Let there be light…
There are some stories that can be shocking without necessarily being surprising. A case in point is the electricity story as it concerns Nigeria. Notwithstanding being in the 21st Century and with the huge amount spent on that sector electricity supply throughout the country remains shamefully poor and inadequate. To say the least, Nigerians have no choice than to acclimatise to obscurity when it comes to the issue of electricity. In a way to ease themselves from tension and stress the masses over the years find amusing meaning to the acronym used in identifying electricity organisations. When it was ECN, the masses regarded it as ‘Everyday Candle Night’, while NEPA is ‘Never Expect Power Always’ and PHCN is simply referred to as ‘Please Hold Candle Now’. Of course, Nigerians are yet to understand where the current electricity distribution handlers, DisCos are headed because of their discordant tunes. Hence, the minister of power, Saleh Mamman recently threatened to revoke their licences if they should continue rendering poor services to the nation. I shall return to this.
As a matter of emphasis, the Discos came on board in 2013 when the Federal Government unbundled the Power Holding Company in Nigeria (PHCN). It handed over 18 utility firms to private investors, raking in 2.5 billion dollars from the transaction involving Generating companies (GenCos) and 11 distribution companies (DisCos). At first, the reform or privatisation of the electricity sector made many Nigerians hopeful and trusting that once the process was complete electricity would be surplus and enjoyed 24 hours none-stop. Currently, that hope has curdled into anger and the struggle for every Nigerian home to generate its own independent power supply by owning a generator-set.
Also the assumption that privitasition of the energy sector will unlock a flood of initiatives, investments and help reduce unemployment and poverty in the society were all gone with the wind. In fact, the Discos are known to have a history of constant demands for increase in electricity tariff and perpetual groaning under crushing weight of multiple debts particularly from government establishments. While estimated billing system on electricity consumers became rampant under their management. Regrettably, these and more are the new shape of things under the DisCos management of electricity. The giant stride of our West Africa neighbour Ghana, who a few years ago, celebrated a decade of constant and uninterrupted electricity is written off quickly with a wave of the hand with excuse that the size of Ghana compared to Nigeria is insignificant to use it as a yardstick.
Therefore, such excellent feat seems not to perturb the DisCos in Nigeria neither does it challenge them to improve on their performance. In fact, energy distribution has drastically dropped since the DisCos took over the business of electricity in the country just as the tariff has risen astronomically. The Discos must understand that the willingness of service goes along with a sense of responsibility.
The other day, the Minister of power, Saleh Mamman read a riot act and threatened to withdraw the DisCos license. This according to him, the power distribution companies (DisCos) are to blame for the poor electricity supply in the country. For this, he said that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) will decide their fate soonest. He further hinted that, “Nigeria can generate up to 13,000MW of electricity but we cannot transmit all…government cannot continue to be subsiding because what they (DisCos) do is that they collect 3,000MW and pay for only 1,000MW. Government is the one completing the payment. So we cannot continue like that”. Indeed, beefing up the DisCos performance by way of subsidy is not a bad thing, at least in the short term. This is because government needs a thriving energy sector to develop its economy. The government needs constant electricity delivery to achieve its goals. Unfortunately, the government is being a bit too much of a ‘Father Christmas’ and so generous to a fault. Having spent so much money to keep the DisCos afloat in business, electricity supply still remains a shambles.
No doubt, the government is taken aback with the poor performance of the DisCos, just as Nigerians are complaining about the poor treatment from the DisCos such that many consumers pay for darkness. Perhaps, the government failed on its part to properly scrutinise the companies that bided for the energy sector. As a result of this recklessness, the government is seen to continue making unforced errors by way of subsidising electricity for the DisCos without achieving positive result.
In the last three years alone, government said it had spent over 1.7 trillion naira on the energy sector. In this respect, it is not difficult to see reasons the DisCos are not performing well as expected because they are spoon fed on a daily basis by the Federal government. Indeed, one is not sure who was more excited, Nigerians as consumers of electricity or the German firm, Siemens, who is seeking to take over the electricity business in Nigeria by aligning generation, transmission and distribution of electricity across the country. The Minster of power has consistently maintained that the Federal government plans to revoke the DisCos license for their inefficiency and lack of technical-know-how capacity. One hopes that this is not a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. How are Nigerians sure that Siemens would single handedly perform the trio function of generating, transmission and distribution all by itself.
A striking number of people in Nigeria today embraced the federal government call to be self employed. Therefore, artisans who venture into private businesses are almost always impossible to succeed in the business because of inadequate supply of electricity. History reveals that the industrial revolution of the developed world was able to happen due to constant energy supply. Nigeria has come this far in its electricity sojourn, but there is still a distance to travel. So many people are suffering and we have come to a point in our nation’s electricity challenges where we have to look inward for possible solutions. Rather than looking elsewhere outside the shores for help all the time.