ELECTRICITY FOR MOST HOMES IN NIGERIA: A MIRAGE
In the last many decades, a lot has been written, debated and researched about the history of the electric power supply crisis in Nigeria, which goes back to soon after Independence and is related to not knowing how to spread responsibility and maintain equity. As far back as 1950, I can remember that it was the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) that was given the order to integrate electricity power development and make it effective. The then-colonial government passed the ECN Ordinance No. 15 of 1950. With the ordinance in place, the electricity department and all those undertakings, which were controlled, came under one body.
In the early 1960s, the Niger Dam Authorities (NDA) and Electricity Corporation amalgamated to form the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN). Immediately after the end of the 1967-1970 Nigerian civil war, the management of ECN changed its name to the National Electric Power Authority, or NEPA. In the late 2000s, it became a public limited company (NEPA plc.), and then later the name was changed again from NEPA plc. to the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN).
It was one of the major institutions that suffered the takeover so quickly from the colonial masters that didn’t know that Nigerians loved titles without responsibilities. Therefore, not knowing how to govern ourselves and without knowing and considering that managing electric power, generating, distributing, transmitting and maintaining is a very specialized science and age-long experience.
The lack of the necessary expertise or willpower has led to today’s frequent blackouts and Nigeria becoming a dumping ground for hundreds of millions of generators and still importing, and the diesel and petrol saga.
Today, if you give the average Nigerian electric power, he will pay 10 times over because of the damage we have all suffered from sometimes a quarter of power supply, sometimes half power supply and, most times, no power supply, with no explanation and no apologies from anywhere. Fortunately, we can go back to review the process of privatization of the telecommunication industry and, despite the incomparable cost to average Nigerians, rich and poor, we have also wondered what life would have been like if we didn’t have the mobile telephone system because it has done some good to our education, our health, and to our entire formal and informal sectors. It has provided employment for millions of Nigerians and has changed the way we do business, small or big, young and old, rich or poor.
Without electric power supply, there will be no quality education, there will be no quality health system and there will be no security.
The business world has also suffered from a lack of investment from foreign financial institutions because of a number of institutions that have collapsed over the years despite promises that have been made by a successive governments without fulfilling them. Even in some private homes, people have resorted to owning sometimes two or three generators.
Electricity is the major force behind a productive society as well as a spot of ink on the wheels of better communication.
The power supply crisis has become a national embarrassment; from small businesses to multinational corporations and to homes, constant power supply is still a mere dream that only a few privileged citizens can afford.
The hospitality business, a major employer of labour that must have 24 hours power even with a 10 per cent occupancy rate, is barely surviving but for the “never say die” mentality of the average Nigerian businessman.
For years, despite the consistent cash investment by the Federal Government, local and, at times, even nationwide power outages have been the norm. Because of such outages, over the years, the Nigerian public has given the company numerous humorous acronyms such as “Never Expect Power Always” (NEPA), and “Please Hold a Candle Now” (PHCN). One would perceive that, with these mockery-like acronyms, the government would quickly look into the electricity situation of the country, but the opposite has been the case.
Therefore, considering that the suffering has gone on for too long, a state of emergency must be declared that would bring all the former heads of state and heads of government of the country to a crisis dialogue so that each of them can tell the nation about the promises they made and failed during their stewardship, and the reason for the failures, so as to give the nation an account of how the huge investment failed to give the nation some electricity. Considering that some of the heads of state and heads of government served multiple terms, also, considering that the huge investment came from borrowing from foreign financial institutions, during the crisis meeting, Nigerians would want to know how much was borrowed, how much has been paid back and what is outstanding. Despite all the borrowing, foreign and local, Nigerians would want to know why we still lack electricity to this present day and time.
Borrowing from foreign financial institutions to build electricity infrastructures and paying back or defaulting to pay back over the years without regular supply of power begs for answers from a summit of former heads of state that borrowed and promised the nation steady power supply. Such a summit will go a long way towards knowing when to expect regular power supply so as to begin a process of cleaning the environment that has been badly damaged by millions of generator oil and fumes and is responsible for the degradation of the air that we breathe, affecting the food that we eat and polluting the water that we drink.