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Kate Nkechi Okoh: When Will the Lights Stay On?



Registrar, call the next case on the cause list, the judge said. This was the 19th case on the cause list sometime in 2012 at the High court, FCT Abuja – at about 6pm going to 7. The preceding and penultimate cases were trial cases that had taken so long and ran late into the afternoon, but still the judge was determined to hear all cases and decongest his cause list.

The courtroom was warm, as the generator had been turned off since it was past the official closing hours of the court. The judge further ordered all Counsel to take off their wig and gown, as the heat in the room was unbearable. In what followed as a joke – a serious joke, the judge requested for a table lamp. All these orders from the judge were the effect of the sad reality staring us in the face.

At this point there was mild hysteria in the courtroom; the question on the lips of everyone was how bad can it get? When will the lights come on? The question on my mind as a new wig wasn’t just when the lights will come on, but when will the lights stay on?

This was a courtroom, what happens in emergency, labor and theatre rooms in the hospitals where life is at stake?

In fact, to demonstrate the gravity of the situation, people have attributed the epileptic power supply in Nigeria to a spiritual problem and sought heaven’s intervention for a solution to the crisis by holding a Power Sector Prayer Conference from 25th-27th June 2009. This has not yielded much result, and fast forward to 2017, there is still incessant power failure.

The history of electricity in Nigeria dates back to 1896 when electricity was first produced in Lagos, 15 years after its introduction in England.
Of all the discoveries of modern science in the last millennium, the discovery of electricity by Michael Faraday and its commercial production by Thomas Edison of the United States of America is said to have incredibly transformed and altered the outlook and lifestyle of modern man the most.

Electricity generation and consumption had become the indices for measuring the development in modern societies. The classification of nations into developed, developing and subsistence economies is directly or indirectly linked to the aggregate production and consumption of electrical energy. Therefore, it has become imperative for any nation that aspires to join the league of developing and eventually developed economies to map out strategies for providing adequate or optimum electrical energy supply for a total transformation of her citizens’ living standard, as well as industrialization.

…. With all said and done, what is the problem in Nigeria?
There are technical and commercial challenges inherent in the system. In Nigeria, it is estimated that a total investment of approximately USD$3.05 trillion (approximately ₦485 trillion) is required to deliver quality infrastructure across varied sectors of the economy. 33% of this sum is required to develop the energy sector to its optimal capacity/potential.
Notwithstanding the electricity reforms in 2001 vide the introduction of the National Electric Power Policy (NEPP) and the privatization of the sector in 2013 (described as one of the world’s largest privatizations and a landmark achievement to stem the tide of epileptic power supply in Nigeria) there are still incessant power outages.

Technically speaking, Nigeria – with a population of about 180million people has an installed electricity generation capacity for supply to the national grid of 8,644 MW, with available capacity of only approximately 3,200 MW, to cater for the needs of Nigeria’s population due to transmission issues at the grid. By way of comparison, South Africa has an installed electricity generation capacity for supply to the national grid of over 52,000 MW with a population of only about one third the size of Nigeria’s.

Commercially, there is severe illquidity in the sector. In a two-day interactive power sector workshop, organized by the National Assembly in February 2017, it was stated that the sum of ₦2.74 trillion has been spent on the sector from 1999-2015. The Energy Market And Rates Consultants (EMRC) disclosed in its 2016 Quarterly Market Review that the total sector deficit is conservatively estimated to be ₦809 billion at the end of 2016 and it is presently growing at around ₦40 billion/month. There is so much debt and unaccountability in the sector, that the funds injected into the sector have had minimal effect.

…The way forward

  • There is urgent need to tackle shortfalls in payments, which has resulted in illiquidity in the sector. It is heart warming to know that the Federal Government on 1st March 2017 approved ₦701 billion as Power Assurance Guarantee for NBET to reduce the illiquidity problems in the sector. It is sincerely hoped that the funds are applied judiciously, coupled with effective management, monitoring, transparency and accountability.
  • Having a cost reflective tariff that is regulated by forces of demand and supply cannot be over emphasized, as it will also reduce illiquidity.
  • Industry agreements must be activated and enforceable to give sanctity to contracts.
  • Considering the demand for electricity has been on a consistent rise without a corresponding supply ability, it is pertinent to tackle gas-pricing and supply issues forthwith (including pipeline vandalism in Southern Nigeria) to improve capacity in generation.
  • Also, the transmission network should be completely privatised for the purpose of overhauling and rehabilitating obsolete machines as well as building new transmission lines to minimize transmission issues, which impede the capacity recovery plan of Generation companies (GENCOS).
  • Embedded and captive generation should be encouraged to reduce heavy reliance on the grid.
  • Further, metering of all customers by the Distribution companies (DISCOS) will ensure proper monitoring of funds.
  • While the regulator – NERC must have the will to exert its independence and dish out sanctions when needed; the bulk trader – NBET, as an off taker and revenue gap filler must live up to its responsibility to ensure liquidity in the market.
  • There must be discipline amongst market participants to perform their duties efficiently.
  • There must also be a renewed sense of commitment on the part of the government not to play politics with the sector.
  • The consumers are not left out; they must shun sharp practices such as vandalism; illegal connections; power theft; non-payment of bills and they should be sensitised on the need for power conservation.

