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Power: The Cheering News From Abia State, By Kazeem Akintunde

Last week, some residents of Aba in Abia State were in celebration mood after enjoying uninterrupted power supply for more than 48 hours. They could not hide their joy as they believed that epileptic power supply to their homes has now become a thing of the past. In fact, they took to social media to celebrate the feat, which was a dream come true for them.

Earlier in the week, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu commissioned the 188 megawatts Abia Geometric Power Plant 20 years after the project was initiated by Professor Barth Nnaji. The Engineering Professor did all within his power not to get frustrated by all the obstacles thrown at him.  As former Minister of Power, he gave himself the enviable task to light up Abia State as bureaucratic bottlenecks wouldn’t allow him to light up the entire country during his tenure.

During the commissioning, Nnaji promised that before the end of March, most parts of Aba Ring-fenced Area would enjoy uninterrupted power supply from the company, which has the license to generate, transmit and distribute electricity to homes and businesses in Abia State. The entire state does not need more than 100 megawatts of electricity to enjoy uninterrupted power supply, but the state hardly gets up to 10 per cent of the required megawatts when it was hooked up to the national grid.  Now, it has sufficient power with an excess that would be transmitted to the rest of Nigeria through the national grid to boost electricity supply.

Prof Nnaji and his team spent over $800 million to realize his dream. The Aba IPP has its own embedded power plant which enables it to generate and distribute its own power. The decentralization of the sector by former president Muhammadu Buhari removed electricity generation and distribution from the choke hold of the Federal Government.  With its four power turbines that would run on gas, only one has been turned on while the second turbine is expected to be turned on within the next few days. Once turned on, most parts of Abia State would enjoy constant power supply.

The thermal would be fired with gas from Owaza field in Ukwa West Local Government of Abia. Already, Geometric has spent over $50 million on a gas pipeline to ensure steady supply of gas from source to the plant.

The State Government has also promised to ensure that appropriate legislations are put in place to enable the company recoup its investment within a reasonable period of time. Already, Abia State Commissioner for Power and Public Utilities, Ikechukwu Monday, has said that the State Government is currently working on a Bill that would criminalise power theft, power infrastructure vandalism, non-payment of power consumed and non-supply of power.

This is cheering news from Abia State. A man that is determined alongside committed foreign and local investors, working in harmony to turn the sad story of electricity generation and distribution in Nigeria around.

During the just concluded African Cup of Nations tournament held in Cote D’Ivoire, our game with South Africa at the semi-final stage became more of war of words between Nigerians and South Africans on social media. But the brickbat became painful for most Nigerians when South Africans tagged us ‘generator republic’. Ha! It was painful. We are known as the Giant of Africa, with a population of over 200 million people. South Africa on the other hand, has a total population of 59.3 million people as of 2021.

In spite of being the Giant of Africa, we have the capacity to generate only 12,000 megawatts of electricity. In actual fact, less than 5000 megawatts is what is usually available for 200 million Nigerians. Yet, South Africa generates more than 58,000 megawatts for its people. While there is constant power supply to homes and industries in South Africa, Nigeria became famous for generating darkness despite spending a fortune on the sector. Rich Nigerians have to rely on diesel-powered generator at home and offices while the poor rely on I-better-pass-my-neighbour generators to survive. Collectively, Nigerians on their own spend huge resources to generate extra 40,000 megawatts of electricity, with most battling to fuel and put on their generators for power supply. Some might agree that we are indeed a generator republic, much to our embarrassment.

Nigeria has struggled with poor power supply for decades, a challenge that is estimated to have cost businesses about $29 billion yearly, according to the World Bank. The country has the lowest access to electricity globally, with about 92 million persons out of the country’s 200 million population lacking access to power, according to the Energy Progress Report 2022 released by Tracking SDG 7.

A World Bank report in 2021 also explained that a total of 74 per cent of power users in the country are dissatisfied with the supply of electricity across the country while 78 per cent of electricity consumers in the country receive less than 12 hours of power supply daily.

As far back as June 2015, Nigerian manufacturers said that they spent as much as N3.5 trillion annually to generate alternative power for their production operations due to the collapse of the public electricity supply. Now, some of those companies can no longer cope and are leaving the shores of Nigeria in droves.

