‘Forces President Buhari must fight to fix electricity
• Marketers fleecing customers
FORMER Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo has opened up, giving excuses why the government he served for two years and three months could not deliver reliable electricity power supply to Nigerians.
He blamed inadequate gas supply and vandalism for the failure, even as he was not miserly in his suggestions to the new Muhammadu Buhari administration on what to do, to get it right.
He was, however, quick to point out that the huge investments in the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) and other investments in power generation had led to a historic 6000 mega watts installed generation capacity at handover.
For President Muhammadu Buhari, Nebo had a word of advice: “Wield the big stick and ensure there is gas to power if power generation is to improve.’’
Also, it has emerged that electricity marketers are fleecing consumers across the country using the unavailability of pre-paid meters as excuse.
Specifically, some marketers collect between N1,000 to N3,000 from customers who neither have meters nor are given electricity bills that represent whatever they are supposed to have consumed.
In a major interview just before the handover, Nebo said: “I hate excuses. But I would say that commitments were made to give us gas, but we didn’t get the gas. It is just as simple as that. It is very painful. I also blame vandalism.
But much of the blame goes to the oil firms and gas producers for what I consider their hypocrisy.
“They have been hypocritical with this whole issue of making sure that we have gas and helping us bring Nigerians out of darkness.”
He accused gas producers of being more interested in exporting the nation’s gas and diverting what remained for the domestic market to industries, instead of the power sector where it is greatly needed.
On generation, he said: “I regard the NIPP project as a huge benefit to this country. It wasn’t President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration that started it. It was started under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, but it was left to fizzle out until President Jonathan came on board. He re-energised it and got all the three arms of government to agree to continue and complete the 10 plants.
‘‘In fact, the NIPP projects are contributing more power than the legacy Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) power plants to the national grid today. I would say that Jonathan’s administration did phenomenally well. Most of the NIPP projects had been completed, with a few on-going.
‘‘Again, privatisation and commercialisation of these plants are still ongoing. The completion of the privatisation of the other assets of PHCN was wonderful, because the entire process was adjudged to have been very transparent by global referees and umpires who observed the whole process and who certified it was very accountable.
“Since then, the private sector has injected so much to revive ailing turbines, much more than government could ever have found the money to do. Today, we have Egbin Power Plant adding over 220mws, Ughelli over 400mws.
But my two regrets, however, are that we lost the war against vandalism and we lost the war against inadequate gas supply.
“This new government should take a cue and make sure that the petroleum sector does what it ought to do to make sure that there is enough gas going to the power plants. It is very critical. If the new administration does not do that, Nigerians are going to keep suffering in darkness.”
On vandalism, he noted: “I do hope that the administration would also fight vandalism and bring the vandals to their knees. If we don’t do that, we are still going to have a problem. Every two weeks, the gas pipelines are blown up.
It takes two weeks to fix them only for them to be blown up again within 24 to 48 hours of fixing.
‘‘It cost over N120 million and thereabouts every month to fix the pipelines that are damaged. But recently, it is costing over N1billion plus to make sure that the integrity of the transportation of the gas-to- pipeline is maintained.
“I think it is scandalous that we produce over 5 billion scf of gas every day, sell 4 billion and retain only 1 billion scf for local use. The one for local use is preferentially given to industries and not to power, starving the power sector of the needed gas to industrialise this country and I think that is a shame.”
He was full of encomiums for Jonathan, noting that a good foundation had been established in power generation capacity.
He said: “For generation, as I have said, the NIPP projects have been great and many of them are coming on board, and more and more plants would be ready. If there is gas, it shouldn’t take long before every Nigerian would know that a lot happened in the last few years with regard to the power sector.
‘‘It is very important that we look at the score cards.
For two years and three months, I was Minister of Power. Looking back, it hasn’t been a bed of roses. Even if it were a bed of roses, when you have roses, you have thorns. In fact, sometimes, we have seen more thorns than the roses. But we are grateful to God that the power sector has really come a long way.”
“Thankfully, a lot of funding has being injected into the transmission infrastructure. The grid is being strengthened, and for the first time, we were able to hit a peak of over 100,000 mega watts hours in a day within the Jonathan administration that the grid handled. We had less collapsing of the grid. We used to have systems collapse all the time. It is now minimised.
“With regards to distribution, privatisation, of course, has helped. Discos are now under the private sector. One or two are doing well, and the others are either average or not doing well. But I think government should continue to create an enabling environment. The hich will now give the power to the Discos. So, the Discos are suffering, simply because there is not enough power, and many of them are not able even to find enough money to keep them afloat. They need money in order to remain afloat.’’
On how to solve the power supply problem, Nebo said: “The best way, the quickest way, the most inexpensive way of making sure that Nigerians get power, adequate power and eventually 24/7 power is embedded generation or distributed power.
‘‘If you have embedded generation, 10mws or 20mws, by the time you put 20mws in 10 different places, you would have 200mws. You can do that in one year. But for a mega 200, 400, or 500mw plant, it is a different thing entirely. By the time you build that, starting from concept, to design and financing, getting international partners, the partial risk and national sovereign guarantee, it would have taken five to six years.
“While in one year, you can have 50 of 20mws plants that translate to 1000mws, trying to do one mega plant of 1000mws takes five years. This means that we can actually give Nigerians 2000mws of power by embedded generation or distributed power every year, till the year 2020. With that, we will meet our target.”
He also called for action on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), noting that it would liberalise the market, and make it easier for more gas to be available.
The Guardian discovered that many people residing in the suburbs and villages are connected directly to the electricity poles without meters and they pay cash monthly, to marketers.
One such customer told The Guardian: “I approached the electric people in my area of Lagos for a meter and I was told that prepaid meters are not available. One of the marketers advised that I should pay N25,000 to get an account generated for me to enable me get connected and get bills from the Disco on a monthly basis, which I agreed.
‘‘The marketer collected the money from me without proof of payment and connected electricity supply to my apartment that same day with a promise to send me a bill by the end of that month. I was surprised at the end of that month, the bill was not sent, but the marketer came to demand N3, 000, which is supposed to be my monthly bill. He collected it with another promise to send the bill by the end of the second month, which I never got. This continued until I complained to a higher authority before they now started sending bills to me.”
The Guardian also discovered that most of the shops and houses in Aja, Okota, Agege, Sango, Ikorodu, Epe areas do not have meters, but rather, the marketers collect the money in cash every month.
The investigation also showed that most of the houses in the villages across the country are not connected to electricity meters, though the residents pay monthly to marketers.
For example, virtually all the houses in Atuagbo Uneah in Esan Central Local Council of Edo State are not connected to meters, but directly to the electric poles. The customers do not get monthly bills, but pay cash directly to marketers.
Also, in Npkehi, in Owerri North Local Council of Imo State, residents make monthly payments to workers of Enugu Disco who neither give them bills nor receipts.
The fact is that some marketers are feeding fat on the desperation of Nigerians with the excuse of non-availability of prepaid meters.
Lamenting the poor power supply in the country, Buhari at his inauguration, had said that despite the about $20 billion expended in the electricity sector in the last 16 years, no significant achievement has been recorded.
He however, vowed to tackle the issue of power supply during his tenure.