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Anguish in Niger as Nigeria refuses to restore electricity supply

Millions of Nigeriens are going through pain as their businesses are collapsing as a result of Nigeria’s decision to cut electricity supply to them, residents…

Millions of Nigeriens are going through pain as their businesses are collapsing as a result of Nigeria’s decision to cut electricity supply to them, residents of the neighbouring country and diplomats have said.

They said hospitals are also finding it difficult to store vaccines and other essential drugs, a development that is affecting service delivery.

At present, only a few people who can afford gasoline and have generating sets, or are ready to pay for commercial electricity supply have light.

Nigeria had on August 2, 2023, disconnected the supply of 150 megawatts of electricity daily to Niger Republic as part of efforts by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to restore democracy in the Sahel country.

Nigeria’s action was part of the regional bloc, ECOWAS sanctions imposed on Niger following the July 26 ouster of President Mohamed Bazoum by the presidential guards.

According to Nigelec, an electricity company in Niger, the development followed an emergency meeting by the ECOWAS, where sanctions, including freezing utility services, were imposed on the Niger Republic over its coup.

Niger Republic was heavily dependent on Nigeria for most of its electricity supplies.

A number of cities in that country are currently experiencing prolonged blackouts after Nigeria cut its power supply. Niamey, Maradi and Zinder are witnessing total blackouts.

This is said to be unusual in the Niger Republic, which usually enjoyed a reliable electricity supply.

 

Halimatou Mani, a nurse in Tsibiri, located 14 kilometres from Maradi city, said it had been tough for them since the electricity cut.

“We are not used to power outage here. What makes it worse is that very few people have power-generating sets.

“With the action taken by Nigeria, families are suffering because it is difficult to store perishable goods,” she said.

A trader in Maradi, who gave his name as Ibrahima, said Nigeria should restore power supply to save lives.

“It should be life first before politics. Women and children are silently dying in hospitals, especially in rural areas where there is no alternative to public power supply.

“While I appeal to the junta to come down from their high horse and negotiate with ECOWAS for the sake of the people they want to rule, I am also begging ECOWAS under the leadership of Nigeria’s leader, President Bola Tinubu, for the sake of God, to consider other options of bringing back Bazoum instead of punishing all of us,” he said.

Ibrahima said businesses were collapsing, adding, “The border closure alone has caused misery to us. People are losing their sources of livelihood. I hope the bigger bloc, the African Union would find a way of resolving this problem.”

On August 19, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative in Niger, Stefano Savi, warned against the severe impact of the ongoing crisis on millions of vulnerable children in the country.

“The crisis unfolding in the Republic of Niger continues to pose an ever-greater danger for millions of vulnerable children in the country.

“At present, more than two million children have been impacted by the crisis and are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

“Even before the recent civil unrest and political instability in Niger, estimated 1.5million children under the age of five were forecast to be malnourished in 2023, with at least 430,000 expected to suffer from the deadliest form of malnutrition. This is a figure likely to rise if food prices continue to spike and an economic downturn hits families, households and incomes,” the statement said.

Nigeria should avoid East African Nile river conflict – Ex-envoy

Speaking to Daily Trust Saturday, a former Nigerian ambassador to Ethiopia, Bulus Zom Lolo, said Nigeria’s decision to cut Niger off the national grid may have serious consequences on the long-time relationship between the two countries.

Lolo said that considering the complexity of the situation, Nigeria could have selected any other measure to fulfill the directive of ECOWAS without cutting the electricity supply.

“ECOWAS directed Nigeria to implement some measures because it is a member state. I am not sure that ECOWAS pinpointed what sanction or specific area they want Nigeria to go to. Nigeria could have selected any other measure in fulfilling the directive of ECOWAS without cutting the electricity supply,” he said.

He explained that only those in government would have clear information on why the decision to deprive Niger of electricity was taken. “But on the surface, it does look like we have opened the eyes of the people of Niger to an area they have closed their eyes on.

“Depending on how hard the electricity suspension hits the Niger populace, they may one day wake up and decide to revoke all the existing agreements and exercise their right to also construct the dam that would prevent the flow of River Niger to Kainji and Shiroro dams.

“This reminded me of the conflict in East Africa, where Ethiopia, which is sitting on the upstream end of River Nile, just like Niger that sits on the upstream end of River Niger, decided to build a dam.

“Egypt that is downstream, together with Sudan, is now making a lot of noise and has made the Ethiopia decision to build a dam a life and death affair.

“They were vehemently against Ethiopia exercising its sovereign right with a natural resource passing through their country to make good use of it. That’s the nature of diplomacy; many things can come up that you didn’t expect, and it is always dialogue.

“If it has always been the internal desire by Niger to construct a dam because they are on the upper end of River Niger, Nigeria has now given them every reason to do that,” he said.

Electricity supply to Niger is a bilateral agreement – experts

Findings by Daily Trust Saturday revealed that Nigeria has bilateral agreements with Niger Republic on the electricity supply, paving the way for a certain percentage of power generated through the Kainji Dam to be channelled to them.

