Without mincing words, public electricity supply in Nigeria is in shambles; it is the most frustrating experience for those that are resident in Nigeria and those visiting. Clearly, there is not enough electricity generated, in the country, to meet the demands of consumers. This means around the clock public power supply to every consumer is at present unattainable. The sun, the star which the Earth revolves around and from which it receives light and warmth, is also not available around the clock, i.e. 24 hours in any given area. However, sunlight is predictable and regular in an area. One can only imagine the impact on people's lives if the sun were to come out incessantly irregular. I suppose it would have impacted negatively on our mental stability. This is what the incessant irregular power supply has done to the mental health of every Nigerian. For the Sun's consistency and perpetuity, all living things on earth have adjusted accordingly. How I wish I could know when to expect electricity power supply in my area even if it is only for 2 hours a day, every day so that I can at least remain sane.
Such is the great disruption to everybody's life whether one is resident in, or visiting Nigeria. The incessant irregularity of public electricity supply in Nigeria is the greatest damage to our psyche. There is no word to describe the emotion of an average Nigerian in terms of his or her expectation concerning public power supply. One moment the supply of electricity could appear to improve, only for the madding "PHCN" bliss to be killed without warning in a jiffy. Every child in Nigeria knows the chorus "nepaah!" when the public power supply is suddenly switched off for whatever reason. Where I live in Lagos, I counted as many as 15 "nepaah" choruses in one day, and this did not include the unsung ones when we went to bed. While most Nigerians are bothered by not having enough power supply, I am more concerned about the irregularity of the little that is supplied. It says a volume about us - our inability to manage the supply of electricity no matter the shortfall.
In other African countries with similar shortage of electricity supply, residents and visitors alike know, to a great degree of accuracy, when to expect public power supply in a given area and for how long in a space of time. Such a feat is not left to luck, but diligently planned. Nobody in all my years, in Nigeria, has ever published, with any accuracy, when to expect electricity supply in any area. I leant in school that electricity and it's supply are exact sciences; therefore, it cannot be wished. Even if the electricity generated is not enough for a national 24-hour supply, it could still be distributed on a published regular basis in each area or street at deliverable reduced hours per day with near nuclear accuracy. Ordinary people in Nigeria do this with their privately generated electricity; people know what to switch on that will not overload the system or at what time to power their appliances. How I wish the so called electricity experts could attain this feat; it would reduce to a high extent the frustration of inadequate power supply that has been with us for so long.
Having giving, above, the preamble to the theme of this article, it is now time I focused on the recent government actions. Generously, I will be biased towards the sincerity of President Jonathan and his government in privatizing the power holding companies. Professor Berth Inaji, the erstwhile minister of power, had laid the roadmap; he was, however, eased out, when it was discovered that he had a conflict of interest. The PHCN, as constituted, was grossly inefficient in meeting the aspirations of electricity consumers in Nigeria, or so we all think; not that there is any guarantee that the present arrangement will do better. There are huge constraints in the business of public power generation and supply that have no bearing on who owns our public power utility - government or private. There is a third type of ownership; it could be the goal of the present investors. This is the public ownership through the stock market. This I believe could have been the motive of the buyers of PHCN from the onset.
Should that be the case, it will be a great rape on our virgin psyche, yet again. Ordinary investors in Transcorp are still reeling from their misadventure a couple of years back, whilst the original owners smiled to the bank through the oversubscribed Initial Public Offer (IPO). By design, the preferential stock holders still retain the majority shares in the company after pocketing the cost of their investment. However, ordinary investors somewhat handed over their hard earned money with the hope of making a profit. The owners of Transcorp, by the way, have not broken any law of the land; the stock market has it's downsides after all. Why will I think this is the way of the NIPP? A company's produce does not have to be doing well in the market for its stock to rise; it is usually driven by the potential for success. Nigerians are hungry for electricity supply; perhaps the hungriest in the world, and potential for returns will not be misplaced. A power company proposing to go public will be oversubscribed in seconds - potentially good business. The owners will have made ten times their investments without even improving power supply in their area of operations. What will now be their urgency or motive to give us light?
Jonathan and the public will need to be wary of the NIPPs rushing to the stock market. There ought to be a waiting period of say 3 years of proven business activity before any business should be allowed to approach innocent ordinary investor to invest in their businesses. Jonathan should not allow the NIPPs to defraud the public. Transcorp was allowed to start trading on the floors of the Stock Exchange the same day it opened its doors for business, and afterwards went to sleep. It tantamount to innocent investors handing over their hard earned money to the owners of the company. There was really no urgency or motive to make money for the shareholders; from the first day of trading, the original owners had recouped their investments and still had controlling shares in the company - just as in the movie "Other People's Money (OPM)?
Electricity is the most volatile product; it cannot be economically stored like petroleum or oil. This is my main concern about us and the NIPPs. Once electricity is commercially produced it must be consumed immediately; otherwise, it is lost forever. Government claimed, before handing over the power company to private investors that there had been over 84 system collapses this year alone. I do not think the situation has changed. What is a system collapse? It is a situation when the generator or generating station is running and producing electricity, but the electricity produced does not get to the consumer. Meanwhile, the diesel or gas continues to burn and is lost forever. Who is going to pay for the burnt gas or diesel? There are many causes, and our unregulated wiring of premises is one of them. The consumer may have to bear the cost of this wastage through increased tariff, or the government could subsidize the power production. In any case, our collective wealth is assaulted yet again. All because of the incompetence of the regulatory body.
What are the causes of system collapse? Electricity is the flow of electrons through a circuit, which creates the most convertible energy. It's kinetic property generates resistance in the circuit. Certain uses of electricity cause what is known in the industry as "inrush current". This is a sudden demand of current by a machine or appliance to accomplish a task. The nature of the rush of the electric current is a nightmare to the power utility company. Heating, in whatever form, has a steady demand and is predictable. The utility company easily deals with this type of demand by upping power production, for instance. On the other hand, an inrush current that is occasioned by the starting of an electric motor may be unpredictable and difficult to deal with, particularly the compressors in air conditioners. The electric motor, by its properties, requires between 6 to 10 times it's rated power to start, but returns to its nominal wattage after start. Unfortunately, in this part of the world, our demands are about 90% of electric motor use. They power our fans, refrigerators, the compressors in our increasing many air conditioners and almost all our industrial machines. Even if the utility company ups the power production to accommodate the startups of our electric motors, what happens to the extra power generated for that purpose after the power required to run the motors have reduced, and who pays for the "waste"?
To be continued...
Samuel Akinyele Caulcrick