Last year, the Government told Nigerians that it had rolled out a “pragmatic and creative” short term approach to address challenges in the power sector, particularly the issue of inadequate gas supply to thermal generation plants across the country. The new measures were expected to ramp up power generation and supply in the country by at least 5,000 megawatts (MW) within four months. The measures were announced during an inter-ministerial press briefing involving the ministries of petroleum resources, power, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), among others. It was just another empty promise that things would soon improve.
Last week, the electricity supply officially announced was still only 2,800 megawatts. There has been nothing said about the plan to fast-track the development of additional gas supply sources which will in the short term result in an addition of at least 370 million metric cubic feet per day of gas to the power plants as promised. Neither do we know more about the announced engagement by the CBN and the Bankers’ Committee to setup a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to offset about N25 billion outstanding legacy gas related debts owed to gas suppliers by the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), so that the perennial problem of low electricity production would not continue into 2015. The formal promise that Nigeria would enjoy at least 5,000 MW of electricity by the end of 2014 did not come to pass.
PREMIUM TIMES recalls that on February 19, 2008, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had launched the Presidential Committee on the Accelerated Expansion of Power. He promised Nigeria that 18-months from that date, Nigeria would be producing at least 6,000 MW of power – that was by August 2009. Nigerians should have challenged Yar’Adua at that time because during the 2007 election campaigns, Obasanjo’s promise to Nigerians was that by December 2007, his NIPP projects would be producing at least 6,000 megawatts of electricity. So the promise of 6,000 MG for 2007 was shifted to 2009. President Yar’Adua explained that the reason that President Obasanjo’s power supply project failed was that sufficient preparation for gas supply was not made. The Yar’Adua accelerated plan were designed to ensure that there would be abundant gas supply by August 2009. President Yar’Adua then went on to promise us that we were on course to enjoy 20,000 megawatts of electricity within two years.
Going further back, the late Bola Ige, as Minister of Power and Steal had promised Nigerians in June 1999 that by 2001, there would be so much electricity produced in Nigeria that those with private generators would regret the investment they made as they would have no need for it and neither would it have second hand value as no one else would need it. These repeated promises show a number of things; first is that the quantum of the promise has been declining rapidly and what we were being promised in 2014 was what should have been delivered by 2001. Nigerians have been lied to and deceived by successive PDP Administrations, as is the case with the electricity supply that everyone needs but is never provided. It is imperative that the incoming Buhari Administration finds out who stole all these monies that would have provided sufficient electricity for Nigerians.
What is known is that a big chunk of the missing funds was lost to the NIPP jamboree. The focus was on only one issue – mega contracts for generation without any focus on looking at the entire electricity value chain. The approach has been to define the problem as insufficient generation and leave out other deficiencies in the value chain, in particular the non-availability of gas and transmission constraints. The PDP Governments have also further complicated the problem through its privatisation programme that has resulted in sub-optimal outcomes due to corruption and impunity. For example, it is known that the Enugu Distribution Company was awarded to Emeka Offor when the institutions responsible for evaluating his bid had been on public record saying he failed the technical qualification hurdle.
It was clear that Vice President, Namadi Sambo, insisted on the selling it to him knowing full well he did not have the capacity to run it. Indeed, the whole electricity arena has become one of the biggest cesspools of corruption in the country. Sources indicate that currently, two major IPPs have been prevented from moving to site because demands for bribes by key ministers had not been paid. There are also reports that the all-powerful Minister for Petroleum Resources has diverted much of the financial allocations for gas development. Very little work has also been done on the development of electricity transmission. Furthermore, some of the age-old problems, like MDAs not paying their electricity bills, even though monies are provided in the budget, remain.
PREMIUM TIMES believes that a completely new approach to the electricity provision question should be adopted. We certainly need to produce more electricity, and the various on-going projects should be completed with the urgency that the problem deserves. We need to diversify our modes for the production of electricity. Our national strategy should be one of universal access to electricity by all citizens. We need to downplay the push for more megawatts and develop a multifaceted approach. This requires a shift from a one approach policy of delivering mega-projects to including a safer approach of promoting smaller, more localised initiatives that are quicker and easier to roll out and will help the government garner public trust. The rapid extension of solar power is extremely important in this regard.
The sun is our biggest source of energy and the technology to tap it effectively and cheaply exists today. Very cheap solar devices can, for example, solve the problem of lighting and charging phones in rural areas. If the power sector problem was approached from the perspective of “what do people actually need” rather than “what big projects can we spend money on”, we might be more effective in meeting the needs of Nigerians.
PREMIUM TIMES draws the attention of the in-coming APC Administration against a single focus on mega-projects. Party leaders have already started promising the addition of 4,000 megawatts each year, which is unrealistic. Nigerians are fed up of empty promises. The Obasanjo and Yar’Adua Administrations were misled by contractors who assured them that they could deliver on mega-projects and failed. Maybe they were not deceived and knew the mega-projects would fail but that before the failure, they would get their cuts. Let’s change course by placing the needs of people, rather than contractors at the centre of our power agenda.