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Exploring the Generator Economy! Will Nigeria Recover from Epileptic Power Supply?



A close friend of mine shared a hilarious story with me when he returned from a vacation in Canada. Immediately he arrived at his aunt’s, the first thing he did was plug his phone to charge. He said the minute he wasn’t making a call or replying a text, he would plug his device. Having observed him for a while, his aunt who could no longer hold her laughter anymore said to him in Pidgin English “You don’t need to charge your device all the time, relax, “NEPA” no go take light.” Meaning he could charge his phone whenever he wishes without having to worry about power outage. Of course I do not blame him because I’m quite sure anyone who has lived in Nigeria almost all his life would likely do same. He was so conscious of the power that it took him time to realize he wasn’t in Nigeria at that moment, but Canada.

Nigeria is a country where power is valued more than food (in some cases). Electricity is scarce like rainfall in dry season. People cannot hide their excitement when there’s power. You see children screaming/dancing on the streets, people rushing to charge their devices, others ‘flying’ to go do a marathon ironing of their cloths (at least for the next 7 days). Nigeria has suffered for decades from inadequate electricity service to the point that people coined other names for the formerly government owned monopoly PHCN, Power Holding Company of Nigeria to ‘Please Have Candles Nearby’. No one in this country can say he has enjoyed uninterrupted power supply in his life. Nigeria’s electricity generation capacity has declined from the peak generation level of about 4,517.6 mega watts recorded December 2012 to about 3,781.80 MW in October 2013 according to the power generation fact sheet of the Presidential Task Force on Power as at October 20.

Afew days ago, I overhead someone say that Nigeria runs a “generator economy”. Of course I couldn’t agree less. That sounded like a near perfect description of the power situation in Nigeria. Every company, organization or thriving business in Nigeria has at least a minimum of two generators while millions of homes survive with generating sets, including my home. Sadly, these generating sets have killed a number of innocent people who inhaled fumes while asleep. A lot of businesses have relocated to Ghana and other African countries as result of cost of running these generating sets. The lack of a reliable supply and constant blackout causes severe economic damage. The cost of alternatives, mainly diesel generation, is at least four times the cost of a reliable power supply. The modern world is dependent on access to information, which in turn is only possible with a reliable and constant source of electricity.

Some have said that a particular cabal, responsible for the importation of generators has been witch-hunting the sector with the argument that constant electricity would spell doom for their business. Others believe that the leadership is responsible for the sorry state of power.
I literally weep when I read about African countries (even smaller) that enjoy constant electricity. Countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast, Angola, amongst others.

In the last 7 months, Nigeria has had two ministers of power – Prof. Barth Nnaji and now Prof. Chinedu Nebo, The former who was seen as the power messiah by some quarters, was reportedly forced out of office, ushering in the later. Prof. Nebo has succeeded in handing power over share certificates and licenses to the purchasers of electricity generation and distribution companies – the private sector. Nigerians breathed a sigh of relief when this happened in December 2013 believing that blackout is on the verge of being put to eternal rest. Many have seen this as a critical step forward for Nigeria, capable of making more difference to the lives of ordinary people than any other in the past decade. Surprisingly 2014 so far has appeared to be even worse. The power situation has worsened. In fact, in the last two weeks we have had less than 6hours hours of electricity in my area. I’m sure other Nigerians have their similar experiences too. Ironically, I watched Mr President and the minister a couple of days ago on TV talking about the giants strides in the power sector. Yes, they were talking to all Nigerians – but what they didn’t know was the reality that I was only able to watch them because I had access to a generating set. Not all Nigerians do. I’m certain power never blinks at the Aso Villa and the ministers’ home as well, so it may be a little difficult for them to understand what Nigerians are really going through.

I keep wondering: Could the handing over of the power sector translate to worse experiences for Nigerians? I hope Nigerians would not be made to pay through their noses before they can afford electricity supplies in their homes and companies, considering the fact that the investors have paid a lot of money for the former PHCN’s assets.
The government keeps fuelling the cliché excuse of ‘time’. “These things take time”. How much more time do Nigerians have to wait?

I read a tweet by a Nigerian on twitter recently that said “Mr President, if you fix power, and the Benin-ore road for us, you’ll be best the president ever.”
I’m sure the provision basic amenities such as constant electricity, water and good roads by any public office holder are more than enough reason to win support of Nigerians.

The provision of reliable and affordable electricity in Nigeria has the potential to tackle both the symptoms and causes of poverty. Electricity enables hospitals to function more efficiently. It also reduces CO2 emissions by removing the need for highly polluted generators. Most importantly it would remove the greatest obstacle of doing business in Nigeria and enable manufacturing and other industries to compete internationally.etc

Just recently a breath of fresh air came as Nigeria was listed among the “MINT” countries – Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey predicted to be the next emerging economic giants.
The big question remains; would this translate into development and better living for Nigerians? Only time will tell, I guess.

I ask again, When will epileptic power eventually recover from decades of sickness and become constant in Nigeria? Could it be sooner than we expect or would this remain a practically unanswered question for many months/years to come? Time again, will tell.

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