It is my hope that the reform process is successful to achieve maximum electricity output that can satisfy the entire populace. The impact of this will transcend the power sector and affect all sectors of the economy, ultimately acting as the key catalyst to transforming the infrastructure growth in Nigeria.

Photo Credit: Iodrakon |

Kate Nkechi Okoh is an energy and infrastructure lawyer in Abuja. She holds an LL.B from University of Benin and an LL.M from University College London (UCL) as the UCL John Carr 2013 scholar. She also holds training certificates from the ICC & International Court of Arbitration, Paris as well as the Harvard Negotiating Institute, Boston in arbitration and negotiation respectively. Her articles on infrastructure and mergers & acquisitions are published by International Law office (ILO), London. Read more about her HERE


  1. Ogieva

    March 9, 2017 at 6:52 pm

    I am always proud of u my girl..nice one

  2. Osaheni Osahon

    March 9, 2017 at 8:16 pm

    Well done darling!

  3. Godwins Vichary

    March 9, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    Wow awesome! Great words and your point for the progress of this nation well some one shld appoint you soon as an Adviser for the government.

    • Kate Okoh

      March 10, 2017 at 9:13 am

      Lol! You never know. Watch this space…

  4. Olaoluwa Ariyo

    March 10, 2017 at 10:33 am

    These are brilliant pointers to revamping the Power sector. It is not enough for the government to keep pumping money into the sector when every player in sector is yet man up to specific responsibilities and deliverables. Thanks for the piece Kate, I do hope someday we can have passionate and brilliant minds like you take positions where you can indeed effect the real ‘change’ our nation deserves.

  5. Jay

    March 10, 2017 at 10:39 am

    Ha!!! Wen brilliant minds r born. Such an interesting piece… way to go Katie?

  6. Stephen Azubuike

    March 10, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Nice write up. Recently, I saw the front page of a newspaper published over 30 years ago and it stated that solving electricity problem in Nigeria was on Government top priority list. Regrettably, today, it is still a problem. I believe some top government secret practices including corruption is crippling the system. What will it cost government to organise a team of experts who will understudy the system in other advanced countries and replicate same here. It is not impossible for the lights to stay on. I’m tired of this darkness in Nigeria.

  7. Maureen Okoh Akiri

    March 10, 2017 at 11:58 am

    Lovely write up Kate super proud of you sister. You make me so proud I wish you were my daughter. What a bag of intelligence you have got my dear. The youngestwig in the family but the

  8. Maureen Okoh Akiri

    March 10, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    Lovely write up Kate super proud of you sister. You make me so proud I wish you were my daughter. What a bag of intelligence you have got my dear. The youngestwig in the family but the fiercest writer of the lot.
    Keep up the good work!

    • Otaniyen Efiannayi

      March 14, 2017 at 11:37 pm

      Congrats Momo’s sister…awesome write up! Maureen i can see she collected your intelligence and added it to hers…lol

  9. kehinde owolabi

    March 10, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    Nice one Kate! it’s a ‘shame of a nation’ to find ourselves in this mess, considering the amount of money that has been budgeted and spent on our power sector. Olusegun Obasanjo civilian administration (1999-2007) spent over 16 billion dollars on the power sector and yet absolutely nothing to show for it. President Yar’Adua and Jonathan also toed same path as their predecessor. More than any other thing, The Federal Government must sit up and do the needful if we are to get out of this ‘world of darkness’.

  10. Kate Okoh

    March 10, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    Thanks a lot guys. There will always be challenges, but we must delight in proffering solutions. There is so much that needs to be done, but I am certain we will get there.

  11. Loyd

    March 11, 2017 at 8:21 am

    Nice,but the solution is how can we fix it up?

  12. Sylvia Amede

    March 11, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    nice one! it is indeed sad that we are still tackling the problem of electricity in this day and age and as you rightly said, until we sit up and get our priorities straight ,we will never join the league of developed nations……….i hope we get it right one day. super proud of you Kate

  13. Nosa Evbuomwan, PhD

    March 12, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    Welldone Kate for this article.
    I have just read your article and writing this response from the Lobby of Hilton hotel, Nairobi, Kenya as I await my Taxi to the airport.
    I participated here at the Nairobi Innovation Week.
    Amongst many things I learnt about Kenya, is that the whole country is about 95% supplied with Electricity. It is no wonder that Kenya’s GDP growth rate is about 6% in 2017 compared to our beloved Nigeria’s (supposedly Africa’s largest economy) mere 1.3%. I have posited for years that the move towards providing constant electricity supply for the nation should be the number one focus of any Nigerian government. There is clearly a need for the Nigerian government to develop a robust and comprehensive energy policy that can optimize various forms of energy sources including hydraulic, gas and solar.

  14. Rute

    March 15, 2017 at 12:01 am

    Very well said, Kate. With clever youngsters like you, there is certainly a bright future for Nigeria. Way to go!

  15. michelle

    April 6, 2017 at 9:55 am

    Wow! Welldone Kate. What a brilliant write up of a real situation of the nation. I am proud of a lawyer like. You will surely make name in Nigeria and in diaspora. I will start by calling u “Kate ď great” you are honestly a great lawyer with heart of compassion and love for humanity and the nation.

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