Pandora’s box

The Ram

By Abdu Rafiu

The nation has been plunged into darkness following the collapse of the national grid. Reports say the collapse occurred on Monday. The darkness had been creeping in for months, with authorities managing the sector seemingly dropping hints that it was on the way with load shedding in the language of the managers but constant power outage in the language of the end users, the public. When the electricity gets restored and everyone heaves a sigh of relief, the hailing with the refrain “Up NEPA!” hardly dies down before the all-powerful DisCos strike again upon signals from the TCN and winking by the GenCos. If the problem is not from GenCos, it would be from TCN, the power transmission firm. When the situation got worse in the last two months, cities, towns and businesses as well as companies in production were groaning, the electricity firms resorted to trading blames. As of today it is utter darkness. The GenCos said their hydro stations did not receive sufficient water from the dams—Kainji and Shiroro—and thermal stations also did not have enough gas to power their turbines. About 80 per cent of the electricity, GenCos say, comes from gas-fired turbines.

Power being fed into the national grid had been “abysmally low” to quote the chief marketing officer of Abuja Electricity Distribution Company. In the best of times when there was water and gas supply was not disrupted, we hardly had more than 8,000 megawatts although GenCos claim that there is capacity to generate more, up to 9,000 megawatts. Of this scarcely has TCN been able to transmit beyond 4,000 megawatts for DisCos in different Zones to distribute. The standard distribution volume is roughly 3,000, in this day and age. The nation’s quantum volume need is 40, 000 megawatts, according to those who have occupied themselves with the nation’s energy needs for the economy—industries, businesses, services and homes—for 24 hours. The failings from TCN are blamed on obsolete equipment and cables. The Minister of Power, Mr. Abubakar Aliyu, spoke about bottlenecks, hindrances to appreciable delivery of service. He said the drop in water levels at the hydro power stations during the dry season increases the load that is expected to be taken on by the thermal stations. This has not been the case as challenges in repairs on generators at thermal plant have led to load shedding and power outages. Maintenance in the eastern axis around Odukpani, for example, has reduced supply from Niger Delta Power Holdings Company to Calabar power plant said to be reliable. There are challenges as well at Okoloma Gas Station linked to Afam V1 power plant. The government, according to the minister, is working with the NNPC and other gas suppliers to reduce pressure on the Western axis.

It is excuses galore. One begins to wonder when we will develop the culture of preventive maintenance as a people. Repairs and maintenance are going on almost simultaneously in different parts and areas of operation of generating companies. Are we being told that the maintenance schedules of different plants, when to order parts and pull the engineers and other technical men for work fell due all at the same time? Dry season did not just descend on us. It may be getting harsher by the year, but we know that in the tropics dry season is a yearly phenomenon alternating with the rainy season. So familiar with the weather cycle is the government themselves at different tiers that they assure communities that their roads would be fixed when the rains are over and dry season sets in. It is the same wrong attitude to public service and planlessness that are manifested in the maintenance of roads and fixing of bad spots. Authorities in many of the states won’t pay attention to them until they become impassable.

The other side of the story, however, is the indebtedness to GenCos owed by the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc. The crippling debt which has been accumulating since 2015 is said to be N1, 644trillion. Executive Secretary of the association of GenCos, Power Generation Companies, Dr. Joy Ogaji, said the DisCos have not been faithful to power purchase agreement between them. NBET, responding, did not deny indebtedness but has disputed the humongous figure, saying not all the GenCos were entitled to “unutilized capacity” from which the debts came. When two elephants fight, it is the grasses that suffer, as the saying goes. We can then imagine when three, four and indeed about a dozen elephants fight. Not only will the grasses go completely, and trees felled or uprooted, there could be an earthquake. We won’t be too far wrong then if we say there is a sharp downturn in the economy and social lives of Nigerians. Dr. Ogaji said the GenCos are being frustrated by illiquidity to meet their obligations. They are not able to raise capital to purchase critical spare parts and accessories nor are they able to service existing loans from financial houses and meet staff obligations. She said the GenCos are looking unto the government for a bail out in form of foreign exchange support to buy critical spare parts for their turbines and to meet what she called “Dollarized concession fees of Hydros.” There are multifaceted gas related challenges as well such as the well-known gas volume, and also gas quality, gas pressure and gas transportation which have regularly curtailed capacity utilization and generation as the end result. Part of the GenCos claim is countered by NBET (Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc) which says companies with active gas supply and transportation contracts were paid for the unused capacity.
While the blame game goes on, as of today supply to the national grid has gravely plummeted. The National Grid receives a shocking supply as low as about 1,393.40 megawatts to be distributed throughout the country. The resultant darkness that has descended on the country is a throw-back to the dark ECN days. Out of frustration a great many even say the ECN days were better, if for nothing else, but the light moments the dexterity of their football teams on the field brought as relief in encounters with the Rangers of Enugu; the Lions of Jos; the Lekan Salami boys, the Shooting Stars of Ibadan alias ICC; and the Adebajo babes in Lagos, equipped and delightful, called Stationary Stores. The limitations of ECN were well known. Are the remarks uncharitable? Me thinks not. So serious is the situation today that three weeks ago at a banquet in Lafia for President Buhari during his two-day visit to Nasarawa State, there was power outage!

