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OPINION: Megawatts of darkness



Nigeria enters deal with Siemens to revamp power sector

Strange things happen. One of such happened in an unlikely place last week. In Nigeria. Our President, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari apologized to us on the myriad problems we are confronted with. First was the toxic petrol imported and distributed about three weeks ago which damaged the vehicles of as many who were unlucky to purchase the petrol. Then the country was plunged into petrol scarcity which has persisted weeks after. Next the country was thrown into darkness as public electricity supply collapsed. In fact, on a particular day last week, the national electricity metre read zero. Zero as in zero. Not even one, single megawatt of electricity was generated and loaded on the national grid either from the hydropower plants or from the thermal power stations. In any case serving Nigerians weeks no end of darkness has been a standard menu long before the advent of this self acclaimed reformist regime. In the midst of these, the national currency, the Naira, continued its free fall, getting to as low as N580 to one United States of America dollar. Diesel fuel which fires most industries and many homes experienced a spike in price, racing from about N300/litre early in the year to N750/litre last week. Of course, it goes without saying that in the face of scarcity, the price of a litre of petrol ranged from between N300 to N600 depending on your location in the country. Getting the product at the official price range of between N162.5 to N165/ litre became a pipedream.

That same last week, the Academic Staff Union of Universities [ASUU], the umbrella body of teachers in Nigeria’s government-owned universities which had been on strike since February 14th announced the extension of its industrial action by another eight weeks to, according to them, give the federal government ample time for housekeeping. It had been calculated that

even before the latest strike, the country had lost a cumulative five years in the nation’s academic calendar to strikes by lecturers since the return to democracy about 22 years ago. Ultimatums were also rife in the course of that week with everybody ordering everybody around while the country continued its steady slide to the abyss.

It was in the midst of these and many more afflictions on Nigerians that Gen. Buhari, who is more in London on medical tourism than in Nigeria he was elected and reelected to govern, issued the apologia of an apology to Nigerians. Apology from a Nigerian leader is strange and that from Buhari could only be stranger. In 68 odd days, Buhari would have been in office as Nigeria’s President for seven years. Never once has he apologized for anything even for his most divisive and egregious comments. One of such insensitive comments was made in 2015 soon after he assumed office as President. He said while on a visit to the United States that he would not treat Nigerians the same way, that nobody should expect him to treat those who voted for him the same way he would treat those who didn’t vote for him. That was the origin of Buhari’s strange mathematical formula of 97% versus 5% voters. That formula became state policy with the predominantly Igbo nation of the South East left with the short end of the stick in appointments and allocation of resources these past years. At every turn regime apologists will point to the second bridge across River Niger at Asaba, Delta state as a statement project in, and for the South East. The impression is that the new bridge is for the exclusive use of the Igbo and that the Igbo should be eternally grateful to Buhari. They will not tell you that it is the only bridge built by the federal government in recent memory that will be fitted with toll plazas from before day one. And the bridge is barely 1.6km.

Read also: OPINION: Can Ifeanyi Okowa give Atiku a good run for PDP ticket?

But back to Buhari’s unusual and frankly unexpected and certainly unhelpful public apology to suffering Nigerians. The President in the statement issued by his media aide Garba Shehu said his “administration knows [that] the fuel shortage has placed a strain on Nigerian citizens and businesses, but [that] relief is on the way. I especially apologize to all sections of society for this”. No matter how hard you try it would be difficult not to notice how aloof and impersonal this so-called apology sounded. “Nigerian citizens”, not fellow citizens and “businesses”, not our businesses. On the poor and deteriorating electricity supply, it was difficult to wrap one’s head around some statements attributed to the President. For instance, what do you make of this: “the blackouts seen in the national grid are also being addressed”. Blackouts. Seen. National grid. If the “blackouts” are restricted to the national grid and not in our homes and industries, we will not bother. But what happened was a manifestation of the absurdity in the increasingly poor quality of presidential communication. And this is surprising because i know that thorough professionals are at the helms in the communications area of the Presidency. In his apology the President suggested that he knew that the problem was afoot but that he had no solution to it. It happened in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and now in 2022. Or how do you explain the statement that “A dip in hydroelectric generation due to seasonal pressures has coincided with technical problems at thermal stations”. In other words, the regime had foreknowledge of the “seasonal pressures” but failed to proactively put the thermal stations in the proper stead to fill the gap at a time of need. In our clime, the belated promise by this regime to now work “tirelessly to resolve the issues at the latter [thermal stations] to guarantee sufficient power flows into the national grid” is called medicine after death.

While Nigerians battle with darkness which actually had deteriorated so badly in the past two months, those saddled with the responsibility to provide electricity are engaged in internecine war. If the grass suffers when two elephants fight, then you can imagine what Nigerians are going through because more than two elephants are locked in battle over public electricity supply. After the federal executive council meeting of last week Wednesday, the Minister of Power, Abubakar Aliyu was reported to have spoken to journalists. His rambling was shocking. And it bears quoting him liberally.

“The more reason we are feeling it [blackout] now is as a result of shortage of gas and some of the generators have to go to maintenance. It’s a scheduled maintenance and it is supposed to be scheduled outage, but we had not envisaged that we will have issues around vandalisation of pipelines, which the NNPC has addressed as you can see evidence everywhere, aviation fuel and petrol in the filling stations. It is a combination of many factors that compounded the problem we are having on the grid.

“We have recovered the grid now. The grid is back and we are trying to get more megawatts to push on the grid. We have set up small committees all geared towards getting more megawatts to put on the grid. Basically, the problem around gas. You need to have gas contracts between generating companies and gas suppliers- some are form contracts, some are not. We are looking into this and have proffered some solutions”. How this rambling made sense to the speaker is unfathomable. And how it gives hope that the nationwide electricity blackout was being tackled was difficult to comprehend. Let me just assume that Gatekeepers News blog failed to capture the Minister’s statement faithfully.

The Minister’s incoherence notwithstanding, the Association of Power Generation Companies [APGC] had on March 13, 2022 told Nigerians to perish the thought of stable electricity supply. Its Executive Secretary, Dr. Joy Ogaji said unless and until the association is paid the N1.6 trillion owed its members, darkness will continue to be the lot of Nigerians. Even then she said the glaring ‘misalignment’ in the power sector would continue to be a cog unless it is addressed. This is the story we are telling ourselves 156 years after electricity was first generated through two generating sets to serve the Colony of Lagos in 1866. Who did this to us?

AUTHOR: Ugo Onuoha

Articles published in our Graffiti section are strictly the opinion of the writers and do not represent the views of Ripples Nigeria or its editorial stand.

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