Another ex-envoy of Nigeria to Kuwait, Haruna Garba, said it was wrong for Nigeria to violate the covenant and cut off the electricity supply to the Niger Republic, even during wartime.

“One, since the Nigerian democracy is becoming stronger, it is recommended that the government should seek the advice of envoys before taking such diplomatic decisions.

“As everyone knows, there is a diplomatic reason for supplying them the power.  Despite that we are compensating them for not building the dam, they are not getting it free of charge; they are paying for it.

“So, by cutting them off, Nigeria is depriving the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) of revenue generation. How will the Nigerian government compensate them? It is not supposed to reach that extent.

“Even in wartime, you cannot deprive your enemy light, water, hospital and other essential services because if you do, virtually it is a crime.

“What I understood was that the African bloc wanted to scare the coupist but they resisted, so they shouldn’t be ashamed to retreat, it is normal in diplomacy,” he said.

Also speaking on the matter, Ilyasu Gadu, who had worked at Nigeria’s foreign service, said cutting off electricity to the Niger Republic to force the military to hand over power to President Bazoum had several implications.

“Niger was muting the idea of building a dam across River Niger, and if they did that, the volume of water that would flow down the river onto Kainji to Nigeria would be reduced,” he added.

He said President Tinubu ought to have sought the input of the National Assembly to review the treaty under the current circumstances. He advised Nigeria to look at the protocols for the sake of the future.

“In the future, looking at what Nigeria has done in Niger by unilaterally, without due process by going to the National Assembly to take a look at this thing again under the current exigencies, it means that nobody would trust any alliance, protocol or treaty in the future.

“Some Nigeriens feel that Nigeria is no longer a reliable partner, so they have started looking for other partners that will affect us. And you can imagine that in this day and age, there are other partners willing to be there for them,” he said

The diplomat said the whole impasse was not well handled by Nigeria, and described the development as a “knee-jerk’ reaction with salient ambiguity of many issues.

“Yes, we abhor the military takeover in Niger, we want democracy to be restored, but what we are doing now is like cutting our noses to spice our faces because eventually, if Niger decides to do its own pushback, we may have a lot of problems,” he said.

Niger’s 130mw underway

Speaking to Daily Trust Saturday on the matter, Alhaji Boubacar Sabo, the deputy secretary-general of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS), Tarayya, said Niger had already begun damming River Niger.

He said Niger Republic had constructed a multipurpose Kandadji dam on River Niger, with a hydropower installation capacity of 130mw (170,000 hp).

He said the Nigerien hydropower plant construction had reached an advanced stage and is billed for commissioning in the next two years.

Sabo said Niger relied on Nigeria for almost 70 per cent of its electricity requirement and may be able to cope without the supply using other means, pending the completion of their plant.

Findings by Daily Trust Saturday revealed that the Kandadji dam, cited at Tillabéri Region, 180km northwest of Niger’s capital, Niamey, would starve the supply of water to Kainji Dam, the major source of hydropower in Nigeria that left its upstream neighbour in blackout today.

Efforts to speak to the managing director/chief executive officer of the TCN, Sule Abdulaziz, an engineer, did not yield results, but a competent source in the company told our correspondent that, “Actually, the allocation to Niger is 150mw, but it fluctuates sometimes”.

Sources said both President Bazoum and his predecessor, Mahamadou Issoufou had pursued the completion of Kandadji hydroelectricity with vigour, saying they wanted to be independent of Nigeria’s electricity supply.

Shortly before his ouster, Bazoum was said to have visited the construction site of the multipurpose Kandadji dam to assess the level of work done on the site.

He was reported to have said that, “All the obstacles have been lifted and all the funding problems resolved. In a few months you will see the project taking shape.”

Findings revealed that the Niger power project had been postponed multiple times.

It was first managed by a Russian company, Zaroubegevodstroï (ZVS) before the contract was transferred to a China company, Gezhouba Group Company Limited (CGGC).

Kandadji dam construction was funded by international partners, including the World Bank, Africa Development Bank,  French Development Agency and the Islamic Development Bank.

Meanwhile, an umbrella body for civil society organisations in Niger, Collective Organisations for the Defence of the Right to Energy, (CODDAE) that works toward economic and social development, technological innovation and environmental protection, has vowed to sue the Nigerian government over the latter’s power cut off to Niger.

CODDAE’s president, Malam Moustafa Khadi, told RFI Hausa that the treaty signed by both countries to provide electricity to Niger had nothing to do with ECOWAS, insisting that the treaty preludes the regional body.

“As you can all see, we are just holding this conference outdoors just because of the blackout. In this modern time, power is as the air we breathe, the water we drink. This is because all our activities have a direct link to it.

“The power cut-off has caused a lot of obstacles to our companies.  Business activities that could be carried out day in and day out have been seriously disrupted. We are perfecting modalities to sue the Nigerian government in court. Nigeria must be held responsible and made to reimburse all the damages caused by its handiwork,” he said.

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