Onyemelukwe: Nigeria’s Power Sector Has Hordes of Technical Deficiencies


Ejiofor Alike

A former Chief Electrical Engineer of the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN), Mr. Clement Onyemelukwe has identified what he described as hordes of technical deficiencies as the bane of Nigeria’s power sector.

The former ECN boss, who was recruited in 1962 from the Central Electricity Generation Board of UK where he was the Deputy Head of Planning, told THISDAY from his United States base at the weekend that the technical problems of power in Nigeria started shortly after the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) was inaugurated in 1976.

He argued that electricity requires funds but added that funding is in second or third place.
Onyemelukwe revealed that there has been a tendency that started since the early days of NEPA to copy technical standards and practices that do not suit a poor developing economy like Nigeria.
According to him, the result is that with all the colossal sums put into power over the past 20 years, the power position in Nigeria has in some respects worsened.

Onyemelukwe who chose the current 330kv structure for Nigeria’s electricity supply industry, also planned the present 400KV of the United Kingdom.

According to him, the basic technical deficiencies in the 330/132KV that developed after the inauguration of NEPA have never been diagnosed, stressing that they have continued to escalate as additions are made to it.

“You have asked me what I think about power in Nigeria. My answer is simple. The electricity in Nigeria needs technical leadership. Electricity in Nigeria needs funds but that is in second or third place. If your machine is not working, the first need is to diagnose it technically to find what is wrong with it before committing funds to it. The power sector in Nigeria is not working. It needs technical diagnosis. Seeking for funds without sorting out technical leadership and diagnosis will only aggravate the situation where private investment, local or international, will find it increasingly difficult to invest in the Nigerian power sector,” he explained.

Onyemelukwe stated that Nigeria’s power sector has hordes of technical deficiencies, which must be solved if the sector is to survive.

“I have come across write-ups that have tended to suggest that the power problems in Nigeria were because enough funds were not made available for power expansion and reinforcement at critical times. This claim is basically incorrect,” he added.

Onyemelukwe said the pattern of the technical development of the sector had become increasingly expensive to meet the needs of a poor but growing economy.

According to him, changes made in Nigeria’s 330/132 KV deviated substantially from the original modes that were intended for a developing country with increasing cost patterns and system losses.

He said the distribution system handed to private investors was in very poor state having been neglected almost since 1980s, adding also that the investors don’t have the resources and sometimes the expertise to have a good efficient distribution which is a vital part of a country’s efficient power system.

“A former staff of mine at the time who singularly wrote a good book on distribution now in his ‘80s half-jokingly told me recently that Nigeria should tear up all its distribution and start all again,” he added.

He further stated that the deficiencies have made it increasingly difficult for Discos to recover their costs, even as the method of cost recovery/tariff does not reflect the cost pattern of the system.

“There is therefore increasing pressure for tariff increase which is already high for a poor economy even as it is increasingly difficult for Discos to be financially viable which in turn makes it difficult for Discos to undertake the investment they need to attain the distribution standards of the good old days,” he added.

Speaking on the issue of gas, he stated that the 2010 Power Roadmap forecast a gas shortage for power in 2014 unless certain things were done, adding that those things were not done and so gas shortage started in 2014.

“The position has little to do with the present destruction of gas pipe lines and systems in the Delta Region of Nigeria. There is need for technical leadership on the whole issue of gas for power (in Nigeria and in that context West Africa) so as to plan for a gas system needed in order to attain power output required to meet and overtake the present unmet power needs of the country and to have any chance of facilitating a hoped-for 24 hour power grid operation in Nigeria,” he explained.