ON March 11, a bill proposed by Senator Bima Enagi (Niger South) which sought to ban the importation and use of generating sets by Nigerians passed first reading during the plenary session of the Senate. The Generator Set Prohibition Bill 2020 was being proposed to put an end to the use of generating sets in order to check pollution that arises from the use of electricity generator sets and its consequences on the environment and human health. The bill, when enacted, will punish anyone importing or selling generator sets with ten years’ imprisonment. Indeed, the bill prohibits the use of electricity generating sets that run on petrol, diesel or kerosene. It, however, makes an exception for the use of generating sets for essential services such as airports, railway services, elevators, escalators, research institutes and other services that requires 24 hours’ electricity supply.
The Generator Set Prohibition Bill demonstrates the poor judgment and quality of thought of some of those in leadership positions in Nigeria. It is embarrassing and preposterous for such a bill to be proposed in the Senate given the power supply situation in the country. Do the senators and those who support the bill realise the dire power situation in the country, which is a major clog in the industrialisation and economic development drive of the country? Do they recognise that the issue has grave consequences for the livelihood and life chances of many citizens who are unemployed or underemployed because of the constraints of inadequate power supply for the productive capacity of the economy? Do they recognise that poor electricity power supply is so severe that no stone should be left unturned in order to address the situation?
In 2019, Nigeria generated an average of 3, 718 megawatts of electricity. This is less than the 3, 807 mw it generated in 2018. According to Sunday Oduntan, Executive Director, Association of Nigeria Electricity Distributors, Nigeria needs 180,000 megawatts of electricity to adequately meet its needs. Nigeria requires a minimum of 10,000 megawatts to meet demands. Since 1980, the maximum that Nigeria has generated is 5,150 megawatts. This is grossly inadequate, to put it mildly. Many countries of the world produce more than they require in order to guarantee constant supply. South Africa, with a population of 67 million, generates 51,309 megawatts. In December 2019, its state power utility, Eskom, said that the country desperately needed an additional 5,000 megawatts of generating capacity. Nigeria requires cheap and abundantly available electricity to achieve economic competitiveness. This is because the power sector facilitates high capital spending and investments in key sectors of the economy such as services and agriculture. Without power, the potentials of these sectors cannot be realised. Power is required to increase productivity and unleash innovation in various sectors.
The poor power situation in Nigeria largely accounts for its poor business environment and high cost of production in addition to other infrastructural deficits. Manufacturers have consistently attributed over 30 per cent of operating costs to having to provide or depend on alternatives to the national grid for electricity supply. No company in the manufacturing sector in Nigeria today relies on public power supply because depending on it will cause colossal losses because of its epileptic nature. The cost of production has become so high that it has undermined the country’s competitiveness. Many industries have had to relocate to neighbouring Ghana in search of a better business environment. Ensuring adequate and constant power supply will have direct effect on the productivity of the many small-scale industries as well as individual craftsmen on the streets and corners of the country whose productivity and income has been abridged by electricity outages. It is no news that craftsmen and artisans have abandoned their trade to become ‘okada’ riders because of the sheer challenge of surviving on such trades.
The point is that the Senate should be concerned about how to address the problems associated with the power sector rather going on a wild goose chase criminalising the use of generating sets. This is more so because of the investment in the power sector since the Olusegun Obasanjo government that are yet to be accounted for. The government invested huge sums of money to drive its power sector policy that saw to the unbundling of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and the privatisation of the downstream of the power sector. In 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan introduced the Roadmap for Power Sector Reform. However, limited generation and transmission, supply disruptions, theft and corruption continue to hold the country to ransom. Yet the concern of the Senate is the importation and use of electricity generating sets? Nigerians demand that the senators should work towards making electricity power available and accessible. The current concern with generators is tragically laughable. The Generator Set Prohibition Bill should be thrown into the trash can forthwith.