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Trails of power hiccups, 49 years after independence

By Guardian Nigeria
30 September 2009   |   3:36 am
IN 1896, Nigeria flagged-off power generation with a 20-mega watt (mw) capacity power plant located in Ijora, Lagos. With this development, all were agog with anticipations that the feat would fast-track growth and development of the African giant, even when it was yet to get independence.

Later in 1925, Nasco Company started an Independent Power Plant (IPP) in Jos with a two mw hydro plant at Kuru Falls for miners.


A power generation commenced with three hydro stations such as Kanji (760mw), Jebba (578mw) and Shiroro (600mw); all in Niger State and five thermal or gas- powered electricity, including Egbin in Lagos (1,320mw), Afam, River states (972mw), Delta Power Station (600mw) and Sapele (720mw) both in Delta State.

In 1950, Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) was formed to oversee the electricity distribution in the country. A 30mw coal fired River Orji Power station was later commissioned in 1956. All these were managing to keep the nation in form, even as struggles continued for a sovereign state.

Not quite long, in October 1960, the much-envisaged independence came from the British colonialists. Nigerians became agog, the mantle of power was whisked from foreign dictatorship and handed to the indigenous flagships, who have since been contributing their quota and exchanging the baton of power.

Year in year out, optimists in the country are of the view that the woes ravaging the energy sector would soon vanish. But 49 years after, the lingering power failure has not only become a major source of headache for Nigerians, both rich and poor, but also a worrisome phenomenon for the various governments.

During the military era, all were of the opinion that it was only democracy that could save the country from the wrath of dictatorship, 10 years of a tortuous journey, the much-respected democracy still goes in pari passu with black out.

On May 29, 1999 the country experienced a peaceful transition from military to civilian government, when Former president, Olusegun Okikiola Obasanjo, was sworn-in at the Eagle Square, Abuja.

At the ceremony ground, he made a pledge that he would protect lives and properties of the citizenry and find a lasting solution to some critical problems pending, including power supply.

Having been neglected for over 20 years, the sector received attention for the first time during the Obasanjo’s regime, but some technical hitches posed serious threat to the projects and eventually overshadowed the laudable initiatives of that administration towards revitalising the ailing sector.

Recognising the need to tackle the problem headlong, Obasanjo set a target of generating 10,000 mega watts (mw) of electricity by December 2007, but circumstances later turned it around and made it 2010, which is now around the corner. This target is projected to be achieved through a number of existing and upcoming power plants sited in different locations of the country.

As at then, the existing power stations had the installed generating capacity of 6,200mw, though they could not produce higher than 3,800mw, ongoing projects have the capacity to generate 1,462mw, seven new Federal Government projects slated for the Niger Delta are expected to add 2,250mw, with the already commissioned Integrated Power Projects (IPPs), generating about 780mw, while the on going IPPs are expected to add 688mw to national grid making a total of 11,380mw. With this figure, he was confident of at least 10,000mw target.

Just at the eve of handing over, Obasanjo commissioned some of the projects with the view of stabilising the input for the fragile electricity industry. The four power plants commissioned at the twilight of the last administration were expected to contribute 1,588mw to the national grid. These power stations are Geregu Thermal Power Station, Kogi State, 414mw, Omotosho Thermal Power Station, Ondo State 335mw, Papalanto Thermal Power Station, Ogun State, 335mw and Alaoji Thermal Power Station, Abia State, 505mw.

Also at various stages of construction are the seven Integrated Power Projects (IPP) located in the Niger Delta region including the River State Power Plant 100mw, Gbaran Ubie Thermal Power Station, Delta State, 250mw, Sapele Thermal Power Station, Delta State, 500mw, Ikot Abasi Thermal Power Station, Akwa Ibom State 300mw, Eyaen Thermal Power Station, Edo State 500mw, Egbema Thermal Power Station, Imo State 350 and Calabar Thermal Power Station, Cross River State, 500mw.

As a result of some factors, which were identified as poor planning, lack of transparency, overbearing influences, corruption among others, some of the projects failed to see the light of the day, thereby posing a set-back to the target of 10,000mw at the end Obasanjo’s eight-year administration. In fact, he came out publicly to confess that, failure to meet the power supply challenges has been his major regret. Although, he thereafter commended himself for having contributed his appreciable quota towards the course.

Assuming power on May 29, 2007, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua also made the usual promise, and confidently set out a seven-point agenda, which power was one of the core targets. Besides, he vowed to resort to declaration of a state of emergency in the power sector, all in the name of resuscitating the ailing sector.

