Who or What Will Fix the Electricity Challenge in Nigeria?

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PLSCOPE BY Eddy Odivwri    Eddy.Odivwri@thisdaylive.com

Eddy Odivwri

Nigerians have probably got too used to the oddity of unstable electricity supply in a way that everything said about it now appears like a tired platitude. It is most disappointing that year in, year out, one government after the other, the bitter and unpleasant experience of Nigerians with darkness either remains the same or even gets worse.

It has become like an inconquerable enigma which we must all find a way to live with all our lives.

If there is any one issue that typifies succinctly what we describe as the ‘Nigerian factor’, it is the electricity issue. We do not all have to be engineers to understand what is going on. All kinds of theories have been pushed on why we continue to suffer epileptic power supply. Some say it is the conspiracy of association of Generator sellers. That they ensure they thwart all government’s efforts to fix the problem so they will remain in business. Other theories say, it is the NEPA “big men” who own the generator companies and so they ensure that NEPA remains problematic so their companies can flourish. Yet, other theories say Petroleum marketers, especially those who deal on diesel work hand-in-gloves with ‘NEPA’ officials to ensure that stable electricity is frustrated so that the sale of diesel will continue to grow…. Just all kinds of warped and weird theories. You can believe or dismiss them at your own risk.

Nigeria just returned from Durban, South Africa where it went for trade exhibition with the intent of increasing the volume of trade from Nigeria to other African countries. Nigeria lamented that South Africa is the leading industrialised economy in Africa and still managed to showcase the latent and untapped trade potential of Nigeria— things like Nollywood films, Nigerian music, fashion etc. It failed to say or declare that its poor outing in technological prowess or potential is essentially because of poor electricity supply in the country.

It is amazing that no Nigerian government has devotedly focused on how to solve the pain caused by unstable electricity supply. Every government comes around, speaks plenty of grammar, nibbles around the issue and gets out, leaving us more forlorn, more distressed than before that government came on board. Every effort seems dogged by the so-called Nigerian factor in such a way that every conceived solution is dead on arrival. Why is it such an enigma? How have other countries solved their energy crisis? Why is the Nigerian case defying all solutions? Even more populous countries like China or India let alone America, do not suffer this endless plague of darkness.

Two years ago, I had gone to Banjul, Gambia, a small West African country to rest. For the two or so weeks I stayed, I experienced power cut just once and it was for an hour. It is the same experience in many less-endowed African countries. But Nigeria, regaled as the giant of Africa, still suffers from the noisome pestilence of generators of different temper and tone, in every neighbourhood. And we seem to have accepted it as our fate. No, it is not!

The experiences have been chequered.

I recall that the Obasanjo administration, in an attempt to deal with the problem began the building of independent power stations across the country. Huge money was expended on this. They ind[pendent power plants were not completed at the end of his administration. There were allegations of corruption. When the Yar’Adua government came on board, it decided to halt the work at the power stations so it can do an audit of it and assess what was left undone. I remember the House of Reps panel, led by Hon Ndudi Elumelu, which actually raised the alarm about the deals that went on in the building of the stations, began to start to assess the various stations. The panel hadn’t gone round the facilities before it got enmeshed in scandal and allegations of compromise and that was it: the process was frustrated and ever since then, the problem has been simply regenerative.

The name changed from National Electricity Power Authority (NEPA) to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), the problem remained the same.

The Jonathan administration came up with the idea of unbundling the entity and we came to have Generation Companies, Distribution Companies, and Transmission Companies, creating National Electricity Regulation Commission (NERC) along with it.

When all that did not seem to work or solve the problem, they came again with the idea of privatising the whole electricity business. So, we have eleven Distribution Companies (DISCOs), and since then we have been dancing Reggae in darkness. So, we have sub entities like Eko Distribution Company, Ikeja Distribution Company, Port Harcourt Distribution Company, Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company, Benin Electricity Distribution Company, Jos Electricity Distribution Company, Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company etc. etc.

But in all, where has that taken us? We have succeeded in increasing the megawatts of darkness beamed to Nigerians.

It is one problem after the other.

