By Ikenna Ifedobi
For the first time in the nation’s history, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous black nation and the bedrock of the west African regional economy, suffered a nationwide blackout as the national grid totally collapsed on March 31, 2016. It was an event unheard of in the nation’s history. While the nation has always been known for epileptic power supply, this unfortunate event marked the emergence of a new low in the country’s power supply matrix. Nigeria’s minster of power, Raji Fashola, acknowledged that the nation did not have enough power to go around, attributing the problem to vandals sabotaging pipelines.
How odd it is that the so called giant of Africa cannot power its country and economy, given the level of technology and resources available to the nation. The aim of this article is not to point fingers, but to analyze the problem, locate the root causes and in turn propose policy making initiatives that may help in addressing and rectifying the situation promptly and efficiently.
Because Africa’s most populated country is also the foundation of the West African economy, and modern day mercantilism is wholly supported by electrical power, it is imperative that Nigeria solves her energy problems immediately. Bear in mind also that without the Nigerian economy operating at full potential, the West African and indeed the African economy will remain miniscule to its worldly counterparts. This is the domino effect of the Nigerian energy crisis.
Nigeria’s electric problem is not one dimensional, as over the years many factors have intermingled to impose a multidimensional burden on the country’s power generation and distribution potential. In this day and age and with all the natural resources Nigeria is blessed with, it baffles the clear thinking individual why the country is still at the megawatts generation stage, and why it hasn’t entered the terawatts realm, or even into the business of selling electricity to other African nations? It appears that the vision of the country’s leadership is stuck in the 1970s mind frame, oblivious of the exponential increase in population and socio-economy.
The core of Nigeria’s problems stem from mainly poor policy initiatives over the years by the country’s governments with regards to expanding the sources of electricity from the age old Kainji dam and a few scattered power plants. Also, Poor town and urban planning makes it difficult to regulate power distribution and downstream activities thus overloading the current grid, a non-existing asset protection mechanism for the safety of power generation/distribution equipment like pipelines and plants and finally a very poor maintenance culture.
The combination of these factors has placed Nigeria at about zero grid capacity per capita. To put it in perspective, according to online research, the average Nigerian uses only 136KW/h annually; consumes only 3% of the power of the average South African and 5% of the average Chinese citizen i.e. for every 24 hours of power they get, the average Nigerian gets only 1 hour or less! That is just appalling. How can the seventh most populated country in the world generate currently 1,580 MW and potentially 6 GW! Nigeria has the potential to generate hundreds of GW of power if the right minds apply themselves to the issue. It is an absolute disgrace for the statesmen of the country to operate under such circumstances and stand amongst their peers at international conventions.
Gravity of problem
To begin to solve this problem in Nigeria, it is important to approach it from a multidimensional perspective. The federal government and the present minister of power must understand the gravity of the power crisis and how detrimental it is to the Nigerian and West African economy. The issues must be seen as the number one priority, simply because in the modern world, everything runs on electricity, and to have zero MW per capita simply means to have zero interest in foreign investment and frankly, to operate a dead domestic economy. Therefore all government parastatals and divisions, from defense to trade to oil and gas, even state and local governments must join hands in carrying out a multi-faceted plan that will rectify the situation in less than a decade.
The monopoly of hydroelectric power generation in Nigeria must be phased out immediately. The hydroelectric means cannot be the primary source of a modern economy’s power supply bearing in mind that other countries along the line are using the same river, and in fact natural circumstances may possibly dry up the river! It is not that it should be phased out, but it shouldn’t be the sine qua non in the country’s power generation. Take for example the USA, power generation is distributed thus: coal-39%, natural gas-27%, hydro-19%, wind, solar, others-7%.
Over the decade the largest increases in US power generation came from natural gas (2014 generation was 412 billion KW greater than 2004), wind increased by 168 billion KWH and solar 18 billion. Excluding nuclear power, Nigeria is rich in all the other resources; natural gas, oil, solar, coal and wind, not excluding the good old hydro or river dam. What then stops the federal government from taking the bull by the horns and building wind turbines in the great expanse of land in the northern part and middle belt area of the country? This area too is also very rich in sunlight and will generate a great amount of solar energy.
