“Up NEPA!” is the shout of joy which rends the air as soon as electricity supply is restored to our homes after power blackout. This kind of shouts are not heard in advanced countries or even smaller developing countries like Benin Republic and Ghana because they have steady supply of electricity, this explains why some of our indigenous companies and industries have relocated to Ghana and Benin Republic.
Are we finally going to say goodbye to “up NEPA!” with the current privatization gesture made by Goodluck Jonathan’s administration? Going by the transformation that has been experienced in the telecommunications industry in Nigeria, I strongly believe that breaking the monopoly of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) is key to steady power supply in Nigeria.
It will be recalled that a former minister who is now in the senate once told us that telephone is not for the poor, but I am glad that he is alive today to see shoe makers and wheelbarrow pushers use telephones in Nigeria today, how were we able to achieve this in Nigeria? It was by breaking the monopoly of Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL); that is through granting licenses to private telecommunications companies, this kind of scenario must be replicated in the power sector in order to achieve steady supply.
Nigerians should embrace total privatization and commercialization of the power sector, although if this is done the cost of electricity might slightly be higher than what we have now, but experience with the telecommunications industry shows that competition will certainly bring down the tariff, we should not be deceived by the so called subsidy in power supply, the amount spent on buying and fuelling power generating sets in this country far exceeds any subsidy the government is claiming to be giving to Nigerians as regards electricity, it is estimated that 60 million Nigerians depend on power generating sets for electricity supply, and they spend an overwhelming N1.56 trillion ($13.35m) to fuel them annually.
I hope the speculations in some quarters which say that Goodluck Jonathan’s gesture to privatize PHCN sounds like an election campaign promise is not true. This is owing to the believe that the power sector of this country has long been in the hands of a few unpatriotic Nigerian elites who have been making money from the situation; they are directly or indirectly involved in the importation and sales of power generating sets in the country, they make policies and take decisions which will only favour their bank accounts. One begins to wonder if a Nigerian president can for the first time go against this group of people by taking a decision that will benefit the entire nation and thereby put an end to the nefarious activities of the group.
There are reports that the former President Olusegun Obasanjo had started unbundling of the monopoly of PHCN, but could not get legislators to give his reforms legal backing. President Jonathan recently pointed out that, “various regimes, in the distant past, paid little attention to the [power] sector but in the recent decades, subsequent regimes have put in billions of naira to reverse the neglect and mismanagement which has characterized the [power] sector.” This goes to further buttress the point I am making, where are all the billions referred to by President Jonathan? Besides, why will the legislators refuse to give legal backings to the full privatization of the country’s electricity company when it’s not meeting its obligation?
The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria Sanusi Lamido Sanusi believes that future of Nigeria banking industry is tied to the future of the real economy of which manufacturing and agricultural sectors are primary; hence the CBN is doing all within its power to ensure that we have steady supply of electricity for the manufacturing industry and preservation of agricultural produce. In line with this, the deputy governor (surveillance) of the CBN, Kingsley Moghalu, said the CBN has earmarked N300 billion intervention fund in power sector, in accordance with section 21 of CBN act. I hope the CBN has done its homework to ensure that this money does not go down the drain when it is released.
The Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) also lends its voice to support the complete privatization of PHCN, saying it would encourage competition and ensure better service delivery. Chief Simeon Okolo, the national president of NACCIMA, said in Abuja recently that privatization would allow private sector operators to participate like the telecommunication sector.
The comparison being made between the power and telecommunications industry in Nigeria goes to reveal the insincerity of our leaders. It shows that our leaders have simply refused to allow Nigerians enjoy steady supply of electricity for reasons best known to them; otherwise, it is expected that after about ten years of achieving success in the telecommunications industry, our leaders should have applied the same medication to the power sector.
According to former vice president Atiku Abubakar “There is too much government in our lives.” Government has to scale down its involvement in the economy and allow the private sector to move the business. Although I am not a fan of Atiku but I quite agree with his point. Government should only be involved in setting standards, ensure that these standards are implemented and provide grants where needed.
Time will tell whether Goodluck Jonathan is sincere with this privatization or not. One thing is sure at this point in time, the president is certainly moving against the tide and it takes a lot of guts to move against the tides.