Government in power without power
Statutory Obligation: “The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”
– Section 14 (2) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended.
“INFRASTRUCTURE: APC WILL:
Generate, transmit and distribute from current 5,000 – 6,000 MW to at least 20,000 MV of electricity within four years and increasing to 50,000 MW with a view of achieving 24/7 uninterrupted power supply within ten years, whilst simultaneously ensuring development of sustainable/renewable energy.”
-Manifesto of the All Progressive Congress (APC), submitted to the people of Nigeria in the wake of the 2015 general elections.
Power generation is the main issue in regard to the socio-economic development of any nation. In Nigeria however, successive governments have deployed it for political gains, knowing the importance that Nigerians attach to it. For instance, I have never experienced electricity supply in my home town since I was born, as we are not connected to the national grid at all. Indeed, the entire Ondo South Senatorial District was disconnected from the grid about 12 years ago even though attempts are underway to reconnect. Several towns and villages are like my home town, locked out of any form of development at all, yet we are classified as oil producing. Last week, the national grid collapsed for the umpteenth time. I placed an order for the replacement of a generator and got an invoice of about N5m, just for a 30-KVA version. To change the inverter batteries would also cost a fortune. This is the sordid tale of most Nigerians.
The impression that our leaders in power have conveyed to us is that it is practically impossible to have stable and permanent power supply; that we don’t have the resources to build the needed energy plants that will meet the needs of all Nigerians; that we must accept generators as second nature, if we must function and survive, as a people. Churches, Mosques, banks, schools, small businesses, factories, government ministries and departments, police stations, the courts and even PHCN itself, all depend on generators. Indeed, a story was once told that a President was set to commission a newly built power plant and a generator had to be hired to power the commissioning ceremony. It is that bad.
Electricity is listed in the Exclusive Legislative List of the Constitution, the implication of which is that only the federal government can deal with issues related to power, although it has since been discovered that off-grid developments are not covered by this exclusive design. Over the years, it has been the sole business of the federal government, to legislate on, regulate and provide electricity, with the debilitating effect of poor management, bureaucratic bottlenecks, corruption, incompetence and sheer greed, all holding that powerful sector down. We have been told several tales of billions of dollars pumped into the power sector, with little or no results, making Nigerians to conclude that there must be some demons and principalities, holding the power sector by the jugular. And it is one out of the many nuts that this administration has not been able to crack.
The average experience of those depending upon public power supply is that of total frustration, resulting from absence of any supply at all, irregular supply, low voltage, high voltage, load shedding, constant blackouts, extortion by members of staff of the companies involved and naked corruption. This has in turn led many to believe that there is some sort of collusion between the regulators, transmitters and the distributors of power, with generator importers and marketers, with diesel marketers and suppliers, with candle manufacturing companies and the importers of rechargeable solutions generally, to milk us dry.
Having cornered all exclusive rights over the power sector, the expectation was that the federal government would do all in its power to satisfy the demands of the citizens in respect of power consumption. All over the land, power cables and conductors line the space, some disjointed, some expired, some others so very weak that they cannot even transmit the available power. In some tragic cases, these exposed cables have fallen upon innocent passersby, leading to instant electrocution.
To get electricity to the consumer, there has to be a transformer, to which power will be transmitted and thereafter distributed to individual consumers. These transformers are in most cases archaic, dysfunctional and unable to bear the load of the electricity consumers. So, what happens in most cases is that the fuses plugged to these transformers get blown up due to excess load, whilst some get stolen outrightly, leading to blackout. In some other cases when the fuses don’t work optimally, there is then the problem of low or high voltage, which impacts upon and damage valuables, at times leading to fire incidents resulting in several deaths. The law regulating the power sector grants absolute immunity to the players.
To survive these frustrations, you have to develop an alternative means of power supply on your own, the commonest of which is the generator. The generator has to be powered through fuel or diesel and it has to be maintained constantly, to serve you.
The generator comes with its own health hazards, such as noise pollution, dangerous fumes, which has led to the death of several persons. The sum total of the Nigerian experience then is that the generator has become the main source of power supply, whilst public supply is more of the standby option. The generator is all over the country, in small units of “I better pass my neighbor” or the bigger diesel units. You need a huge financial capacity to maintain the generators. Nigeria being a tropical region with our very hot temperature, you will most probably need an air conditioner to survive in our climate, which takes a fortune to sustain through the generator.
To be continued tomorrow
Adegboruwa (SAN), is a Lagos based human rights activist.