Thursday, July 30, 2009

Let There Be Light!

Everyday, Nigerians in most parts of the country wake up with the hope that electricity supply, taken for granted in other countries, would be restored in their homes and offices.
They get to work only to be reminded by humming generating sets that their hope is dying. Dying, but not dead, so they nurse the hope that by the time they get back home, a miracle would have happened to save them from buying petrol or diesel for their generators or sleeping in darkness.
For those who can afford that luxury of running generators every day and so can watch or listen to the news, nobody gives them hope that there would be a change in their dashed hopes.
If they are lucky to hear any excuse at all from government, the shameful power supply is blamed on the activities of militants and stories of ongoing projects. Just as if the poor Nigerian, who is expected to pay tax and be patriotic, is responsible for the action of the militants. We are not unaware of the militants’ action on gas supply but to act as if the poor Nigerian deserve to take the blame for it is not acceptable.
Electricity supply in the country, in spite of the promises by government, has collapsed. And shamefully so for a country that is so richly endowed with gas, hydro electricity potentials and coal.
What makes this sad scenario even more discomfiting is the apparent lack of credible assurance to halt this culture of darkness.
First, work on the National Independent Power Projects (NIPP) that the previous administration initiated and partially executed was halted without due consideration of the intricacies of the industry. For two years, the sites of the installations that would have contributed meaningfully to the nation’s depleting power generation laid waste, thereby heightening apprehension among Nigerians that the huge resources committed to revamping the problematic sector had been squandered.
In the same breath that the presidency stopped further execution of the NIPPs, it also announced that it would declare a state of emergency in order to galvanize the afflicted sector. Since then, however, similar promises have been issued without corresponding action. Instead of pragmatic attempts at actualizing what is, after all, a cardinal goal in the federal government’s beautiful seven-point agenda, government officials charged with delivering improved electricity supply have continued to churn out excuses for underachievement. It has become so convenient to blame everything on militants.
In the past, low water level at the hydroelectric dams was a ready scapegoat for the poor performance of the power authorities. But now, even in the middle of rainy season, supply of electricity has worsened. We are now told that water levels will peak in October.
And with this unfortunate position come dire consequences for the economy and individuals. At the beginning of this year alone, industry capacity utilization fell from 42 per cent to 35 per cent in just three months. The trend has continued. Some companies are forced to downsize or shut down, while many artisans who depend on public power supply have been thrown into unemployment.
It is difficult for industries to survive in such a hostile environment. In recent months, they have incurred an additional 40 percent rise in energy costs as they strive to source electricity independently. Early this year, for instance, Peugeot Automobile of Nigeria (PAN) spent N800 million on generators. While some companies have relocated to neighbouring West African countries to obtain adequate power, many others have simply folded up.
It came as a great relief when the government promised to supply 6,000 megawatts of electricity by December 2009 but for now there are growing doubts about the target. Nobody has assured that when all the infrastructure have been instaled, there will be enough gas to feed them.
People in authority need not be reminded that, on its own, sufficient electricity is a big catalyst for empowering the citizenry. Millions of jobs and businesses would automatically spring up the moment electricity supply is normalised.
Interestingly, in March this year, the Governor Gabriel Suswan Committee on the NIPP submitted its report to the President. It reads in part: “Having undertaken comprehensive studies of the NIPP projects, it has become apparent that completing the whole programme as initiated is the right way to go… The NIPP is our joint investment and solution to power problems for now with added potential for the future.”
Sadly, however, even after giving the nod for the continuation of those projects and large funds allocated to them, the nation is still in darkness, and the cost to individuals and firms is enormous. What Nigerians need now is to be given substance to their hope that is dwindling. At least someone in government should show enough respect for Nigerians to show concern and apologise to the people who have incurred losses to this culture of darkness.