Nigerians who witnessed the 1950s,’60s and ’70s hold fond memories of their country. “In those days’’, they often reminisce, “Nigeria used to be a very good country to live in.”
Then they would reel off reasons why their time was better off: a better standard of education, availability of jobs for qualified Nigerians, security, very low level of corruption in the public service as well as the private sector, government provision of low-income quarters for the working class and low-income earners, non-existent shortage of petroleum products, good and regular water supply among others. But a major reason why they would wish they could roll back the clock is electric power supply.
“In the sixties”, reminisces Pa Rufus Olamide, a retired school principal and landlord at Yaba, Lagos, “we used to have regular and uninterrupted electric supply.
Not these ineffectual Power Holding and DISCOs they talk about these days. It used to be ECN (Electric Corporation of Nigeria), till it was changed to NEPA (National Electric Power Authority) sometime in the 70s. Even under NEPA, we used to enjoy light.”
The old man recalls when he built his house in 1978, revealing that he had only one consumption-reading metre for the whole building. “At the end of each month, I received NEPA bill and shared it among myself and all my tenants according to units. No crazy bills then. NEPA officials came to read the metre and billed you accordingly.”
Corruption creeps in
According to Pa Olamide, “The problems of electric supply started in the early 90s. That was when NEPA officials started demanding for bribe not to cut your light if you owed. With the fall of regular supply, consumers then started having more than one phase and illegal connections became rampant.” He blames it all on corruption.
“I wish this generation witnessed our time”, he says. “They would have known what is called enjoyment. Now, there’s pretense of generator being evidence of enjoyment. It’s suffering.”
The old man could not be far off from the truth. The old times were definitely better off. It is the same old and better times that every government since 1999 wished they could take Nigeria to: better living conditions for the people, good and affordable housing, good standard of education, employment, security, very low level of corruption, good and regular water supply, availability of petroleum products, and especially regular and uninterrupted power supply!
Regular supply of electricity is one of the most important commodities for national development, but it is a major problem which has defied every government since Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999, as the country currently has one of the lowest net electricity generation per capita rates in the world. With electrical energy, the people are empowered to work from the domestic level and the cottage industries, through the small-scale and medium industries to employment in the large-scale manufacturing complexes. Depriving people of electric power is therefore tantamount to castration.
The power supply system in Nigeria is run with a shortfall where demand exceeds supply. As controversial as the epileptic supply of electricity in Nigeria is, so also are the various attempts by different governments to find a lasting solution to the problem.
Since 1999, power management in Nigeria has gone through various phases to ensure adequate, safe, reliable and affordable power supply. All clearly to no avail as Nigerians still groan under irregular or in most cases, no-power supply, but consistent billing.
On its take over of the mantle of leadership on May 29, 1999, the government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was reported to have met the power generation level left by his predecessor, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, at between 2,000 to 2,500 megawatts per day, at a time Nigeria was required to generate 100,000 megawatts as the country’s requirement for both industrial and domestic needs.
Nigerians were, therefore, filled with high expectations on the coming of Obasanjo, especially on power; expectations which were heightened by the promise by then newly appointed Minister for Power, late Chief Bola Ige, who assured Nigerians of uninterrupted power supply in 6 months, by December of that year.
Not only did Chief Ige not meet his promise, Obasanjo himself did abracadabra with power for whole eight years. He initiated the Independent Power Projects (IPPs), allegedly wasting $15, and the best most Nigerians got was blinking of light, which they also paid exorbitantly for. A few years after leaving office, the ex-president attempted to rationalize his failure on power supply by alleging that “then, we had no money. People have forgotten that in 1999/2000, the price of crude oil was $9 per barrel”, but that “when we started having money, we started the National Integrated Power Plant.” Certainly Nigerians have since come to realize the source of the $15 billion allegedly wasted on non-available power, which has continued to leave Nigerians groaning under darkness.
Though the short-lived government of former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is not reputed for achieving much on power supply, that government is known to have increased the megawatts from the about 2,000 it met it in 2007 to between 3,500 to 4,000 when Yar’Adua passed on. But as far as power is concerned, the best memories Nigerians have of him is that his government instigated the House of Representatives’ probe of Obasanjo’s power projects, which revealed the controversial wasted $15 billion.
With the passing on of Yar’Adua, and the emergence of outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan as eventual President, Nigerians were again filled with exciting expectations over the possibilities of remarkable changes in their socio-economic lives, not excluding improvement on power supply. He was the first doctorate degree holder to lead Nigeria, the people were rightly informed, so changes should be expected.
