Nigeria finally got rid of the moribund Liability called PHCN. It is indeed a relief that this humongous Asset of National disgrace in our collective history is gone forever. Why? On Friday the 1st of November 2013, the inefficient and graft-ridden electricity firm ceased to officially exist. PHCN Assets have been finally handed over to Private investors. But what next?
It is true that most Nigerians will be in a hurry to usher in the “New” song of “UP NEPA” in the real sense of it when electricity supplies to our homes improve. But sad to say, this is not going to happen immediately! This is principally because of the Physics of Power Generation, Transmission, Distribution and Supply. However, this humble step is a huge one in the direction of uninterrupted Power Supplies in the near future. I have written in earlier articles on what a new Investor must do immediately after take over. (please visit nigerianpowersystem.wordpress.com for further information)
In a sense, the years of Nigeria travelling in the great wilderness of darkness is like the journey of the Israelites. At the end of the day, Nigeria is in an advantaged position because, in the business of power supply, she has got the many examples of developed economies to follow. However, care must be taken not to follow the crowd blindly in a vastly technical terrain like the Electrical Power System. Why I say this is that the tendency to depend on expertise from USA, China, Germany and others due to lack of Home Grown Skills in this sector can be detrimental. The fundamentals of Power Systems are similar but the uniqueness of each system cannot be taken for granted. For example, The USA operates her Power System at a frequency of 60Hertz. This will make a thorough Electrical Power Engineer to be wary of information, Standards, methodologies, Plant items etc from USA. You really have to develop your Power System after other systems which operate at 50Hertz like the UK Power System. A case in Point is the AES fracas caused by USA Engineers providing Transformers meant for a 60Hertz Power System (manufactured by their own Indigenous company for their own system) to Lagos State Government in recent years. As the Nigerian Engineers lack understanding of what they wanted or why they needed the items, the Transformers never worked for years because of over fluxing among other things which is an attendant problem resulting from the use of a 60Hertz Transformer in a 50 Hertz system. It can be a small thing like that but the damage that could be done to a Power System in such a manner could be irreversible. There is an urgent need to strike an intelligent balance between the lack of knowledge of Power System and the dire need of ensuring that we have uninterrupted power supplies. This needs to be carefully and systematically approached.
British Engineers built the Nigerian Power System, and in the lack of technical knowledge of Power Systems in Nigeria, the best thing is to mirror or liaise with Britain in the course of developing the Network. Allowing officers from United States of America to dictate the direction and policy of that Network will be suicidal because USA operates a 60Hertz system and in many ways their Power Network differs from ours which operates at 50Hertz. The damage this can cause could be long term!
The Transmission grid in the UK is operated as a separate entity by the National Grid company and is subject to regulation just like the Distribution Network. The 132kV system which was formerly the Transmission Voltage was placed under the jurisdiction of the Distribution Network Operators (Regional Electricity Boards akin to Discos in Nigeria) because Super Transmission grids (Supergrid) at 275kV or 400kV (more like the 330kV system in Nigeria) in some places were built to enhance capacity. So, in every sense, the layout of the Nigerian Power System, the problems and challenges to be faced would have been dealt with by and large by the British Engineers who worked assiduously on their Power System. This is not to advocate that due diligence and caution should be thrown to the wind, rather, it is an impetus towards moving in the right direction.
In all of these, quota system should not be used in selecting members of the board of TCN or any organization that will be very key to the successful implementation of the Power Sector reform. Celebrating meritocracy in all spheres of the Power Sector will assist in cutting short the long journey towards stable electricity supply. Government should hands off the operation and running of TCN and Manitoba hydro should be allowed to perform as per the requirements of her contract if Nigeria wants electricity.
Gas – Whenever Nigeria decides to have electricity, she will make gas available to the Gas-fired Power Stations built and dotted around the country. With vested interest in electricity, youths and the general people in local communities will act as volunteers to “police” the infrastructure how much else if they get some money for doing so.
The most worrisome thing is that those who are taking the lead in this matter do not understand how Electric Current flows. If you make use of Knowledgeable Power System Engineers of Nigerian descent, who work in the Electricity Industries in the developed economies, most likely you will achieve better results in less than four years. Ofcourse, these will work with qualified Consultants who know their onions but because they know their A from their B, they are more likely to get better value for money for Nigeria. The truth is that not all foreign Consultants will want electricity in Nigeria because this means Nigerians will leave their shores and return home, Nigerians will go to Universities in Nigeria, world economics will change and the propensity for Investment will shift to Nigeria etc. The way to go about this is to set up a summit to attract these Power Systems Engineers of Nigerian descent and bring them together to brainstorm their ideas and support this reform. They are everywhere and Government machineries could be used to track them down. For example, the Association of Nigerians in Diaspora was formed in the year 2000 by former president Obasanjo towards this end and have no doubt being functioning well since then. This could be a veritable means to achieve this noble objective.
The truth is, if an Investor really knows what he is doing and he is well prepared, he should make positive impact in reasonable time. But an unprepared Investor who depends, ab-initio, on the “business as usual” scenario of corrupt Nigeria, will resort to various excuses after milking poor consumers dry and leave the network in his care worse than he met it hoping there will be no penalty . This is why the regulator or Industry watchdog must be able to “bark and bite”!