One hundred and two million Nigerians representing 60 percent of the 170 million populace are yet to be unconnected to the national grid, 30 million households in the country remain connected to the national grid, and 40 percent of the populace, who are even connected do not have quality electricity supplied to them at optimal level.
These insightful statistics by Professor Chinedu Nebo, Minister of Power, imply that majority of Nigerians are wallowing in undignifying darkness and raise serious issues about the money-guzzling electricity reforms.
There are indications that only about four million people pay their electricity bills, with many companies and government institutions owing billions naira of a situation that would jeopardise the ability of the power companies to function at optimal capacity.
However, the reason for reluctance to pay has been hinged on poor quality service. The poor quality electricity generation and distribution will have deleterious effect on the manufacturing sector of the economy as well as make the process of industrialisation and industrial development tedious and herculean. It will inhibit the growth and development of Small and Medium Scale businesses. It imposes hardship on households and squeezes them financially, thereby making people to depend more on the use of generators.
The incessant power outages have led to several losses of lives during medical procedures. Blackouts also add to the general state of insecurity, making it easier for night marauders to operate. One of the indices used to measure growth and development in any social formation or milieu is the extent of blackouts. The point is that if there is consistent blackout in the country with more than half of the entire population in darkness, why would the electricity companies in the country want to hike tariffs?
Power Holding Company of Nigeria was recently unbundled and private investors came on board, but since the privatisation, nothing has improved significantly in terms of electricity supply. Perhaps the investors focused on the money that could be made from the sector and not the work that needed to be invested. Making electricity available to all is not undoable; it can be achieved with the right attitude, work ethics and commitment to public service as well as public good.
Many smaller West African countries like Ghana, Togo and Benin Republic have uninterrupted power supply, and Nigeria has all it takes to generate more than enough electricity for local consumption and export, but the challenge is a combination of graft and unwarranted politicking. Nigeria has more than enough gas to generate power, but it is being flared without compunction, coal has not been properly exploited, the same goes for solar energy. The country’s hydro generated power capabilities remain under-utilised, while the nuclear power option is a non-starter.
If most of the electricity power challenges are properly tackled today, a lot of the problems confronting the country would be solved. Industries would work at full capacity, unemployment would be drastically reduced, poverty will be cut to the barest minimum, social vices will nose-dive, more people will become employers of labour, talent and resourcefulness of the people will be put to greater and better use, and rural urban migration as well as the penchant to seek greener pastures out the country will drastically slow down.
Furthermore, capacity utilisation of industry will improve, ditto the GDP and the per capita income of the country, while the standard of living will be boosted and exchange rate will significantly improve.
To this end, it is important for government to take another look at the power policy in the country with the aim of making the availability of power compulsory and resolving all the challenges within the shortest time possible. To achieve this feat, there should be a power summit in the country to firm up a realistic roadmap to make electricity, available to all. There is too much lip service about power reforms in the country.
Even in the annual budget of the country millions of naira is budgeted by various government institutions, parastatals and establishments as well as the presidency for generators and purchase of fuel, which clearly indicate the unseriousness of government to decisively deal with the recurring issue of power supply deficit in the country. It is equally important to note that most of those at the corridors of power use generating plants and fuel provided for by tax-payers money.
There is an apparent disconnect between those in government and the common Nigerians on the street. The generator cartel has been accused of acting as a bulwark against the effective power generation and distribution in the country. Something has to be done to checkmate their negative influence. The administration should summon courage to drastically wield the big stick against this nuisance of a cabal. Power supply is too important to be treated with levity.
It has been said that the Nigerian economy will grow at 15 per cent if there is reliable power supply and presently, it is growing at about 7.8 per cent. All hands must be on deck to address the lapses in the power sector because it is central to the all-round development of the country. It must be given all the seriousness it deserves.