Monday, December 21, 2015

2015 – A Year Of Power Reform In Nigeria

With the change of government from Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to All Progressives Congress (APC) and the attendant hand over of Aso Rock to President Muhammadu Buhari, 2015 indeed marked a turning point in the history of Nigeria’s power sector. Idowu Oyebanjo writes

Buhari and Jonathan 
On May 29 2015, the PDP led government of former president Goodluck Jonathan in a show of unprecedented statesmanship in the history of Nigeria, handed over power to an APC government led by Former Military Head of State, General Muhammad Buhari (GMB). A key slogan in the months leading to this change of government is the "change" mantra. Although it was a change in political power, it equally meant a change for the electrical power system in Nigeria. From the start, the fear of Buhari gripped the agents of the "demons" holding back the country from seeing light. Suddenly, the four refineries of NNPC which have been undergoing turn around maintenance (TAM) for the last 40 years unstopped began to function, providing gas for the starved thermal power plants around the country. For the first time in the distant many years, Nigerians who are connected to the power grid felt the impact of electricity as power generation reached an all time high of 4.68GW. This was sustained for a time. The foot soldiers of the enemies then started a campaign of idiocy that the changes were due to the works done by the previous government. Nigerians are no fools and amongst the most intelligent people in the world, Nigerians rank atop.

No discredit to the reform activities within the power sector since 2013 when the successful hand over of the moribund and collective embarrassment to us all, PHCN, took place as it was fully privatised and assets handed over on 1st of November, 2013. Since then, key players in the sector have been hardly working to ensure the realisation of the key elements of the roadmap for the power sector initiated by the PDP government. What their efforts amounted to in summary was an exploit of the sensitivities of Nigerians and attempting to pull the wool over their eyes (largely due to the lack of understanding of power systems in the country) because people used the meagre performance to cart away billions of naira from the national treasury. There was looting and corruption everywhere in the power sector. This has been the case for many years even before the democratic dispensation in 1999. Nigerians have been worse off despite the billions of Naira expended on the Nigerian Power network. This case of wanton rip-off is sobering. Perpetrators of rip-offs in the past included but not limited to the NNPC, BPE and the technical body that sold the assets to the new owners in behalf of government.

The case of rip-off against Nigerians began from the days of NEPA and has continued till date. Sometime during this year, the government made a decision to share our collective loot by proposing a whopping 213 billion naira bailout fund for the new owners of the electricity network. Analysts have challenged this position as it amounts to folly. This action is further proof that those who are pioneering the privatisation of the Nigerian electricity sector are the square pegs in the round holes. They will not achieve anything this way. It is little wonder that after CBN disbursed about 58 million Naira of the funds, a sudden reversal took place in October 2015 with the suspension of disbursement "until further notice" according to the CBN Governor in Lima, Peru. The question is what happens to the already disbursed funds and will it still be recouped as intended via the 10 percent interest rate and repayment spread? How will this be tracked?

Another worrisome trend in the Nigerian Power sector reform is the issue of estimated billing. Twice in the year, NERC made a U- turn on its promise not to increase electricity tariffs to consumers until such a time that electricity supply has been felt. It took several court orders and the 8th Senate to persuade NERC not to further impoverish the "consumers of electricity" in this regard. Then came the arrogation of powers by NERC to consumers to do its bidding for her. Consumers were asked, using the Consumers' Forum as a vehicle, to negotiate the increment in tariffs with distributors. On the face of it, this looks good but it amounts to nothing but the transfer of burden or responsibilities to people with little or no information and wherewithal to carry out the role. As expected, electricity consumers will disagree with distributors on tariff increment anytime, anyday, anywhere! In reaction, the DISCOs and other beneficiaries took their case to the presidency where they secured a bid to increase tariffs. Says the vice-president: "Until there is stability in the power sector, electricity tariffs cannot remain at the levels they are right now". Put in another way, Nigerians should brace themselves up for increase in tariffs if they want stable electricity. Who caused the instability of the power sector? I have maintained this position for a long time now that Nigerians will pay for the wastages of others in the power sector and if possible, provide the funds for revamping the ailing network in what is seen as a shameful reversal of roles. This is a basic responsibility of government. 

On Buhari's Body Language And The Power Reform
It is true that the non availability of gas was the Achilles heel of the past administration as far as power generation is concerned. Whoever the "Saboteurs" were, Jonathan did not deal decisively with them! Now, we do not hear of daily vandalization of gas pipelines, hence the attendant improvement in power supply. There is not so much good downplaying the fact that the Buhari factor has contributed greatly to the sudden "outworkings" in the power sector, the refineries etc. Having said that, Nigerians are knowledgeable enough to know that spirits and body language do not flow electricity and that the technical work done by the previous administration has just been enabled by the body language of the new administration. The credit will go hand in hand to Obasanjo who saw it fit to commence the privatisation of the moribund organization called NEPA, to Jonathan who drew the roadmap for progress in 2010 following the slow motion by Yar Adua and now to the much touted body language of Buhari. What matters most is the availability of stable and uninterrupted power supply to Nigerians which is now stale. The next drive should be to implement cost reflective tariffs.

Sadly, the year recorded the avoidable deaths of people going about their daily chores by electrocution caused by utilities not carrying out their duties according to the rules. The cases of 8-year old Faith Yakubu of Gwagwalada in Abuja and Oluchi Anekwe, a 3rd year undergraduate student of the University of Lagos are still much with us just as the many others. Those who looted the collective wealth of Nigeria have acted in support of brain drain by underfunding the educational institutions in the country so that private nursery, primary,  & secondary schools, as well as polytechnics and universities belonging to them can flourish. It comes as no surprise that they will continue to kill the brightest students who still go to the same universities they sought to destroy rather than coming to theirs. The reason for electrocution can be traced to the lack of understanding of the requirements of running an efficient and safe electrical power system. Nigeria needs to invest in the education of willing and patriotic citizens in the power sector to understudy and implement (upon conclusion of study) the different facets of having, running, and maintaining a vibrant power system. There is also the need for a powerful Health and Safety Executive arm to jail, prosecute and fine erring electricity network owners and or operators (DISCOs, GENCOs, TCN etc). Protection of power system plants will be a must. One of the many requirements will be the safety, quality and continuity of electricity rule.

New Minister of Power
Former Lagos State Governor, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, was appointed the new Minister of Power, Works and Housing. He will work with the state Minister, Mustapha Shehuri and the Permanent Secretary, Mr Louis Edozien to turn around the power sector.

The Nigerian Power System has a unique opportunity in mankind history since it can learn so much from the errors made and corrections implemented in the running of electrical power systems in the last 100 years world over. The Federal Character misnomer, the quota system, and other measures of celebrating mediocrity will kill more Nigerians.

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