The Managing Director of Schneider Electric for Anglophone West Africa, Mr. Christophe Begat, was recently reported to have said that about 90 per cent of Nigerians lack access to safe and efficient electricity.
Begat’s disclosure which was made at his firm’s 2019 Digital Innovation Day in Lagos, raises serious concern as it came from an expatriate who expectedly spoke from a professional standpoint rather than a politician whose argument is wont to be laced with unnecessary propaganda.
To be sure, Nigerians had previously bandied figures to illustrate the prostate state of the nation’s power sector but none has been as frightening as the latest rating from a firm that is deeply engaged in the development and management of minigrid power supply systems, especially in Nigeria’s rural areas.
It is sad to observe that Nigerians would find themselves in this near hopeless situation six years after the nation’s power supply structure was unbundled and privatised. As at the time of the September 30, 2013 privatisation, the country had six electricity generating companies (Gencos), 11 distribution companies (Discos), the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET) and the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) as the regulatory authority. Unfortunately, these efforts have only yielded a marginal improvement in the power situation.
Prior to 2015, the maximum daily power output across the country was said to be between 1,500 and 2,750 MW. This saw an initial push to 4,000 MW after a genuine attempt was made by the Federal Government to upgrade the existing power infrastructure. But it did not take long before electricity output and supply relapsed to about 3,125 MW, principally on account of a drop in water level, gas supply shortfall and weak transmission lines.
According to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, while commissioning a power project in his native Ogun State, recently, Nigeria currently has an installed capacity of 13,427 MW of which about 8,340 MW is available whereas the grid has the capacity to transmit only 7,000 MW. But some power sector analysts have quickly countered by saying that the nation currently struggles to produce an average of 5,000 MW out of which about 7.5 per cent is lost in transmission and 30 per cent rejected by the DISCOs.
The epileptic supply of electricity in Nigeria has led to many foreign industrial players relocating their activities to countries where power supply is more predictable. And this means loss of employment, taxes, rents, technology transfer, corporate social responsibility benefits and high cost of goods hitherto produced within. Those who chose to stay back are forced to rely mostly on private electricity generators for their power needs while having to cough out estimated monthly bills for whatever little supply (if any) that may come from the public power source.
The Federal Government was said to have realised $2.5 billion from the power sector privatisation, virtually all of which sum went into the payment of disengaged staff of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN); but we are also aware that there have been several government financial interventions in this industry. The latest being the Finance Minister’s announcement of the approval of a $3 billion loan by the World Bank at the just-concluded Bretton Woods institutions meeting in Washington, DC.
Of course, this is outside similar interventions by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and foreign development agencies like USAID, JICA of Japan, GIZ of Germany, among others. In fact, the CBN recently revealed that it had advanced a total credit of N1.695 trillion to the nation’s electricity industry since the privatisation exercise. Where all this has gone into still beats the imagination us as there is hardly any evidence on the ground to explain such humongous outlay.
The Tide is also not unmindful of the fact that the nation’s power investors are operating under very difficult circumstances. These are businessmen who borrowed hugely at the prevailing foreign exchange rate of N155/US Dollar to pay for the acquisition of power facilities in 2013 only for the Federal Government to devalue the Naira to the level of N360/US Dollar in 2016. However, we think that embarking on a sustained metering process alongside the aforementioned government interventions would have enhanced their capacities to repay such loans than the option of estimated billing. Even their resistance to attempts at eliminating this billing method via the maximum demand customers’ option and the ongoing meter asset providers (MAP) has proved futile.
On its part, the Federal Government should endeavour to reduce its overbearing influence in the power sector. NERC is already a government agency, TCN is wholly owned by the government and NBET Plc is equally a state outfit despite its nomenclature. Let whatever tariff that is approved for the sector reflect the prevailing market situation in so far as every electricity user is metered as to pay for exactly what they consume.
Finally, government and, indeed, the private sector should sustain efforts at diversifying the nation’s energy mix from hydro and gas-powered systems to include solar, wind, coal, biomass/biofuels and nuclear. Off-grid clusters should continue to be developed for Micro, Small and Medium Entreprises (MSMEs). In fact, government needs to declare an emergency in the power sector if Nigeria must take full advantage of the recently signed African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
S’ South: Need For Unity
On Monday, March 16, 2020, a team of leaders of the Niger Delta region was in Government House, Port Harcourt, on a special visit to the Governor of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Wike. The mission of the high-powered delegation was to prevail on the Rivers State Chief Executive to be the arrowhead of the push for the development of the richly endowed but largely marginalized region.
