Issue: Towards energy security in Nigeria

Power grid, source: power, work, and housing website

Long before now, the typical consumers in Nigeria's power sector can be likened to a family who regularly goes out to eat at the eatery next door.

And to make their outing worthwhile, they must bring along their own plates, spoons, forks and other table essentials.

It doesn't end there.

They must as a rule of engagement leave those items behind because they stopped being theirs even long before they're done eating.
Under that dispensation, what they get in return for their hard earned money was some of the crudest meals you can get anywhere by the global standard which leaves them with painful heartburns.

They’ve grown accustomed to so many illegalities and poor service delivery, and all they can do is grumble and complain. Most times, what they get in return in the form of customer care services are nothing to write about.  

What I'm saying in essence? More often than not, it’s the people/community who buys electric poles, cables, transformers, and paid connection fees.

And all these will stop being their properties the moment electricity authorities installed and connect the items to the power source.

Hon. minister of power, work, and housing - Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN)

At best under the arrangement, the power consumers in Nigeria are allowed to enjoy power supply for some time as a reward for being arm twisted to taking up what primarily should be the responsibility of the power authorities.

But there were no estimated billings back then. The electricity officials will come around as and when due to reading the meters and consumers appropriately billed. Monthly standard charges, however, apply whether there’s the power supply or not.

Now, even with the so-called privatization, the narrative hasn't changed much.  If anything, it's even worse.

Yes, monthly standard charges are gone. However, estimated billing still remains the order of the day and the people continue to agonize.

They still pay for the electric poles and other related items to get their homes and offices linked to the power source.

Prepaid meters are nowhere to be found in such numbers that resonate with the consumers who truly need them even when you hear or read in the news that provision has been made to ensure proper metering and billing of consumption thereby guaranteeing a win-win situation for all the stakeholders in the sector.

As it is, the arrangement is clearly lopsided favoring one party against the other party.

Definitely, somebody or a group of people all along are reluctant to implement those policy statements to the letters because some nests must be feathered at all cost.

This no doubt has kept a large chunk of the consumers short-changed and frustrated. The channels for seeking redress are most times not available and inaccessible or fraught with annoying bureaucratic bottlenecks.

The rent seekers are still all over the place smiling to the bank week in week out while the people continue to groan under the yoke of ineptitude and oppressions of gencos and of discos especially.

Everything in the sector reeks of fraud with or without government involvement.

What's more worrisome is that no government till date has summoned the political will to call the bluff of the so-called investors who're largely concentrated in the distribution interchange of the energy value chain and ensuring the needful is done by way of prompt and reliable service delivery.

In recent time power generation has reportedly reached 7,000 Megawatts from the initial 4,000Megawatts. It’s still grossly insufficient for a country like Nigeria with huge potentials for growth to become a global industrial powerhouse.

Something urgently must be done in the form of the energy mix to meet the energy need of the country.

A power security agreement with India a stitch in time?

The continental Asia it must be acknowledged has in recent times become Nigeria’s recourse for support in critical areas of the economy.  If it’s not China, it would be India.  But it’s doubtful we’ve truly maximized the gains and possibility of such bilateral economic engagements as an equally capable partner all these years.

As such the federal government pressured to urgently meet the energy need of the country has once again turned to India. And it’s set to securing long-term energy security for all Nigerians living in the urban and rural areas.

Minister of state power, work and housing - Mustapha Baba Shehuri

This was made known by the minister of state power, works, and housing, Mustapha Baba Shehuri,  at the 14th Confederation of Indian Industry CII-EXIM Bank Conclave on India Africa Project Partnership which held in New Delhi, India.

According to reports, the statement by the minister reads, “We are working towards partnering with India on the energy security sector, adding that when this government came in the energy generation capacity was below 4,000 now it is almost 7,000 and in the transmission sector also we have reached over 7,000.

“Though we have a little problem with the distribution sector, but we have put policies in place to checkmate all that. We have policies like the eligible customer policy that allows anybody that wants to buy power to directly buys from the transmission.

The bureaucracy of distribution has been removed, all these are aimed towards making it easy for customers to access power. Energy security is all about making power available to people at affordable prices.

“We have diversified our energy sources; before, 70 percent of our energy is based on fuel and gas but now we have gone into solar, and others, we also have hydro. We are going into biomass. All these are aimed towards making power accessible to every Nigerian. /”As you know about 60 percent of our population are living in the rural areas and some of them might be there for the next 50 years without accessing power so solar has provided us an opportunity to build some mini-grid in our local setting.

“We have experimented that already in some villages and it is working, some communities use their solar power light for charging their phones and in other areas, they have solar power boreholes.

“These communities pay to the companies that provided solar power directly at affordable rates, the government only come to regulate and make sure the communities are not overcharged which is the way forward. This has shown that in the very near future almost every home will have light in Nigeria.”

According to the minister, the project is on trial now but hopefully, would be replicated in the whole country. He hinted that from all indications success is assured.

Meanwhile, he pointed out that some villages in Sokoto and Kaduna States, even part of Gwagwalada area council in the FCT were already using solar energy because the tariff is affordable.

With the above statements coming from the minister, the next question would be, it’s safe to say Nigerian energy consumers are in for better days ahead. Yes, one should be able to say as much. But does our history and experience comfort us in this regard? I think the answer would be No.

Let’s take another cursory look at some of the positives in his statement with a view to avoiding the pitfalls of the past.

1.  The incoming arrangement will allow anybody that wants to buy power to directly buy from the transmission to do so because in his words bureaucracy of distribution has been removed.

2. There is diversification of the energy sector. There is now thermal, hydro, biomass and solar mix. Mini solar grids, according to the minister, will be built in the rural areas to cater to energy need of over 60 percent of our people who live there. The solar experiment has been carried out and it is working. And from the success so far achieved, there’s a high hope that it would be replicated throughout the country.

3. The communities will pay the solar power generating companies and that the rates will be affordable.

4. The government will only come in as regulator and make sure the people are not overcharged which has been the bane of the present privatized arrangement at which there’ve been outcries from the people.

Great and innovative stuff, you might want to say. But can we say it’s Uhuru yet on a morning like this? Why not, if not. Perhaps for once a government has realized the urgency of the matter at hand and has taken the bull by the horn.

Clearly, the government’s efforts are commendable from the policy angles of the energy mix and other wonderful initiatives like the removal of the bureaucracy of distribution, affordability of power to communities who will pay directly to power generating companies and prevention of overcharging as a dependable regulator.

However, the government must put deliberate measures in place to ensure strict adherence to the letter of the MoU by all the parties and most especially the investors whether foreign or local.

A situation whereby the people are abandoned at any point in the value chain will not only be counterproductive but will spell doom for excitable dawn.

The government must be seen to be capable and willing to play its role as an unbiased regulator not pandering to the whims and caprices of the profit-driven investors who no doubt should be deserving of good returns on their investment but not at the expense of qualitative service delivery.

At the end of the day, perhaps we will all have the course to say the much publicized Nigeria India energy security agreement is indeed ‘a stitch in time that saves nine’.   And one that will completely free Nigerians from being the ones that will buy all installation materials and yet get billed out of their reach to pay like it was and is in the energy sector.

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