- Lack of funds: Time to put electricity supply on concurrent list
After 60 years of independence, Nigerians are still stuck with activation and depression of hope about electricity supply. The latest news about the fate of electricity supply in the country is from two branches of government—the executive and the legislature.
Minister of Power, Sale Mamman, has told members of the Senate Committee on Power that the country’s largest energy project, Mambilla Power Plant, is now at risk of not coming to fruition within 10 years promised after the signing of a memorandum of partnership with a Chinese engineering consortium. The reason is inadequate and irregular funding of a project that has been designed to produce 3,050MW. Further, Managing Director of Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), Sule Ahmed Abdulaziz, startled members of the Committee on Power with his disclosure that out of N165 billion required for capital projects in 2020, only N4 billion envelope was provided, out of which there was a cash backing of N3 billion.
On the legislative side, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Power, Dr. Gabriel Suswam (PDP, Benue North East), and his team comprising Senators Shaibu Lau (PDP, Taraba North), Danjuma Goje (APC, Gombe Central), and James Manager (PDP, Delta South) wondered aloud why no dime was allocated for the Mambilla project in the 2021 budget, even after the government had committed to 15 percent of a total bill of $5.8 billion for the decades-old project.
In contrast to the latest news from the Minister of Power, President Muhammadu Buhari assured Nigerians in October 2019 of the resolution of his government to end the dismal narrative about electricity supply in the country. Briefing the nation about the new partnership between the Federal Government and Siemens of Germany, President Buhari said that the roadmap that defines the partnership ”will provide end-to-end electrification solutions that will resolve our transmission and distribution challenges,” adding: “I remain confident that Nigerians will have affordable and uninterrupted electricity supply in the not-too-distant future.”
Hearing in the last quarter of 2020 that compensations are yet to be paid to communities that have been displaced from the land acquired for the Mambilla project, and from Senator Shaibu Lau from Taraba State, that “there is no access road to the Mambilla project site and no indication of site clearance, talk less of possible ground breaking” cannot but distress millions of Nigerians who have believed that the problem of the power sector had started to find answers, with the announcement of collaboration between the Federal Government and investors from China.
Granted that the emergency of the 2020 pandemic may have adversely affected the funding of many projects this year, it is worrying that there is no budget for Mambilla power venture in 2021. Not very many people familiar with the half-a-century one-leg-in-one-leg out approach to the power sector’s challenge would accuse the average Nigerian of being superstitious to worry about the jinxing of electricity supply in the country. If the problem in the power sector is not about lack of efficiency in distribution of electricity, it is in the transmission sector that is defined by an underperforming national grid, or of lack of off-takers to absorb 8,000MW that there is no capacity to distribute to millions of consumers in Nigeria and is now being considered for sale to Republic of Chad in Central Africa.
As Nigeria prepares for a new normal demanded by consequences of the pandemic, it is important to remind the Federal Government to think outside the box. It seems unserious that the government is beating its chest about its readiness to own a national carrier while the sector that can power the new diversified economy and transform the economy of the country continues to remain unstable and ineffectual. There is an urgent need for re-prioritisation on the part of the central government.
The government should think anew and work with the legislature on its constitutional proposal to decentralise provision of electricity, railway, and other areas that can rescue the country from what looks like a chronic inefficiency, arising from excessive centralisation in a sector that, if done right and promptly, can change the face and fortune of the country.