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Buhari and the electricity crisis

By Luke Onyekakeyah
30 June 2020   |   4:31 am
The way things are going, there may be nothing to reckon with the Buhari administration except the unbridled increases in electricity tariff without a commensurate power supply improvement.

The way things are going, there may be nothing to reckon with the Buhari administration except the unbridled increases in electricity tariff without a commensurate power supply improvement. This one thing may rubbish whatever other achievements the Buhari administration may have recorded. The past five years have witnessed frequent tariff increases that Nigerians are lamenting. There is no noticeable change, so to say, in the power sector other than the frequent tariff hikes. The same epileptic power that has defined Nigeria for decades still plagues Nigerians.

The only change that Nigerians may know is the exorbitant electricity tariff, which people are forced to pay. The issue of the much-talked about pre-paid meters, which consumers thought would bring succour is indeterminate. Government and the DISCOs are playing game with it to the detriment of Nigerians. While some consumers are lucky to have the meters installed in their premises, others paid exorbitant charges to have them, while the majority still doesn’t have it.

The latest electricity hike billed to take effect from July 1, 2020, amid the ravaging coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is the most insensitive. The government should perish the thought. Nigerians, like people elsewhere, are facing a dire situation. Millions have lost their jobs; businesses are low, leading to dwindled income for individuals and corporate bodies.

Government that hitherto regaled in oil money is itself in a fix as a result of the collapse of oil price in the world market. Millions of people are starving, a small proportion manage to get palliatives from diverse sources including private philanthropists. Many have died and left their families in limbo.

Whereas, the concern of everyone at the moment is how to survive the pandemic, government, on the other hand should not be hatching how to put more burden on the famished citizenry by way of electricity tariff increase. This is most unfortunate. It goes to underscore the feeling among the populace that the welfare of the people is not reckoned in government calculations.

All that the DISCOs want is increased revenue from the people. But the question is where will the people who have been on lockdown with businesses shut since March and no income get the money to pay the new tariff? There is no amount of increase that will change the present state of poor power supply.

There are fundamental issues plaguing the power sector that must be addressed before any improvement would occur. The engagement of Siemens to rebuild the decrepit power infrastructure is thought to be the first step towards fixing the electricity issue. Why not allow Siemens to do the job first. Why impose more tariffs on weary Nigerians when the developed countries are issuing monthly pay cheques to their citizens, to cushion the impact of the economic lockdown?

It is not surprising that the DISCOs are complaining that the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) is silent on the proposed increase from July 1, 2020.

According to the DISCOs, what has happened in recent days is that our regulator is warning us not to mention their name or the Federal Government in any communication about the tariff increase with our customers.

What this means is that the DISCOs are on their own. Government must have realised that this is the most inauspicious time to impose another tariff increase on electricity. Coming at a time when Nigerians were expecting free electricity to cope with the COVID-19 impacts on income, is it not senseless to turn round to ask the same Nigerians to pay more for electricity not supplied? How do you justify a policy like this that is blatantly anti-people? Sensible governments around the world are proposing economic stimulus to help their people. Government should not impose more burden on the people if they can’t help.

It is most regrettable that every administration that emerges hoodwinks Nigerians with lofty plans to fix the electricity to no avail. It is disheartening, indeed, embarrassing, that since 1999 when the PDP took the reins of power and promised to make electricity available in a matter of months instead the situation became worse ever since then. It is an irony of fate that has befallen Nigeria.

Despite all the lofty power reform programmes embarked upon by the PDP over 16 years, the power supply situation across the country is nothing to write home about. The country is in a bigger mess; consumers now pay huge monthly electricity bills for energy not supplied. The privatization of power has not worked because the companies are contending with the same handicaps that confronted the institution over the years. Nothing has changed except who collects tariff and the amount collected.

Working under the same decrepit power supply infrastructure and expecting to have improved electricity supply is delusionary. Besides, the gas-fired power plants remain a headache.

There is yet no solid arrangement that guarantees steady and uninterrupted gas supply to the power plants. That is the bane of the Independent Power Project (IPP) option in the country. It is one thing to embark on IPP and build scores of gas-based power plants; yet, it is another thing to ensure that the gas input needed for the plants to function is guaranteed. If that is not done, the entire effort would be a waste and the country would remain in darkness. That is where we are at the moment.

Right now, the electricity situation is a colossal national embarrassment. How is Buhari going to tackle the problem? I would like to stress, at this juncture, that it is not that the previous Obasanjo and Jonathan administrations did not want to fix power. The PDP, beginning with the Obasanjo administration in 1999 down to Jonathan in 2015, desired to fix the energy problem but failed because too many greedy elements involved in the various programmes were more concerned with their selfish interest rather than the national interest.

Those unpatriotic elements frustrated the efforts. The story would have been different if the PDP had at least succeeded in fixing power alone or addressed the electricity quagmire, which is the root of corruption in the sector. Given PDP’s failure in the energy sector, the Buhari administration must make hard choices to succeed. I don’t believe that Buhari’s thinking about Nigeria is the same as that of Obasanjo or Jonathan. I don’t believe that if you get five key leaders of PDP and another five key leaders of APC and put them in different rooms with the same assignment about how to deal with the power crisis in the country, they would come up with the same idea. The two will come up with two completely different ideas.

It is on that basis that I have confidence that Buhari and his APC administration will tackle the energy crisis from a different angle. That is not to say that if there is any good thing that could be extracted from the PDP’s power reform programme, it should not be left out. That makes for continuity that promotes good governance.