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Nigeria’s Power Failure, By Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai

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By Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai
Much has been said about the failure of leadership in Nigeria.  In fact many have extensively written articles about this subject, especially with regards to the absence of the president.  It certainly pains my heart that Nigerians who until now have had to accept mediocre and lackadaisical performance from its leadership are now being told that not only do we not deserve a government that works, we do not even deserve to have a government that is present.

When the Attorney General of the Federation can emphatically tell the country that the President can run the nation from Saudi Arabia indefinitely, then the question I ask myself is how has it become so easy to pull wool over the eyes of 150 million people?  Why have we allowed ourselves to be taken for granted for so long?

But this piece is not about the lamentable failure of current political leadership, nor is it about the pronouncements of dodgy lawyers and desperate politicians.  It is instead about the Nigerian people and the recent setback that the nation has suffered with regard to the Yar’Adua administration’s stated goals for electricity supply – indeed, a power failure.  This administration has informed the nation that Nigeria will NOT be able to meet its 6,000 MW target for electricity generation in 2009. It is now certain that this target has not been achieved, and our Vice President had the humility to apologize a few days ago.

It should be recalled that this administration, nearly 2 years ago, not only revised downwards the Obasanjo plan of 10,000MW by the end of December 2007, but promised the delivery of only 6,000 MW within 18 months, and also an additional 11,000MW by 2011 – See: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSL19357020080219. Now, to put this reduced target in perspective, 6,000MW continuously generated and distributed for 150 million people, equally shared per person will only power a single 60W light bulb for about 58 minutes a day!  The rest of the nearly 23 hours will be part dark, and part without any radio, TV, refrigerator or fan working. And forget about air-conditioning!

Given the current predictable trend of Yar’Adua administration’s track record of disappointing outcomes, it only goes to say that the latter promise of 11,000 MW will not be a reality either.  To many Nigerians this does not come as a surprise, noting that just days after the Vice President promised that no Nigerian will use power generators in 2010, the Presidency itself proposed spending N542.4 million in the 2010 Federal budget to purchase and fuel its power generating plants.  This government has delivered nothing but slogans; and the expected gains of our democracy, which saw real forward progress in many areas under the previous administration, have been completely stalled and all we now have are empty promises, lofty slogans and continuous threats to citizens that dare to demand change.

Without adequate power supply Nigeria cannot achieve its potential.  To help put things in comparative perspective, Nigeria’s power demand is estimated at about 15,000 MW but only about 3,400 MW is available at peak generation – less than 23% of our electricity need is currently being supplied!  All the claims of generating “over 5,000MW” recently by the administration’s officials are of course – the usual slogans, and a false one at that!

According to the World Bank, South Africa generates 40,000 MW of electricity for a population of nearly 50 million, while Nigeria with a population of over 150 million only generates 3,400 MW at peak.

As shown above, this translates to very disappointing levels of electricity consumption per capita, thereby leaving our industries to perform at epileptic levels, goods and services to be sold at prices that automatically adjust, during power outages, to account for the expensive cost of production via generating sets and a populace that is unable to take advantage of the latest advances in technology and appliances.

All this puts a painful strain on the already difficult situation of our citizens who must in addition to paying higher prices for goods and services, also invest hard earned Naira to buy, maintain and fuel power generating sets for the their homes.

Nigeria’s power failure is a debilitating problem that must be addressed.  The envisioned growth of our economy cannot be achieved without improved electricity supplies, and there are crippling multiplier effects associated with thousands of small businesses throughout the country not having access to uninterrupted power supply to run their flour mills, printing presses, restaurants, cyber cafes and clinics.

Putting any one of these businesses out of work at any given point in time, due to power failure, has a direct impact on the growth and expansion of the business, which in turn feeds unemployment, keeps wages low and negatively impacts workers’ ability to provide financial support to their families.  No nation can achieve economic development and industrialization without adequate and regular power supply.

Nigeria has what it takes and this government must rise to its responsibilities – as very clearly echoed in a statement by the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, this morning:

Nigeria is among governments that are “able but unwilling to make the changes their citizens deserve.”- Hillary Clinton – Guardian News, Thursday 12/17/2009

Nigerians must demand more from government, refuse to be intimidated by underhanded political tactics, and insist on our fundamental rights to a state with functioning utilities and infrastructure that is the bedrock of economic development.

Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai was a member of the Presidential Economic Team 1999-2007, Fomer Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (1999-2003) and Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (2003-2007). He chaired the Cabinet Committee on Power Supply Improvement between Jan-April 2007.


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