By Simon Echewofun Sunday (Abuja), Ibrahim Musa Giginyu (Kano) & Christiana T. Alabi (Lagos)
Concerns have trailed the recent pronouncement of the federal government that it will soon begin the enforcement of the ban on the importation of generators.
The latest prohibition on the use of generators was from the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), an agency under the Federal Ministry of Environment.
The director-general of the NESREA, Professor Aliyu Jauro, in an interview with Daily Trust on Sunday in Abuja last Monday, said Nigerians, especially those residing in urban settlements, should stop using the two-stroke engine generators because of the danger their smoke posed to the environment.
He said the two-stroke engine generators, often referred to as ‘I-pass-my- neighbor,’ is contributing immensely to the pollution of the air and environment in the country.
Daily Trust on Sunday reports that this is not the first time such directive was made. In November 2015, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) announced a mass ban on the importation of small generators.
The then comptroller, Customs Federation Operations Unit, Zone A, Lagos, Madugu Sanni Jubrin, who disclosed this, cited environmental concerns, just like the NESREA.
He said, “Smaller generators have been banned by the federal government because it is causing air pollution and destruction of our lungs and breathing system.”
He noted that Customs was not banning individual purchase of those generators but the massive import into the country. “If you buy one piece, Customs will not seize it,” he noted.
In March 2020, a bill was initiated at the Senate to ban the use of generators. The bill, which has passed the first reading, was sponsored by Senator Bima Muhammadu Emagi (APC, Niger South). He said it was to curb the menace of environmental (air) pollution and to facilitate the development of the power sector.
The bill stipulated 10 years imprisonment for any person who knowingly sells generator sets, but excluded the use of generating sets for essential services like medical purposes, airports, railway stations, elevators (lifts), and research institutions that require 24-hour electric power supply. But since then, the bill process has not progressed.
More worries as power outages persist
Daily Trust on Sunday reports that the prevalence of this generator type, termed to be ‘affordable’ by users, is as a result of a larger problem – poor power supply.
At the moment, records obtained from the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) indicate that the estimated demand for electricity is 25,790 megawatts (MW). However, the highest power generation was 5,801MW attained on 1st of March 2021, and that record lasted for just few hours.
According to a World Bank record, Nigeria has over 200million people, and at least 80 million of them do not have power supply from the national grid, while the 120m who have power supply from the grid barely get sufficient demand daily.
More so, the World Bank, in its recent report, stated that Nigeria had overtaken the Democratic Republic of Congo in terms of countries which citizens have the least access to electricity globally.
The Nigerian Electricity Market (NEM) is also in a liquidity crisis with an over N1.7 trillion shortfall that has crippled further investments in the power sector.
As at Thursday, the highest grid power was 4,500MW but dropped to 4,000MW on Friday, with some generation companies (GenCos) ramping down production due to gas supply constraints.
Residential, commercial users fume over order
Going by this, some small business owners and residents said they could not afford to run their businesses without electricity, and so, resorted to self-power generation due to the unreliable power supply from the 11 distribution companies (DisCos).
In Abuja, John Yusuf, a provision store owner, said he had no choice but to run his generators to power his refrigerator and sell drinks.
Samuel Okon, a resident of Gwarinpa in Abuja wondered what life would be without his power generator. “There are days, especially on Saturdays, that the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) will not supply electricity, and it could extend for two days. At such times, how do I meet my power needs? This declaration is not right.”
Precious Omeje, who runs a hairstyling business in Karu, said such a decision was absurd. “This government is increasing everything and finding other ways to punish the masses. If it is environmental pollution they want to cut, they should first fix the power sector. Nobody will want to buy a generator and pay more to buy fuel to run it if there is light,” Omeje said.
Some dealers of generating sets in Abuja, who reacted to this, noted that the pronouncement by the government was not fair to them and users.
Chuks Ukachi, a dealer in Sumec Firman brand, said the larger diesel-fuelled generator the government was recommending is out of the reach of the ordinary Nigerian and most small and medium enterprises.
“This is an act of sabotage to us. This will not fly; they attempted that last year and it failed. We do not force people to buy generators; it is the government and the DisCos that are frustrating people who buy generators by not giving them enough power supply.
“To get a Mikano, CAT, Furman or FG Wilson generators, you will have to have over N1million. How many local businesses can afford that? But they can get smaller generators from N50,000 and it will serve their power needs,” he said.
In Lagos, Moruf Ajala, who does barbing business at the Itire area, wondered why the government would even think of banning the use of small generating sets in Nigeria, which are helping the poor masses to generate electricity.
He also noted that it was the failure of government that made the use of generators rampant.
Ajala, a young school leaver, had just opened a barbing shop where he can raise money to sponsor himself to the university.
“We get power supply for at most three hours in a day while I rely on a generator to power my clipper and fan. If ‘I-pass-my-neighbour generator’ is banned, that means people like me will go out of business because power supply is epileptic, and I cannot afford to buy a big generator now,” he said.
A resident of Oshodi, simply identified as Akeem, who does phone charging business, said the benefits he derived from using a small generator outweighed its disadvantages.
He said it was through the business that he paid his house rent, his three children’s school fees, as well as feed and clothe his family.
“On the average, we enjoy about four hours of power supply, so people are usually frustrated when their phones go off, but with my small generators, I help people to charge their phones and get paid because I buy fuel,” he said.
He appealed to the government to create more job opportunities for youths in the country.
At the Agege area of Lagos, Madam Sekinat, a widow, said she relied on her small generating set every time there is power outage.
“I am comfortable with a ban on generators if power supply is improved. Nigeria is a country where the poor are getting poorer and the rich getting richer. The rich can spend any amount to get power supply. Some of them even bribe officials of the distribution company to influence higher hours of power supply to their areas, while the poor are left in darkness,” she lamented, and urged government to rise up to its responsibilities.
The pronouncement also drew reactions in Kano as a lot of small business owners who use the small generating sets said they were not aware of the ban order. They, however, expressed dismay at government’s resolve to ban what they termed as a source of solace to the common man.
Malam Gambo Shago of Tinshama Quarters in Nassarawa Local Government Area and petty trader said the ban made no sense at all. He added that it is impossible for the ban to be effective.
“Sometimes I wonder what this government wants us to do. After being patient with having wires connected to our homes without steady electricity supply for years, instead of improving the situation, they are banning generators. This will not work at all. It doesn’t make any sense at all,” he said.
Another Kano resident, Bello Aminu, who operates a barbing shop, said no one would separate him from his generating set. Bello said he had a diploma but couldn’t find a job, and now, government wants to send him out of business. “I will fight this to the best of my ability,” he said.
For Michael Abba, a resident of Badawa Quarters, it is a positive development if the government would ensure steady electricity.
He said it was cheaper to operate with the small generator than pay the fluctuating electricity tariff.
Speaking on the situation, the president of the Nigerian Consumer Protection Network (NCPN), Kunle Kola Olubiyo, a lawyer, said there had been several attempts to ban small generators.
He said, “Where there is stable power supply, you don’t need this. When we were growing up and power supply was better, there weren’t generators. Generators became prevalent because of the lack of stable power supply.
“The ban may even encourage smuggling of generators because so many people will still need it.”
He also urged the Ministry of Environment to focus on other things that need to be done.
“Generator has become an essential service in places where the grid is not reached. Besides, it is just a pronouncement by fiat as it is not backed by any act of parliament; it is just a ministerial directive,” Olubiyo said.