Nigeria has one of the world’s largest deposits of natural gas. With only a handful of natural gas power plants built, one wonders why a country so blessed with this wonderful resource should wallow in darkness. There is no reason why Nigeria should not have at least 150 natural gas power plants, especially from independent power producers (IPP) and national integrated power projects (NIPP). This area will also generate a lot of jobs and improve unemployment. But the operation of this policy is grounded in the ability to protect the pipeline network necessary for the entire energy sector to thrive.
Without a functioning pipeline grid, it is impossible to operate upstream and downstream sections of the oil and gas field and also, maintain functional electric power distribution and generation. While the government has proposed drones to monitor pipelines, it appears laughable given the more sophisticated and efficient alternatives available. In one of my previous articles titled “Pipeline Protection and Industrial Security in Nigeria”, which can be found online at AllNewsandReports.com, I explained the Digital Acoustic System as the most efficient mode of monitoring pipelines, plus other dynamic perspectives regarding pipeline protection. It is imperative if Nigeria is to have electricity, that her pipelines must be protected by the most technologically advanced means possible.
The issue of urban expansion and town planning then comes to mind. A cursory observation of the urban areas in most Nigerian states shows a haphazard arrangement of buildings, devoid of planning. This makes it very difficult to monitor, maintain and regulate electric supply properly. It is high time that the federal government in conjunction with state governors embark on expanding the urban areas in Nigeria. More cities must spring up to lessen the load on the already overpopulated urban regions, some of which have not expanded since the seventies. This will enable the power regulating bodies in conjunction with federal and state governments to create a proper grid for all sections of the country and be able to monitor power supply and consumption adequately. If the cities are not depopulated and expanded into an efficient grid system, monitoring electric consumption will be absolutely impossible. This is an absolute necessity.
Finally, there is the issue of government policy and maintenance culture. The Nigerian mentality is not attuned to maintenance. In the present administration, the first issue that can be observed is the lumping together of the ministries of works, housing and power into one office, headed by a lawyer! The ministry of works and housing alone is monumentally heavy, but to add power and electricity to it, is akin to that straw that broke the camel’s back. There is no way one person can manage all three sectors lumped together on one desk and hope to be efficient.
They must be stratified, and power/electricity given paramount attention. Also, government policy must address the possibility of scavenger industries sabotaging the progress. These industries make a living from the corruption and dysfunction of the system. For example, someone engaged in pipeline bunkering will not want to see national pipelines protected, someone that makes a living importing electric generators may not want to see the country enjoying uninterrupted power supply. This is just logical.
The government when it decides to address the electricity crisis and the issue of pipeline protection, must also find a diplomatic solution to rectifying the issue of people making a living for decades from national dysfunction. A diplomatic approach is essential, because these folks have made a lot of money from their activities and are powerful. Also many of them, like the armed militant groups are clamoring for state attention and support, and must be gainfully employed and properly neutralized to minimize collateral damage. It is like removing a bull from the china shop, it can’t be done by force, or else you risk losing all your merchandize. Diplomacy is key.
All in all, if the government can pump money into protecting the nation’s pipeline grid, which is the absolute foundation for the availability of electricity, while at the same time neutralize bunkering and militancy with diplomacy, If the government can invest heavily in natural gas power plants, and work with state governments in expanding the overpopulated urban areas so as to build a proper grid for power distribution and consumption, if they can take the time and effort to put aside party politics and political vendetta and remember that this portion of the earth is all they have as a collective whole irrespective of language or religious difference,. If they can buckle down and implement this simultaneous and multidimensional approach, then in less than 10 years, the issue of power outage in Nigeria will be a thing of the past.
*Ifedobi is an economist and a consultant of the American Petroleum Institute (API), based in USA.firstname.lastname@example.org.