Leader of the team, Elder T.K. Ogorimagba, disclosed that their visit was primarily to urge Gov Wike to consider being the number one advocate for the development of the South-South region.
Accordingly, the elder statesman described Wike as the ‘Advocate of the region’, and urged the Rivers State governor to host a conference of ethnic nationalities of the South-South region to strategise on achieving consensus on promoting the development of the area.
This was after a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Hon Smart Adoki, had intimated the governor that the Niger Delta leaders were in Government House to thank him (Wike) for providing leadership for the region and to appeal to him to work for the restoration of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) in the interest and benefit of the people of the region.
In his response, Governor Wike decried the manifest disunity and disharmony among the ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta and called for unity and a commitment to building a strong bond of togetherness that will foster the needed development of the region.
The governor emphasised that discordant voices from the same region along ethnic and political affiliations will not only continue to tear the region apart but will also continue to empower the forces of social, political and economic marginalization, oppression and suppression against the people of the Niger Delta.
“We must speak with one voice, irrespective of the political party that we belong to. The time has come for us to work together. If we don’t work together, we will continue to lose out,’’ he said, adding that ‘’ the song we should sing is the Niger Delta, not that of any specific ethnic group.
‘’When we sing the song of any specific ethnic group, it is difficult to unite. Let’s not restrict our struggle to that of any particular ethnic nationality.’’
Governor Wike noted that ‘’It is unfortunate that the NDDC cannot deliver on regional projects. There are no interstate roads and NDDC has not done any major project. Instead, the NDDC is engaged in micro projects to promote political interests.’’
The Tide cannot agree any less with the Rivers State Chief Executive that the Niger Delta region needs unity of purpose and a strong synergy among its diverse ethnic nationalities in order to attract a better deal and an enhanced living condition for the people.
It is, indeed, not difficult to see, as the governor noted, that interventionist agencies like the Niger Delta Basin Development Authority (NDBDA), the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), among others, have not been able to effectively deliver on their mandate of changing the squalid physical, social and economic conditions of the region largely due to lack of coordination, synergy and singularity of medium of articulating the position of the region on the national stage.
We equally agree with the governor that the time has come for the region to harness the strength and benefits inherent in unity and togetherness. The politicisation of the agencies of government, including the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, intended to midwife development, with the active unholy connivance of ethnic, political and other vested interests in the region, must stop forthwith.
In this regard, it is heartwarming to note that the governors of the region recently resumed their meeting in Asaba, the Delta State capital, and came out with a renewed commitment to collectively tackle common problems and challenges facing the region.
With the governors showing the direction and leading the way, other critical stakeholders should not have difficulty taking a cue and following the guide.
We, therefore, think that traditional rulers should follow suit while ethnic groupings should endeavour to promote and propagate regional agenda above their individual group interests.
Ethnic-based youth councils and movements should also be prevailed upon to emphasise and pursue overall regional agenda as against championing primordial causes to the detriment of collective regional goals.
From every section and every quarter, there needs to be a convergence and unanimity in agitation for emphasis on competence and passion for the development of the area as the only guide in the appointment of helmsmen for NDDC, PAP and similar agencies.
The era of ethnic nationalities, political parties and other interest groups agitating for their own to be given such positions in view of giving them undue advantages without fair and due consideration for the greater wellbeing and benefit of the whole region should be gone for good.
A house divided against itself, they say, cannot stand. And indeed, a region with common shared ecological, environmental, social, economic and cultural problems as we have in the Niger Delta cannot overcome its peculiar challenges except with a concerted, unified, coherent and focused resolve.
Still On COVID-19
Since Coronavirus (COVID-19) first reared its ugly head in December, 2019, in far away Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in China, a lot has changed. It has apparently turned the world upside down. Peace and tranquility which the people have hitherto enjoyed without inhibition seem to have deserted the globe. Panic and fear have crept in and becoming the order of the day in virtually all continents of the world.