GlaxoSmithKline, GSK. Equinor, Sanofi, Bolt Food, and Procter & Gamble are some of the companies that bade Nigeria goodbye of recent due to harsh operating environment. Number one on the list of their complaints is the lack of constant electricity to work, and the huge fortunes spent on alternative sources of energy.

The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) said it loses N10.1 trillion annually to the power crisis, just as the World Bank said that Nigeria will need about $100 billion in the next 10 years to tackle the challenges in its energy sector.

Successive governments have promised but failed to turn around the country’s power sector narrative which on average produces about 5,000 megawatts for a population of 200 million. The Buhari administration in July 2019, signed a deal with Germany’s Siemens to overhaul the sector. The three-phase plan, ultimately targets 25,000 megawatts of operational capacity long term from 7,000 megawatts and 11,000 to be achieved by 2021 and 2023, respectively, through the first two phases. The country also plans to generate 30,000 megawatts by 2030 with 3,000 megawatts coming from renewables and 27,000 megawatts from its power plants to serve Nigerians. However, power generation still hovers just below 5,000 years after the sector was privatised. The country’s 5,000 megawatts daily generation is barely adequate to serve Lagos, its commercial capital of over 20 million people, according to the Nigerian Association for Energy Economics (NAEC). Poor electricity supply has become a barrier to economic prosperity and development in the country.

Nigeria has struggled with power distribution, limited distribution networks, limited transmission line capacity, a huge metering gap, and a fall in gas supply, despite the privatisation of the power sector which produced six generation companies and eleven DisCos. In March 2018, the Nigerian government commenced the mass metering programme (MAP), but the distribution of metres started in 2019. Its objective is to end the estimated billing system and attract private investment in the provision of metering services. It also seeks to enhance revenue assurance in the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) and promote local meter manufacturing in Nigeria. With these objectives yet to be achieved, the government, in 2020, approved the National Mass Metering Programme (NMMP). The key objectives of the NMMP include: increasing Nigeria’s metering rate; eliminating arbitrary estimated billing; strengthening the meter value chain by increasing local manufacturing, assembly and deployment capacity; supporting Nigeria’s economic recovery by creating jobs in the local metre value chain, reducing collection losses and increasing financial flows to achieve 100 per cent market remittance obligations of the electricity distribution companies (DisCos), and improving network monitoring capability and availability of data for market administration and investment decision-making.

Early in 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the economy, the power ministry said it was focusing on ending estimated and arbitrary billing for electricity through a nationwide mass-metering programme. The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) directed the Distribution Companies (DisCos) to ensure that all electricity consumers were metered by April 30, 2020. The order said all other customers on higher tariffs shall be metered by April 30, otherwise, they shall remain connected to supply, but without further payment to the DISCos until a meter was installed for them. The order directed that any customer whose current estimated bill was below the capped price shall remain so without upward review until the installation of a meter by the DISCos. The deadline elapsed, yet, many households remained without prepaid meters and continued to pay exorbitant tariffs. Most homes are still without prepaid meters. The price is also gradually getting out of the reach of the masses.

It is glaring that the privatisation of the sector has failed. It is time for State Governors to lead the battle for the redemption of the sector. If they cannot do it alone, it will be better for each of the six geo-political zones in the country to work as a team and deliver 24-hour uninterrupted power supply to Nigerians as a sure way to economic development of the country. Lagos State should stand alone due to its huge population and total energy needs. Although it has embarked on establishing independent power projects, they are mostly deployed to industrial areas and government facilities like hospitals and for street lighting.

The cheering news from Abia should be a wake-up call to Babajide Sanwo-Olu to see how to deliver constant power supply to Lagosians. It is also time for the Federal Government to dismantle it’s hold on the transmission sector so that states or regions can generate and transmit power to their people. Abia IPP should be bold to extend it’s services to neigbouring states in the South east instead of selling power to the Federal Government and injecting same to the moribund national grid. The grid is old and should be dismantled as it is no longer in tune with 21th century power reality for Nigeria.

See you next week.