NOW THAT THE GENCOS & DISCOS HAVE BEEN SOLD....is that the end of the story?
We should be thankful to God that we have come this far in the Privitisation and deregulation of the Electricity Power Sector. It has been a very long and tortuous journey with so many twists and bends. From Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) to National Electric Power Authority ( NEPA) to Power Holding Company of Nigeria( PHCN). From a monolithic hegemony to an unbundled behemoth . From Gencos and Discos that were owned by the government to privately owned and managed Power generating and distribution companies. We have come a long way.
We must congratulate the Government for staying the course and showing uncommon determination to see the programme through. Well you may say that they really had no other choice. Having tried everything and having invested( some Nigerians think wasted) billions of Naira and yet ended with only 4000 MW of electricity and epileptic supply to thoroughly dissatisfied customers, there were only few options left.The story of our inefficient Electricity Power Sector and our long struggle with it seems to epitomise our National Development dilemma. Next to corruption,It has contributed most to our National image and Stigma. From 'Never Expect Power Always' to 'Never Expect Power At all',NEPA characterised and stigmatised Nigeria.
Little wonder President Olusegun Obasanjo thought that the major problem with NEPA was Corruption and reasoned that if corruption was eliminated or minimised, then power supply and distribution would improve dramatically. So he searched for an incorruptible Nigerian to make Minister of Power. And he found one in the late Chief Bola Ige. True to type, Ige came and roused the sleeping behemoth and for a few months, Nigerians noticed a kind of American wonder as electricity blazed all over the Nation and in some areas, a 24 hour unbroken supply was achieved. But just as we were about to heave a sigh of relief, the whole thing just 'yakata'. The entire system collapsed and we went back to epileptic supply. It was said that Chief Bola Ige had made a few changes in Management and ordered them to produce electricity. Zealously, they responded and fired all the equipment and there was light. But no sooner were the equipment put on maximum output, than they crumbled, because they had been unserviced for many years,especially in the last years of Military rule. Obasanjo was embarrassed and disillusioned. Next he decided that NEPA should be sold as he was not ready to pour money down the drain pipe any more. But who would buy a dead horse?
Seeing that he had about two years left and sensing that he had failed to deliver on one of his key promises to the People of Nigeria, he furiously launched the National Independent Power Projects and did all in his power to fast track the projects, while trying to complete some abandoned NEPA ( now PHCN) projects. Obasanjo left office without accomplishing his Power objectives but he laid the foundation for the Privitisation and deregulation of the Electricity Sector. Then enter President Umaru Musa Yardua. He was piqued,like many Nigerians that so much had been thrown at the power problem with apparent limited success. He therefore halted further investment in the Power sector and connived with the National Assembly to probe Obasanjo's Power Sector reform. Though we do not have the final report of the Elumelu Committee, it is safe to assume that the report had nothing new to reveal, meanwhile the power situation remained unsatisfactory.
Then enter President Goodluck Jonathan and he went headlong for the jugular of the Power demons. Working with the advice of the Presidential Advisory Council which he set up early in his presidency and using the instrumentality of the Presidential Task force on Power, he developed the Power Sector Road map and has not looked back since then. He remained focused, completing the independent Power Stations and housed them under the Niger delta Power holding company. He went on with Prof Barth Nnaji, who had transformed from the Presidential Advisory Council member to chair the Presidential Task force on Power and onto the office of the Minister of Power. Prof Nnaji and his team with ample support from the International community was firing on all cylinders. They completed the unbundling of PHCN, granted semi autonomy to the new operating units and technically liquidated PHCN. Working with the National Electricity Regulatory Commission(NERC)and other Stakeholders, they set up the Electricity Bulk Buyer, hired Manitoba corporation of Canada to run the National Electricity Transmission grid and got the National Electricity supply stabilized.
Next President Goodluck Jonathan focused on the Privitisation of the Generating Plants and the
Distribution Companies. And despite all the obstacles on the way, least of all being the strident opposition of Labour, he has delivered on the Privitisation of almost all the Power Plants and distribution network owned by the defunct PHCN. Thanks to the professional competence exhibited by the National committee on Privitisation and the Bureau for Public Enterprises(BPE). President Jonathan and his government must be applauded for this landmark and game- changing accomplishment.But Is this the end of the story?
It certainly is not and should not be. The Niger Delta independent Power Stations owned by the Federation are nearing full Privitisation as well and will soon be in private hands. On top of that, it is cheering that the Federal Govt is still investing in Power. The Mambilla and Geregu projects are new amongst other greenfield power projects being embarked by the Government alone or in joint venture Partnership. Added to that several State Governments, especially Lagos and Rivers are building independent plants and there is really hope that one day soon, the image of Nigeria defined by 'NEPA' will change for good,just as that defined by ' NITEL' has long changed and Nigeria is now known as one of the Countries with the biggest Telecoms market, attracting interest from all over the World.
But now that the 'Power' is in Private Sector hands, what will the beleaguered Nigerian Consumers be expecting? Certainly, they are not expecting to see what happened at the Ajaokuta Steel Plants where the new owners just stripped and canabalised the plant, leaving Nigerians with neither iron nor steel. They are not expecting to exchange baboons for monkeys. They are not looking for Private People who will make their situation worse. Yes Retail price of Electricity will increase with deregulation and appropriate pricing. But that should not be the primary focus at this stage. Consumers will like to see gradual improvement of service levels and will not mind paying more as service improves. But to see rise in prices at the same level of service will not be acceptable to Nigerian Consumers. The Private Sector owners must see their investment as long term and must not rush to recoup investment. Of course, the expectation is that they will make additional major investments both in Generation and distribution to vastly improve service levels and bring us at par with global best standards.
Because, the distribution companies will still enjoy monopoly of service in their jurisdictions, they must work hard to exorcise the 'NEPA' mentality. This is particularly important because most of their staff in the short to medium term will be NEPA legacy staff. So a whole lot of training and reorientation is indicated. But here I think the hope of Consumers will be on the regulatory agency -NERC and the Consumer Protection Agency. This is very important because as we know, Private Monopoly is much much worse than Public monopoly.
The ultimate question is when are we going to introduce competition in the retail sales of electricity. Just as we have in Telecoms today. Right in my village in Arochukwu, any day MTN messes me up, I quickly 'port' like Saka to Etisalat. But with Electric supply, if Interstate decides to mess me up with either poor service or crazy bills, I can not 'port', unless to my generator, that is If I can find where to buy diesel at the deregulated prices ( here fuel sellers sell at their prices, no DPR, no controls)which operate in the South East Region of Nigeria. So it is good that the Gencos and Discos have been successfully sold to private operators. But that is not the end of the story. Infact the story has just started.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR