It seems Nigeria has entered a period of expensive darkness after it privatised the power sector almost five months ago. The minister of power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, on Tuesday complained that the worsening power situation in the country was attributable to gas pipeline vandalism. Just then, it was announced that $1bn had been earmarked to fight oil theft and pipeline vandalism. Earlier, President Goodluck Jonathan had announced the injection of $1.5bn for power transmission. Yet, power generation dropped to about 3,200MW from a little above 4,000MW and supply has pummelled to a meagre 2,300MW. At least five different gas pipelines that supply power to the national grid are challenged.
Why is the minister making excuses after handing over the power sector to private firms? It is inconceivable that less than two months after the president pumped money into the sector and promised the nation at least 18-hour daily electricity supply, inadequate gas supply to thermal power plants and vandalism are the new excuses for betraying the hope of the people.
Empirical evidence from polls, including the one conducted by globally renowned Gallup Polls (USA), show that, since November, power supply has worsened in the country. As a result of the lethargy and incompetence of the generating and distribution networks, the polls also show, 78 per cent of the population relies more on generators. Is anybody doing anything to spur the investors in the four privatised power-generation companies and 10 power-distribution companies?
We shudder at the urgency for privatising 10 power plants under the National Integrated Power Projects (NIPP) when we have not put in place a strategy to end the afflictions of the Escravos-Lagos gas pipeline system with a generation capacity of 800MW and the Trans-Forcados pipeline with capacity of 800MW, the Alakiri-Onne gas pipeline and Chevron gas plant with capacity of 2,672 MW.
Maybe these excuses are being invented as alibi to hike tariffs and loot public funds. But the June date for 18-hour daily electricity promised by Jonathan remains a pipe-dream. The federal government should liaise with stakeholders, especially the private investors in the sector, to commence the rehabilitation of the affected pipelines and transmission infrastructure. The hydropower dams and the current low water level, which the minister claimed had greatly affected the use of the dams, have solutions. Our hydrologists know their onions. The upgrade of Kainji and Shiroro dams are long overdue.
Apologies to customers add no value to those who are saddled with a new tariff order by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission. In fairness to NERC, its chairman, Dr Sam Amadi, has alerted the nation to the challenges that could be experienced due to under-utilisation of capacity and gas shortage. Is it not ironic that the volume of gas being flared daily in the country could power the energy need of the continent? How will the country meet its Vision 20:2020 if the country’s electricity industry generates a 12th of the electricity of South Africa, which has less than one-third of Nigeria’s population?
Some companies have relocated to other neighbouring countries due mainly to power-generation challenges.
With increasing hiccups in the oil and gas sector and the skyrocketing prices of diesel and other products, it remains to be seen how Nigeria can advance research into alternative energy sources like nuclear, geothermal, biomass, photovoltaic solar or wind.