Even on the rather simple issue of providing pre-paid meters in the homes and offices of consumers remains a big issue. More than eight years after the pre-paid meter issue came up, more than 70 per cent of electricity consumers are yet to get it, even when many have paid for it. It got so bad that consumers have to bribe “NEPA officials” to get a unit from the few they are rationing. In everything, it is either you bribe to get what is due you or you have to know somebody who knows the Big man who can enable you get what is due you.

In my house in Ughelli, Delta State, more than ten years after we have paid for even the old meter, we are yet to receive the device.

Without doubt, the “NEPA officials” prefer to resort to estimated billing wherein they send what they themselves describe as “crazy bills” in a manner that gives room for you to negotiate with the agents who come to disconnect power. That way, the NEPA agents are “settled” and they spare you, for a season, like Satan.

Not too long ago, I had even a messier experience wherein my house, in FESTAC Town, Lagos, was disconnected by officials of the Eko Distribution Company (EKDC) even when I am on a pre-paid meter. Their silly argument was that one of my neighbours with whom I share a feeder pillar is owing electricity Bill and there was no other way of punishing him than to crudely disconnect all the houses linked to that same feeder pillar. It was such a warped and vexatious argument, and a pointer to the tyranny of a monopoly

Yet again, just two weeks ago, I had another sordid experience. My house in Journalists’ Estate, Arepo, in the outskirts of Lagos, which had been graciously given a pre-paid meter, after much “settlement” kept receiving estimated Bill more than eight months after the pre-paid meter had been installed. All efforts to get the Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (IKDC), the same company which installed the pre-paid meter; to stop sending the prepaid Bill made no impact. Worse still, the house had been vacant about three months ago and yet, the Bill has continued to faithfully come, in all its arbitrariness.

Two years ago, one of the occupants had written to IKDC office informing them of the plan to travel, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic. He had pulled out the cut-out from the meter to disconnect the power source, yet, the Bills kept coming even when the house had been technically disconnected. The occupant returned from the trip about five months ago to meet a huge piled up alleged unpaid Bill.

How long shall we suffer in the hands of these companies?

I was one of them who was excited at the dawn of the privatisation exercise of PHCN. The unbundling even made me happier. My expectation was that coming under the status of a private company, will not only guaranty increased and better efficiency in service delivery, but also mark the dawn of a healthy competition between and among the DISCOs and the GENCOs.

But years after, we have seen the unabashed sameness between the government-owned PHCN and the privately-owned DISCOs and GENCOs. You can hardly tell the difference. Both entities still operate largely with the same operational template.

Darkness and not light is still being distributed zealously. If you don’t have light and you don’t have a generator, chances are that you will sleep in darkness and heat. There is hardly any homestead without at least two generators. Little wonder, NNPC releases outlandish figures of fuel consumption.

Nothing has changed, only the shell of the nomenclatures.

If wind blows and an electric pole falls, or the transformer explodes, or the cable or wire gets cut, it is the neighbourhood people that will have to contribute money to carry out the repairs or buy new equipment. Event he engineers of the DISCOs sometimes charge the communities for the repairs even after paying for the damaged equipment. That cost does not affect their next Bill. People are contributing their hard-earned resources to assisting a private company to do their business. And there appears to be nothing the NERC can do, even when the Act setting it up does not allow that customers will be the ones fixing the equipment of the DISCOs and GENCOs.

The hope raised when Babatunde Fashola, SAN, became the Energy minister has long been dashed as all the grammar and seriousness he showed in tackling the problem ended up giving him hasty grey hair and leaving us in even darker alleys. Now there is a sitting minister, Mr Abubakar Aliyu, who does not even seem to understand what the issues are. He sits like an orthodox establishmentarian, saying nothing and doing nothing. Or so it seems.

If fire could consume the tortoise with the iron coat, how much more the hen with its feathery gown?

Indeed, who or what will be the solution to the burden of darkness we bear in Nigeria? Just who will break the jinx?

Dubaiafrika Tourism Boss, Adesanmi Becomes ECOWAS Youth Ambassador

The Office of the President, West Africa Youth Council has appointed the Chief Executive Officer of DubaiAfrika, Dr. Tolu Adesanmi, as the West Africa (ECOWAS) Youth Ambassador, as confirmed by the board of the West African (ECOWAS) Youth Council (WAYC).

