Of gas-pipeline vandals and nation-wide darkness
In the last few weeks, many parts of the nation’s towns and major cities have been plunged into unprecedented darkness caused by lack of electricity supply. That this enveloping darkness is a source of frustration, pain and hardship is an incontrovertible fact, and has been the life of many settlements still unconnected to the national grid. However, that the Presidency, echoing Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), has come to blame this worsening darkness on the shortage and inadequate supply of gas due to vandalisation of pipelines, is an unacceptable excuse. What is even more worrisome for a new government as this is the indecorous manner the spokespersons of government have communicated this blame game to Nigerians.
On national television, the other day, while responding to a question on complaints about the persistent epileptic electricity supply across the country, the presidency said rather patronisingly that Nigerians should not blame the president for power outage in the country, but should go and fight the vandals responsible for the destruction of gas pipelines. “After we had 5,000 megawatts, there was vandalism in Bayelsa State and we lost 1,600 megawatts in one day and then another in Delta State and we lost another 1,000 megawatts… So if some people are crying that they are in darkness, they should go and hold those who vandalise installations. That is it.”
Statements such as this can only emanate from an arrogant mindset, sycophantically concerned about words directed at the principal, rather than objectively addressing a precarious state of affairs demanding proper communication. The finality with which a somewhat thoughtless defence of a manageable challenge was portrayed showed a government’s communication laced with hopelessness and frustration. Yet, given the potential and efforts of the government, it is evident that this government is capable.
For a start, the problem with electricity supply across the country is beyond the rhetorics and figures dished out in press interviews. Although the country witnessed a much celebrated all-time peak of 5,074 megawatts of electricity generation early in the year, the demand for electricity is estimated to be 12,800 megawatts. While the current generating capacity stands at between 2,500 and 3,500 megawatts, which is about three times less than the required demand, this is by far a grossly inadequate capacity for a population of 170 million people.
Besides, apart from hydro-electric power which accounts for 21 per cent and oil which holds 16 per cent, natural gas, which accounts for 63 per cent of the country’s power generation is apparently the sole factor in today’s electricity problem. The possibility of other alternatives tends to be overlooked. That is why any imbalance in the gas sub-sector upsets national development.
Furthermore, the worsening power outage has effect on macro-economic and micro-economic aspects of the country. Apart from the direct link poor electricity supply has on industrial development, commercial growth, and unemployment, there are environmental and health hazards which Nigerians would have to be saddled with. According to a study which identified 40 toxic air contaminants in diesel generator exhaust, “in Nigeria, indirect evidence of the impact of diesel exhaust on lung cancer is indicated by its rising incidence among urban-based non-smokers less than 60 years old, most of whom use diesel generators on a daily basis.”
For a government that was humble and accessible enough to seek citizens’ votes during campaigns, these truths about power outage and its attendant effects must be communicated politely. The tension over electricity supply should not be allowed to degenerate into mistrust for this government. A cardinal feature of the democratic culture is the invaluable disposition called transparency and accountability. As in everywhere in the world where the democratic ethos is highly respected, government owes it a duty to courteously, respectfully and in a manner depicting civility, explain to citizens what they, of right and necessity, should know. It is not for any other reason that this democracy is called a people’s government. The dignified propriety of behaviour and speech called decorum of the agents of state is what preserves democracy as a free, fair, and open decision-making process.
Even though there is a sitting minister for this sector, matters of power supply are too germane to be left in the hands of a presidential aide to handle. For this reason, President Muhammadu Buhari should, for his own sake, come on national network and explain to the nation what the state of affairs is. When things get to this point, he should perform his job as a minister too.
Without unduly emphasising it, discerning Nigerians know that the shortage or non-availability of gas to power generation plants is simply the major problem facing electricity generation. Yet, this problem, like many others bedeviling the economy, is one of management rather than inaccessibility.
With an estimated gas reserve of 187 trillion cubic feet, and the seventh largest in the world, Nigeria is one country that should not make gas shortage an excuse for power failure. Alas, in the paradox that has become its Achilles heel, Nigeria is the second largest gas flaring country in the world, losing billions of dollars from flaring 13 billion cubic metres yearly, even as it suffers from poor gas sub-sector and constant vandalisation of gas pipelines.
Yet, this newspaper is convinced that the president and his team are capable, and have the zeal and sincerity of purpose to transform the power sector. However, addressing vandalism, which government has termed its main problem, demands an uncommon political will to do the needful. Given the sophistication of technologies available globally, this government may want to explore other options such as satellite surveillance to complement the activities of the security agencies including the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps. Nigeria’s Nigcom Sat 1R, Sat 2 and spying activities of drones, could also be harnessed to achieve this purpose. Nigerians are tired of excuses, especially ones offered with arrogance.