I grew up in a neighborhood where within an instant the incandescent bulb comes to live, the kids shout – Up NEPA. It was a chorus of relief with our eyes dilating at the electric bulb praying the power monopoly doesn’t kill our ecstasy. I remember running home to meet a television programme only to get to the doorstep, suddenly the lights go off. It can also be watching a drama at the edge of suspense; NEPA puts off its switch. As a right thinking Nigerian who highly understands the multiplied effect on an inefficient and pipe drain power monopoly known as PHCN on the economy, foreign investment, real sector, SME, competitiveness and so on, I have always cogitated about why the giant of Africa still revels in darkness despite abundance of all sources of power generation – coal, oil, gas, water, wind, biomass and so on. It is sad that lesser economies on the continent and power sources bereft nations are leading in power infrastructure hurdle.
I once visited the Oshogbo Power Center as a student. On arrival, I was moved at the metallic structural height and array of electrical trusses made up of transmission lines, reactors, isolators, transformers, communication lines and so on. I was too anxious to know why and why Nigeria still faces this malignant albatross even though the known ulterior motive of the visit was to gain practical knowledge. After few speeches by the power monopoly officials on areas of operations and organogram which were of little concern to me, I wanted answers gravitating my mind. A dozen of questions were asked by the eager students either as a reflection of their naivety or unpolished knowledge. I quickly learnt that for over last ten years, military government never spent a kobo to develop the power infrastructure and its future demand despite the increasing population.
It is obvious that since 1999, a lot of noise has been made on the urgent need to improve the power sector and I was told that an overnight magic is impossible. It is known by hindsight that power sector reforms mantra were not more than a swearing-in speech. The Ndidi Elumelu panel has shown that power sector fund shown the crass ineptitude, poor planning and a heap of corruption in the sector. It is hereby pathetic to find the Ndudi Elumelu Panel still being put under the searchlight for corruption charges. The conflicting figures, contractors’ profiles, inexistent, scandals or unregistered companies explains why we still grope in darkness.
At my trip to Osogbo, I found out that the transmission monopoly and the unbundled distribution zones do not have the necessary capacity to transmit the maximum power demand which is put at 10000MW. So my wonder still continued that despite the amount of money spent on the NIPP in 2005 and unforgettable boast of Frank Nweke Jnr at every forum, power is still a shot in the dark? It is so easy to point accusing fingers to economic saboteurs who aided massive importation of diesel and generators. Why has government given a body language that it had been coalescing with a clique of business cabals to secretly frustrate the power sector reform through pipeline vandalism, bureaucracy, improper contract award, inchoate planning and other disgusting overtures?
After so much analysis about the irritating state of power sector, we need to find an amicable solution. President Jonathan seems to have gone beyond the rhetoric and readily has a clear roadmap to reverse power paralysis. He has kept the power portfolio to himself and in a power reform sector roundtable held in Lagos, he promised in late August to fully privatize of Power Holding Company. The new power sector reform allows for independent generation, bulk purchase agreement, competitive pricing and privatized distribution companies. This are not new issues in the Power Sector. Previous governments have promised whole scale reform in the past, but all have faltered making power an impossible chore. Former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, started the unbundling of the monopolistic state owned power company and spent close to $10bn on the entire power project. Goodluck seems to be on the march for much needed reform in adequate power supply with continuous engagement with private sector, international corporations and multilateral agencies.
My own view is that we have waited for centralized grid for too long. The large number of gas fired station represents have only remained in potential and has not been turned into distributed wattage. Beyond the present power reforms pursued, we need to decentralize power generation by trying out micro generation units to every home and every state to find means to offset its energy problems. Solar power, wind, biomass power for small communities and homes backed with back up from centralized monopoly at peak /low intensity periods will be advisable while the new power company under a centralized grid provides power to industries, real sector and businesses communities at their own peak periods. The truth is that a government backed renewable power initiative will be affordable by average Nigerians.
Nigeria spends $13bn yearly to run generators and with a 129 kilowatt hours per capita compared to 239 in Ghana, 491 in India and 12,607 in the United States. All Nigeria need is clear competitive public policy that blocks systemic opportunities for corruption and capital loss. I am tired of the vuvuzela hum of neighbourhood generators and the crippled real sector that can employ my jobless peers. As I conclude this piece I remember the opening lines of the Bible. I see a country still finding form with a darkness hovering over it. It’s time for a talismanic fix. Let there be Light. Nigerians don’t deserve a den of darkness.