by Dele Agekameh
Anyway, between last Thursday and Friday, the area was thrown into total darkness. It was so worrisome because, being the eve of the eventual handover of PHCN to successor companies, there was this anxiety of what to expect after the handover. I made a call to a fellow resident in the estate who had always liaised with officials of PHCN on behalf of other residents to find out what the problem really was. I was shocked when he told me that PHCN officials had embarked on a strike action, preparatory to the takeover by new investors. I went further to ask him what their grievances were. He told me that though about 80 percent of them had allegedly been paid their severance entitlement, the remaining 20 percent had not, and that was why they went on strike. And they needed to do that on the very day new investors were taking over. That is strange. Could it be a bad omen or a prelude to what to expect in the days to come?
Therefore, this handover represents a milestone in the country’s effort to break the jinx of poor electricity supply, which has plagued the nation all this while. This ordinarily should signify a transition from the era of national darkness to improved power supply. But if I may ask: Are the new power managers ready to meet the yearnings of Nigerians for improved power supply? This question becomes germane in view of reservations expressed in certain quarters that a few more years may be needed to achieve the required stability in power supply in the country. Again, the question is: how many years will it take us to arrive at the desired Eldorado?
For me and many others, that day may not be a memorable day. The reason is not far-fetched. In the last few months, there seems to have been a striking steady power supply in some parts of the country, especially in Gemade Estate located within the precinct of Gowon Estate in Egbeda/Okunola axis of Lagos. It is not to say that residents of this estate and other adjoining places have been experiencing uninterrupted power supply all along. What makes the power supply steady and regular, as I claimed earlier, is the fact that the area in question could boast of between 12 to 16 hours supply of electricity on a good day.
That is not to say that the erratic supply pattern has tremendously improved for that matter. In many instances, especially during the nights, power supply could become an on and off thing for more than six to eight times between the hours of 7p.m and 7a.m. The period or length of seizures varies from few minutes to longer periods. This way, you have to be constantly on your toes to put off your electric appliances every now and then or risk severe damages to them. Many a time when power is restored after each outage, what follows is high current that, more often than not, send your bulbs crashing if not together with your TV-set, microwave machine, sound system, fans and what have you.
On the likelihood of hiking electricity tariff, nobody should be surprised that this issue appears to be on the front-burners of the investors who have pointedly told the National Electricity Regulatory Commission to review the current tariff upward. I think it is premature to ask for increased tariff at this point in time. What Nigerians need is an assurance that this privatization will ultimately manifest into improved power supply across the country. Once this is achieved, consumers are not likely to kick against affordable tariff.
The good news is that all labour issues with workers of the defunct PHCN have been resolved following the near completion of payment of severance, pensions and gratuities of all the 47,913 workers. It will surely help to remove inherent obstacles and ensure a smooth transition. And to achieve a hitch-free performance, the Federal Government, through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the Nigerian Gas Company and some private sector concerns, has embarked on a robust gas master plan with the specific aim of meeting the gas requirement for power supply. It is true that uninterrupted gas supply to the power plants is crucial for their effective performance. This is because the rampant incidence of shortage of gas caused by disruptions in supply had been one of the major handicaps to the optimum performance of the power plants in the country. This ugly situation should not be allowed to rear its head under the new dispensation.
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It was the birth of a new era in power supply in Nigeria. Perhaps, this is the best way to describe what happened in the country last Friday. On that day, a flurry of activities took place across the country as new power managers assumed control of what was left of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN. Namadi Sambo, the Vice-President, personally handed over 11 power distribution and five generation companies, created out of PHCN, to their private owners on behalf of the Federal Government. The handover ceremony was replicated in many other centres and zones across the country by several ministers and top government officials who were all bubbling with enthusiasm, hope and a sense of fulfilment.
The truth is that there is no moral justification for an increase in tariff. Many Nigerians believe they are currently being short-changed with the criminal bills they pay without adequate power supply. They will accept no excuse, even as they are yet to be taken to confidence on the details of the improvement they should expect from now onward. However, the optimism is that power supply will record the same kind of improvement recorded in the telecommunication sector following the arrival of private investors on the scene many years ago. In this regard, it is hoped that the present transition from one octopus public power company to multiple private providers will, sooner than later, prove to be a worthwhile venture.
I had resigned to fate while expecting the worst to happen. But I was surprised when, at about 5p.m that Friday, the power supply was restored. Barely three hours later, we suffered yet another blackout that lasted up to an hour before power was again restored. Since then, the on and off thing have taken turn for the worse, thereby making everybody to wonder whether things can actually get any better.
For too long, Nigerians have suffered untold hardships from epileptic power supply. Not only have they been so discomforted in their daily lives, they have also continuously lost the vital ingredient so important for industrialisation and improvement in their welfare as citizens. This has, no doubt, led to the collapse of industries or lack of them with the consequent astronomic cost of living.
All the same, we are all eagerly awaiting a new era in power supply in the country. With the transfer now perfected, I believe the investors should move quickly and focus on the vexed issue of achieving a remarkable improvement in power supply.
There is no gainsaying that Nigerians are obviously looking forward to a new beginning in the country’s quest for rapid industrialisation, which will help to curb the endemic unemployment problem now starring the country in the face. This is why the new operators should do everything possible to justify the implicit confidence reposed in them by the government in its determination and commitment to provide Nigerians with adequate power supply. Above all, what Nigerians expect from this privatization exercise is appreciable difference in electricity supply from now onward.
All the same, we are all eagerly awaiting a new era in power supply in the country. With the transfer now perfected, I believe the investors should move quickly and focus on the vexed issue of achieving a remarkable improvement in power supply. That is the least obligation they owe the average Nigerian who has waited all this long to witness this new era. In actual fact, Nigerians may not be prepared to listen to excuses, such as those the federal government had ceaselessly reeled out in the past. In the same vein, it will be just too early in the day for the government to suddenly go to sleep. It has a duty to ensure that its efforts translate to better power supply in the shortest possible time because Nigerians are in a hurry to see things happening the way they should be.
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