We no get shame
We are yet to see the kind of efficiency we expected with the unbundling of NEPA. That Nigeria with an estimated population of some 170 million people could still find reasons to be pleased with itself that it can now generate 6,700 megawatts qualifies for a national scandal
Want some, waste some.
That about sums up the great story of our gallant struggle all these years to improve on our electricity generation, distribution and transmission. Last week at two separate occasions, the Vice-President, Professor Yomi Osinbajo, and the minister of power, works and housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashiola, spoke on our current energy situation. Interestingly, they said the same thing. And what they said did not make for cheerful news about the sector that has managed, quite remarkably, to hold the Nigerian state hostage and effectively hobbled our development efforts.
The vice-president said the country now generates 6,700 megawatts. And, said he, a cool 200 megawatts out of this is wasted daily. The minister put the generating capacity at 6,803 megawatts with the distribution capacity of 6,700 megawatts. The wastage figure is about the same with that of the vicepresident.
The vice-president and the minister attributed the wastage to the inability of the distribution companies to evacuate and distribute what is generated. Electricity rests on the tripod of generation, transmission and distribution. A defective leg in this tripod makes for an edifice on wobbly legs. It should not be too difficult to fathom this: a properly focused energy policy must aim at the total overhaul of the three legs in the tripod. It is unhelpful to blame one leg when its strength derives from the combined strength of the other two legs that together make up the tripod. But all these years, government response to the energy challenge has been to concentrate on power generation. Now, we can see how wrong-headed it was. It is common knowledge the distribution system is not just old but anachronistic. There is lack of wisdom in ignoring the biblical advice not to our new wine in an old wine skin.
To appreciate how far we have come with the struggle to replace the bush lamp and the traditional candles with electricity, we have to step back a bit to when the British were here. They first brought electricity to the Colony of Lagos sometime in 1886 with the installation of two small generators. Not enough to light up the entire colony, obviously, but enough to make the colonialists a little more comfortable, what with the male mosquitoes buzzing in their ears.
We have made a steady progress with the generators as constant reminders that electricity can also be a status symbol. For the past 131 years, this country has depended more on generators and much less on public energy supply. Governments - federal, state and local - industries, private companies, corporate and individual homes depend on generators for their energy needs.
Our country is the largest generator importer in the world. Generators come from every corner of the world. They come in big capacities and small capacities. Each man or woman can find a generator within his financial capacity. I think the generator is the new face of social inequality. The deeper pocket your pocket is, the bigger your generator. Each one of us passes our neighbours.
The Asian Tigers understand our energy needs more than we do. In addition to their shipping generators to us, they also export solar panels, solar torch lights, and solar phone chargers, among their many creative solutions to our immoveable energy challenges.
But see how well we have done with battling the energy wahala. Through an act of parliament in 1951, the Nigerian state said, let there be light. The burden of carrying out the command was placed on the shoulders of the newly-created Electricity Corporation of Nigeria, ECN. Eleven years later in 1962, the Niger Development Authority, NDA, supposedly a twin sister to ECN was born. And then ten years later, NDA and ECN were merged and a new national body called NEPA took on the tough task of banishing darkness and pulling our nation up to the energyfuelled development level of other countries.
The ultimate decision to make some sense of the more we spend on energy, the less energy we receive, came in 2005 when government decided to recreate NEPA into smaller units for purposes of attaining some reasonable efficiency in the energy sector. NEPA ceased to be. From its unsung grave rose eleven distribution firms, six generating companies and a transmission company.
Small may be beautiful but it is not necessarily efficient. We are yet to see the kind of efficiency we expected with the unbundling of NEPA. That Nigeria with an estimated population of some 170 million people could still find reasons to be pleased with itself that it can now generate 6,700 megawatts qualifies for a national scandal. But not here, of course. This country is immune to embarrassment and scandal.
Perhaps you would appreciate our national energy progress better with these: In December 2013, the generating capacity was 6,953 megawatts but the available capacity was 4,598 megawatts. The actual was only 3,800 megawatts.
In 2014, the installed capacity was 7,444 megawatts; available capacity, 4,949 megawatts but the actual average was less than 3,900 megawatts. Yet in April 2015, the presidential task force on power put the peak power demand in the country at 12,800 megawatts. See how far down the line we are from getting to that peak demand?
We have two main sources of energy supply, namely, thermal and hydro. God knows how many of these power plants we have in the country. They virtually dot the country everywhere you look. With an installed capacity of 8,457 megawatts, thermal power plants generate about 81 per cent of our current energy supply; hydro potentially could give us some 17.59 per cent. Why do we have so much and reap such poor dividends?
The cruel irony here is that the energy sector is pretty crowded with public and private sector players. Perhaps, this is a classic case of too many expert cooks making the okra soup tasteless.
We have at least four ownership patterns, namely, federal, state, private and Niger Delta Power Holding Company, jointly owned by the federal, state and local governments. The ownership structure in the energy sector throws up the ugly face of military federalism. Power generation is diffused but its transmission and distribution are not. Whatever is generated goes into the national grid where, because of the inefficiency in the transmission system, there is so much wastage.
Let me say it for the nth time. Our energy development is a victim of generator and fuel cartels. Because of them, the more we spend on energy, the less energy we get; because of them, every step taken to meet our energy challenge will amount to chipping at granite with a tea spoon.
We no get shame.