But six years after, as President Jonathan was vacating Aso Rock Presidential Villa, the indelible impression Nigerians have of him is that he left the power situation worse than he met it. The most notable power policy of that government was to unbundle the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), breaking it into five power generation companies (GENCOs) and 10 distribution companies (DISCOs). The purpose of which was to privatize PHCN, for which there have been several accusations that he sold PHCN to his cronies.
But unfortunately, not much differences have been felt by the people. While the DISCOs and GENCOs are grappling with their numerous challenges, electricity consumers have continued to accuse them of insensitivity to their plights. For example, consumers nationwide allege that they are being extorted monthly through estimated bills, exorbitant tariff and non-supply of metres, while electricity supply is yet to improve.
This means that the long wait for uninterrupted power supply continued till President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in May 29, as the GENCOs and DISCOs were still grappling with the numerous challenges, while the immediate past government was yet to solve the problems inherent in the transmission network, the backbone of the electricity sector. They failed totally.
The Jonathan government, however, regularly claimed that it increased the megawatts from the about 3,500 it met it in 2010, to 4,000; a position that has continued to be frequently disputed by experts in the know, alleging that it left it hovering between 2,500 and 3,000 which further dropped below 2,000 in his last month in office, worse than Nigerians had ever known in more than two decades.
State of power supply nationwide
As at mid this week, President Buhari’s first week in office, persistent consumers’ complaints of operational ineptitude and fraudulent dealings by electricity distribution companies across Nigeria stand to prove that the improvement in electricity supply expected from the privatisation of the country’s electricity assets by the past government did not meet the expectations of Nigerians. This is even no longer news.
There had been and there still are nationwide cries by electricity consumers against the DISCOs, of exorbitant tariff, non-supply of metres, non-supply of electricity, extortion through estimated bills among other accusations. The lamentation is a nationwide thing, indicative of how every Nigerian is negatively affected. And it was kudos to the court that restrained them from further hiking the tariff last week.
In Lagos, where Eko and Ikeja DISCOs hold the fort, consumers’ complaints are prevalent. Many residents are frustrated by the poor electricity supply and its adverse impacts on their businesses.
Some of the areas most affected, and whose residents lament poor power supply in Lagos include Magodo, Isheri, Ajegunle, Ebute Meta, Cele, Oluti, Navy Town, Isolo, Amuwo-Odofin, Surulere, Ojodu Berger, Isashi, Badagry etc. the story is same in other parts of the country.
Mrs. Ellen Adakwu, a resident of Ijegun-Satellite axis of Oriade Development Area, who deals in frozen foods, laments, “My business has been shut down for the past two months due to total power outage at Ijegun. The other option of using generator has been disrupted by obvious scarcity of fuel.”
“Power failure is agonizing”, quips Madam Christie Mba, a fashion designer at Iwaya, Yaba. “But more horrific is forcing us to pay for what we don’t consume.”
“For billing us for electricity they don’t supply, we’re just paying for what we don’t use”, laments Mr. Joe Amun, a businessman at Olodi Apapa. “At times we are without light for two months, and they will come with high bills.” Street protests by Lagos residents against power outage and exorbitant bills is a common occurrence.
Like it is in Lagos, so also it is in other South-Western States. In Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Kwara and part of Ekiti, which all fall under Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC), the stories are the same.
Only recently, some aggrieved consumers protested in Omu-Aran, Kwara State, over sudden high increase in electricity tariff effected in the January bills in the area by IBEDC. “What do these people take us for?” one of the protesters asked rhetorically. “Why must they increase tariff when they don’t even provide light?”
The story is not different in the South-South, where Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) is in charge of Edo, Delta, Ondo and part of Ekiti States; and Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHED), under which falls Rivers, Cross River, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom States.
There was protest a few weeks ago in Warri, the commercial hub of Delta State, over what was termed “outrageous and strange billing” by officials of BEDC; while a few days to the governorship election on April 11, some residents of Diobu area of Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, staged a peaceful protest to register their anger over poor power supply. The Diobu residents accused PHED of deliberately leaving them in darkness over the previous three months even after distributing outrageous monthly bills to the area, and threatened not to vote, unless the state government and relevant authorities addressed their plight.
“Power supply has been very epileptic”, lamented Mr. Nkem Charles, a resident of Port Harcourt. “We could plan with the light in the past but the story is different now since this year. The privatization is a huge failure. I pray General Buhari will focus on this area.” In the South-East, where Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) is the distributor in charge of Enugu, Abia, Imo, Anambra and Ebonyi States, there have been general complaints by consumers. A consumer in Enugu laments: “We’re buffeted with astronomical bills for non-supplied power. Where you see power, they engage in load shedding. We will continue to cry out until the issue of power supply is addressed because it is at the heart of socio-economic empowerment of the people.”
