Sunday, July 26, 2009

Let there be light!

One of the campaign promises of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the last decade was the provision of stable electricity. The issue of electricity has been such a recurring decimal in political campaigns that from councillorship to presidential elections, it always topped the agenda. Yet at every turn, instead of having the promised megawatts of electricity, what Nigerians have been treated to are megawatts of excuses and darkness. Starting with former President Obasanjo’s administration, he got an act of parliament to change NEPA (National Electric Power Authority) to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN); balkanised the old NEPA into several autonomous companies and established the National Integrated Power Project. An estimated $16 billion was allegedly spent by the Obasanjo administration alone on power projects, while there were high turnovers of PHCN management as they were sacked one after the other for inefficiency. A probe of Obasanjo’s investment in the power sector had been done by the House of Representatives without any concrete outcome.Obasanjo’s successor, President Umaru Yar’Adua, promised to deliver stable electricity to Nigerians. It features prominently in the president’s much touted Seven Point Agenda. In fact, the president promised to declare a state of emergency in the power sector within his first 100 days in office. More than two years in office, Nigerians still await that declaration. The president came up with mega excuses, there is need to carry state governments along, there is need for legislation and so on and so forth. Again, we are promised 6,000 megawatts of electricity by the end of 2009 and 10,000 megawatts by the end of 2011. To achieve this feat, Ministers of Power were changed and they in turn sacked the management of PHCN for the umpteenth time. Yar’Adua also set up a Presidential Steering Council on NIPP to drive the implementation process. Massive sloganeering is currently going on through government-owned media networks about how we are close to the promised land in electricity self sufficiency.Recent developments have, however, shown that all the megawatts of electricity being promised by this administration may be a mirage afterall. Permit me to cite some instances which lend credence to this. At a meeting of the Presidential Steering Council on NIPP on July 13, 2009, N283 billion was approved for the NIPP projects. The council, while addressing the press after its meeting, linked regular supply of power in the country to the success of the amnesty recently granted militants in the Niger Delta and the return of peace in the region. Minister of State for Power, Nuhu Wya, said peace in the Niger Delta was key to guaranteeing regular power supply, as the country needs quality gas supply to power electricity turbines across the nation. He said further that due to the lack of gas, the government had turned its attention to the use of hydropower generating stations. Soon after Minister Wya made his remarks, Nigeria’s substantive Minister of Power, Dr Remi Babalola, while addressing House of Representatives Committee on Power, said it might no longer be possible for the Federal Government to fulfil its promise of delivering a minimum of 6,000 megawatts of electricity by December this year. He blamed it on gas pipeline vandalism which has resulted in shortage of gas to power the turbines in the power stations. As if that was not enough, the PHCN workers also embarked on a warning strike on July 13, 2009 demanding for 150 per cent increment in their salary and threatening to shut down all power generating stations, if their demands were not met. How bad can things get?The questions on my mind are that: Besides thermal and hydropower generations, are there no alternative sources of power? I know for sure that electricity can be generated from solar (sun) and coal. These alternative sources are available in Nigeria. Why can’t the government do some pilot experiments on them to test their effectiveness as energy sources? Were there enough feasibility studies carried out before these power projects were embarked on? I asked this against the background that the issue of pipeline vandalism has always been there, even before the escalation of Niger Delta crisis. Moreover, since pipeline, as a means of transporting oil and gas, has become unsafe due to vandalism, why can’t we lay rail line from the gas sources to the power plants in Egbin, Alaoji, Papalanto, Geregu and Omotosho or better still, transport gas to these power stations by trucks in a similar way that petrol is being transported across the country after the destruction of the Nigerian rail system? If we cannot source gas locally due to Niger Delta crisis, then let’s import.Moreover, there is a need to investigate likelihood of international conspiracy aimed at thwarting government’s effort at providing stable electricity in Nigeria. There is a possibility of some multinational and local power generators manufacturing companies aiding and abetting these vandals in order to stay in business. Afterall, Nigeria is said to be the highest consumer of electricity generators in Africa. The situation at hand needs thinking out of the box. The darkness that has enveloped Nigeria will not go away by lamentation, excuses and show of helplessness being portrayed by the Ministers of Power. This is the time to awaken the ‘can-do’ spirit and rise up to the challenge.There is no gainsaying the fact that a country of close to 150 million population cannot be sustained on power generators. The colossal loss of manpower, industries and financial resources that lack of electricity has caused this nation is better imagined. Aside the pollution and preventable deaths which the continual use of power generators has caused, there is no better way to rebrand Nigeria other than ensuring that we have light for productive, recreational and relaxation purposes. Enough of mega excuses!