YOU know that evil forces inhabit human beings and I am sure that you are aware of the fact that the cabals that don’t want the power sector to heal in Nigeria are very powerful. I wouldn’t want to start mentioning them one by one but it is important to remember that there are people who are benefiting from the sufferings of the masses. There are people who are benefiting from Federal Government’s funds that were supposed to be used to address issues but were not used.”
With the above words, the Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, at the weekend hinted in an interview with The Guardian, at the difficulties of successfully reforming the nation’s electricity sector.
But he vowed not to be deterred by the activities of the cabals, assuring that there would soon be an outburst of economic benefits as a result of anticipated improvements in electricity.
He also unveiled government’s financial plan for the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), a critical component of the electricity sector responsible for evacuating generated electricity from generating companies and wheeling it to distribution companies. To revive the nation’s ailing transmission infrastructure, he said the Federal Government had secured a facility from the African Development Bank (AfDB). The facility and other budgetary provisions, according to Nebo, would bring TCN to a world class status, and be able to wheel all electricity generated in the country.
On the cabals in the sector, the minister in this major interview with a newspaper said: “I mean, it is all too obvious that lots of funds have gone into the sector but in some areas, you don’t see a concomitant development in the sector, so there are problems within and without. There is the issue of Nigerian factor, cartels that feel that once there is power, they lose their own businesses.”
He said he was equal to the task and would work with all well-meaning stakeholders to tackle the challenges.
He said: “I have no doubt that we will succeed. In fact, I am so optimistic that we will solve the power problems. The power problems give the President nightmares and give all of us nightmares. The President has made up his mind that the power problem in Nigeria will be solved and we will do everything that is required.”
Nebo, an archdeacon in the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), had in a veiled reference to the task ahead told the Senate at his screening as a ministerial nominee earlier in the year that he would count on his religious inclination to cast away anti-progressive forces in the electricity sector.
On the state of TCN, he stressed that, indeed, cumulative decay and neglect over the years brought together a system that was very near collapse.
“But, this is being strengthened and government is working very hard to ensure that this is the case. A $100 million facility from the African Development Bank (AfDB) which is N15.6 billion is going into transmission without one kobo off. The government of President Jonathan realises that all these years of neglect have led to a situation where transmission, which is actually supposed to be the pride of the entire sector, has become the weakest link. Government is working in that direction and very soon with these interventions from government, by acquiring this facility from the AfDB, we are putting all the money into transmission,” he said.
He said that the problems in the power sector had continued to be recurrent decimals, noting how multi-faced solutions would be required.
The minister stressed the place of an integrated and holistic approach, emphasising that the entire sector had to be looked at from the perspective of finding a sustainable holistic solution.
He said: “The power sector has suffered intensely, especially because of the exponential growth in population without a concomitant development of power infrastructure in the system. What we really have now is a far cry from where we ought to be and that is the reason why Mr. President launched a power sector roadmap and reform which gradually is being seen by even naysayers as the only solution to the problems of the power sector in Nigeria.
“I will say that I am keying into the power reform agenda of the President with regard to power sector development and gradual expansion of the generation facilities, the transmission facilities because right now the transmission remains the weakest link and the distribution aspects. Right now, with the reform agenda moving on very fine and rapidly and privatisation agenda getting closer to conclusion, the ministry will have to redefine its roles. We are moving on and the ultimate goal is to give Nigerians 24/7 uninterrupted power supply and that is the ultimate finish line that we are all moving towards.”
On the misconception about the role of Canadian firm, Manitoba Hydro International, that led to electricity workers chasing the firm out of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), Nebo said Manitoba had since resumed after the issue was resolved.
“One thing is very clear, Manitoba is just a management contractor and TCN was not concessioned to Manitoba. The firm was invited and contracted to manage the transmission network but our people misunderstood that and felt that government had given it to them free of charge and also paying them again to do that. No, it is just management contractor and then we hope that within the three years of their stay in Nigeria, they will nurture our transmission network and people.”
Asked about the roles and targets of the Power Ministry within the next three years of post-privatisation, he said reforms and repositioning for a new direction were already ongoing.
His words: “The ministry has to learn to retool because it is no longer business as usual. Things are changing within the ministry which will go more into policy formulation, encouragement of research, strengthening regulation and mechanisms as well as developing other vistas and ensuring that other issues like rural electrification, energy conservation and renewable energy all come into play so that eventually a firm government policy on power will be established. The repositioning will be firm enough to include a good energy mix proportion because it is not a good thing just to have gas and hydro-driven plants; we need coal to power; we need solar and wind. Nigeria has an immense potential for renewable energy and even waste to power.
“There are many cosmopolitan cities that produce so much waste. A good chunk of that could be converted into energy. The ministry will now be more into developing policies that will guide the government to make sure that the sector is progressing and growing the way it is supposed to grow so that eventually Nigeria’s power sector becomes globally competitive.”
He said a supervisory board was being fine-tuned for the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) to bring it back to life.
He said: “Of course you know it was stopped for many years. Incidentally, that is not the case anymore, right now there is a Managing Director and the entire Rural Electrification Agency has been brought back to life and we can say it has resurrected.
“Beyond that, when you talk about the supervisory board, government has actually been working on that. I think more recently government came up with some names but I think they are trying to fine-tune that but that does not prevent the agency from going ahead because when it comes to issues, you will find out that something that has never happened before in the REA happened in this year’s budget for rural electrification. The chunk of money put into rural electrification this year is unparalleled in the history of the agency and this country. When you think of the fact that rural electrification should actually belong more to state and local councils and yet you see the Federal Government putting billions into the process…
“It shows that the Federal Government is actually interested in that, it is coming back to life and the ministry will ensure that it grows because without rural electrification, many of younger people or people born in rural areas are for life marginalised; they will never be able to compete with children born in cities or cosmopolitan areas. “
He said the hydra-headed problem of gas to problem was one of concern, stressing that prices were still not competitive enough to persuade the gas producers to sell locally.
“But the government is looking into that and trying to put in place structures and mechanisms to make sure that tariffs are put in a way to make sure that they compensate for that. The Ministry of Petroleum has been very helpful. There is synergy between the Ministries of Power and Petroleum. We believe that we will get there. Past governments needed to address this issue of incredible neglect over the years. There was a time Nigeria had a lot of resources that we could have put all these gas pipelines all over the country. We didn’t do it then and if we don’t do it now, it is going to be a lot more expensive,” he noted.
He said the power sector road map launched by the President in 2010 was being reviewed because of certain realities on ground.
JD:We have had so many theories and excuses from Government and to be honest one doesnt know if even this one is tenable.What Nigerians want is power,not excuses.period!