National grid of darkness

TO the extent that the state of power supply in Nigeria is a barometer for measuring the health of its overall physical infrastructure, it is fair to conclude that the country is in a sorry state. A recent media analysis of industry data gives a picture of the sordid situation. One thing that jumps out is the revelation that over the past 12 and a half years, the national power grid has suffered at least 222 partial or total collapses. The national power grid is a network of electricity transmission lines connecting generating stations to loads across the country.

The causes of these recurrent and seemingly interminable collapses have varied. According to the report, they range from “low water levels at the hydropower plants, low gas supply at the gas power plants, fire at the largest power generating station, load rejection,”to the “inability of the transmission companies to wheel electricity from generators to distributors.” Which begs the question: if the causes are well-known— and they all seem to be of a technical nature—what makes it so difficult to arrest them and restore sanity to electricity supply in the country? Why has the situation worsened despite all the ostensibly well-meaning efforts to bring it under control?

Over the years, the government has advanced various reasons, ranging from the remotely plausible to the completely absurd, from nefarious human agents to ophidian interlopers. At the same time, various administrations over the years have pumped huge sums of money into the sector. Since the inauguration of the Fourth Republic in 1999, an estimated N11 trillion has gone towards electricity supply in Nigeria. Yet, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB), within the same period, Nigerian households have been spending at least 14 billion dollars annually to fuel their generators. In the light of the foregoing, it is an understatement to say that waste, mismanagement and corruption are the bane of power generation and supply in the country.

But the problem is not invincible. For instance, while there may be no single solution to the crisis in the electricity sector, it is clear that the country can ill afford the current arrangement in which a single national grid distributes power across the country. It is inefficient, risky and susceptible to internal and external sabotage. There is no good reason why states should not be allowed to generate their own electricity. As it is with security (aka state police), so it ideally should be with power generation.

Yet, the problems of the power sector in the country are ultimately only partially about the cancer of centralisation. The truth of the matter is that such is the rot at the heart of every institution in the country that decentralisation is just a first step. It is not the perfect solution, but without it, the nation does not stand a chance of reversing the rot.

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