Small business owners in Nigeria cry out against incessant power outage in the country as it suffocates their enterprises
| By Anayo Ezugwu | May 16, 2016 @ 01:00 GMT |
THIS is not the best of times for Iya Mary, a frozen food seller at Akinajo Street, Ajuwon, Lagos, Nigeria. Iya Mary has lost about N100,000 worth of goods comprising fishes and chickens because of the perennial epileptic power supply and fuel scarcity which made it impossible for her to get petrol to power her generator to refrigerate her goods in the last three months. A grief-stricken Iya Mary inadvertently caused a scene in her neighbourhood on Saturday, April 23, because of the stench oozing from her shop. At first people thought that a corpse had been abandoned there, only to realise that the odour was her goods (frozen chickens and fish) which rot in the refrigerator because there was no electricity for one week in her area.
She said that all the goods in her refrigerators were rotten because she couldn’t buy fuel to power her generator as the power supply in her area has moved from bad to worse since February this year.
Iya Mary is not alone as other small business owners in the country are suffering the same fate. Chidinma Okolo, a business woman who sells soft drinks and bottled water at Maryland Estate, Enugu, lamented that she has been spending most of her profits to fuel her generator so as to remain in business. Her problem is compounded by the crazy estimated bill which the power distribution company, DISCO, send to her monthly because she could not get a prepaid meter.
Similarly, Mummy Yusuf, a resident of Akute, Ogun State, said she bought a new refrigerator for her business last two weeks but couldn’t test it because there was no power supply in the neighbourhood. “We don’t have electricity, yet at the end of each month, they would bring estimated bills. We ask for the prepaid meter and they told us to forget that because they don’t have the metres now,” she said.
The experiences of these women reflect what many Nigerians are going through in the country because of incessant power outage. Realnews investigations found out that Nigeria is currently a nation in darkness. Many urban cities like Lagos, Abuja, Ibadan, Benin, Kaduna, Enugu and Makurdi are right now experiencing serious power outage. Nigerians who have never had it this bad are crying out because of the darkness that pervades their areas.
The epileptic supply of electricity across the country has persisted because of pipeline vandalism which causes perennial shortage of gas to thermal power plants. The power outages became worse in recent weeks after the much-celebrated all-time peak of 5,074 megawatts of electricity generation on February 2, 2016.
Realnews investigations revealed that recent attacks on crude oil disrupted supply of feedstock to gas-fired power generating plants, which account for more than 78 percent of power supply in the country. The result is that power supply to households and businesses has been hovering between 2,000 megawatts and 4,000MW in recent weeks. Electricity generation in the country stood at 3,569.10MW as of Sunday, May 1, according to data from the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC.
As of April 25, most parts of the country experienced total blackout as the DISCOs lost 99.6 percent of the total electricity generation in one day. Specifically, 3,132 megawatts of the total electricity generated on Saturday, April 23, was lost. The loss was against a total energy of 3,144mw that was generated on Friday, April 22.
Hence, the country lost 99.62 percent of the total energy it generated in just one day, a development that led to the collapse of the power grid which was confirmed by the Transmission Company of Nigeria. Apart from vandalism, the federal government has attributed the huge loss in power generation to inadequate infrastructure to transport available gas to the power plants.
Despite the lofty excuses the federal government gives to explain why Nigerians are living in darkness, the National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, to declare on Sunday, May 1, that Nigerians are tired of them.
Joe Ajaero, general secretary, NUEE, in his 2016 May Day message, stated that it was sad to note that Nigerians still could not enjoy adequate electricity supply irrespective of the fact that several promises were made by the present and past governments. Ajaero said: “We have always advocated that public officers who are charged to man the power sector need to shun sentiments and put up concerted efforts to fix the sector. Nigerians are tired of listening to the same excuses of previous administrations. So, solving the associated problems is pivotal to the country’s socio-economic advancement. The tea party should be over by now.”
“We had warned against the haste at which the Nigerian state pursued the privatisation of the power sector and the ills associated with it, but they had the misconception that the workers were selfish, thus allowed themselves to be cajoled. Today, Nigerians know better and we share in their pains and agony of facing the reality of power poverty in our nation. Unfortunately, electricity workers are the ones facing the major consequences, which include open confrontation with them by the pained customers. This is quite unfortunate!” he said.
The federal government is also concerned about the poor power situation in the country. Babatunde Fashola, minister of power, works and housing, has acknowledged the difficulty in handling the power situation in Nigeria and hinged the challenges on low power generation and the need to understand why we are where we are. And whether we should “continue to do what was done in the past if it hasn’t solved the problem? ECN, the precursor to NEPA and PHCN was inaugurated by ordinance in 1950; that’s 66 years. So why hasn’t the problem been solved in 66 years? Why did we inherit it? So I am looking at some of the things that have been done well and some that could have been done better but I will summarise the power issue simply in one word. There is not enough power. 5,000 megawatts for 170 million people is just not enough. The solution is delivering more power on an incremental and sustained basis,” Fashola said.
Similarly, President Mohammadu Buhari, on Monday, March 21, said the epileptic power supply in Nigeria was no longer funny. He said if the situation persists, it would seriously affect the change agenda of the present administration. The president said his administration must do everything necessary to increase power generation and distribution from its present status of about 1,500 to 3,500 megawatts with additional 2000 before the end of the year as a way of halting the ripple effect effects on the economy.
The president stated that before his government winds up in 2019, he would achieve a historic 10,000 megawatts of electricity. The promise was contained in a keynote address which he presented at the opening ceremony of a two-day summit of the National Economic Council, NEC, in Abuja.
However, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has assured Nigerians that the problems in the power sector are being given serious attention as the federal government targets generation of 7,000 megawatts in the next 18 months. Osinbajo, who spoke on Monday, May 2, at the 50th anniversary of the House of Lords, Nigeria, said Nigerians deserved the best from the government, adding that this year’s budget would solve some of the problems associated with the weakness in the power value chain.
He said, “Power is a major factor in nation building. But the most important part of this is that the aspect of power generation that is weak at the moment will be quickly restored. The most important aspect in power generation is gas and its transmission. It is in our plan not only to produce more gas, but also that we are able to pipe the gas to appropriate stations.
“We are going to generate 7,000 megawatts of power in 18 months. But the problem is pipeline vandalism. The President has, however, ordered a full-scale protection of the pipelines by the military. Early in the life of this administration late last year and early this year, power generation was possibly at its best. Nigeria, for the first time, was actually generating 5,000 megawatts, which was the first time it would happen in the history of the country.
“By February 14, 2016, the Forcados Export Terminal was blown. Of course, the gang up after the blowing ensured that 40 per cent of our gas that goes for power is no longer used for the purpose. This situation led to the immediate loss of 1,500 megawatts of power. It is our priority that the pipeline projects are completed so that gas will be adequately supplied to the power plants.”
Even if the federal government managed to stabilise the electricity supply in the country as promised by the vice president, the perennial issues of estimated billing and non-metering of the consumers will always hurt the process. These have made many Nigerians to call on the government to review the process that led to the acquisition of the distribution and generation power firms by private investors. Some of them described the privatisation exercise as a failure, saying that the federal government should find out if the investors had the capacity to perform in line with the contracts they signed.
This notwithstanding, what Nigerians wants is constant electricity supply not excuses for the power outage.