By Obas Esiedesa
Nigeria’s plan to attain 10,000 Megawatts national grid transmission by the end of next year has come under serious threat following rising attacks and vandalism of electricity transmission high towers across the country.
The Minister of Power, Engr. Abubakar Aliyu has said such attacks do not just pose a serious threat to the Federal Government’s target of boosting power supply across the country but also come as a huge cost to the government in trying to replace the assets.
So far this year, about five incidents of attacks on the transmission power lines have been recorded.
Recall that on 8th of April 2022 around 6.30pm, supply to the national grid dropped significantly triggering a system collapse. Investigations by the Transmission Company of Nigeria, TCN, which manages the grid revealed that transmission Tower Number 104 at Oku Iboku in Akwa Ibom State, along the 330 kilovolts (kV) Ikot Ekpene to Odukpani transmission line was attacked by vandals causing it to collapse.
That attack came after a similar one a month earlier that tripped off the 330kV Sapele to Benin transmission line following a series of vandalism on some towers under it.
Also this year, TCN confirmed that a tower on the 132kV Enugu to Benue transmission line was hacked and nearly fell; during the process, a suspected vandal was electrocuted, however a quick intervention of TCN immediately fixed the line and avoided direct impact of the national grid.
Just near Osogbo in Osun state, vandals brought welding machines, hacked and fell two towers on the brand new 330kV Osogbo to Akure power transmission line, causing a delay in the project execution.
And in Ogun state, three transmission towers collapsed recently on the 132kV Papalanto/Ojere double-circuit transmission line after they were vandalized, causing power outage around Abeokuta and its environs. Again, TCN quickly moved and fixed the constraint while restoring bulk power to the affected area.
The vandalism on the Oku Iboku tower (Akwa Ibom state), was particularly telling as it cut-off the 400MW Odukpani NIPP Generation plant thereby affecting electricity supply to Akwa Ibom and Cross River states.
Nigeria currently operates a grid that has an average of 5,000MW power delivery capacity.
To accelerate this and resolve the myriads of complaints about poor power supply, the Nigerian government under President Muhammadu Buhari entered a strategic deal with Germany to have its Siemens undertake end-to-end energy reform for Nigeria under the Presidential Power Initiative (PPI).
That programme is ongoing with procurement of transmission and distribution equipment at an advanced stage and would kick in practically this September towards moving the grid from 5,000MW to 7,000MW.
By next year, it would take the grid to 10,000MW and by 2025, the programme would have lifted Nigeria’s grid to 25,000MW with its implementation being driven by the FGN Power Company.
Expectedly, the setback has got government officials worried about the impact of the rising attacks on the targets set by the President.
Speaking on the incident and the general impact of vandalism on the network last week, the Minister said: “This is one of the 330Kv high voltage towers that were pulled down by vandals and it led to the collapse of the system. These disturbances are affecting the grid more especially at a stage where we are trying to improve the grid by rehabilitating it which we have neglected for a very long time.
“We are doing this through several interventions and the investments going into the grid is unprecedented, it has never happened before thanks to our partners, the World Bank and others. We are doing a lot. The power project takes time to be completed but we are working so hard to solve this problem”, he added.
On his part, the Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Engr. Sanusi Sanusi said: “The immediate cause of the national blackout (system collapse) was an act of vandalism on a transmission tower on the Odukpani-Ikot Ekpene 330kV double circuit transmission line thus resulting in a sudden loss of about 400MW of generation (Calabar NIPP). This consequently led to a cascade of plants’ shut down across the country.”
Shortly after the Oku Iboku vandalism, the Managing Director of TCN, Engr. Dr. Sule Abdulaziz and some management officials of the public-owned company visited the site of the vandalism to assess the extent of the damage.
Speaking at the site then, he said: “This singular act threw the entire nation into darkness plus the humongous loss in terms of economic resources.
“Despite this, we have remained resolute in our effort to find ways of ensuring power supply to the good people of Akwa Ibom and the nation at large.
“To effectively achieve this, every citizen of Nigeria must in one way or another contribute to this fight against the vandalism of power infrastructures,” noted Engr. Dr. Abdulaziz.
However, more revelation of the nationwide power assets sabotage was made by the Executive Director, Transmission Service Provider at TCN, Engr. Victor Adewumi.
According to him, “It is happening almost everywhere in the country now; even in Delta state we had to quickly mobilise to fix 10 towers in a row when we saw an act of vandalism. This is outright sabotage and it doesn’t happen in other climes.”
But the worrying aspect of this was what Engr. Adewumi said about setting back Nigeria from the path of electricity expansion. He said: “We appeal to the youths and to Nigerians to own these assets because it belongs to us. Each time we pull the government back and we turn around to blame the same government; it is so unfair to throw the whole nation into blackout.”
Adewumi who said vandalism causes retrogression in power infrastructure development added that: “There is no way this country can move forward if each time we take a step forward and we take three steps backward. Everybody needs power and every generation plants service every part of Nigeria. You can see how callous people can be to deliberately remove tower members to bring this thing down.”
Engr. Adewumi appealed to the public, especially residents of Akwa Ibom and parts of Cross River state that the company was fast tracking the process.
“The tower is back and we have done everything to restore and sustain it on the national grid. We appeal to people to also take ownership of power infrastructure that passes through their communities,” he noted.
To tackle the situation, some experts have insisted that the government, power operators, community residents and security agents should deepen synergy to intercept vandals before they execute their acts.
The Akwa Ibom State commissioner for power and petroleum development welfare, John Etim, said the government would work with TCN on mass sensitisation of the public while making laws at the House of Assembly for stricter penalties against vandals. He also said the state had intensified security surveillance to curb vandals’ activities.
Mr Bulus Yaro, a power consultant said that he was aware that some power firms occasionally engage the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corp (NSCDC) and vigilante groups to patrol lines. “These efforts are not enough, from time to time; community members including youths should be involved in the process.
“Then security agents should be made to arrest and prosecute dealers in metal scraps especially if they are found to be copper and aluminium conductors. That is when we will start being serious to tackle this sabotage”.