro power plant, the kashimbilla hydro plant, the Gurara hydro plant and to conclude the procurement plan for the construction of the Mambilla hydro plant.
Government also recently took steps to strengthen the Distribution Companies in the power sector. This is to enable them improve service delivery and obtain financing to upgrade their equipment, provide meters, and resolve customer complaints. Part of this process is the disbursement of additional N55 billion from the N213 billion initiated by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to stabilize and enhance market potentials of NESI. It is pertinent to state that the fund is not a gift or cash donation but a loan support of a 10- year tenor to cushion the financial and liquidity issues which are hindering progress towards the goal of incremental power.
There is also a partnership between the United States government, under the aegis of USAID and power Africa initiative on one hand; and Nigeria’s power Distribution companies ( DisCos) on the other . It is a partnership through which $9 million will be provided each year to improve the DisCos’ performance via embedded advisory support. This is another big step towards achieving the Road Map’s first phase of incremental power.
Although there are noticeable obstacles in the nation’s journey toward achieving stability in power supply, government appears to be in the right direction in its efforts to offer the seemingly elusive ideal of stable power supply to the people.
The expectations of Nigerians will remain unabated until this lofty dream is realized. What is instructive this time is the strategy of purpose with which the government is going about its business.
–Aneke is general manager public affairs, Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA) Ucheaneke5@gmail.com