The recent disclosure that about 30 million Nigerian households have no access to electricity is a mere statement of the obvious given the deplorable state of power supply in the country. The 30 million in question may be mostly rural dwellers but people living in the urban areas have no better deal.
Last Tuesday, for instance, proceedings at the Lagos High Court, Igbosere were disrupted due to power failure within the court premises. Lawyers who had hoped to make progress in their cases left in utter disappointment.
And, as the power situation worsens, the Federal Government was bold to absolve the new operators of the power sector from blame. Indeed, the Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, was quick to explain why there is gross shortfall in power supply. Non-availability of gas, infrastructure vandalisation, sabotage and low water level to power the hydro power plants are some of his reasons. These of course are flimsy excuses that have been peddled over the years and Nigerians are now much more interested in solutions.
It is unknown how the figure of 30 million households was arrived at in a country that has no reliable database. The number of those suffering should be much higher because the entire country is in darkness.
Nigeria is struggling to provide minimal power and is yet to achieve acceptable level of power supply, which is badly needed for economic development. Nebo has also been on the need to sensitise investors, fund managers, policy makers and other stakeholders to the need for the development of renewable energy.
He is also attempting to mobilise stakeholders to initiate equity fund through private sector participation to promote sustainable energy and deliver electricity to Nigerians. Noting that there is still a wide gap in power supply, Nebo said that is the reason the Federal Government is focusing on renewable energy, especially, off-grid and hydro systems that would not depend on the national grid.
He explained that the financing process of the 3050 megawatts Mambilla Hydro Dam would soon be completed. As for the other 264 hydro dams that have not been fully utilised, he said government is fixing turbines in 12 of them to increase their generation capacity.
It is regrettable that despite the much-flaunted reforms in the electricity sector, 14 years after, little has changed. Rather than improving, indeed the situation is getting worse.
Between 1999 and 2007, the Olusegun Obasanjo administration embarked on a power reform programme that focused mainly on independent power projects (IPP). Despite the $16 billion reportedly pumped into the power sector over the period and the many promises of increased generation, no part of the country has constant and uninterrupted power supply. The report of the committee that indicted several people would also seem to have been swept under the carpet.
Thereafter, the Jonathan administration, on August 26, 2010 launched a bold “Power Sector Roadmap”, which many saw as a potent framework to redeem the comatose electricity sub-sector. The framework contained policies and institutional reforms that promised, among other things, a super transmission network, generation of additional 5,000 megawatts by the international oil companies, active exploitation of hydro, nuclear and coal power, privatization of the power sector and addition of 4,775 megawatts from the Independent Power Plants (IPPs) by December 2013. The medium term expectation was that by the end of 2013, the country would have attained 14,000 megawatts power generation capacity.
Two years on, there is no appreciable change as the administration embarked on a review of its plan after the then Minister of Power, Prof. Bart Nnaji, resigned at the height of controversy over the sale of the power plants to private investors. Nnaji’s exit halted what appeared to be a slight improvement in power supply.
Working under the power sector reform agenda, the unbundled Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), was sold and last November, handed over to new private investors. The expectation was that there would be significant improvement in power supply. But rather than see improvement, power supply has dropped even more to the unbearable discomfort of Nigerians.
Turning to renewable energy to achieve a suitable energy mix is a sure alternative. Nigeria is blessed with abundant sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal energy. These are natural energy sources that should be exploited and put to beneficial use.
Now that government has declared its intention to achieve 10 per cent target on renewable energy by 2025, what plans are on ground to meet this target? As a developing nation, renewable energy should account for no less than 20 per cent total power needs.
No doubt, renewable energy is cheap and environmentally friendly. A well-articulated and carefully implemented energy mix would go a long way to bridge the gap in electricity supply, particularly in the rural areas. This alternative should, therefore, be diligently explored.