Buhari and electricity

PRESIDENT  Muhammadu  Buhari  struck the right chord with Nigerians during his inauguration when he  identified poor electricity supply to the citizens as one of the fundamental obstacles to the development of the  nation.

This challenge, in truth, must be dealt with frontally for development to be recorded in other sectors of the economy.

The supply of adequate electricity is as vital to small businesses as it is to big manufacturing companies. Poor power supply has exacerbated the nation’s unemployment crisis with its heavy toll on small businesses.

And certainly, no nation without adequate electricity supply for its laboratories can hope to record the much-desired scientific breakthroughs that would redound to technological, industrial or social development.

In response to this situation, successive governments have voted huge sums of money for finding solutions to the problems of the sector. But the result has always been more outages.

This pattern of voting huge sums of money for fixing electricity has turned the sector into one of the nation’s hotbeds of corruption.

In 16 years, between 1999 and 2015, about $20 billion has been spent on efforts to make the electricity sector viable.  Yet, the grim reality today is that a nation of about 180 million people is only able to generate, at best, 4,000 megawatts of electricity.

Comparing this to the progress made in some African nations is not only frightening but also shameful at the same time. South Africa with a population of 52 million  people generates 44,000 megawatts. Just last month, the country announced the process of procuring a nuclear fleet to generate additional 9,600 megawatts of electricity this year. Brazil with a population of 202 million generates100,000 megawatts. Even Ethiopia wants to be an energy supplier and has been working on a 25-year master plan to generate 60,000 megawatts.

Since adequate electricity supply is one outcome of good governance that the average citizen would reckon with as it would improve his/her life, the Muhammadu Buhari government must carefully craft a master plan to resolve the crisis in the nation’s energy sector.

He could do this on many fronts. He can improve on the reforms that have been initiated in the sector even though the reforms have not produced the expected results in so far as outages remain a feature of existence in the country.

The electricity companies have not only failed to generate or distribute enough, they have failed to properly capture the consumers and bill them appropriately.

While the government keeps on pumping money into the sector under the nebulous rubric of loans even after being sold, the electricity companies and government are busy considering how to make the citizens pay more for services that are scantily provided. The result is that while darkness stalks the nation, the electricity companies have developed reprehensible systems through  which the citizens are compelled to pay outrageous energy bills they never incur.

Now, the electricity sector is difficult to fix simply  because some people who have constituted a cabal are benefitting from its problems. Such a cabal is made up of generator importers and government officials who frustrate every effort to make the sector work. If the Buhari government would develop the electricity sector successfully, it must identify this cabal, smash it  and deny it the incentive for operating.

Very importantly, Buhari should further decentralise the electricity sector to allow in more private investors that can deliver optimal results. The Independent Power Projects initiative is a good idea that must be pursued. And the sector must be totally opened up for greater participation by all. There have been attempts in the past  by some states to develop their electricity sectors and  they were frustrated  by the Federal Government which  insisted that the sector was under its jurisdiction. Buhari should, therefore, create an environment that would genuinely allow individual companies or group of companies to independently produce electricity. Such power producers after all, have considerably proven the point that theirs is the way to go.

The country is rich in natural resources like gas and coal to generate electricity. While all of these options must be explored, the Buhari government should  identify the causes of inadequate  gas generation which has also been cited as a reason for the poor performance of the energy sector. What the nation is facing are challenges that are surmountable.

What is required is a government with the will and sincerity to deploy all the legitimate measures that would remove all obstacles to the development of the nation. Expectations, once again, are high and Nigerians want President Buhari to put the high gear by switching on the light for Nigerians.

GUARDIAN EDITORIAL

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