The Power Sector Palaver

On Monday, the Managing Director of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), Eng. Hassan Labo explained why the current power generation in the country dropped from 3,995 megawatts to 3,400 megawatts.

‘We are not generating as I told you because of gas issue and water management problem. Before the gas and water issues came, we were generating 3,995 megawatts but as at today we are on about 3,400 megawatts’, he said.

After reading the report, I went to my archives to recall a memo sent to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on 13th May, 2008 by his then Special Adviser on Electric Power, Eng. Joseph Makoju who was retained from the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo. Titled ‘Update on Power Sector Performance; Jan –April 2008’, the long memo began thus: “My last update on power generation was on 12/11/07 and peak generation was averaging 3000 MW in that report. Since that report generation had gradually declined due to increasing restriction on gas supply…’

There are fundamental issues here: One, the generation capacity that the Yar’Adua/Jonathan administration inherited in 2007 was 3,000 megawatts and four years later, we are now told it is 3,400 megawatts. Instructively, President Obasanjo who made power a priority also met on ground about 2,000 megawatts in 1999. What this translates into is that in eight years, he was able to add about 1000 megawatts of power generation.

Now, what we are saying in effect is that within a period of twelve years, what the government of Nigeria has been able to generate is less than 2,000 megawatts most of which it cannot even transmit or distribute. When you juxtapose this against the colossal sum of money that has been sunk into the sector within the same period, then it is evident the power sector has become a bottomless pit. Curiously, the story has always been about gas and water as if we should all carry our buckets and begin to fetch water to Shiroro and Kainji dams. I sat in meetings upon meetings on power with tales from all manner of experts yet at the end of the day, we cannot see the electricity. Given the conventional wisdom that you cannot continue to do the same things and expect different results, I honestly believe there is need for fresh thinking on the issue of power.

I understand Prof Barth Nnaji is going to man the power sector. He is a man for whom I have tremendous respect (and he comes with impeccable credentials for the job) but he is also an operator in the sector which immediately raises a serious issue of conflict of interest. Nevertheless, if he has the magic wand to tackle what has become the shame of our nation, then he deserves our support. It is, however, instructive that when the National Electricity Power Authority, NEPA (derisively interpreted to mean No Electricity Power Again) changed its acronym to PHCN (Power Holding Corporation of Nigeria), Nigerians also invented a new meaning which seems very apt today: Problem Has Changed Name!


• This piece was first published in THISDAY on 23rd June, 2011

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