Power systems collapse: We saw it coming

On Wednesday, May 8, the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) experienced one of the most debilitating power system collapses in recent times. The development plunged all segments of the electricity supply chain into chaos, reducing load allocations to all distribution companies across the country.

It was the sixth time the nation’s power systems would be experiencing shutdown in 2019 alone. Imagine that this is just the fifth month of the year. In January, the country’s power system collapsed twice.  In April, two major collapses were also experienced; two system collapses on May 8 and 9 completed the round.

From April this year, power supply had plummeted from about 4, 212 megawatts peak at the start of the month to a paltry 2,000 Megawatts. The nation’s power systems had also collapsed in June 2018, when the entire country was thrown into darkness, following the acute gas shortage experienced by the thermal plants.

No matter what the loyalists of President Muhammadu Buhari would say on this matter, the frequent power outages, systems collapse and the stunted growth of the power sector cannot be blamed on the gods. It is clear that neither the anger of Ogun the god of iron nor that of Sango the god of thunder can be attributed to the darkness that pervades the Nigerian setting. The failure of authorities to address the laxity and the corruptive tendencies in the sector must account for the daring failures in that sector.

Having gone round most of the power installations in the country with National Assembly committees, there is a glaring confirmation that the power sector is not receiving the attention it deserves here. The government claims it is fighting corruption, but there is the feeling that such a fight cannot be extended to the Power sector.

And if the people in the sector are left to do and undo, what would stop them from plunging the entire country and the seat of power into utter darkness?

In November 2017, the Senate Committee on Power, Steel Development and Metallurgy headed by Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe hosted a public hearing on the fate of the 215 Megawatts Kaduna Power plant, inherited by the Buhari administration from the immediate past government.

The revelations coming from that hearing were shameful, scary and heart rendering.

Some foreigners who made presentations at the hearing were practically poking fingers at our nose to deride the undue collusion between officials of Power Ministry and a particular Consultant, a British national. The Consultant and the Ministry rewrote the Plant’s police just to make money for some interests and shortchange the government and the people.

On the first count, the nation lost N360 million and some hidden costs to the decision to build gas storage plants, while the citizens were billed for perpetual enslavement through cut-throat power costs.

It is noteworthy that two years after that hearing, the only thing that was achieved was the stoppage by the Senate of the planned hurried commissioning of one of the eight units of the Power Plant. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission(ICPC) and other anti-graft agencies of government played deaf to the reports of the public hearing, which got some good mention in the media.

The Senate Committee on Monday, November 27, held the hearing tagged “The urgent need to save The 215 Megawatt (MW) Kaduna power plant.” At the hearing, the lawmakers were told that the plant, which was originally configured in 2009 as a gas powered plant was relocated to the trunk line of the 614km Ajaokuta-Abuja-Kaduna-Kano gas pipeline, to ensure strategic supply of gas. However, when the Plant was more than 60 percent ready, the Ministry of Power under Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, changed the plant’s policy from gas to diesel. But diesel is known to cost 60 percent more than gas in power generation.

A revelation at the hearing indicated that it would cost Nigeria N46 million daily to run one of the eight units of the plant on diesel, whereas it would cost less than half of that to power the plant it by gas. In fact, while power produced through diesel would cost N79 per Kilowatt, it would cost only N37 per kilowatt when powered by gas.

Despite the huge difference in cost overweight, the Senators were alarmed that the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry and other officials gleefully defended the sabotage of the Nigerian people. The senators were incensed that Ministry officials could collude with the consultant to the project, a Briton, to change the policy directive of the Plant in a way that would impose huge power costs on Nigerians.

But you will be alarmed more that none of the anti-graft agencies have found those revelations an interesting source of investigation, two years on.

Senate President Bukola Saraki, who was represented at the hearing by Senate Deputy Chief Whip, Francis Alimikhena, had said: “It is surprising that the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing appears to have jettisoned the use of gas to power the Kaduna power plant and instead, opted for the construction of Automobile General Oil (diesel) tanks for the use of AGO, which is 60 percent higher in cost when compared with gas.”

Surprisingly, the power plant, which was started in 2009 and was meant for completion in 2012 but for the relocation from its original site to the gas trunk line which shifted its completion date to 2015 does not have a completion date even after almost four years of supervision by Fashola.

Similar kind of corruptive and inept tendencies have stalled the Zungeru Hydro power plant the Afam plant and the other power installation projects inherited by the Buhari government.

Little wonder, the administration could not commission any of the inherited power plants even at the end of its first tenure. No wonder, the systems are collapsing almost on a daily basis.