That incessant collapse of national grid
Seemingly intractable power crisis rocking the country opened a new chapter the other day with the complete collapse of the national grid.
The embarrassing development is coming at a time of spike in the cost of diesel and scarcity of petrol, to further compound the woes of all Nigerians. While relevant stakeholders are not in short supply of excuses for total blackout, the turn of event verges on institutional incompetence and regulatory negligence.
According to reports, the national grid that had remained epileptic with a meagre 2,000 megawatts of electricity finally collapsed the other day, leaving the grid devoid of output. The power generating companies (GenCos) had confirmed that 14 power stations were idle due to grid-related challenges and the inability of the government to pay for generated electricity. While the issue was still making waves, the national grid reportedly crashed, sending the 11 distribution companies, which supply the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) out of supply.
Incomprehensibly, the problem of power has remained intransigent to the huge investments sunk into the sector in the last two decades. It is shocking that instead of an improvement, the situation has continued to get worse. Since 2013 when the sector was privatised, the grid has cumulatively failed electricity consumers more than 130 times! On each occasion, the incidents practically grounded Nigeria and its economic activities. It is not surprising, therefore, that the economy is on a nosedive and companies are shutting down. The latest in the series of power failures might count among the worst the country has witnessed in recent times, indicating that there is still no stable framework for managing Nigeria’s power sector.
The Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED), the umbrella body of distribution companies, blamed the recurrent power collapse on the Transmission Company of Nigeria’s (TCN) analog system, describing it as largely responsible for collapses since the privatisation of the power sector in 2013. The TCN, a government agency that manages the asset under the privatised power sector, had in turn attributed the grid collapse to “multiple tripping”. There are also insinuations that the problem lies with leadership at various levels that are averse to genuine solutions. The saboteurs use their positions to stifle any idea that could lead to a change!
The GMD of the NNPC, Mele Kyari, once said there was enough gas to generate 8, 000 megawatts of electricity but the transmission grid could not support such a quantum of power without complications. Yet, it is incomprehensible that all the key power plants in the country, including Egbin, Utorogu, Chevron Oredo, Oben gas-fired power plants, Ughelli, and Chevron Escravos power plants could all shut down in one fell swoop. The fact that Nigeria’s power generation is largely dependent on gas transported through exposed pipelines that are easily vandalised in many areas nationwide actually constitutes a major problem.
But where is the Federal Government and good leadership in all these? The failure to address the power sector challenges amounts to extreme insensitivity on the part of government to fundamentals of development. The unbundling of NEPA has proven to be a huge failure. What we are dealing with, as it were, is a huge conspiracy of fraud. Otherwise, the solution to the energy crisis is federalism. Every now and then, the power grid collapses; the question is – do we need to have one national power grid?
Clearly, the power sector is a cesspit of corruption and administrative inefficiency. It is incumbent on a proactive administration to demand a thorough investigation of the sector and begin to explore alternatives to energy sources. The world is scandalised that Nigeria, one of the leading producers and exporters of crude oil and gas dwells in darkness. Government should put its house in order and provide a security and business-friendly environment to attract the private sector, without which the sector stagnates. The power industry is too technical and financially inclusive to be undertaken solely by the government. But the present private-sector arrangement is grossly defective and has only presented Nigerians with suffering and exploitation.
The government must encourage a switch to alternative energy sources, which is the global trend. Solar power, wind energy and hydro-power generation should be given the necessary attention and integrated into the country’s power strategic plan. Energy mix is the in thing and should be pursued with vigour. Importantly, there should be energy democracy. Electricity should not be in the exclusive list. Let those who can provide power, be it states, corporate bodies or individuals, be allowed to produce power and sell to consumers. Decades of dependence on one omnibus, centralised power behemoth has failed and should be discarded. Improving access to reliable power supply is the key to reducing poverty and unlocking economic growth in the country.