Toying with Nigeria’s electricity grid
BART Nnaji, the erstwhile Minister of Power and world class engineering professor, spoke at the June 15-17 2015 West African conference on electricity development at Eko Hotel in Lagos and advised that the Federal Government discontinue interference in the management of the nation’s electricity grid. His advice was given prominent attention in the national media the following day.
Immediately, invested interests went to work. They have been responding under all manner of disguises. One of the strategies is the hiring of unemployed pen pushers to discredit the advice entirely. They advocate government’s continued management of the country’s transmission infrastructure. One of their articles is entitled “Manitoba: To keep or Put Away?” written by one Cosmas Elendu.
Immediately Nnaji left public office in August 2012, self-serving politicians in the Presidency and other buccaneers cornered the resources of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) and have ever since been having a field day, unchallenged.
Nnaji left the TCN with board membership of seven technocrats, but the membership has now ballooned to an unbelievable 27! There is now a culture of squandermania. TCN is in a mess.
It has had three chief executives and two board chairmen in the last two years, a manifestation of gross instability. Of course, the greatest casualty of all this chaos is the Nigerian people. The TCN cannot wheel a mere 5,000 megawatts, yet the country is aspiring to achieve 40,000MW in 2020, so as to be at the level which South Africa achieved decades ago.
Nigeria’s transmission network is old, weak, poorly maintained and, therefore, collapses easily. The result is very poor electricity supply across the country. The budgetary provision for the TCN this year is a paltry one billion naira.
Nnaji’s proposed 765kv circuit super grid has since been forgotten on account of lack of funds. Our current network of 132kv and 330kv lines is radial in nature. Thus, once there is a disruption on any transmission line, all the people in the vast area will be without electricity.
But if it had been a full circuit network, only the small area affected will be isolated. A full circuit network provides an alternative line or backup. There are no funds to pursue the full circuit network development agenda, yet entrenched interests insist on absolute government control.
Vested interests in the power sector lace their campaign with disinformation, which is worse than misinformation. The article by Elendu from Enugu claims that Manitoba Hydro International of Canada, which in 2012 won a contract to manage Nigeria’s transmission network for $23m for three years, is a small provincial company which specialises in hydropower generation.
This disingenuous claim is akin to the allegation by some top officials in Jonathan’s Presidency in 2012 immediately Prof. Nnaji resigned on principle that Manitoba was Nnaji’s personal company in the United States! Jonathan consequently announced the cancellation of the management contract of the nation’s transmission infrastructure. The government was forced to reverse itself only when the international community, led by Mrs. Hillary Clinton who was then the American Secretary of State, cried blue murder over the government’s total contempt for the sanctity of contracts.
The truth is that Manitoba Hydro International is an organisation owned wholly by the government of the Province (or State) of Manitoba in Canada. It was established in 1985 and operates in 75 countries. It has five divisions, namely Manitoba Hydro International Utility Services, Manitoba HVDC Research Centre, Manitoba Hydro Telecom and Manitoba Hydro International Maintenance Services, in addition to Manitoba Insular Engineering and Testing Services. It is richer than some African countries.
The vested interests in the Nigerian power sector have been using Canadian government’s ownership of Manitoba Hydro International to rationalise their argument for continued government control or management of the TCN. But government ownership works in only societies where the state is very disciplined.
Ethiopian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Statoil of Norway, Emirates of the United Arab Emirates, Petronas of Malaysia, Petrobras of Brazil, etc, are all state-owned enterprises, but they are world-class businesses. In Nigeria, government-owned companies like hotels and textile companies were posting huge profits and paying dividends in the First Republic when there was considerable discipline in governance in our country.
But things went kaput when, for instance, over 50% of the passengers on every Nigeria Airways flight from Lagos to London or New York were people travelling free of charge or who had rebate tickets enjoying as much as 90% discount!
Letters for free or heavily discounted tickets came ceaselessly from the Presidency, Ministry of Aviation and military generals for their travelling family members, girlfriends and mistresses as well as distant relatives. In this kind of undisciplined environment or in a country where the country’s cash cow, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), would have as many as five chief executives in four years, it will be tragic not to expect the government to interfere incessantly in the day-to-day operations of state-owned enterprises.
Undue government interference brought TCN almost to its knees. Thus, the Nigerian people have not been able to have full value for their money in respect of the Manitoba management contract with the TCN.
It was in an attempt to salvage the TCN from government’s asphyxiation that Professor Chinedu Nebo, the immediate past Minister of Power, set in motion the process to privatise the transmission network. Concession of segments of the network for between 20 and 30 years, which will provide for the building of full circuit networks, remains the best option for Nigeria. Meanwhile, the management should be in the hands of a competent and tested firm like Manitoba Hydro International.
Prof. Nnaji is right: The Nigerian government should by all means resist the temptation to manage the country’s transmission network. Those pushing a different agenda are entrenched interests. They have held the nation hostage for too long.
•Sowemimo, a chartered engineer, is the managing partner of a consulting firm on Victoria Island, Lagos.