In the last week, Prof Frank Okafor a professor of Electric Power & Control Engineering University of Lagos and a former commissioner responsible for engineering and performance management at the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) was hosted on a television current affairs show where he said aside from 6-9pm when there is residential uptake of electricity supplied, during the rest of day THERE IS NO DEMAND for electricity in Nigeria.
The mindset of Prof Okafor is painful to assimilate but summarizes the issue with the electricity sector in Nigeria – incompetence, inefficiencies and corruption are sabotaging the sector. And until this is resolved, Nigeria will continue to wallow in darkness.
EVERY ELECTRICITY GENERATOR IN NIGERIA IS DEMAND
Perhaps it does not strike Prof Okafor that SUPPLY is the problem of Nigeria’s electricity because everywhere in Nigeria where there is an electricity generating set it is DEMAND that the electricity sector is unable to fulfil. The generators will not be there if there is sufficient electricity supply. It is most likely that Prof Okafor has a generating set at home or some other source of electricity like solar. To think that a professor of electric power who should be up to date with research work in the electricity sector does not know this basic fact is troubling and mindboggling. And to make matters worse, Prof Okafor was appointed to high office at the NERC responsible for engineering and performance management and it can only be imagined the advice he offered to policy makers to the effect that demand was the issue with the electricity sector and not supply – this is what in academic parlance is called OP (off point)! At the time Prof Okafor was on TV talking that there is no demand for electricity in Nigeria, banks were announcing early closure of their branches due to lack of electricity supply and the expensive costs of generating electricity with diesel touching N800 per liter. Nigeria has also suffered a hemorrhage of manufacturing companies that have relocated to other west African countries because of lack of electricity supply! It is therefore very troubling for a professor to be unaware of the current issues and trends in a sector he is expected to be an expert and leader of research in.
If Prof Okafor was up to date with research work in the electricity sector, he would have come to grips with global data that a tiny country like Qatar is supplying 8GW of electricity daily to 2.8 million people and the UK is wheeling out 730GW daily to 65 million people, so for Prof to be talking of 200 million people not forming enough demand for 3GW supplied shows he is out of depth and perhaps even misinformed about a sector he is expected to be an expert in.
THE BIGGER ISSUES WITH ELECTRICITY IN NIGERIA
The electricity sector in Nigeria has bigger issues beyond Prof Okafor even though people like him compound the issues. The main problem with the electricity sector is government’s interference in a sector that is a business and not a social service. Just as it happened in telecoms, the same will happen in electricity sector if Government gives way to the business sector to come into the sector, invest, supply electricity to Nigerians and make a return on their investments.
A further surgical analysis of the electricity sector in Nigeria exposes the following cankerworms:
1. GENCOs (Generating Companies) – they are the least contributor to the problem because serious minded businesspeople like Tony Elumelu have invested in GENCOs and they have the capital to expand capacity to make money. But they are benefitting from a revenue-draining power uptake agreements where government pays them for power generated but not uptaken which must be stopped.
2 TCN (Transmission Company of Nigeria) – which carries power generated to the consumers is the biggest bottleneck. The Govt is still controlling 100% of TCN for reasons best known to them. The GENCOs can’t generate more than TCN can carry, infact some of the grid collapses are from trying to inject more into TCN than it carry. The DISCOs can also only distribute what the TCN supplies to them. With an FG that’s so poor that they are borrowing to pay salaries and petrol subsidies, there’s zero chance they’ll have money to invest in TCN. The solution simply is for the Govt to let go of TCN to the private sector. Imagine if Govt insisted that MTN and co can only use NITEL masts and other infrastructure to provide telecoms services but this is exactly what Tony Elumelu and other investors in GENCOs are facing with TCN.
3 DISCOs (Distribution Companies) – the next biggest culprit are the DISCOs which were sold/handed over to politically exposed persons with no pedigree in the power sector and neither the capital to invest to expand and maintain the distribution network. So, they keep asking consumers to buy transformers when it’s the DISCOs who should be buying the infrastructure to run their business – just imagine MTN and co asking consumers to buy telecoms masts before they get mobile signals in their area. They also keep hiking the tariffs when they should be connecting more consumers to make money. They keep complaining of people not paying for power but it’s their fault because if they invested they will bury all the electric cables deep into the ground out of reach of electricity thieves and also away from unfavorable weather where high winds/storms or even accidents take down electric poles! Elsewhere because no overhead electric cables, everything is buried in the ground and your supply once switched-off you cannot illegally connect it back. The solution is to privatize DISCOs to serious minded investors. In the meantime, any DISCO that rejects power must be treated by Government as an economic saboteur!
4 LEGAL FRAMEWORK – Electricity is currently on the exclusive list of the constitution. This must be changed to allow electricity to be regulated by the subnational governments too so that communities can generate and supply themselves electricity using mini-hydro’s, solar, wind technologies.
Every consumer who can run a generator can pay for public power supply. There is therefore humongous effective DEMAND for electricity in Nigeria but no supply to meet it. But it has become time-wasting advising the current Government. We therefore hope that those who are angling to become Nigeria’s president in 2023 will take this as an agenda.