Vandalism: The cancer in Nigeria’s power sector

By By Sunny Igboanugo on 17/02/2015

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Two years ago or thereabout, President Goodluck Jonathan told Nigerians to be prepared to crown him the most popular President of the country. This was on the strength of a comment by one of the participants at a media chat that any President who solved the problem of electricity in Nigeria would go down as the most popular President in its history.

Obviously, the President’s confidence in that riposte could not have been misplaced. It must have flowed from these critical elements - the desire in his heart, the ideas in his head, the plan on the drawing board and the steps he was already taking to create that reality. However, what the President appeared not to have envisaged or contemplated, was the milieu where he is operating – the fact that this is Nigeria, where the unimaginable happens.

So, he sets out with uncommon gusto to achieve the goal. Of course, two years earlier, he had set the ball rolling with the inauguration of the Roadmap to Power, a template detailing each step to be taken in the direction of providing uninterrupted power to the country. It was a work-plan that seemed well cut out for him and those he relied upon to do the job. Pronto, he went about doing the needful – getting the right personnel, providing the right funding, making the right contacts, domestic and international and generally creating the fertile ground for all stakeholders to be at their best, doing their utmost in bringing the vision to fruition.

The cumulative result four years on, appears quite amazing. For the first time in the history of the country, the generation output is at all-time high. From a 50-year production benchmark of 2,800megawatts, the capacity has hit well above 7,000megawatts and still counting, in just four years. This came about as a result of a number of far-reaching activities in the sector – the actual completion and commissioning of most of the National Integrated Power Projects (NIPPs) and the Independent Power Plants (IPPs), a well-articulated and robust gas production and distribution initiative to power the thermal stations and the a vigorous private sector participation engendered by a deliberate and consistent government policy.

Aside boosting the generation capacity, the President’s support for the transmission and distribution value chain of the industry, has also been quite remarkable. The result is that today, the transmission lines to evacuate generated power has been strengthened from just 270kilometres to well over 650kilometres, while tripling the number of injection sub-stations across the country. The strengthening and upgrading of critical infrastructure as a result of the huge investment induced by the President has also led to a drastic reduction of the technical losses witnessed in the transmission and distribution of power.

In the distribution chain, the President has also provided the needed support for the distribution companies to rev up their capacity in distributing transmitted power. Tens of thousands of transformers were acquired and distributed to them. Most recently, he approved the purchase of one million metres for distribution to consumers to reduce the hues and cries associated with inadequate metering in the distribution value chain. Of course, the seamless completion of the privatisation of government stakes in the generation (Gencos) and distribution (Discos), remains the icing on the cake.

The combination of all these interventions, would have seen the President rolling out the drums today to celebrate the crowning of his efforts. The outcome, would evidently have led to huge political dividends for him too, and would have provided one of the strongest planks upon which the platform for his re-election dreams would have rested.  But this appears not to be. The well-deserved celebration has been punctuated in the most brutal manner. Like the biblical story, enemies, diverse, strong and awesome have taken advantage of the darkness of the night to plant weeds in the blossoming garden of hope.

The dictum, it is easier to destroy than to build could not have been more apt. All they needed do to totally demolish the gigantic superstructure the President has created is to target and hit its soft underbelly. Each night’s activity of blowing up the gas pipelines, apparently the easiest and deadliest target, simply does the job. What follows thereafter is the wailing and lamenting similar to the scene of a night marauder’s visit.

That was the picture a few days ago when they came calling once again. In what analysts have zeroed down to the current politics in the country, the latest attack appeared well-targeted. The devastating blow came on the heels of the presidential election earlier slated for February 14. Its import, it is believed, was to throw the country into darkness throughout the week so that the voters in the election would visit the anger flowing therefrom on the President, a candidate.

Before the incident, there had been pockets of attacks on the pipelines on a consistent basis, leading to a seeming ding-dong affair where repair works are followed almost immediately with another blow. This is in spite of the boots put on ground from the nation’s security forces through the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), to secure them.  

In fact, the latest incident, by its sheer intensity, location and effect, was believed to have been programmed to have a maximum effect. Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, who led a team of sector leadership to cry out to Nigerians at a world press conference, on Wednesday, February 11, painted an awful picture of how the noise alone from the explosive used in blowing up the pipelines not jolted surrounding villages, but sent the clear message that the intensity of the damage they intended to inflict was to last long this time.

Expressing the extreme sadness of himself, his team and the President, he said: “No administration has brought to the power sector the amount of revamping, rectification of anomalies, reconstruction, extension, expansion of both transmission and distribution of infrastructure as the current administration.”

Giving insights into the other areas of the President’s intervention apart from romping up of the power generation, transmission and distribution capacities, he cited the revamping of the hitherto moribund Rural Electrification Agency (REA), and the concerted efforts to diversify the fuel mix in the sector, stepping up investments in the area of solar, coal, wind, biomass, hydro and coal to mitigate the effects of gas disruption.

Nebo restated how the President took Zungeru Hydro Power Project out of the drawing board where it had been for 30 years to a new reality of commencing actual work by awarding the contract in May last year. The 700megawatts capacity project is a forerunner to the Mambila hydro project, which had been on the drawing board for more than 40 years, now on the verge of taking off as well.

Giving a graphic picture of the trend of the vandalism, the Minister said that the vandals never strike until the power generation climbed to an appreciable level and supply relatively stable.

Hear him: “All these have happened in this country in one term, one administration. But what do we see? Once we approach over 4,000megawatts, they vandalise, we approach 4,500megawatts, they vandalise. But once it is low, below 3,500, they say well, these people, we are keeping them below the range of showing that government is not doing much, so there will be no vandalism. But once we begin to rise again, they go and blow up the pipelines again. This is what has been happening. On the 29th of December, they carried out an attack that cost us nearly 1,000megawatts. To show you how bad the situation is, they don’t get one kobo of benefit by destroying pipelines. So, why then do they burst them? Why then are people doing this to their own country? Why would people go and destroy what has been put in place to give them the means to survive and live like human beings? The answer is very simple. They want to sabotage the effort of government so that they can go and advertise in the newspapers that power is not improving, government is not doing anything. But you’ve have seen for yourselves the trauma this government has gone and is still going through to give power to Nigerians. It is wicked.”

Evidentially, the veracity of the Minister’s claim that vested interests are at work could be gleaned from the upsurge in the number and intensity of the media and soap box attacks against the President by political opponents in the current campaigns. Curiously, however, few of them seem to bother about the vandalism angle, which they hardly mention. The few that are charitable enough to acknowledge it still blame him for allegedly not providing security.

However, as Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Chairman, Amnesty Programme, Kingsley Kuku, reasoned last weekend how much could force really achieve if the perpetrators remain determined to cause havoc? Will the entire personnel of the security forces line up along the long stretch of the pipelines to protect them?

Put differently in the words of Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Power, Ambassador Godknows Igali, in which other country of the world is it heard or contemplated that a people would be prepared to do such a damage to themselves?

That perhaps underscores the state and nature of Nigerian politics. We indeed, like the Chinese say, live in interesting times.  


Igboanugo, a journalist writes from Abuja



Posted on February, 17 2015

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