Nigeria’s curious electricity export
Most Nigerians may not be aware of government’s exports of electricity to some West African countries. As a matter of fact, many can swear that the government will not engage in such an export given the poor state of electricity across the country.
The reality, however, is that the government of Nigeria has some international customers that import electricity from the country. According to Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), the country exports electricity to the Republics of Benin, Niger and Togo, Nigeria’s neighbours.
Ordinarily, there is nothing wrong with a country getting involved in international or cross-border business especially if there is comparative advantage from the business. Furthermore, a country will also not be considered to be sacrificing the well being of her citizens in venturing into exports of goods and services if the domestic demand and needs have been reasonably, if not wholly, taken care of.
However, a country that has huge gaps in satisfying her domestic needs while preferring to export her products and services should have incontestable grounds for choosing to do so. It even becomes more challenging if the exports are not paid for within the terms of the export-import contract.
Electricity generation, transmission and distribution in Nigeria have not been known to be at their best, over the years. Electricity is one of the most scarce and poorly supplied services in the country. The country wallows in grave darkness. Meanwhile, the empowerment needed from electricity to cause businesses, offices and households to operate is either unavailable or at best epileptic. No individual or organisation in Nigeria can be confident enough to rely on its availability when needed. Besides these, the parts of the country that have not witnessed public electricity supply are far more than those (mostly cities and towns) that have had the opportunity. Actually, it is only in cities and towns that some form of electricity supply is available. Thus, the greater parts of the country lack electricity supply.
Consequently, Nigerians, more than anything that will drive their sought after growth and development require constant, stable, reliable and sustainable electricity supply. This need, in many respects, outweighs whatever benefits that will accrue from the exportation of the available electricity to our neighbours.
The Nigerian electricity sector, following various reforms has changed from public to private sector control in expectation that delivery of the product to the people and businesses will be more efficient. However, emerging and loud outcries from the citizens indicate that the expected efficiency and improvement remain a mirage. Indeed, from the poor performance of private sector operators in the delivery of electricity services to the people of this vast country, there have arisen widespread calls for a return to government control of the sector. The justification for the calls is that, electricity generation, transmission and distribution were much better when the government was in control. Whichever way the arguments go, Nigerians need and demand electricity that they can trust and rely on in living their lives and carrying out their economic, social and other engagements where constant, stable, reliable and sustainable electricity is needed.
It is therefore, more than curious and painful to learn that the Nigerian government is exporting electricity to other countries when her citizens, on average, cannot boast of enjoying quality electricity supply up to an hour per day. There is no doubt that most Nigerians will see this situation as unfortunate, inhuman and unacceptable. Worst still is the information that an amount of N32 billion worth of the electricity exports in 2019 is yet to be paid by the importer countries (Benin, Niger and Togo). Although, NERC confirmed that supply of electricity to the countries was disconnected in October 2019 and that the government had been engaging the debtor countries, it is imperative for the government to evolve ingenious ways of recovering the huge amount.
Going forward, the government should give priority attention to satisfying the needs of Nigerians and other internal customers before embarking on international transactions that serve no good benefits. It is unimaginable and inconceivable that government will engage itself in exporting electricity power when Nigerians are gnashing their teeth in search for sufficient, constant, stable and sustainable electricity to accomplish their growth and development.
Meanwhile, the government should do everything within its power and of course, within the export-import contracts, to ensure that the outstanding debt of N32 billion (Niger-N13.5 billion and Benin/Togo-N19.17 billion) is quickly recovered. Given the dwindling national revenue occasioned mainly by the drop in international market price of oil, the recovered amount will be handy in reducing rising fiscal deficits and external borrowings by the government, respectively. It may also moderate government’s inadvisable intentions or plans to sale of some national assets in order to raise funds. More important, it will assist in addressing financial challenges hamstringing improvements in the power sector of the economy.
There is also the necessity for the government to introduce serious controls that will ensure that this type of transaction and the arising importers’ indebtedness will not recur, as they are not in the best interest of the Nigerian people. Finally, the prevailing global market conditions dictate that countries review international business contracts they may be engaged in with a view to ensuring that internal customers are not being robbed to pay the external ones. This is without prejudice to our responsibility to our needy neighbours in the interest of peace and security in the West Coast. Nigeria’s export of electricity amidst intolerable darkness all over the land, obviously commends itself for such a review – in public interest.