After three years of privatisation, the power sector is still in a shambles

When in November 2013 the electricity distribution and power generation companies were handed over to some private operators at an elaborate ceremony, the hope was that daily blackouts and power outages would be minimised until they are gradually eased out. But it is now apparent that those hopes were largely misplaced. Today, consumers are paying more and getting less power at a time the exchange rate and the tariff structure make both generators and diesel prohibitive. The question then remains: how can an economy get out of recession if there is no electricity to power basic industrial and domestic operations at reasonable cost?

Across the country, there is hardly any part that does not experience power failure on a regular basis. In most places for several days and sometime, weeks, many people have no access to electricity to lighten the burden of living. Lack of electricity also limits their access to healthcare, education and other opportunities, including running their businesses. Indeed, many small and medium scale businesses have been crippled due to the prohibitive cost of generating their own power. Even the big business ventures, particularly the manufacturing ones, are also feeling the biting effect of energy poverty with consequences stretching to every part of the economy.

With the collapse of the transmission infrastructure downing generation to barely 1700 megawatts as at last week, the country is back in the dark. Given that situation, what Nigerians now get, almost on a daily basis, are stories and more stories either about non-availability of gas, low water levels at the hydro stations or “systems collapse”. For instance, the daily operational report from the system operator, an arm of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) showed that after last week Sunday’s system collapse, generation ramped up to 3,215 megawatts last Tuesday. But within a period of 24 hours, the hourly load demand showed that the 11 distribution companies were allocated 1,667 megawatts of electricity for one hour, 2,393 megawatts for five hours, 2,175 megawatts for six hours and 2,013 megawatts for 12 hours.

For sure, there are serious problems to overcome in the power sector. The desired result of adequate electricity generation and distribution is still far from being achieved. The nation has been told times without number that the power plants are generating some thousands of megawatts of electricity. For most Nigerians, these are meaningless jargons. But the worry is that there is no indication that anything will change very soon. Ageing and obsolete infrastructure inherited by the new owners have combined with inadequate finance to ensure that it will take some time before there could be any noticeable improvement in the sector.

The story of power supply in Nigeria has been that of motion and no movement. We have gone through layers and chains of committees; we have experienced commercialisation; we have witnessed the “un-bundling” of the power sector; then there was the National Integrated Power Project which was more noted for corruption that it even tainted a committee of the House of Representatives that tried to probe it.

Instructively, when President Muhammadu Buhari came to office more than a year ago riding a crest of popular support, there was an acknowledgment that a major challenge would be in the area of power supply, without which other elements would suffer. But just about four months to his second anniversary as president, Nigerians are still waiting for just a chink of light to show that the promised change is indeed on course.