Moreover, things appear to have really fallen apart and the centre seems not to hold any longer. The respiratory disease which the World Health Organisation (WHO), aptly described as a global pandemic, has continued to ravage and make mince meat of mankind, leaving in its wake pain, anguish and thousands of deaths. What is happening in the world today is only comparable to a war time.
Worse still, there is no sign of it abating in sight, as no vaccine for its cure has been discovered, even though scientists and medical experts are working round the clock to provide a panacea. At the last count, over 30,000 persons have died from the virus across the globe.
In fact, the rapidity with which the pandemic is spreading across the globe is unprecedented, most astonishing and alarming. In the history of the world, there is nothing compared to it. In response, and as a way of checking the widespread of the virus, various measures have been put in place.
There are massive lockdowns all over the world. Today, sporting events and activities are suspended or outrightly cancelled; and airports are closed. Businesses, contracts and appointments are put off; with heavy tolls on mankind. Stocks have continued to have free falls. Global oil prices have crashed. There are travel bans and restrictions here and there.
Today, the world is literally at a standstill; it is virtually convulsing, courtesy of the Coronavirus pandemic. Overnight, the fear of COVID-19 has become the beginning of wisdom in almost all countries of the world. As the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently asserted, “monitoring, containing and mitigating the effects of the disease should be top priorities for countries”.
Interestingly, several countries have swung into action to contain the spread of the ravaging monster. In Nigeria, for example, which has confirmed 131 cases so far, with two deaths, the Federal Government has taken drastic measures to curtail the spread of the disease.
It had earlier announced the closure of Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa; Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano; and the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu; and later placed total ban on international travels at all the airports in the country. It equally imposed travel ban on 13 countries which it considered to have high risk of the pandemic as well as banned public and civil servants from foreign travels, among other measures.
On Sunday, President Muhammadu Buhari addressed the nation on the situation and revealed the measures and some palliatives the government has put in place to cushion the effects of the disease on the citizenry.
We boldly state that some of the palliatives are not what Nigerians are expecting from the government today. The Federal Government should borrow a leaf from other countries which are providing other forms of palliatives to their citizens.
Most significantly, as soon as the news of the outbreak of the pandemic broke, the Rivers State Government swung into action by constituting a five-man Inter-Ministerial Committee on Enlightenment and Awareness Creation on COVID-19, to undertake aggressive sensitisation campaigns to check the menace of the contagion in the state. The committee, headed by the State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, has not relented in intensifying the campaigns by reaching out to critical stakeholders in the state.
Sensitisation jingles and messages aired on radio, television and newspapers, which the state government through the committee has powered, are no doubt going a long way to put the disease under control in the state.
These are beyond the efforts being personally made by the state Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, to contain the spread of the disease in the state. First, the Governor directed all schools and tertiary institutions in the state to shutdown till further notice. Regrettably, Rivers State has recorded one index case as confirmed by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
In furtherance of the commitment of the state government to protect Rivers residents, Governor Wike also announced the closure of all borders including air, sea and land routes into the state to traffic and banned vehicular movements in and out of the state. He equally closed down all public parks, night clubs and cinemas till further notice and banned public burials and wedding ceremonies across the state. He has signed the Executive Orders to give verve to all the directives issued by the state government to check the spread of the disease.
The government had earlier set up a 12-man task force on enforcement of the ban on public gatherings and places of worship headed by the Governor as a way of containing the spread of the disease.
Indeed, The Tide commends the actions taken by the state government so far to ensure that the incidence of COVID-19 in the state is reduced to the barest minimum. We believe that this is not the time to let down the guard. The sensitisation campaigns must be intensified.
The closure of the state’s borders by the Governor was the real icing on the cake in terms of the proactive measures adopted by government to contain the spread of the disease in the state. In fact, the government needs the support and cooperation of the Federal Government as well as all and sundry, to ensure that this particular measure works effectively.
We are also elated that the government is strengthening and enhancing the surveillance measures already in place to prevent the importation of the virus into the state. The truth remains that the battle against the pandemic is a battle that must be fought and won. For this to be realised, we think, all hands must be on deck.
