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Editorial

Nationwide Blackout: Let There Be Light!

 

FG Kicks Off Five-year Rural Electrification Project Across Nigeria
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The problem of epileptic power supply is one that Nigerians have had to live with for ages. It is such a household issue as President Buhari had noted, “Nigerians’ favourite talking point and butt of jokes is the power situation in our country”. The President went on to assert that “it is no longer a laughing matter. We must and by the grace of God we will put things right”. This comment was made in 2016. Six years down the line, the situation has so degenerated that the country’s seat of power is now said to depend on an alternative source of power!

The multiple national grid collapse resulted in the loss of 1106 megawatts (MW) out of the 3,867.60mw of electricity generated by 19 generation companies (GenCos) in the country. The Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), which evacuates the electricity generated by GenCos and wheels same to the Distribution Companies (DisCos), identified inadequate gas supply, faulty facilities of GenCos and unscheduled maintenance as reasons for the escalated power blackouts since late last year.

Responding, the Association of Power Generation Companies, through its executive secretary, Joy Ogaji, stated that the transmission infrastructure put in place by TCN was weak. “While the owners of the Gencos invested and increased generation capacity up to 13,000 megawatts across the country, no corresponding investment and improvements were made at the transmission and distribution ends. The result was the significant stranded capacity of Gencos, which ironically, Nigerians are in dire need of but cannot get,” the association said.

Nigeria never had it this bad as there were reports of the Aso Rock Presidential Villa running on generators for most of the day even as the National Assembly had even before adapted to the use of generators. The multiple collapses of the national electricity grid happened at a time when petrol, diesel, and even aviation fuel were scarce and is being sold at exorbitant prices. Only recently, a panel of the House of Representatives investigating “alleged cases of indiscriminate and unlawful administrative charges on contracts and percentage charges on projects implementation by MDAs” had its activities stalled by a cut in electricity supply. The blackout, which lasted over 45 minutes, caused an abrupt halt of the proceedings at the Committee Room 414 of the House wing, with lawmakers vacating the venue angrily.

Not even the courtrooms were considered too sacred for the poor power supply as activities at the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, were on Tuesday paralyzed when the generator supplying electricity to the court suddenly packed up. It was reported that lawyers and litigants who had hopes that the court would begin proceedings at 9am left disappointed as the two courtrooms were in total darkness. Some lawyers were even seen fanning themselves with their files to assuage the unbearable heat in the courtrooms.

If this is the power situation in high places of the country, what becomes of other public and private offices can then be better imagined. While several workers at the federal secretariat were rendered redundant by the power outage, private organizations asked their staffers to return home over the energy crisis in the country which was worsened by the skyrocketing price of diesel.

At their various homes, Nigerians have had to trash food items they kept in refrigerators that have been without power for days. They’ve also had to grapple with the unbearable heat without electricity to power their air conditioning sets and fans. Small businesses, particularly those into frozen foods have been worse hit as they’ve had to watch helplessly as their goods go bad or sell at a loss.

With this bit of the reality out there, it is therefore incontrovertible that the past few days have been quite harrowing for Nigerians so much so that their insouciant President had to issue a statement apologizing to Nigerians over the hard times they were facing. From London where he is on medical vacation, Buhari said, “A dip in hydroelectric generation due to seasonal pressures has coincided with technical and supply problems at thermal stations. On this, the government is also working tirelessly to resolve the issues at the latter to guarantee sufficient power flows into the national grid.”

While it is soothing that the President is aware of the severe hardship being faced by Nigerians, the apology cannot ameliorate the suffering that the current energy crisis has caused the people of this country. How do Nigerians reconcile the present hardship with the fact that the President had in 2016 set a target of delivering 10,000 megawatts distributable power in the next three years?

Buhari, who spoke in his address to the National Economic Council retreat held at the State House, Abuja, promised that his administration would add 2000 megawatts to the national grid that year, 2016. Alas, the President was still having an electioneering hangover at the time, given that he and his party had used pre-2015 election campaigns to over-promise only to deny same upon assumption of power! We assert that Nigeria is currently in this sorry state on account of the poor choices made by this administration.

The President rarely sacks appointees but has had to change ministers of power thrice. That the problem has worsened despite the removal of two other ministers before the appointment of the current one is a veritable indication that his administration still hasn’t got a handle on what is ailing the power sector. Yet, one of those ministers is widely quoted to have pontificated before becoming a minister that “a serious government will fix the power problem in six months”. Given the preponderance of coal deposits as well as the abundant sunlight in this country, Nigeria can surely diversify to renewable solar energy and coal to generate the electricity which the country badly needs.

Gas shortage has also been blamed for the current hardship being faced by Nigerians. According to the Minister of Power, Abubakar Aliyu, “the more reason we are facing this situation now is as a result of the shortage of gas and some of the generators have to go to maintenance. It is scheduled maintenance and it is supposed to be scheduled outage but we have not envisaged that we will have issues around vandalization of pipelines… That compounded the problem we are having on the grid. The generators cannot supply because of lack of gas”. Naija News rejects the citing of “lack of gas” as the reason for the power outages in the country. We do not see how this can be said of a country with 209.5 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of proven natural gas reserves. The inability to locally refine petroleum products continues to be the bane of Nigeria’s development and cannot be allowed to continue.

The present power predicament of Nigerians has thrown up the downside to the centralized system of power generation that obtains in the country. Thankfully, the National Assembly recently rose to the occasion by voting to alter the provisions of the 1999 Nigerian constitution “to allow states generate, transmit and distribute electricity in areas covered by the national grid”. As this bill makes its way through the 36 states’ houses of assembly to the President’s desk for assent, Naija News calls on all the stakeholders to see this as a rare opportunity to solve the misnomer of a paltry 3,567.30mw of federal government-generated electricity meant to serve a population of 195 million! The state governments must also push for the passage of this bill for they stand to earn so much by generating and distributing electricity to Nigerians.