We no get shame

Sunday Trust - - VIEWPOINT | COMMENT & DEBATE - ochima44@ya­hoo.co.uk with Dan Agbese 08055001912 (SMS only)

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.

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