So where do we go from here? The frequent power outage is happening during the hot season in the land. And this year’s hot season true to the forecast of meteorologists is drumming it into our ears, and proving even to the deaf, that Climate Change is after all no fluke; it is real! A crop of fore-sighted managers ought to have envisaged this period and planned to meet it head-on by keeping the plants in top working condition to meet the short fall in water supply from the dams and the resultant reduced energy supply from the hydro power stations. Meteorologists (NIMET) had warned the nation of escalation in the heat the waves of which would sweep untrammeled through the land this year. NIMET asked Nigerians to prepare for more hot days and nights. Scientists say the heat waves are coming from emissions of greenhouse gases. But not only is there no power supply to run the economy, cool homes and pump water, there is scarcity of fuel; and diesel oil price is going through the roof. Both are used to drive alternative energy through the use of power generating sets. The situation has led to a simultaneous outcry and warning about the implications of the troubling development by the House of Representatives, Organized Private Sector (OPS), and the Nigerian Labour Congress. One of the implications is the economy grinding to a halt and inflation taking a life of its own – hold it, with aviation fuel reportedly selling for as much as N600 a litre and diesel close to N730! The scarcity of aviation fuel has resulted in cancellation of flights.

The National President, Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, Ide J. C. Udeagbala, expressed grave concern about rising inflation in particular. He was quoted as saying: “Our Association is extremely concerned about rising prices of petroleum products, particularly diesel and aviation fuel, a hike which is very possibly an effect of the ongoing conflict in Europe and made worse by a lack of domestic production to meet demand despite the existence of refineries.

“The implications for the Nigerian economy are far-reaching as the use of these products is entrenched in production and transportation processes of both the public and private sectors.”

The association is worried about the erosion of purchasing power of the populace, and redistribution of wealth attendant to a thriving economy, thus throwing them further below the poverty level as the major players of the private sector themselves adjust to the stark new realities.

All the stakeholders including the Lagos Chambers of Commerce and the House of Representatives are convinced there is no alternative to self-sufficiency through local production of the country’s energy needs, hence their pressure for an urgent rethinking on the necessity to fix the refineries in the country. At a Fuel Subsidy Awareness Seminar which could not have been more timely, Michael Olawale –Cole, President of Lagos Chambers of Commerce that organized it, said the increase in the price of fuel has implications for production down times with consequence in rise of prices and eventual loss of jobs if not curtailed in time. The most sustainable way to go is to increase our local refining production capacity and save the huge spending of our foreign exchange (Forex) on importation.

The House of Reps has urged the Federal Government to urgently hand over the refineries to the International Oil Companies operating in the country or to competent private sector companies to reactivate them for optimum operations and output. The Labour Congress drew attention to the implications of the situation on the welfare of the citizens, warning that the energy crisis was pushing them to the hilt. I believe the House of Reps should add that we should look for foreign investors to get involved in our power industry. By now we ought to be convinced about our limitations in terms of competence and expertise in these matters; and throw conceit out of the window. The ownership structure can be beneficially worked out. Nigeria would provide the chairman; the foreign investors would provide the managing director/chief executive, the chief engineer and finance director. They should know how their money is being spent after all, what goes where. The deputy managing director would be a Nigerian, ditto the deputy chief engineer and the finance controller. Nigerians would be minority shareholders. Lower rank professionals could be a mixture of expatriates and Nigerians. There should be business and tenure guaranty of no less than 20 to 25 years for the investors. They can go on if they choose to afterwards. What Nigerians are interested in is a booming economy which would remain a pipe dream except there is reliable power supply. The success of MTN is a pointer in this direction. State governments or a combination of them pulling resources, with or without private sector interests which feel able to go into the business of establishing their own energy business, should be encouraged to do so—going the whole hog. Aliko Dangote represents our hope in refinery; Mike Adenuga’s Glo is a huge success. Airtel and Glo rubbing shoulders rank next to MTN.

At the end of the day, how is mankind to be rescued from the chaos and confusion ravaging the world, buffeting nations and assailing individuals, their thinking faculty to the extent of turning thought processes upside down, remains the unresolved question. To the discerning, the world is out of joint! That a majority does not give a damn about the principles to which our activities must be subjected, as we now know in enlightenment revealed in higher knowledge on earth today, cannot prevent the consequences nor protect us from same. He, who seeks, finds, saith the Lord. It is the verity pronounced by the Lord Christ Himself, the Truth and the Truth Bringer. It is thus unalterably branded into Creation of His Father, the Most High, and the Creator of all. The choice is mankind’s.

The Guardian

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