Nigeria’s Energy Crisis, Power Play and Hopelessness, By Anthony Akaeze
…of serious concern is the question of when Nigerians will begin to enjoy constant electricity like many people around the world. All the initial hopes that Buhari, an anti-corruption crusader, would make this happen, once he assumed power as president in 2015, as corruption is considered by many to be a strong reason for the parlous state of the power sector, has yielded nothing.
The last couple of weeks have proved to be a busy period in Nigeria’s power sector, particularly with the sacking and reinstatement of two heads of parastatals in the power ministry by the power minister and the president of Nigeria respectively, as reported in the media. The sack and recall cases, in a way, portray a government seeking to turn around the power sector, even as it offers people like me little hope. Rather than hope, it is the words of Joe Ajaero, general secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), who recently appeared on a TVC programme, “Your View”, and told the world that Nigeria’s power crisis is not about to end anytime soon because no new power plant has been built by the companies that came on board when the power sector was privatised in 2013, which raises cause for serious concern. To any Nigerian still nursing hope that the nightmare of blackouts, erratic electricity supply and rationing across the country, which has been the norm for as long as many can remember, would be overcome anytime soon, Ajaero’s commentary shatters such hope. The NUEE general secretary had, in the question-and-answer session with the programme hostesses, referred to claims or the hope of power plants being built by the Nigerian government or private companies as no more than “political power plants” – a broadside at government officials known for their propaganda in regard to what has been achieved or is in the pipeline towards achieving constant electricity supply in the country. And when one of the interviewees mentioned the Mambilla hydro power project, Ajaero surprisingly credited effort in that regard to the military administration of Ibrahim Babangida, which was in power between 1985 and 1993. It was baffling, to say the least, and even the hostesses could not mask their shock at the revelation. The views of Ajaero was surprising for a country that often claims, through its officials, to be making progress in the power sector since the purported privatisation exercise that saw different private companies taking over government run entities, with the aim of delivering electricity better to Nigerian homes, but to some others, it was simply typical of the country!
Thinking about Ajaero’s disclosures thereafter, all I could do was smile. A wry smile actually, which is evidence of pain.
There is the temptation to dismiss the NUEE general secretary’s claims as the rabbling of a disgruntled fellow out to discredit the government, considering that he is involved in the struggle by NUEE to, among others, seek compensation for members of the union who they insist have not received due compensation since the privatisation exercise that saw many workers losing their jobs, but it is for the government to counter his claims with facts, if they have them. If the Buhari administration or anybody else chooses to dismiss Ajaero’s claims about the power sector as untrue or malicious, let them show Nigerians the new power plants or evidence of how Nigerians would soon begin to enjoy uninterrupted electricity supply like people of Senegal, Uganda and South Africa.
For as long as many will recall, Nigeria’s power generation has hovered between 2000 to 7000 megawatts and the Mambilla hydro power project was expected to boost electricity supply in the country with a current estimated population of 180 million people but nothing has been achieved despite the huge resources committed to the project and the power sector generally.
If nothing else, recent reports in the media support Ajaero’s claims. A October 2019 report of Daily Trust newpaper, revealed that “The 3050 megawatts (MW) Mambilla hydropower project in Taraba State, with a contract cost of N2.1 trillion is yet to begin, over 40 years after it was initiated.” The newspaper disclosed that a visit to the proposed Mambilla project site by its reporters showed “that there was nothing on ground to indicate commencement of site clearance for the project.” A more recent report by the same newspaper on January 10, titled “Survey works begin for N2trn Mambilla hydro power project”, confirmed the October report as true, as Mamman, the minister of power, was quoted as saying that the Buhari administration was “starting the project almost from the scratch,” since there was nothing tangible on ground at the site of the $5.7 billion (about N2 trillion) project. Said Mamman: “When I assumed office, I told everybody what happened. All these years talking about Mambilla, nothing had been done. I was surprised that I did not see anything on the ground.”
