A Nation in Darkness

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Chinedu Nebo

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Nigerians are suffering so much hardship because of the epileptic power supply in the country which worsened after the privatisation of the sector by the outgoing administration of President Goodluck Jonathan

By Anayo Ezugwu  |  May 25, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT  |

THESE are not the best of times for many Nigerians. Fuel scarcity and power outage are causing a lot of hardship for the masses. But of the twin evils, inadequate power supply has continued to be a worrisome problem in the country over the years, especially for the masses who cannot afford to fuel their generators to power their businesses. Across the country, many people are crying out because of the darkness that pervades their areas. The irony is that despite the outages, electricity distribution companies every month send crazy bills to consumers whose houses are not metered and would readily disconnect them if they fail to pay up.

This ugly development can be illustrated by the experience of Regina Onuze, a resident of Ikotun area of Lagos, who told Realnews that power supply in her area has moved from bad to worse since the end of the 2015 general elections on April 11. According to Onuze, before the elections, the area used to enjoy epileptic power supply, which usually lasted for five to six hours every day. But after the 2015 general elections the situation changed drastically.  Onuze recalled that there are days they had blackout for two days.

Despite this, the power distribution companies, DISCOs seems impervious as they go about creating the impression that all is well and slam people with crazy bills. “I don’t know whether it is because President Goodluck Jonathan lost the election that they are suffering us like this. Even if you want to use your generator, there is no fuel to power it,” Onuze said.

FESTAC residents protest two months power outage
FESTAC residents protest two months power outage

She is not alone. Ijeoma Diugwu, a business woman who sells frozen foods at Ojo area of Lagos, is equally handicapped by the constant lack of power supply to the neighbourhood. In order to remain in business she has been spending most of her profits in fuelling her generator set. Apart from that, Diugwu is saddled with estimated bill because she could not get a prepaid meter. She recalled in anger how she paid N21,000 for a prepaid metre in 2009 into the Power Holding account, but nothing has happened till date. She claimed that she was also made to pay an additional N5000 for the installa­tion of the metre which was never supplied. “Last year, I took my documents to the senior marketing manager of Eko Electricity Distribution Company, EEDC, at FESTAC Town. When he opened the system, he told me that the pre-paid metre had accumulated a total bill of N65,000. I asked him how the bill came since the com­pany was yet to give me the metre? He said the company would stop the bill, but asked me to bring additional N40,000. I left him and I have not gone there since then,” she said.

Similarly, one of the editors of Realnews, who resides at Alagbado area of Ogun State, said that for two consecutive weeks, power has not been supplied to his area.  According to him, the area can be without a blink of light for months. In the past two years, he said, the area had never experienced uninterrupted electricity supply for three hours. “During the general elections, we didn’t have light. We depended on generator to power out televisions and radio, to monitor the election results and nobody gave us any reason while we didn’t have light. Yet, at the end of each month, they would bring estimated bills. We ask for the prepaid meter they will tell you to forget that because they don’t have the metres now,” he said.

Ige
Ige

His experience reflects that of many persons encountered by Realnews in many parts of the country including Lagos, Ibadan, Benin, Kano and Makurdi. Nigerians have never had it so bad. A Lagos resident who wishes anonymity, said despite having Ikeja Electric office on his street, the area hardly enjoyed power supply. “We hardly enjoy three hours uninterrupted power supply during the day. But at night, while most people are sleeping, they would give us light for about three hours or four. But what we are saying is that we need this light during the day for businesses and other things,” he said.

The poor power supply has caused some people to take to the streets to protest about the situation. For instance, recently in FESTAC Town, Lagos, some aggrieved resi­dents took to the streets protesting that they have not had electricity for more than two months. The protesters also complained about the arbitrary increase in their monthly electricity bills and the failure of the DISCOs to provide them with pre-paid metres. A national newspaper which carried the story of the aggrieved protesters said in its edition of March 5, that the protesting residents demanded for a reversal of the outrageous billing and immedi­ate installation of pre-paid metres believed to be more customer-friendly. They accused the Eko Electricity Distribution Company, EEDC, staff of rolling out outrageous estimated bills.

Although the protest was largely peaceful, the residents alleged that the EEDC asked them for N50,000 as the cost of the pre-paid metre. While the elderly ones among them reeled out their disappoint­ments with the services of the company, the youths threatened fire and brimstone against the company.