All residents of the State must, therefore, observe basic principles of hygiene as recommended by experts by washing their hands regularly with soap and using alcohol-based sanitisers as well as keeping their immediate surroundings clean at all times. This is because, as they say, cleanliness is next to Godliness.
Again, the social distancing policy of the government must be strictly obeyed and enforced among other directives issued by the state government to actually contain the spread of COVID – 19.
No To Generator Ban Bill
A few months after the Senate rejected a resolution to ban the importation of generators,
the Senator representing Niger South, Alhaji Bima Enagi, initiated a bill that seeks to prohibit the importation and use of generating sets in Nigeria.
Titled “A bill for an Act to Prohibit/Ban the Importation of Generating Sets to Curb the Menace of Environmental (air) Pollution and to Facilitate the Development of the Power Sector,” it stipulates, at least, 10 years imprisonment for an offender.
The proposed law also notes that “Approval for exclusion shall, however, be obtained from the Minister of Power, who shall brief the Federal Executive Council quarterly on approvals granted.” The bill further directs “all persons to stop the use of electricity generating sets which run on diesel/petrol/kerosene of all capacities with immediate effect, in the country.”
The bill excludes generators for essential services, especially for medical purposes (hospitals and nursing homes and healthcare facilities), airports, railway stations/services, elevators (lifts), escalators, research institutions and facilities which require 24 hours electric power supply.
Ostensibly, the bill seeks to curb environmental pollution and accelerate the pace of development of the power sector. Obviously, there is an overwhelming decoy to view the new bill as stemming from patriotic zeal. But a critical appraisal easily uncovers the hollowness and utopian disposition of that piece of proposed legislation.
The projected law is inoperable and a barefaced invitation to a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. Ironically, the same reasons that lent the ban unworkable for people in essential services form the basis for its likely failure. For now, the necessary and sufficient conditions for the anticipated law to achieve the touted objectives are non-existent.
The bill is vacuous and, therefore, should not have passed through the first reading. Having gone through that level, it should be discontinued forthwith to conserve public funds and save more of valuable legislative time. Elsewhere, painstaking research and intellectual rigour are put into the conception and reflection of bills that serve the public interest, but this bill bears no such nugget.
In their quest to expedite action on the bill, the Senators seem to care less about the facts on the ground concerning the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity in Nigeria. For example, in mid-2019, electricity power generation dwindled from 4,000 megawatts to an abysmal 2,039 megawatts.
On April 25, 2019, there was an entire shutdown of Egbin, Omotosho, Olorunsogbo and Papalanto Power Stations. There has been a significant abatement in power supply to Nigerian households from 42 percent attained in the fourth quarter of 2018 to 37 percent in the first quarter of 2019. Public power supply to commercial and productive establishments was worst during the same period.
This is why we gasp in amazement at this projected law. No one is in doubt that generators are a nuisance and a national pandemic, posing a huge threat to the health and well-being of Nigerians. It is equally correct that the device consumes about $14 billion import bills annually, but there is a need to inquire into the reason for their prevalent use.
Of course, it is the epileptic public power supply in the country. The truth is, without generators, the Nigerian economy will flounder as businesses reckon on them for survival. Every institution (public or private), including the formal and informal sectors of the economy, depends on them for power supply. This is why they are a necessary evil.
To advance electricity supply in the country, the federal government privatised the power sector in 2013, leading to the creation of 11 distribution companies (DISCOs). But year after year, both the government and the DISCOs have always blamed and accused each other for being responsible for the inadequate power supply.
We are aghast at why our Senators keep introducing bills against the use of generators in a country with a brazenly capricious power supply. Even President Muhammadu Buhari’s office was projected to spend N46 million on fuelling generators in the 2019 federal budget.
Rather than become upset at the importation of generating sets, the Senators should examine how the country got into this mess, and why the federal government injected a prodigious N1.7 trillion into the power sector following the privatisation with its 49 percent equity stake, while the DISCOs, who are major stakeholders, have invested only a pittance. Having investing such whopping sum to improve public power supply in Nigeria, the situation appears worse now than ever before.
Although Senator Enagi’s bill may be charitable, it is hasty. Nigeria must first address the hazardous power supply situation before considering a bill to outlaw generators, if need be. In a country where the national grid collapses customarily without these generators, what will be left of the economy?
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