The President (through his VP) recently said during the opening ceremony of a Nestle manufacturing plant that Nigeria was going to add 5,000MW to the grid supply.  He didn’t tell us how!  I also recently read on President Jonathan’s facebook page that Nigeria has hit 4,000MW for the first time in 10 years and a few of my friends called to tell me they were excited about this.

  It is a shame we can be celebrating this as an achievement after spending several billions of dollars in the last 1 year.  According to Norton Rose’ Nigeria Energy Report (June 2003), Nigeria had installed electricity generation capacity of about 5,900MW, but we really never operated beyond 3,000MW.  It is also estimated that other generation plants of approximately 3,500MW had been put in place by the Chief Obasanjo government as at 2005.  Many of these never came into reality because of different issues such as no adequate infrastructure for sustained gas supply, vandalization of gas pipelines, unavailability of funds to clear several imported devices, sabotage, corruption, among others.  So, potentially, Nigeria had about 9,000MW almost already provisioned for.  All the current government needed to do was to rehabilitate existing infrastructure and provide some new complementary infrastructure to make this 9,000MW a reality.  It was not time to think of more generation capacity, but to complete what the previous government had started.

 Interestingly, many people have generation licenses today even without a proper business plan of how they intend to start business or make money!
The question then is this:  at what cost has the government provided us with an additional 1,000MW of electricity supply?  What exactly did they do?  After depleting our foreign reserve of about $40billion to about $3million, and having borrowed several other billions of dollars, will the government acknowledge that we already had capacity to produce well over 4,000MW before they came into power in 2010.  If we did have that capacity and all we needed was perhaps less than $1b to make 5,000MW possible, what have we spent over $50billion on and at what cost have we achieved 4,000MW?
Liberalizing the power industry is also not a new thing.  The current government has repeatedly announced it as part of its new efforts but all these were started and announced during the Chief Obasanjo regime.  We are happy that there is improvement but I plead with government to do things at reasonable costs.  We must not make the power sector the milking cow of our economy.  The sector must be made to help the economy, and not that it will drain the economy.  I want this government to succeed and I want the best people to win in April, but they all need to be specific to us and let us know how much government is spending on each project and the time line for the project completion.  They need to tell us EXACTLY how they intend to improve power supply.  We want to be sure that successive governments are not earmarking funds for the same projects that previous governments have spent money on. 

Let’s talk about some of the new generating plants.  Almost all the generation stations that have been considered in Nigeria in recent times have been gas-powered.  Though we have gas in abundance, sustainable supply can be tricky if we don’t have a peaceful Niger Delta.  We must do all we can to ensure a peaceful Niger Delta.  But we must also explore additional options to generate and not depend solely on gas.  We must be working 24 hours (day and night) to aggressively and speedily rehabilitate and expand our distribution and transmission infrastructure, as well as our existing generation infrastructure, while we allow the private sector to drive the generation sector.  We must explore wind, solar, gas, hydro, thermal, as well as other newer types of generation and green energy sources.  We must decentralize as much as possible.  Government must regulate with transparency and toughness.  Wind and Solar will do well in some parts of the country where we have a good average wind speed and solar irradiation.  The northern parts of Nigeria are blessed with that.  For very remote villages with no near-by existing grid infrastructure, we should consider decentralized modes of generation as the cost of extending grid supply by several kilometers will be more expensive than doing wind or solar.  Hydro and Thermal continually pose efficiency and sustainability challenges and I think we should gradually move away from them.  We must change our maintenance culture and work hard to operate at higher level efficiencies.  Older engineers must become more dynamic and humble to learn new technologies and principles.

Finally, I believe Nigerians deserve greater transparency from government.  Government needs to let us know what is happening, progresses made, cost of doing the projects, time lines, etc.  What do we expect by the end of 2011 and how does the government intend to achieve this?  Let us all know who is delaying what so that Nigerians can protest to the right people.  We don’t want to be blaming the president every time if in fact he is doing his best and some other people are sabotaging his efforts.  And if it’s the president not doing enough, we want to know.  We need these facts so that the public can also meaningfully contribute to this process.  Nigeria will surely flourish again by the grace of God!
  
-Debo Onifade, Engineer and Entrepreneur ([email protected])

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