Alaba Ayodele, a resident in the area, said the company had turned them to cash cows with their outrageous bills, even when the area had been in darkness for the past two months. He said several requests made to the company to provide residents with pre-paid metres to checkmate arbitrary billing were deliberately ignored.

President Jonathan
President Jonathan

A 72 year-old woman who gave her name as Alhaja Yakubu, said the situation had become intolerable. Accord­ing to her, some flats that got a bill of N4,000 in December suddenly had their bills hiked to more than N20,000 in January. “The situation has been so bad. In Decem­ber, people go away from FESTAC for the holidays and we normally enjoy light. But after December, we have not had it easy at all. For weeks, we have been sleeping on the balconies, and our children sleep on the corridors because of the heat. The bills we receive are not what we consumed at all. The old metres are not being read but they kept bringing the bill,” she said.

Shola Fakorede, president, Festival Town Residents Association, said several appeals were made to the company to address their grievances were rebuffed. “If you look round, majority of the people here are senior citizens. At their prime age, they are supposed to be resting. It is ungodly to bring out senior citizens out to protest. It is only in Nigeria that you see this kind of thing. It is very, very sad and appalling,” he said.

Fakorede said they would take the protest further to the Lagos, Marina office of the company until their grievances were addressed. He insisted that pre-paid metres must be installed in the entire FESTAC area, without any charge as obtain­able in Ikeja and other parts of the country.

The inability of the President Goodluck Jonathan administration to provide uninterrupted power supply to Nigerians in 2015 has showed that the president actually failed in his promise to the nation in 2011. Indeed, on January 31, 2011, Jonathan told the United Nations diplomats in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, that “If I’m voted into power, within the next four years, the issue of power will become a thing of the past. Four years is enough for anyone in power to make a significant improvement and if I can’t improve on power within this period, it then means I cannot do anything,” he said. Some analysts would readily point out the power problem as one of the Jonathan administration’s undoing despite the fact that he was able to settle labour issues to carry out a successful privatisation programme of the sector.

Buhari
Buhari

But then, the government has always had an excuse for the inadequate power supply, blaming it on either the generation or distribution. That notwithstanding, Chinedu Nebo, minister of power, has advised the incoming General Muhammadu Buhari administration not to discard the privatisation of power sector. He said the process had progressed to the point that only adequate gas supply remained the major stumbling block. He said reversing the privatisation of the power sector now would set the nation back to sev­eral decades and would not be in the national interest.

“The gains of privatisation are very obvi­ous. If we can solve the prob­lem of gas like we are talking about energy mix, we are not just going by gas we are do­ing hydros. It was this same administration that flagged off Zungeru hydro power plants for 750 megawatts and is in a bid to flag off Mambilla 3,050 megawatts, Shiroro has been improved and revamped, Kai­nji revamped and improved; the same goes for Jebba. So, there is a lot of work be­ing done by the government. But to turn back on privatisa­tion would mean stopping all of these companies and then reversing the massive inflow of investments coming into the power sector. Nigeria’s power consumption per cap­ita is one of the lowest in the world and that is part of the ef­forts of government to reverse that. So, I don’t think it is in the best interest of the country,” Nebo said.

On May 5, the minister met the owners of generation and distribution companies with a view to finding a solution to the worsening state of electricity supply nationwide. He described the distribution companies, DISCOs, as the vital link in the service delivery chain and expressed strong commitment and willingness of the federal government to continue to support the operations of the generation and distribution companies to actualise the plans to meet the energy needs of customers in both the private and public sectors.

Similarly, the minister had on April 30, blamed the worsening of the nation’s power supply on inadequate availability of gas. Nebo revealed that the power situation dropped in the country by about 1,700 megawatts over the last couple of days, explaining that the nearest reference point, according to the daily broadcast from Osogbo, was the drastic drop of power generation from 4,500 as at April 4, to 2,800 as at April 30, 2015. “Vandalism is presently a cartel business that has taken international dimension, hence the need for us to collaborate so as to effectively stamp out the devastating menace,” he said.