He added: “We have not even acquired the land from the state government. Even to enter an agreement with the state government on the acquisition of the land had not been done. It is only this Buhari government that is trying to do something about it now. With my coming, we have made a move and the president is giving me all the support. I have gone far and it is like we are about to kick off any time from now.”
That says a lot about the country’s leadership, over the years, to end the nightmare that citizens are going through daily as a result of the appalling power situation in the country. For as long as many will recall, Nigeria’s power generation has hovered between 2000 to 7000 megawatts and the Mambilla hydro power project was expected to boost electricity supply in the country with a current estimated population of 180 million people but nothing has been achieved despite the huge resources committed to the project and the power sector generally. The International Centre for Investigative Reporting, in a report published in October 2019, quotes The Energy Business Report (April 2016 vol. 15 no 160), as stating “that N6.52 trillion has been spent on Nigeria’s power sector in 16 years with no significant improvement.” Giving a breakdown of the expenditure, the ICIR points out that “ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, the report says, allegedly spent N3.52 trillion ($16 billion) during his tenure, though this figure has been contested. Also, late President Umar Yar’adua was said to have spent N1.183 trillion, while the former President Goodluck Jonathan during his administration reportedly expended N1.817 trillion and President Muhammadu Buhari reportedly spent N1.5 trillion in two years, as at September.”
It simply jars the mind that the country is no inch better than where Buhari met it in 2015, in terms of, among others, power generation and supply as the same complaints of power outages and blackouts remain a feature of daily life in one of the world’s most naturally endowed countries.
With regard to the Mambilla project, if after forty years Nigerians are being told that nothing is on ground at the project site, how much longer would the people have to wait to see the project come to light?
Rather than the expected progress or evidence of this in the power sector, as we hear or see in serious countries, it is tales upon tales of why Nigerians cannot yet enjoy 24 hours of electricity supply despite the huge financial investment in the sector by its leaders, that one has been assailed with since 1999 that civilians took over the country’s mantle of leadership from soldiers. The latest story and blame game led to the sacking, last December, of Damilola Ogunbiyi, the managing director of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) and Marilyn Amobi, managing director of the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Company Limited (NBET) by Mamman, the power minister, and their replacement with Salihijo Ahmad and Nnaemeka Ewelukwa respectively. The appointments, according to Mamman through his spokesperson, in a report quoted by PREMIUM TIMES as justifying Ogunbiyi’s removal, was meant to “sanitise the (electricity) sector” and “solve the darkness crisis of the country.” But President Buhari reversed the appointments early January in a move that also reveals the lack of synergy or consistency in the administration, as the impression had earlier been created by an earlier PREMIUM TIMES report that at least one of the appointments may have been sanctioned by the president. An investigation by the newspaper on how Ahmad, described as a middle level government official, and son of a late friend of Buhari, whose company reportedly served as a consultant to the Petroleum Trust Fund which Buhari headed during the military regime of Sani Abacha, was appointed to head a key department as REA, saw PREMIUM TIMES reaching out to Garba Shehu, senior special assistant on media to Buhari, who replied that the appointment may have been approved by the president on the recommendation of Mamman. The reversal of the appointment by President Buhari suggests that may not be the case.
So, is this yet another power play at the top level of government cut short by the highest authority? Whatever. But of serious concern is the question of when Nigerians will begin to enjoy constant electricity like many people around the world. All the initial hopes that Buhari, an anti-corruption crusader, would make this happen, once he assumed power as president in 2015, as corruption is considered by many to be a strong reason for the parlous state of the power sector, has yielded nothing. It simply jars the mind that the country is no inch better than where Buhari met it in 2015, in terms of, among others, power generation and supply as the same complaints of power outages and blackouts remain a feature of daily life in one of the world’s most naturally endowed countries.
Anthony Akaeze is an award-winning freelance investigative journalist and author.