It appears the power sector is in great jeopardy, almost on the brinks of imminent collapse, putting more stress on the battered economy. Thirty-six months after the privatization of the sector, consumers of electricity are yet to enjoy improved supply. This has prompted renewed calls for the comprehensive review of the exercise which was not only obviously flawed from the onset, but had evidently failed to yield the desired results. Despite insistent clamour by stakeholders on the need to open up opportunities for more investments in generation and distribution of electricity through re-negotiating the terms of their engagements, the government, however, insisted that the exercise was not up for review. The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola asserted that his ministry would rather remain committed to the terms of the contracts it inherited from the previous government.
The government’s rigid mind-set on the review of the exercise has been largely responsible for lack of any meaningful approach to upgrade the poor supply of electricity, a situation that prompted many well-meaning Nigerians to express disturbing concerns. There is also palpable fear in many quarters that if the epileptic nature of electricity supply in the country is not adequately addressed on good time, the entire system which has been aptly described as a walking corpse may soon breakdown.
What then is responsible for this sorry state of affairs when the government had in the past been enthusiastic about privatizing the hitherto moribund Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN to salvage the power sector from the rot? So many factors were responsible for that: chiefly among them was the financial stress and massive operational problems to the private operators which included insufficiency of gas and the unfavourable, prohibitive exchange rate for dollar which terribly depletes and erodes value to stakeholders. In addition to these there is also the question of massive debt owed them by customers for many years amounting to hundreds of billions of Naira which makes it almost impossible for the stakeholders to keep their heads above water.
Nigerians have expected that the government will never allow such problems associated with the supply of electricity to degenerate to that dismal level, especially as it has always been making false promises to Nigerians that the abysmal situation would be ameliorated, thus raising hope for smooth and uninterrupted supply from the beginning of this year. However, that turned out to be anti-climax and a colossal disappointment when, instead of remarkable improvement in the power generation, distribution and supply, the output was terribly reduced to an unprecedented low level, stifling government’s efforts to stabilise the situation quickly and efficiently.
For that remarkable failure in fixing the power sector which was central to the efforts to revive the economy and resuscitate the dilapidated industry, Nigerians are having a negative perspective about capacity and efficiency of the distributing and generating companies. They have been looking back retrospectively on their previous performances and came up with a damning verdict that they were a colossal disappointment. Everyone readily agrees that power supply issue has been poorly managed under previous administrations and unfortunately, the consequences of that negligence, arising from bungling and maladministration in the last ten years is now impacting negatively on the present administration which has to make great effort to deal with that overwhelming challenge.
For decades Nigerians have endured all sorts of difficulties associated with gross inefficiency in the supply of electricity. That was because activities for the generation of electricity in Nigeria is akin to an impossible task, while distributing it around the country is even more burdensome Many leaders have unsuccessfully undertaken to boost the nation’s power supply but ended up enriching a small group of their wealthy and well connected cronies.
When this government came on board twenty months ago, it promised to make electricity reform its prime responsibility, thus raising the hopes of many Nigerians who had been eking out austere existence in the wake of dwindling economic fortunes occasioned by massive closure of factories and unprecedented increase in the rate of unemployment.
But alas! Their hopes were woefully dashed as nothing had been done to improve the status quo. Electricity supply still remains epileptic; industries are comatose while ordinary people struggle for survival. The anticipated efficiency in service delivery from the private power companies has been met with deception and failed promises. The investors are blaming their current woes on the prevailing economic downturn, but wouldn’t they have revelled quietly if they were operating under favourable economic conditions?
It was obvious the present government is having a Herculean task in rectifying the irregularities that had been committed in power sector within the last few years, but it must hasten to revisit the issue of the privatization process with a view to removing all conceivable bottlenecks that had impeded the successful commencement of the exercise, rendering the investors seemingly ineffectual. Accordingly, financiers and various stakeholders in the power sector must also reciprocate by extending unbiased support to government’s efforts at solving the country’s power problems once and for all.