The performance of the reform before now has been extolled and described as largely successful especially because it is the first of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa and remains a model to be followed by all other African Nations and some countries from other parts of the world. Yet, the full extent of its success shall be tested with realities on ground in the months and years ahead. The positives and negatives of the reform would be the subject of major worldwide discussions, conferences and reports when issues of Power System reforms are being considered. While accepting the obvious that no reform process can be perfect, it is not a licence to make mistakes that could otherwise have been avoided.
There is probably no industry better than the Power Industry to showcase the systemic failure in Nigeria and if possible, provide her with the opportunity to retrace her step in doing things the right way. To set matters straight, there can be no short cut to realising sustainable electricity systems. Beginning from allowing qualified Power System Professionals to handle the vastly technical industry, to employing seasoned administrators and Project Managers to mediate the transition from the status quo ante of “constant Power outage” to the eagerly awaited “UP NEPA”, it is imperative to put square pegs in square holes. Make no mistake, Nigeria is endowed, to an exceeding degree, with human and natural resources going by the pedigree of their performances in all walks of life home and abroad. But when these key resources are poorly harnessed, Nigeria will NEVER realise this feat of uninterrupted power supply from the public electricity systems. Who amongst us will want to build a house and will not first of all, count the cost? How come a nation builds a Gas Power Station with millions of dollars unaccounted for, yet only woke up at the end of the project that there was no single Gas pipeline laid to the site. What happened to Project Planning? Project Management? Project Reviews? and we can go on. Where was Knowledge with understanding? They have all been replaced with the nonsense called Quota System! No one is advocating that Nigeria will not make mistakes in the reform process. Making mistakes, and putting up determined effort to correct matters, is an integral part of learning.
According to my Lecturer whilst studying at The Federal Polytechnic Ilaro, Ogun State, “Electricity is a good servant, but a bad master”. The risk of not giving full consideration to the main technical issues relating to a power system is DEATH. Yes, electric current flow will kill innocent citizens going about their normal day-to-day activities if adequate attention is not giving to technical considerations. For example, it has been advocated that Lafarge Cement WAPCO Nigeria Plc and other Large industrial customers (Distributed Generation)will contribute to the power portfolio of the national grid without proper consideration to the possibility of an “Islanding” condition (when the Distributed Generation, running in parallel with the public electricity network, continues to generate and supply electricity to a part of the public electricity network which has been disconnected from the main grid, a condition that will lead to untold number of deaths, equipment damage and liabilities to mention a few). For this, there is need to provide anti-islanding Relays such as those which determine Loss Of Mains Voltage or Frequency among others. Yes, there can be a mad rush towards ensuring electricity for all but there needs to be a cautious and careful approach to achieving this because electricity is dangerous.
Privatised electricity business is a Regulated business. For NERC which is in charge of Regulation, clear, pragmatic and decisive actions are required at every step on the way and beyond. Worldwide, Regulatory officers tend to think of Power Systems as a commodity just like they are used to in microeconomics, and to be frank, which they can deal with easily. The reality is, it is not! More often than not, they end up becoming confused than when they started. The main reason for this is in the Physics of Electricity Generation, Transmission and Distribution. They could employ consultants but most of the consultants you have rushing towards less developed economies like Nigeria are the “hit and Run” types who for lack of competency, do a shoddy job, and move away to another less developed country to dupe them. Thus, the vicious cycle of Blinds, Guiding Blinds continues.
There is no industry in Nigeria where we will see the level of knowledge gap that the Power Industry will create in months to come for very obvious reasons. Therefore, conscientious efforts need to be put in place to ameliorate the detrimental effects this can have on the whole reform exercise. In this regard, the National Power Training Institute (NAPTIN) is supposed to provide guidance. But with those taking the lead lacking a proper understanding of what is required by way of skills set and training requirements for individuals who will work in the Industry, a vicious cycle of blinds guiding blinds develops. This is unhealthy.
Nigerians for good reasons expect the new owners of the power network to perform wonders and make electricity available within reasonable time. The reality however is that this will not be the case. Again, the rules set out at the beginning of the reform exercise had been constantly changed during and after the take-over of Assets to the extent that New Investors already have doubts as to the realisation of a quantum leap in electricity supply to households in Nigeria. The rules for the technical evaluation in my opinion did not ensure that those who lack adequate experience did not become the preferred Bidders irrespective of their commercial attractiveness. This is a case of Blinds guiding Blinds because the end result will be that the new owners will not be able to deliver to the agreed levels of service delivery not because they don’t want to, but because they simply can’t do it! To make matters worse, some Nigerian Banks have been led along by these blind guides by investing in this reform process. The danger in this is that such Banks have unfortunately invested funds of the hitherto struggling and suffering masses who as yet remain “blind” in darkness.
The attendant problems we are about to face in the new Power sector in Nigeria could have been avoided if more time was taken to think things through during the design and planning stages of the entire privatisation process. Although we must be quick to mention that speed of delivery has always been of essence to minimise the obvious possibility of having the Nigerian Oligarchies and most powerful vested interests derail the programme as they have successfully done in the past. This has resulted in the lack of adequate preparation for some of the very complicated technical issues that we might face now that the Assets have been transferred to the new owners.
The main thrust of this is that an urgent review of the status and structure of the Nigerian Educational System is necessary to cope with the huge knowledge gap about to be thrown up by the Blind guides who led us into the darkness of this Reform Process.
Idowu Oyebanjo is a Power System Engineer from The United Kingdom.