The story is not different in the North-East, where Yola Electricity Distribution Company (YEDC) is in charge of Adamawa, Borno, Taraba and Yobe States. From Yola, it is reported that as at last week, the services of YEDC has continued to degenerate so low that most parts of the state capital stay for days without electricity supply.
And from Damaturu is the report that the epileptic power supply in the state capital has degenerated into total blackout to the extent that the suffering masses presently doubt the existence of a DISCO in the state. “I can’t tell the difference between PHCN and YEDC”, laments a resident, Mr. Alfred Levi.
The power supply situation in the North-Central is not different. Jos Electricity Distribution Company (JEDC) covers Plateau, Bauchi, Benue and Gombe States; while Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) covers Abuja FCT, Niger, Kogi and Nassarawa States. From Jos, the Plateau State capital comes the report that electricity distribution has been having hitches in the past two months with consumers who do not have the pre-paid metres complaining about exorbitant estimated bills.
“We’re suffering unnecessarily”, a Jos consumer complains. “There’s is over-billing, lack of adequate power supply, non-reflection of part payment of arrears on current bills issued as well as delay by officials in looking into complaints made to PHCN offices.” However, the Assistant Head, Public Relations of JEDC, Hajia Lubabatu Rabiu says lack of effective power supply is a national problem but that they “are working effectively to meet customers’ demand.”
In Abuja FCT, the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) recently called on electricity consumers in the Federal Capital Territory to be patient over the present state of power in its service area.
Consumers regularly file various complaints ranging from metre recharge hitches to protracted power outage in parts of the Federal Capital and Nasarawa State.
From Gombe is the report of consumers’ complaints of frequent outages and longer periods of blackout, which has left much to be desired. Mr. Sunday Uzoh, a Gombe-resident businessman believes there are people sabotaging the system.
From the North-West, where Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company (KEDC) is in charge of Kaduna, Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara States, and Kano Electricity Distribution Company (KEDCO) is in charge of Kano, Jigawa and Katsina States, complaints by consumers are the same.
Residents of Kaduna recently complained of frequent outages in the town, saying that they have experienced severe power cuts since December last year.
A resident says power supply has drastically dropped since the takeover by the private investors. “We used to enjoy up to 12 hours of power supply, unfortunately, the trend has changed.”
In Kano State, like other states of the federation, residents have been grappling with unstable and erratic power supply, which no doubt has virtually crippled industrial establishments, as these businesses solely depend on electricity in order to sustain production capacity.
There is no doubt that the government of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan did not live up to the expectations of Nigerians, be it better living conditions, good and affordable housing, good standard of education, employment, security, very low level of corruption, good and regular water supply, availability of petroleum products, and especially regular and uninterrupted power supply! The symbolism of the failure of the immediate past government to adequately provide electricity for the country is that this failure rubbed off on every other single sector of the needs of the people, leaving darkness in its wake. From unemployment, insecurity, crisis in health and education sectors to infrastructure, the darkness that hovered over Nigeria at the beginning of Dr. Jonathan’s administration deepened by the time he handed over last week.
He left the country in crisis with fuel shortage crippling the economy in spite of the huge sum of money his administration doled out as subsidies, another scam that his government is believed to have perpetuated, enriching a few individuals and impoverishing millions of Nigerians. The Jonathan administration weakened Nigerian institutions and empowered individuals and the result was the emergence of billionaires from subsidy scams, inflation of contracts, various oil businesses, etc while more Nigerians wallowed in poverty.
It is the norm worldwide that when a new government takes over the mantle of leadership, citizens’ expectations are naturally high. The expectations of Nigerians from President Muhammadu Buhari are therefore high. The Nigerian people clearly expect him to lift the veil of darkness beclouding the country, bringing light and brightness, especially starting with the provision of electric power.
He promised change; and Nigerians need change, in every facet of national life. It is now up to the new president to prove to old generation Nigerians like Pa Rufus Olamide that the people do not necessarily need to return to the past to enjoy the best life can offer, that the future can be made better with the country’s God-endowed resources. The future definitely can be made better and light may begin to outshine the darkness of the Jonathan days. The journey could have begun last Saturday with the change of government.
By Oghene Omonisa, Emmanuel Edukugho, Yinka Ajayi, Aderonke Adeyeri, Nojor Irone, Bala Ajiya (Damaturu), Marie-Therese Nanlong (Jos), Vincent Ekhoragbon (Gombe), Francis Igata (Enugu), Jimitota Onoyume (Port Harcourt) & Umar Yusuf (Yola)