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Nigeria still in the dark

declared that improving the nation’s critical infrastructures in the power and other sectors of the economy is an integral part of his 7-point Agenda. But…

declared that improving the nation’s critical infrastructures in the power and other sectors of the economy is an integral part of his 7-point Agenda.

But two years on, the power problem remains worse than Yar’adua met it. Despite many fat contracts that the Yar’adua administration has awarded in the power sector in the last two years, the country has recorded the lowest power generation output of less than 500 mw in recent times. The Yar’adua administration had inherited about 1,600 mw of power generation from the ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo whom the president had once lambasted for investing over $16 billion on the power sector without any concrete results. For sure, the huge amount purportedly spent by the Obasanjo administration on the power sector has not translated into any stable power supply in the country. Power  remained as epileptic as ever till Obasanjo left power in 2007.

Power probe

The recent probe of the power sector embarked upon by the House Committee on Power under the leadership of Godwin Elumelu produced a lot of astonishing revelations as to why Obasanjo did not succeed in fixing the nation’s power problem.

Several revelations on how billions of dollars were lost to greedy contractors handling the National Integrated Power Projects and how scores of projects were abandoned by some contractors were made during the public hearing by the committee.

Although the committee’s revealing report has been killed on the  floor of the House, recent events have also shown that Elumelu and some of his colleagues were  also part of the clique frustrating the nation’s efforts at having a stable power supply. Elumelu and others are currently being tried for alleged Rural Electrification Project scam involving billions of naira billion.

6,000mw and 10,000mw targets

With the very slow pace at which the Yar’adua administration is moving, there are no indications that its target is of 6,000 mw by December this year and 10,000 by 2011 will be achieved. The problems inherited in the power sector by the president still persist. These include; weak and ageing infrastructure; inadequate generation and transmission capacity at 330KV and 132KV voltage level; inadequate protection systems; inadequate control and communication system, faulty lines and sub-stations; and overloaded distribution transformers,  among others. Unless these problems are comprehensively addressed, the targets will remain a pipe dream. Two years into his administrations, Yar’adua has done little to rehabilitate and upgrade the power sector infrastructures, yet the Minister of Power claimed recently that “we can achieve the 6,000mw target by 2009, we don’t know how?”  In an apparent joke of the year, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan who is the  chairman of the Steering Council on NIPP announced, last week that the current power generation in the country has hit 5,000mw. This announcement came at the time when most parts of the country are still experiencing severe power supply problem.

Power Emergency Fund: The inability by the President Yar’adua to review certain fictitious NIPP contracts awarded by former president Olusegun Onasanjo using the excess crude oil monies illegally has provoked many state governors and members of the National Assembly. This action may likely be the reasons for the delay in approving the $5 billion requested by President to complete some of the projects. The Presidency said the delay in accessing the money is responsible for the non-declaration of emergency in the power sector as promised by the president.  According to the Power  Minister, funds were not released in time for the projects to take-off after they were stopped in May, 2007. The modified structure for the implementation of the NIPP is yet to be fully agreed and approved. In addition, he said there are legal, contractual and funding problems associated with the NIPP projects which may take some time to resolve.

Babalola said the National Economic Council [NEC] representing the has approved  $5.3 billion for NIPP. Of this amount, an anticipatory approval has been given by the Steering Council for N323 billion for immediate commitment to projects that have been deemed nearest to completion by the end of this year namely, Sapele, Olorunsogo, Alaoji, Egbema, and associated transmissions and distributions projects for their successful power evacuation.

Gas supply challenges

The problem of the power sector is not only about constructing or rehabilitating the generation stations, but also providing the gas to run them. Over 70 % of the electricity generation plants are gas-powered.  When Yar’adua came into power he created a separate ministry of gas with the ambition of facilitating needed gas for domestic utilization. But the ministry didn’t succeed in making  the Multinational Oil Companies  meet their obligation of supplying enough gas for domestic use. But some observers said lack of legal framework, effective take off of gas pricing policy and mode of payment prevented the oil firms from meeting these obligations.  Later the ministry was scrapped and the minister was sacked. The total gas requirement of the nation, if the 6,574MW electricity target is to be generated by December this year, is 1,560 million metric standard cubic feet per day (mmscf/day).  The current supply to the nation’s power plants is about 560 mmscf/day. This implies that an additional 1,000 mmscf/day of gas is required if the generation target is to be met.

Although the Gas master plan for the country has been developed and the gas pricing template is ready, there is no serious investment to developed gas resources in the country. Another challenge is the rampant vandalisation of the gas pipeline in the Niger Delta region. The inability of the government to address it has led to escalation of the problem.

What experts say

Experts say the electricity sector is key to the development of any economy. They contend that President Yar’adua should cut his agenda to only one and it  must be provision of stable electricity.

 Engr. Usman Sagir says for instance, that targets alone cannot solve Nigeria’s electricity problem.  According to him, unless government matches efforts with targets, Nigerians will continue to remain in dark.

Recently the Executive Director Operations of the PHCN Engr. John Ayodele who spoke as guest speaker at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria PHCN District said Nigeria needs about 8500 mw of electricity to meet the target of 6,000mw.  He said about 41 percent of the electricity generated in the country is wasted as a result of the technical hitch and theft of the electricity .

According to him, at the moment, about 2800mw to 3000mw of electricity is generated daily but only 1800 mw reach customers, “ from the structure we have on ground if you want to supply 6000 mw to the system based on  losses we need to generate like 8500 mw”.

Which way forward?

The problem of electricity generation, transmission and distribution must be tackled simultaneously with dedication. Nigerians are eager to have stable light in their houses, industries, and offices. Government should talk less about power emergency or targets and concentrate on the good policies that will ensure stable electricity supply for all Nigerians.