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Celebration Of Marginal Improvement In Electricity

Celebration Of Marginal Improvement In Electricity

THE ongoing campaign by the government to promote a so-called improvement achieved in electricity supply in the country is ridiculous. Right from his last nationwide broadcast to mark Nigeria’s 52nd Independence Anniversary, President Goodluck Jonathan, members of his cabinet and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party have been mounting a massive and sustained campaign, aimed at drawing attention to the minimal improvement, which they obviously regarded as a real achievement in the power sector.

During his Independence Day broadcast, the President, among other things, said, “I am pleased with the feedback from across the country of improvements in power supply.” He went on to boast that, very soon, generators would cease to be a prized household item in Nigeria. Along the same line, Jonathan, who was at the 15th edition of the annual Holy Ghost Congress of the Redeemed Christian Church of God last month, took time off religious activities to acknowledge the “improvement” in the power sector.

While replying critics of Jonathan’s slow-paced administration recently, the PDP was also quick to point out “achievements” of the government, especially in the power sector. Praising the President for his “wise and prudent investment in critical sectors,” the party said, “While the maturity span of some of this infrastructure is long term and is expected to yield benefits in coming years, there is abundant evidence that steady gains are crystallising in areas such as power, education and rail transport.”

As if to establish that the much-touted improvement is not just a phantom statement or a figment of people’s imagination, but a reality that can be confirmed with concrete evidence, figures have been flying about in the mass media of the record gains in the megawatts of electricity generated. Just a few days to Christmas, it was widely reported that Nigeria had reached an all-time high generation portal of 4,502 megawatts, up from 4,349.7MW a week earlier. The new figures represent an improvement on what was also described as an earlier all-time high of 4,237MW in August.

These gratuitous claims are unfortunate and provocative. Ordinarily, Nigeria is said to require a minimum of 20,000MW to be able to compete economically with her peers. Smaller countries of far lower population have been able to generate far more power than Nigeria. The International Energy Agency says Brazil and Pakistan, two countries with similar population sizes, generate 24 times and five times more power than Nigeria, respectively. While Brazil has 100,000MW with a population of 192 million, South Africa has 40,000MW with a population of just 50 million. Bangladesh, a country slightly smaller in population and with a smaller Gross Domestic Product than Nigeria, produces nearly twice as much electricity as Nigeria. For Nigeria to then be celebrating less than 5,000MW is ludicrous. Nigerians forced to depend on generators and businesses reeling from high energy costs are not amused.

The way the government has been carrying on, one would think that Nigerians were on the brink of experiencing a day — not even weeks, months or years — of uninterrupted power supply, a luxury that has been taken for granted by Nigeria’s less endowed brothers in Ghana for years. For a country of 167 million people to be flaunting the generation of 4,500MW of electricity accompanied with transmission losses of over 25 per cent and prolonged shortages as a feat, is a thing of shame and lack of ambition. It is an evidence of a poverty of achievement, a want of what to show off to the citizens for the tens of billions of dollars that the government has splashed on the power sector since 1999 when the military took their exit from Nigerian politics and the empty promises of the years of democracy. In fact, it is a confirmation of the failure of government in the area of meeting the electricity needs of the people.

For all the noise about improved power supply, how many companies can boast a complete reliance on public sector power for their activities? How many of the numerous companies that have moved their manufacturing bases to other countries have so far retraced their steps as a result of the supposed improved electricity supply? How many households can now wave goodbye to their noisy, polluting generators in a country that has emerged over the years as the largest market for standby generators in the whole world? Even at the Presidency, it has been reported that N654.02 million was voted for the purchase of generators, to replace old ones and to keep them firing for the current year. Does that show any sign of a government that believes in its own story of improvement in electricity generation and supply?

If the government had given the power sector the pride of place it deserves, by now Nigeria should be enjoying significant stability in public power supply. This, in turn, would boost small-scale and big-time businesses. Under the last Minister of Power, Barth Nnaji, the country missed all the timelines in the power sector roadmap, on the back of which Jonathan rode to electoral victory more than a year ago. The Olusegun Obasanjo administration before him was accused of spending over $16 billion to set up gas-fired Independent Power Projects, but failed to link them up to the sources of gas supply. Under President Umaru Yar’Adua, another substantial amount of money was released with no marked improvement made in the sector. The targets of 6,000MW, 10,000MW and 20,000MW set at various times were all hopelessly missed.

Jonathan must move quickly to reduce the insidious effects of epileptic power supply on the people and the economy. Rather than roll out the drums, as the President and his aides have been doing, the government should now go back to making a success of the privatisation process, which has already been messed up by giving out unbundled power companies to companies that have no antecedents in the power sector. There must be measures to ensure that companies did not just buy the power firms only to embark on asset stripping, as had been noticed in other privatised government firms. The government should ensure access to gas so that gas-dependent turbines will start firing on all cylinders.

When power improves, nobody will need the government to say so; it will be self-evident in homes, offices and factories and will play its pivotal role in the economic development of the country. 

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