What does power have in common with superstition? Well, the following story illustrates it. Somewhere around Ikot Ekpene, a power line met a higher power. The shrine. Some staff who wanted to route the modern marvel through the community ran away. Why? The priests pursued them. They swore that if they came near with their wires and woods and technicians and their funny regalia, the shrine would invoke death and disease.
Power pass power, as Nigerians would say. You would have expected the opposite. It makes us reflect on our history. Where were the African gods when the white man came with guns? One community after community, one god after another yielded in disgrace as the white man thrashed through and imposed a colonial rule.
But here, in today’s Nigeria, modern still bows to ancient. The carriers of natural shock yielded to the awful prospect of spiritual electrocution. But modernity is defiant, must have its way. Not always, not with these men in Akwa Ibom whose tongues spewed out curses of the end of days. They asked for compensation first. They had it. The gods yielded not to firepower but to filthy lucre. The gods have become human.
All the staff returned. Where ritual reigned, lines now swagger. Physical light replaces what Joseph Conrad calls, with impish disdain of African society, “the night of first ages.”
In the same way, power supply in Nigeria has taken quite the same trajectory. We try to supply power. We stop it. When it is not corruption, it is red tape. When it is not red tape, it is gas supply. When it is not ignorance about gas supply, it is lack of accountability. When it is not lack of accountability, it is inefficiency. When it is not inefficiency, it is culture, or it is greed. A sort of chaos theory takes aim at our country that has grappled for over 50 years with how to turn on the light and keep it turned on.
With this mesh on our hands, we are raging towards the dying of the light. So, it is true that we are groping with about 2000 megawatts of supply today when the average consumer is being asked to pay rates at the projection of 4000 megawatts. So, why the outcry? I say, why not? The Gencos and the Discos are not reconciling accounts.
But we must start from the beginning. Gas. Without sabotage of the militants, we still don’t have enough gas. A revolution is required which will have to involve tweaking how our gas deals were configured in the past. Today, only 16 per cent of the gas goes to local consumption. The NLNG sells 38 per cent to foreign markets. About 36 per cent is a toss-up from what is called associated gas from oil wells and direct clear, but this is often frustrated because the western companies who work our wells are not interested in gas. They want only oil. That revolution of gas will stop the 10 per cent that flares interminably into our skies.
The real issues are with the Gencos and Discos. For now, an illusion reigns about transmission. It has 5000 megawatts capacity. It is believed that it is not enough. For what we supply, it is. We have never surpassed 5,000. For Gencos, I have a lot of pity. I paid a visit to the Egbin Power Plant and saw that a lot has been invested. Before its takeover, it operated at 30 per cent. It now operates at about 87 with 1,100 megawatts. But it all depends on gas availability.
But to get power to a high level, it has to come with small wins. Here and there, we have headaches. One, money has to be spent on bringing many of the turbines in all the power plants to high level. Many of them need money. Egbin, for instance, has invested about $400 million. Two, there are areas where legal cases have stood in the way of installations of power. Three, the various Gencos have many turbines lying fallow. Why? They need a lot of money to install them. Many of the companies that took over did not have a sense of what they were going into until they possessed, except a few like Egbin. Even at that, they did not anticipate the Naira fall. Three, IPP also are under construction. Four, Aba Power Plant of about 141 megawatts just settled out of court, so is now under construction. Ditto to Zungeru power plant now under construction after legal row over commission claims.
But the immediate problem is now accountability. The Discos are now being accused of not making the money received from consumers available to transmitters and Gencos. Part of it is fraud. Consumers have been charged the same rate when power was about 4000 which is the projection. Now, it is about 2000, they are charged the same. This is not fair.
I understand the bellwether minister, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, has set up a committee for them to reconcile accounts to reflect what has been supplied. They are short-changing the consumer. It may be standing in the ability of the DISCOS to get enough power to supply to consumers. Many Nigerians are complaining that when they had an average of two hours power supply a day, they are paying about the same rate when they had six hours.
This is a call for transparency, and the NERC should be the agency to step in and ensure that light comes with equity. This should complement the efforts of the bellwether minister to solve the supply chinks in different parts of the country.
Another issue is the huge debts from big federal government institutions, including agencies and the military. But the Discos have been saying that the consumers are not ready for power supply. They say that it costs a lot to give power and we want to have it for cheap. They have a point. We had the same story with oil marketers. They had to withdraw and forced Nigerians to pay for fuel before we settled for it.
Nigerians use power carelessly. Sometimes a light bulb will beam from morning to morning. Until we are ready to pay for power and turn on the light or the fan or the air-conditioner only when we need it, we shall never enjoy power. In advanced countries, they use power rationally.
Only with consumption discipline shall we say we have conquered power.