Wednesday, 4th October 2023

Bridging skills gap in Nigeria’s ailing electricity sector

By Kingsley Jeremiah, Abuja
26 April 2023   |   4:03 am
Adequate, reliable and sustainable electricity supply is basic for socioeconomic development and nation-building. But the reverse has been the case in Nigeria.


While Nigeria’s wobbling electricity sector remains a major challenge for economic growth and national development despite being private-driven, most stakeholders have insisted that the lack of necessary skills and leadership across the sector is a serious challenge that must be tackled sustainably. KINGSLEY JEREMIAH writes.

Adequate, reliable and sustainable electricity supply is basic for socioeconomic development and nation-building. But the reverse has been the case in Nigeria. About 63 years after independence and eight years after the privatisation of the electricity sector, Nigeria’s over 200 million population still ration about 4,000 megawatts of electricity.

Last week, only about 3,500 megawatts of electricity were available to the 11 distribution companies (DisCos). Installed generation capacity stood at 13,509 megawatts while stranded capacity was 8,000 megawatts just as aggregate commercial and technical losses swung around 40 per cent.

To most stakeholders, while other challenges are bedeviling the sector, the challenge of capacity development and leadership gap remain germane problems that require an urgent and sustainable approach if projected goals in the sector would be achieved.

In 2013, when the power sector was privatized, the industry regulator Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) specifically said a huge skill gap exists in the market, especially in the area of technical, policy, administrative and management skills.

The then Chairman, Dr. Sam Amadi, stated that all stakeholders need to formulate strategies that would help to accelerate the type of knowledge transfer the sector needs.

When the power sector was privatised and unbundled into 11 DisCos and six generation companies (GenCos), the Electric Power Sector Reform (EPSR) Act of 2005 gave birth to the National Power Training Institute of Nigeria (NAPTIN).

Reportedly, NAPTIN has trained over 15,000 personnel in the industry including DisCos, GenCos and the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), Nigeria Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA), Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) amongst others locally. Also, for the Association of Power Utilities of Africa (APUA), West African Power Pool (WAPP) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) amongst others internationally.
Despite the efforts made by NAPTIN, funding and other challenges have widened the skill gap in the industry as the development in the sector remained a mirage.

The Chairman of MOMAS Meters Manufacturing Company Limited (MEMMCOL), Kola Balogun, had raised an alarm over the deficient skills in the sector, stressing that the development remained a threat to the future of the country’s power sector.

Balogun had warned that if the skill gap was not addressed urgently, Nigeria would not be able to sustain its future.
While the rest of the world is looking to develop capabilities in the areas of research and development amidst the growing development of new energy technologies, Balogun stressed that bridging the skill gap would boost local capacity.

Just recently, Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC) Limited engaged 36 engineering interns to boost skilled manpower for the electricity industry. Scaling up such initiatives, where young graduates are provided with hands-on training by reputable and experienced organisations according to industry players, would bridge the gap in the industry.
NDPHC had said the move was part of efforts to boost manpower capacity for the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry, adding that the move would become a yearly initiative that would offer hands-on opportunities to young Nigerian engineering graduates for a possible career path in the power industry.

Nigeria with a population of 200 million people generates just under 5,000 Megawatts of power and it is rated one of the poorest in the world. According to the World Bank, one out of every 10 persons globally without access to electricity lives in Nigeria.

Speaking during an orientation ceremony for the interns, the Executive Director of Corporate Services, NDPHC, Nkechi Mba explained that the interns were selected from the six geopolitical zones across the country with each zone producing six.

“This is to enable graduates of engineering to have practical experience because we found out over the years that we had the best resources in NDPHC in terms of power sector engineering knowledge and we wanted to pass that on. And also help young engineering graduates to be able to access that knowledge that would give them an advantage in trying to find jobs in the sector or finding a career path.

“It is not a recruitment exercise but because NDPHC has the largest power sector assets, the programme gives the graduates an advantage”, she said.

Executive Director, Generation, Kassim Abdullahi, said the interns would be sent to Calabar, Benin, Sapele and Omotosho power plants, as they will “learn a lot from participating in the daily activities of the plants including generation, troubleshooting, maintenance and a lot of things from the capable engineers we have at these stations”.

General Manage of Human Resources at NDPHC, Funke Nwankwo, said intending to improve manpower capacity for the power sector in Nigeria, the move would “ensures that young engineering graduates get the right training from seasoned professionals across our power plants. They will get first-hand interaction with how our power plants work in real life”.

Being an intervention agency of the government, NDPHC has 10 generation plants with eight already commissioned, it has an installed capacity of close to 4,000MW with regular interventions in transmission and distribution projects.

Senior Partner at PPP Consults Limited, Joseph Tsavsar said capacity development and leadership remain critical in the power sector.

To him, leadership capacity should however remain a priority since skills could be hired by purposeful leadership.

“The Chinese were considered backward by the West but through purposeful leadership, there is a great leap to the amasement by all those that underrated them.

One of the problems of the skill gap in the power sector is poor leadership policies of hiring people based on federal character, nepotism, favouritism, this is what has contributed to the dearth of protection engineers in the transmission sector of the sector,” he said.

Electricity expert, Lanre Elatuyi, noted that Nigeria’s power industry, which was a vertically integrated monopoly, was dominated by engineers as the main skill needed in the industry was technical.

According to him, with liberalization and the introduction of markets, it became important to have experts not only in power system engineering but in economics and energy markets.

“As the power market continues to get complex, then data scientists, programming experts, IT experts are needed more than ever. Therefore we need more people with a cross-knowledge of engineering and economics to take the lead in the industry and this is currently lacking.

“Most of the challenges in the industry presently are because we don’t have many experts in electricity market designs and this is why we see much confusion in the industry. We also need experts in electricity market regulation as it is hard to regulate an industry one has no deep knowledge about,” Elatuyi said.

He disclosed that there must be continuous training for everyone involved in the sector.

Elatuyi noted that there must also be a minimum knowledge required that is specific to the Nigerian power market everyone must have when joining any of the utilities.