In 2005, President Olusegun Obasanjo signed into law the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (EPSRA). The intendment of government was to solve the perennial problem of erratic electricity supply in Nigeria. Government’s intention was of course noble and praiseworthy. No country can develop without electric power. You cannot point to any country in the world that has developed without regular electricity. Electricity is the bedrock of any meaningful development. But intention, no matter how noble, is not enough.
Be that as it may, EPSRA was the government’s strategy to bring power to Nigeria. The crux of the strategy was privatization of the electricity sector. But it took seven years before government could even hope to begin the privatisation process. A major obstacle was labour. Organised labour within the electricity industry would not budge. Eventually, after a series of very difficult negotiations, government and labour agreed in December 2012 to an arrangement that allowed government to privatize and labour to be paid off terminal emoluments.
In 2013, government privatised the generation and distribution subsectors of the power sector. Government also handed over the transmission subsector to a Canadian company to ensure that that electricity generated by the generating companies got to electricity distribution companies who supply it to electricity consumers. The arrangement looked perfect. Unfortunately, events since the privatisation agreement was reached have shown that privatization has brought more woes than electricity. Things appear to be getting more and more challenging by the day. The easy scapegoat for the failure of privatisation to date is the dearth of gas to power the machines that generate electricity. And this non availability has in turn been blamed on various factors and actors.
The newest excuse for power shortages has been the disruption of oil and gas production by nascent Niger Delta militants – the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA). The NDA acronym itself is ironic. The original meaning of NDA was Nigerian Defence Academy, an institution where young soldiers were trained to defend the country. The new NDA has taken up arms against Nigeria, at least, that is one way of looking at the new NDA.
Of course, students of Nigeria and the Niger Delta would see a deeper meaning in the new NDA other than portraying them as enemies of Nigeria. A more sophisticated way to conceive the new NDA is as a symbol of the unresolved Nigerian crisis. A crisis of development triggered by the annexation local minerals and mineral oi resources to the Nigerian federal account, a situation that has continually underdeveloped the Niger delta which contributes, lopsidedly, most to the revenue of the country from its federally annexed mineral oil resources.
The writer personally believes that while one cannot possibly support violence, the underlying causes of any dissent must be critically scrutinized and addressed holistically. One personally believes that the problem of Nigeria is totally tied to the federal theft of local resources. In the Niger Delta, it is oil. In the Middle Belt or North Central, e.g. in Kogi State, it is limestone, it is coal. This happened when the federal government of Nigeria via retrogressive laws such as the Petroleum Decree of 1969; the Minerals Act, as well as section 44(3) of the 1999 constitutions, all of which are military era laws, took away ownership of local resources from the local state governments within whose jurisdictions the resources are located. When the original union agreement of the Nigerian peoples, as clearly encapsulated in the 1960 constitution, notably, sections 130-139 of the 1960 constitution, is restored, a new Nigeria will emerge. That new Nigeria will be similar to the fast developing Nigeria of the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. Indeed, in those days, power was regular and therefore industries were numerous. In order words the ultimate solution to lack of electricity in Nigeria is in restoring the original agreement between the various peoples of Nigeria, which agreement drove development from the grounds up.
Electricity generation and distribution are not space technologies. Therefore, in spite of the legal challenges’ to adequate electricity and development outlined above, it is still possible to generate and supply electricity in Nigeria. This is especially so in the new regime of privatized electricity. The writer’s take is that if the new buyers and owners of Nigerian electricity are serious businessmen, then we should have new strategies to have electricity.
But our topic today was triggered by the thought expressed in one or two places, that the new electricity owners may be more interested in easy access to money that the current electricity regime provided more than the actual business of electricity supply. The comment we found most interesting was framed by one of our interlocutors. She asked: “Why would an electricity distribution company (DISCO) bother about supplying electricity to consumers when they can get money from the consumers without supplying one single watt of electricity? She reminded us of a notorious fact, to wit, that whether or not you get their service, a DISCO can bill you monthly, especially if you do not have a prepaid meter. And even if you have a prepaid meter, in which case you may not be billed erratically, you still have to face the increased cost of electricity imposed by the new tariffs.
So, I ask the reader: If you were a Nigerian DISCO, would you bother supplying electricity? ?