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The Buhari Factor And Improvement In the Power Sector

And I believe the Buhari factor, if engaged positively, can help bring about the improvement while working with the current structure of the sector, but with necessary improvements that must extend to equipment and other facilities

Ikeogu Oke

This piece is prompted by two recent observations. The first is that, as we approached to the inauguration of President Muhamadu Buhari, there was a sharp drop in power generation, resulting in an all-time low generation of 172 megawatts three days to the inauguration. Incidentally, some people with whom I interacted on social media saw this as a sign of the “gross incompetence” of the past administration and the failure of its power sector reform together with the reform’s defining privatization component.

Curiously, they maintained this view even after I pointed out that, under the same administration, our country also achieved its highest quantum of electricity generation so far, which exceeded 4,500 megawatts. The second observation is that, after President Buhari’s inauguration, we started to witness relative stability or gradual improvement in power generation. These figures of the peak generation seven days before and after the inauguration speak for themselves: May 22 (2, 395.35 megawatts), May 23 (1,936.5 megawatts), May 24 (1,536 megawatts), May 25 (1,333 megawatts), May 26 (172 megawatts), May 27 (1,701.1 megawatts), May 28 (2,872.2 megawatts), May 29 (3,155 megawatts), May 30 (3,205.1 megawatts), May 31 (3,346.8 megawatts), June 1 (3,388.5 megawatts), June 2 (3,743.3 megawatts), June 3 (3,537.2 megawatts), June 4 (3,403.2 megawatts), June 5 (3,087.7 megawatts).

The figures are from the Presidential Task Force on Power (PTFP). So, from the above figures, it can be inferred that there was an almost steady decline in power generation as the May 29 inauguration date approached and there has been relative stability or an almost steady increase in power generation since that date.

The reason for this decline and recovery may long remain controversial, even as some are inclined to attribute the decline to sabotage by vandals and the recovery to what may be termed the Buhari factor and the manifestation of the change our new president promised from the dawn of his presidency. The Buhari factor, as I understand it, is necessarily a complex phenomenon. But suffice is to say that it refers to anything associated with our new president as a causal agent which may have impacted our power situation or led to changes in other aspect of our lives as a people. This may include his personality or leadership style. It may also include the apparent fear by workers in the power sector that under his administration they would be punished for inefficiency.

And it may include, among other things, the realization by the vandals who sabotage power facilities that under his government they will have no hiding place from the law, resulting in their closing shop to allow the continuous flow of electricity in the system. Indeed, we may link the Buhari factor to the improvement we have witnessed in power generation since his inauguration.

However, we must also acknowledge that such things as personality, leadership style, etc., which can be associated with the Buhari factor, cannot generate power on their own. Having worked for fifteen years in the power sector, specifically in the then National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), during which I occupied various positions as a senior technical/maintenance crewman, I am aware that, fundamentally, power generation is a technology driven process achieved by operating dams and turbines.

Also, that to sustain a power system you need a vast range of functional equipment and infrastructure to generate, transmit and distribute power, and a wide range of dedicated, efficient and well-motivated workers playing different productive roles in the generation, transmission and distribution stations of the power sector. In short, you need functional equipment and a well-organized structure to deliver efficient electricity services such as we have witnessed more following President Buhari’s inauguration, compared to what transpired in the week prior to the epochal event.

And since the comparative improvement has occurred without Mr. President having appointed his Minister of Power or made any visible alteration of the equipment and structure of the power sector existing prior to his inauguration, it is safe to conclude that the said improvement has benefitted from the equipment and structure existing prior to the inauguration.

The equipment, it must be noted, include turbines and other generator units in power stations at Jebba, Shiroro, Kainji and Sapele, which were rehabilitated during the power sector reform as part of the reform’s goal of recovering installed capacity and realizing improvement in generation such as the increase from 2,800 megawatts at the launch of the reform to the above-4,500 megawatts peak generation attained during the reform.

It also includes the various power transformers and other power facilities commissioned nationwide during the reform, not least the NIPP projects. On the other hand, the structure is defined by what emerged from the privatization of the successor companies of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) through their sale (for distribution and generation companies) or concessioning (for the Transmission Company of Nigeria), coordinated by the National Council on Privatization (NCP) and the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE).

Since, relying on those equipment and structure, we could experience improvement, however marginal, in the power situation before or during the Buhari era, then it is not the right inference, as some have made, that all the effort of the recent past in the power sector was wasted. The real waste will occur from reversing that effort, which will amount to throwing away the baby with the bathwater, whereas we have the sane option of consolidating on its gains to ensure greater improvement in electricity services to our people.

Rather than seek to discredit the power reform and privatization effort without justification, we should be asking how, with the Buhari factor, we can ensure regular gas supply to the NIPP plants so as to harvest fully their 4,775-megawatt installed capacity for national development. We should be asking how we can make the generation and distribution companies fulfil their mandate more effectively, and how we can strengthen the transmission network for improved wheeling of generated power and to accommodate the projected growth of the system.

We should be asking how we can eliminate such extraneous factors as sabotage by vandals, which can frustrate even the best effort at ensuring regular power supply to our citizens. The improvement we seek in the power sector will come from finding practical answers to such questions rather than belittling or rolling back the effort at reforming the sector. And I believe the Buhari factor, if engaged positively, can help bring about the improvement while working with the current structure of the sector, but with necessary improvements that must extend to equipment and other facilities.

•Oke, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Abuja. [Email: ikeogu.oke@gmail.com; Tel: +234-(0)803- 453-1501] 

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