By Sunny Ikhioya
WHAT is it about electricity supply in Nigeria? Why is it so difficult to simplify and bring under manageable indices, when other climes have taken it for granted and moved on to greater things?
We have had our hopes raised to the zenith and brought down to mother earth during the Obasanjo era, with Bola Ige’s promise of six months delivery. We have also seen our common patrimony shared and handed over to an oligarchic few in the name of privatisation, hoping that the situation will improve. Yet, no luck.
Now Babatunde Fashola, the wonder governor of Lagos state, whom all have embraced to bring the lingering challenge to an end is feeling deeply frustrated. With over three years on the job, he is yet to take off. In fact, he is crying foul. What is it about power?
Certain private and privileged estates in this country have constant power supply twenty four hours a day. Why is it that they are succeeding and our power companies are failing? Is it about money, competence, or plain sabotage ? Is it about privatisation or government mismanagement ?
Our politicians have started going round making promises, no one is looking at the root of the problems. How do we think we can make progress in this country without fixing the power situation? Do we truly realise that power affects all parts of our existence as a nation? Inflation, unemployment , peace and good health, criminality, self reliant productivity and shared prosperity are all consequences of an efficient or failed power generation management, depending on which side you belong. It is therefore, a crisis that any serious government has to take as number one priority. We are tired of treating the symptoms instead of the root causes.
What went wrong in the days of Nigeria Electricity Power Authority, NEPA, and what are the problems today? Can we say what we have now is full privatisation or partial? Can we achieve success with partial privatisation and overbearing government interventions? Should the government take back the full running of power, since the present handlers are always complaining of limited funds to run the business and acquire up to date technologies?
Alternatively, should we do a rebidding of the whole power companies, that will be very transparent and open to only companies with the required capabilities to run it and provide for up to date facilities? The challenge of power in this country is so confusing that it defies logic.
To make it simpler, can’t we just decentralise power and put people in charge of their own destiny? Can’t we all, from top to down, just decide it is public power or never, for once? Are the people properly sensitised on the proper handling of public property? Do we have accurate statistics of actual consumption capabilities and patterns? Can we just keep it simple?
Are the technologies of the past inadequate for now? If mistakes have been made in the past, why don’t we scrap the past and begin afresh, instead of struggling to fix the impossible? Do they -government- have the political will to remove bottlenecks clogging the power industry?
As it is presently, the minister in charge of power, Babatunde Fashola, seems to be exasperated with the shenanigans going on and has clearly shown his inability to contain the situation.
Is increasing tariff the solution? When you increase tariff and cannot deliver service to the consumer, what happens? What happens to the myriads of estimated billings in the midst of darkness? What about the unaccounted for supplies, that goes to saboteurs, area boys and powerful politicians and leaders? It is clear that, even with privatisation, there are areas that the Disco staff will not attempt to set foot on, to collect tariff, either because of inefficiencies related to their services or fear of retribution from area boys. How do we contain situations such as this? Do we have the right manpower?
Preently, most of the trained and experienced power staff have either been retired or sacked, the few that are left behind are exhibiting their inability to cope with the situation. Their integration into the new system should have been preceded by detailed and diligent training programme that will emphasise a new orientation and focus. From what we have seen so far, this was not done properly, the bulk of workers we have there are casual workers, recruited as artisans, to either connect or disconnect electricity supply, nothing more. They lack equipments, training, etiquette and other basics of professionalism. The power industry cannot make progress under such conditions. Go to Disco offices round the country, you will find many untrained staff.
The transmission companies face the same plight. I was in the office of one of their managers, in the process I overheard people complaining, I then asked the person when he or any of his colleague last attended training or seminar on the latest power trend and he told me, that ended since government handed over, the new owners are not interested in that , can you imagine this? You are not training and offering staff refresher seminars, how do you expect the business to make progress?
It is clear that people have seen the power projects in Nigeria as an avenue for personal enrichment instead of the development of shared prosperity, for the common good of all. It is not of concern to them that the people and fellow country men are suffering. One of them was even asked government for a refund. Did they think electricity supply is a bazaar? What a joke!
Can we all just concentrate on fixing power for once? Even if it will take the whole budget, let us do it, the long term benefits cannot be quantified. It has to be done because the success in the power sector, will determine how far we can go in our attempt to build a self reliant and progressive nation. We cannot do without electricity. Spiritually, it is said that light will take over darkness and progress will be in the land. A country that continues to wallow in darkness will never make meaningful progress.
Power is a force, it is a catalyst, if properly handled and fixed, can bring great joy to our nation.