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The way forward

SENATE President Ahmad Lawan again spoke the mind of most Nigerians when, at the opening of a one-day Senate Roundtable Discussion on Addressing Nigeria’s Power Problems in Abuja, last week, he called for a review of the exercise that produced the current set of players in the power sector. Describing the process as fraudulent, he says of prospects: “if we play the ostrich, even in the next 10 years, we will still be talking about this problem.”

According to him: “Some people signed very scandalous agreements on behalf of government. People will take hundreds of millions for nothing. I think time has come to take major decisions on what we need to do with those agreements”.

Calling for a “declaration of emergency”, as according to him, the Federal Government, as indeed most Nigerians, “all know what went wrong”, he says “what we really need to do is to have the political will to take on the challenges”.

“I think the time has come for us to have courage”, he said. “It is really disheartening that we are still talking about 4,000MW. We have decided to have a maximum capacity of 12,000MW but we can’t take more than 5,000 MW. I don’t understand this”.

Neither do Nigerians.

What Nigerians understand is that the 20 generating companies (GenCos) and 11 distribution companies (DisCos) that took over from the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) have neither the technical capacity nor the financial wherewithal to take the sector forward. They see a sector not only mired in the inefficiencies of the past but one in which the way out is as elusive as when the journey began in 2005. They are bogged down with a set of disparate players in which the electricity consumer continues to receive the short end of the stick.

Seeking to understand what went wrong is certainly in order. In fact, it is something that the senate ought to have done long before now as a matter of public duty. As for the call for emergency, one only needs to recall that late President Umaru Yar’Adua made it one of his campaign promises, to underscore why the latest call is neither spurious nor unreasonable, more so as the conditions have remained the same as they were even then.

However, while Nigerians would readily welcome such interventions if merely to assure them that something serious is being done about the power problem, the best that such measures can achieve is merely to reinforce what the regulator and the government have already undertaken to do.

Already, the National Economic Council (NEC) has constituted an ad hoc committee headed by Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State to review government’s 40% stake in the DisCos. We are also aware of the cancellation notice served on eight power distribution companies – Abuja, Benin, Enugu, Ikeja, Kaduna, Kano, Port Harcourt and Yola – for alleged breach of the provisions of the Electric Power Sector Reform Act and the 2016 – 2018 Minor Review of Multi -Year Tariff Order and Minimum Remittance Order for the Year. That deadline expired December 7. And, just as Nigerians eagerly await the outcome of that notice, also expected is the final review of the five-year performance agreement of the DisCos by December 31. Just as our expectation is that nothing will hamstring those critical regulatory actions, the real crunch is what the government will do after to reposition the sector and to give it a fresh breath of life.

In all, the choice ahead seems clear enough: the sector, particularly the distribution sub sector, needs a new crop of players – with requisite technical expertise and financial muscle to turn things around. Given that Nigerians can’t wait to see the horde of laggard players yield the space for those with proven capability, it is still better for the senate to focus on how to get the executive face that singular task than embark on a long, winding probe.

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