Few months into office, the President kicked-off on a wonderful note, investigating the factors that militated against completion of the project during Obasanjo’s regime, which he was actually able to identify.

Owing to this, he announced a withdrawal from financing the sector till some technical issues were clarified, a decision which attracted divergent views.

While all these were going on, the output from the existing power plants were fluctuating between 3000mw and 1500mw, even when the national demand was put at 25,000mw by the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).

The situation was hinged on drop in water level at the hydro power plants and acute shortage of gas supply to the thermal plants. In fact, the population has been characterised by low access to electricity, which statistics put at 36 per cent. At present only 10 per cent of rural households and 40 per cent of the country’s total population have access to electricity.

The ripple effect of the recent abnormal supply are however enormous, ranging from domestic to business sector. Lots of industries have closed shop as a result of overburdened expenses on running machineries with private power generating plants. However, some others who managed to succeed have continued to rely on power generating plants, while they totally abandoned public power totally.

Reacting to the situation, the Principal Consultant, Lonadek Oil and Gas Consultants, Dr. Ibilola Amao, said: “At 49, Nigeria is still very much in the dark. It is unfortunate!

“Nigerians have become experts at brewing storms in tea cups without being able to follow up with the required action. I wonder what manner of a people we are. We are groping in the dark yet suffering and smiling.

The failure to improve on 4,000mw power supply after spending billions of Naira on power sector projects is an indication of the level of corruption that is entrenched in our society.

“When contracts are awarded on the basis on who one knows, what type of ball a contractor is prepared to play and the political alignment of the contractor’s promoter for mega projects, I am not surprised that Nigeria continues to use its white elephant projects to launder money between government and politicians so that the masses remain the victims of circumstances that is way beyond their imagination and control.

“It is my prayer that we do not have to go through a revolution to get our country on the right road to recovery.

“I feel so sorry to be a Nigerian and above all I am pained by the way such a great country with immense potentials is being destroyed by its very poor leadership, demoralised public servants and a people whose conscience permits them to compromise in the area of morals and integrity,” she said.

However, the small scale industrialists claimed to be worst hit by the menace, since they operate on limited funds with little access to loan facilities to support the business.

The Chairman of National Association of Small Scale Industrialist, Mr. Duro Kuteyi, said celebration of independence in terms of power supply is not justifiable.

“You can imagine Ghana celebrating one year of uninterrupted power supply, so if we Nigerians can not celebrate, I think it is a shame.

“It is a pity we are the worst hit by the problem, we have to run 24 hours on generators, if you are buying machinery, you must buy a generator along, unless you are not in business. This has taken toll on the cost of production and ultimately cost of goods, thereby making it difficult to export,” he said.

He added that plans are now in the pipeline to establish a clustering system whereby the pocket of clusters of firms would be relocated into a place where electricity would be generated from a common source, instead of individuals buying different generators and facilities. This, he said would reduce the cost that are normally incurred by individuals.

Even the Minister of State for Energy (Power), Mr. Lanre Babalola, concurred that the power situation is still fragile. “On the supply of power, the situation in the country is still fragile because of the network,”

Babalola, who recently toured the power plants to identify the challenges and chart a way forward, said the government is seriously concerned about the epileptic power situation in the country, adding that efforts were being made to make the problem a thing of the past.

“Having visited the power plants in Egbin and Papalanto, it is clear that gas is the major problem. Government is going to try all it can to ensure that the problems and constrains are addressed urgently to enhance the level of power generation in the country.

“We are going to focus more on the rehabilitation of most of the power plant. There is a renewed effort to focus on the implementation of power projects in the country, and not just funding of projects. We want to ensure that we turn this investment into energy for Nigerians to enjoy and it is not just procurement exercise, it is actually implementation exercise that we need to take care of our plant,” he said.

The minister however pointed out that government was working hard to ensure availability of gas to power the plants and that the country did not have the financial and technological know-how to acquire renewable sources of energy.

According to him, government will work out plans to ensure that the current energy sources are improved upon to attain 6,000mw power generation by the end of this year.

Against all lamentations, groaning, moaning, debates, advice, promises and actions, the fact remains that Nigeria, as a country needs sincere and dedicated leaders, competent, transparent and men of high integrity and reputable personality, who are ready to carry the cross on behalf of Nigerians and eventually lead us to the desired promise land.

By Sulaimon Salau