The appointment, according to a statement by the group, was connected with the identified laudable antecedents of dedication, hard work, and diligence that Adesanmi has proven in service to humanity and the commendable works as an advocate and relentless crusader of promoting entrepreneurship for African youths.

The appointment letter was presented to him on October 18, 2021, accompanied with all the necessary documents attached to the diplomatic mission, including a diplomatic ECOWAS identity card, ECOWAS certificate, and a specialised automobile plate number to foster ease of the ambassador’s movements across the ECOWAS region.

According to the statement, “Adesanmi is a Luxury Tourism and Lifestyle Entrepreneur with over 15 years of combined experience in the Gulf and African tourism and entertainment industry. He brings creative approach to ensure the viability of the multi-billion-naira industry. He’s so industrious at his job that he’s considered the ‘King of Luxury Tourism’ in Nigeria. He has the expertise to creatively craft systems and build any tourism niche from the ground up, and turn a failing one into a flourishing and healthy business.

“As the MD/Founder of DubaiAfrika Luxury Tourism, he’s successfully nourishing his insatiable passion by revolutionising the Nigerian tourism space. He has implemented various thought-leader researches that have driven investments in emerging markets and international tourism. He’s worked with notable celebrities in the sport and entertainment industry.

“DubaiAfrika.com is Nigeria‘s first Luxury Tourism company providing premium presidential packages to various exotic destinations around the world. Their client base includes high net worth individuals from all walks of life.”

As a regional youth organisation, WAYC said it set goals for itself such as integrating youth and student movements for the continent’s overall socioeconomic development and pan-Africanism.

“It achieves these by defending students and youths’ rights, improving equity, democratisation, and equal access to education at all levels, and fostering academic freedom, freedom of research, the autonomy of higher education institutions, and the promotion of democratic culture among its members.

“And as the powers and voices of the continent fade, it’s working earnestly to support the rising powers and voices as yet to be known and promotes dreams gravitating towards African youths beyond their boundaries of habitation,” a statement issued by the group noted.

The #EndSARS Report: Where is Lai Mohammed and Co?

Eddy Odivwri

Last Monday, the Panel of Inquiry set up to investigate the EndSARS protest of October 10, 2020, submitted its report. The 309-page report had been long in coming. It finally came, few weeks after the first anniversary of the nation-wide protests.

Last year, there was a prolonged brick bath between State actors, led by the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, and the Nigerian and the international media. Mohammed had insisted at the time that the report by CNN claiming there was massacre of protesters was wrong and misleading. The CNN insisted on standing by its report.

At the said first anniversary, Mohammed, again, mocked the CNN and Amnesty International for having not proven that there was indeed, any form of massacre at the Lekki tollgate, the scene of the protests in Lagos.

Mohammed was so vexed that if it was within his power to ban CNN, he would have done so pronto.

Few weeks after that mockery, the panel set up to look into the crisis, and headed by retired Justice Doris Okuwobi, submitted its report to Gov Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State.

The report affirmed that there were killings of scores of protesters and injuring many others at the scene of the protest.

The report also indicted the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Police for carrying out the said shooting at innocent, unarmed Nigerian youths who were waving the Nigerian flag while singing the National Anthem. That was treachery!

What is worse, the panel noted that there were attempts by the federal government, the soldiers and the police to cover up the killings. It also indicted the management of the LCCI for tampering with the evidence at the said tollgate as it was said to have called in cleaners at night to wash off the blood stains on the ground.

No doubt, the panel has shown its independence and has gained the confidence of the critical public.

So, the question is what is Lai Mohammed’s response to these revelations? More than three days after the report was released, he is yet mute. Is he bemused? Has it dawned on him that he was truly lying to Nigerians and unduly harassing the international media? Or would Lai Mohammed fault the report or probably seek a court order (with the help of Abubakar Malami, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation) stopping the belief on the panel’s report? Between Lai Mohammed, his ilk and the international media, who, now is having the last laugh?

As The Guardian motto says, Conscience is an open wound, only truth can heal it. Nigeria needs truth to heal. We are bleeding.