Mohammed Wakil, minister of power for state
Mohammed Wakil, minister of power for state

According to Nebo, Nigeria lost more than 3,800 MW of its expected electricity generation to vandalism of major gas pipelines between December 2014 and February 2015. He said the break on the pipeline which occurred early in February, led to a total loss of about 500MW of electricity from the national grid. “Between 2014 and now, there have been over 200 incidences on Trans Niger crude oil Pipeline, TNP, in the east affecting Okoloma gas supply. There are also regular interruptions on the west through the Trans Forcados crude oil Pipeline, TFP, affecting gas supply in the west, and Escravos-Lagos Pipeline, ELP, gas pipeline vandalism in the swamp of west Niger Delta,” he said.

Similarly, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, confirmed regular attacks on its facilities thereby affecting power supply in the country. The corporation disclosed that electricity supply across the country would dip further over the next two months due to the loss of 150 million standard cubic feet of gas occasioned by pipeline vandalism at different points. David Ige, group executive director, gas and power, NNPC, who stated this at the opening ceremony of the Offshore Technology Conference, in Houston Texas, United States, admitted that the corporation was having a lot of issues, which were interlinked with the power sector.

For the past two months, one leg of the Escravos-Lagos pipeline between Escaravos, Ojidi and Warri was down after the vandalism, which took the NNPC a long time to repair because the Joint Task Force, JTF, could not provide security during that period because of the elections. “So, it was only now that the elections are over that the people can now go in there and access the location. At the moment, work is on-going to repair the pipeline. In addition to that, the Trans-Forcados pipeline like you know was attacked about four weeks. There was an attempt to repair it, but when we tried to bring that back, we noticed further leakages, which I believe has just been fixed or is being fixed right now. With the Trans-Forcados pipeline out, we are losing gas supply from Obein, Sapele and from NPDC, which is a significant capacity that is down on the western side,” Ige said.

Although the privatisation of the power sector appears not to have helped President Jonathan to deliver his promise on regular power supply, analysts have also been saying it would be for the incoming administration to allow the more than N3.26 trillion invested in the power sector to go down the drains. What is, however, curious is that the All Progressives Congress, APC’s master plan on electricity did not say how much it would drive the privatisation of the power sector to ensure it serves the needs of Nigeria. The incoming administration, however, pledged to explore and develop alternative sources of power such as small, medium and large hydro plants, wind, coal and solar and other forms of renewable energy to ensure efficient and affordable power supply.

Sam Amadi, chairman, NERC
Sam Amadi, chairman, NERC

In any case, Nigerians have been clamouring for the incoming Buhari administration to address the issue of poor power supply in the country. It is generally believed that adequate power supply would help the economy and lift a lot of people from poverty and deprivation suffered in the country at the moment. At the recently held Lagos Business School’s Centre for Infrastructure, Policy, Regulation and Advancement, CIPRA, and the Heinrich Boll Foundation, HBF’s, forum on Nigeria’s energy future, Ijeoma Nwagwu of the CIPRA, noted that little or no discussions had been held on how to permanently solve the energy problem of power supply in the country.

Nwagwu said that detailed concepts and policies for the required increase in electricity supply had hardly been discussed in public, even during the recent election campaigns. “If it is to make gains on its commitment to create jobs, address insecurity and corruption in Nigeria, the new government must deal with the reality that 80 percent of Nigerians lack stable power supply and two-thirds of Africans, mainly in the rural areas, live without electricity. This time of transition is the perfect opportunity for renewed, hopeful and strategic focus on energy poverty in Nigeria,” she said.

Agreeing, Hans Verolme, climate expert and keynote speaker, said that the country needed to work on its carbon dioxide emission reductions and its energy options. He identified hydro and gas as having the highest potential to ensure clean, reliable and affordable energy for Nigeria. Also, K. Christine, director of the HBF, said it was vital for the country to carefully consider its options because any decision reached by the government would likely have far-reaching effects. “Most Nigerian experts favour an expansion of the national grid, fed by power from fossil fuels such as oil and gas. Given that the infrastructural choices taken today will lock Nigeria onto a certain energy pathway for the next 30 to 50 years, a wider discussion of the implications of these infrastructural choices is necessary,” Christine said.

Whatever options the Buhari administration may choose to adopt, Nigerians have said time without number that the current situation of total darkness is absolutely unacceptable. Since inadequate power supply was one of the reasons why President Jonathan was voted out of office, it is most likely that they would not allow the Buhari administration to have a respite until the power situation improves and derivable economic benefits are achieved.

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