Tackling the Nigerian Electricity Problem

There is no doubt that one day, the stage will be reached (if not already so), when Nigeria will realise that the celebration of mediocrity is inconsistent with positive development in the electricity sector. At that time, the infernally avaricious cartels and demons who are holding the country back from seeing the “Light” will be joining the rest of us in solving this intractable problem. All hands will be on deck! Even then, it will take a few years of working in the right direction before the goal of uninterrupted power supplies can be reached. I speak now as a qualified professional in the field of Power Systems.

So much has been said about plausible solutions to the avalanche of problems bedevilling the electricity sector that it will be incorrect to say that the government is short of ideas on what is required to tackle the problems. What is lacking is the will and resources to do so.

I begin with a one sentence summary of the solution. “Gas must be made available to Gas fired Power Stations dotted around the country to generate electricity for evacuation via a network of strengthened Transmission and Distribution Assets by technically qualified personnel working in the envisioned Electricity Supply Industry (ESI)”. Straightaway one can see the dire need for the will to tackle the problems intertwined with the harnessing of the resources to do so. This means that strategists, economists, project managers and seasoned engineers who have verifiable power industry experience will be required to charter the course that will lead to a sustainable ESI. Therefore, it is safe to prophecy that the surest sign to identify the stage described in the opening paragraph will be the unprecedented availability of gas to power stations and the gathering of those with thorough knowledge of how electricity systems work from within the defunct PHCN and outside of it to lead the way. This will include courageous and determined Nigerians who currently work in the ESI in developed economies.

When commentators unfamiliar with the requirements of a functional Power System say that the management of the Power Sector in developed economies is not necessarily by Engineers, caution is required because the truth is that such economies for upward of sixty to seventy years of the last century built, operated and managed their electrical networks using qualified Engineers. Hence, they already had a functional Electrical Power System in place and only in the wake of the privatisation of electrical utilities within the last twenty years have they made the mistake (my opinion) of employing Accountants, Economists and Administrators who by the very nature of their professions are better placed to implement the requirements of privatised businesses. What should have be done is to develop management capabilities within the industry to ensure Engineers in Management can be better placed to balance the economics of regulation with the dynamics of an Electrical Power System. This is an Achilles heel faced by industrialised nations today as far as the management of their electricity systems is concerned. Nigeria can avoid this error. To be sure, a functioning ESI is a vastly technical system that will not succeed apart from placing a high impetus on the views and contributions of qualified Power System Engineers. The so called administrators will forever employ technical consultants to explain the finer details of Power Systems to them before they can derive successful economic models to regulate or manage the business. This adds avoidable costs to the whole business of Electricity Supply and is especially germane as Nigeria, effectively, has to build her Power System “from scratch” in the daunting face of meagre finances.

In itself, this presents a once in a life time opportunity to develop the Power System in a safe and coordinated manner that will meet the challenges of today and serve the needs of future generations by leveraging on the experiences from other ESIs world over who have surmounted the teething problems that may crop up in the development of a vibrant ESI.

Congruent to the resolution of the problems is the availability of adequate technical capacity within the NESI. This is grossly inadequate today. Significant focus must be placed on the training of existing and would-be Engineers, artisans, technicians, craftsmen and other key personnel that will physically deliver the infrastructural development programme required by the NESI.

There is no problem of national embarrassment that reflects the depth of decline in the Nigerian education system than the electricity quandary we have found ourselves.

Idowu Oyebanjo is a Chartered Power System Engineer

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