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Harry: We cannot grow our economy using power generating plants

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Chairman, Board of Trustee of the South-South Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Billy Harry, is one of the proponents of the ban on the importation of generators. In this interview, he told KELVIN EBIRI, that importation of generators is affecting the country’s efforts at developing its power infrastructure. He wants Nigerians to support the ban on generator importation in order to grow and stabilise the power sector.

With the country still plagued by power infrastructure deficit, would it be justifiable to ban the importation of power generating sets at this time?
FROM the position of a private sector player and a business leader in the South-South geopolitical zone, I will say that the importation of power generating sets has negatively impacted on the growth and stability of our power sector. Some time ago, I recommended that all power generating sets, including the ones in our government offices, residences should be ban and let the offices be powered from the national power grid. It is a matter of will. Everything in this life is determined and achieved by the people’s will. The people and those who are leading them must have a clear understanding of what the consequences and currencies of the times are. Whether the season is right or not, we should make it a point of our national agenda to desist from using fossil fuel generators. One, because it is not letting us to concentration on developing our power infrastructure.

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Two, the noise that power generating plants are making is forcing Nigerians to speak above their normal voice level. It is affecting us psychologically and emotionally, as well as undermining our hearing and understanding abilities. We should make it a priority to disband the use of generators in this country.
Wouldn’t it have been appropriate to improve power generation and distribution so that private sector players would depend less on generators before anyone would contemplate banning their sale/use?

I like whoever brought the idea to the National Assembly to drive the process. Events and experiences have clearly demonstrated to us that being in our comfort zones does not really help us to move forward to where we need to be. In 2020, we ought to be in a situation where no generator should be on except in special emergencies. There is really no reason why generators cannot be found in Nigeria, but generators should not be what we should depend on to grow our economy. We cannot grow our economy on fossil fuel power-driven production process. The reality is that we can do it and the more we discomfort ourselves, the easier we will arrive at that solution.

Is the Nigerian business environment conducive to attract investors in the power sector?
Business is a risky venture and that is why they call us entrepreneurs. An entrepreneur means a risk-taker; a man that brings something out of nothing. If we are over 200 million, every businessman knows that this is a ripe market to sell power. Again, we desperately need an industrial revolution. So, every businessman across the globe knows that this is where to come and try to encourage small-scale businesses. Power is critical in growing any economy, including Nigeria’s, and any entrepreneur should take the risk of investing in power in Nigeria. The Nigerian government should put the infrastructure in place and make conducive policies so that investors would be excited enough to come into the country’s power business and help in addressing challenges in the area of generation, transmission, provision of accessories, metering, and maintenance etc.

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Europe and America are not where they were many years ago. At every point, they confronted their discomfort headlong, and that is what gave them the impetus to tackle their challenges. So, if we are coming up with a bill that restricts the importation of power generators, that is a good one, and I think it is welcomed for Nigeria.

But has there really been appreciable government investment in the power sector to warrant such anticipated ban?
If we look at all the power projects that liter the entire country, we should have been able to generate up to 30, 000 megawatts of power. But because we are not facing the reality that is confronting us, and the values that we can bring to the table to ensure that our goals are achieved. For so long, we have not been able to generate more than 4, 000/5, 000 megawatts that we have, and even that is not completely evacuated.
If generators are banned, what would be the fate of millions of Nigerians in the rural areas, who are not connected to the national grid?

There is the rural electrification scheme that has been going on in the country for some time now, and there are agencies of the federal government that are responsible for making available electricity in the rural areas. However, we have sunshine; we have wind, and we have rivers that are running. So, I ask, are there no enough sources for renewable energy to be made available to all the 774 local councils in the country?

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Talking to you as the Chairman, Board of Trustee of the South-South Chamber of Commerce, I am coming to you from the business leadership point of view of that sector. So, I can tell you that business is stimulated by need, and growth in business is stimulated by demand, and the ability to supply.

Right now, power is inadequate in this country. So, it is a call for businessmen to think outside the box, stimulate the growth of that sector and stabilise it … so, whether there is power now or not should not be a reason why we should continue to allow generators to be imported. The fact that there is no power is a major reason why we should be uncomfortable and challenged enough to think out of the box so as to bring a solution that will be apt to the Nigerian economy and the Nigerian environment. It is on this score that I think that the bill before the Senate prohibiting the sale and use of generators in the country is okay.

The said bill is not a one-day thing; there will be public hearings, and generator importers and sellers would come and have their say. But we certainly must stand our ground and know what is best for us. And what is best for us is not to be using generators that promote hearing problems, emotional instability, noise pollution and inefficiency in power delivery leading to inability to grow our economy.

Was the power reform and privatisation by the last administration not far-reaching enough?
The reality with our government at all levels is that there is just a penchant for reeling out policies and trying to implement these policies without deep, and clear thinking. Whenever a policy is developed, all tiers of government must realise that it is meant to serve the good of ordinary Nigerians. So, is the ordinary Nigerian making any input in how the privatization works? The answer is neither here nor there. What have those, who benefited from the privatisation brought to the table to improve power generation; to improve transmission; to expand the capacity of transmission, and to ensure that power is delivered to the end-user so that he can pay equitably for the power generated? The answer is not farfetched.

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Right now, it is glaring for all to see that there is no stability of power because those, who benefitted from the privatisation did not actually come prepared. They only took over the assets of the defunct NEPA. After that, what have they brought in to improve the system? How are they striving to develop the capacity to provide, develop and deliver power? Let us review the content of the privatisation agreement and correct any anomaly that was not covered at that time so that those, who are at the helms of affairs in these companies would be made to bring in their values to improve power supply.

Assuming the bill sails through and the ban comes into effect in the next three years, do we have the capacity to address our electricity deficit within this period of time?
The good news is that generation of power, transmission, delivery and metering of power do not constitute rocket science and there is nothing new that we are going to research and bring into existence. I dare say that we will benefit from the hard work of others. What we need to do is to look at options that best suit the Nigerian environment, and which should be able to grow gradually with whatever little money that is on ground. Thirty-six months is a short time, but it is also a long time, especially if you are going to get technology that is plug and play. We can do it, but it is a matter of critical planning, deliberate, efficient delivery, and ensuring that Nigerians are the better for it. There is nothing that is difficult for Nigeria to do if we have the political will. In terms of ideas, intelligence, education, and human capacity management, Nigeria is not lacking, but we lack the will to follow through what needs to be done. This is because we bring in nepotism, tribalism, religion and all sorts of divisive things that distract us from what needs to be done. Power is critical and I think Nigeria can do it.

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How is the deplorable power situation affecting business?
Every business is suffering as a result of this. However, where I work I have seen the cost of diesel for the power generating plant drop from N2m/month to N200, 000. Big kudos to the Federal Government, NERC and others that have been working on that. I am into a business that requires the availability of power 24/7. So, I am using a combination of renewable energy, generators and public power supply, and you can imagine the adverse effect that poor power supply has on our business.

N127b has been budgeted for the power sector in 2020. Now with the drop in the price of oil, how will this impact on projected investments?
If there is a drop in the source of income – our primary foreign exchange earner, with which we have benchmarked our budget, it is logical to conclude that the power budget will be impacted negatively. But, this is where policymakers and the government should rise to the occasion because we have to decide what is more imperative, expedient, and useful for Nigeria. And I dare say that power is one. This is one of those occasions when policymakers should be able to allow the budget projection for the power to go at the expense of those that are not so important. If you want to a good medical system, power must be factored in; if you want to see an industrial revolution, power must also be factored in, and it must be affordable.

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In this article:
economyElectricityPower
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