THE POLITICS OF NATIONAL GRID AND THE MODULAR ALTERNATIVE.

No one thought that in the ‘magic’ year 2020, the issue of electricity will still be occupying the front burner of national discourse. However, as it is, we are still far away from achieving an uninterrupted power supply. The other day in some clips on social media, Ajuri Ngelale, Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari, reveals Buhari’s plans for power in Nigeria. In a grandstanding and I must admit eloquent manner ‘entertained’ us on how Siemens’s new arrangement is going to fix our electricity once and for all. I will come to that later.

However, I do not think this integrated approach is the solution to our moribund electricity challenges.
For some kind of disclosure, I started my working career at the then National Electric Power of Nigeria (NEPA) in the last quarter of 1980. I was not a technician but an account clerk, but with good observation and perhaps a sense of history.
Let us take some historical journey into the past for proper perspectives.

It was in 1978, in one of its campaign agenda that the eventual election ‘winners’ of 1979 federal elections, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), indicated its plan to electrify the entire nation for increased productivity and all that. It was perhaps this plan that gave rise to the politics of the national grid, a situation where every community lobbied, yes, lobbied, to be connected into the nationwide network.

Before this policy or politics of national grid connection, depending on where you stand, most major towns operated on a kind of modular system, whereby they generated, transmitted, and distributed their own electricity with no interference from any neighbouring towns. NEPA, as it was then, operated a kind of decentralization that comprised of local undertaking, district, region, and national headquarters then in Lagos. An undertaking is basically the town covered by a specific power station, whereas a district is made of many undertakings with headquarters in major urban centres. Whereas region or area comprised of many districts under it. The national office was in Lagos, with also the central store located at Oshodi.

In the undertaking where I worked, for instance, we had three ‘giant’ generating units, which may be in the region of 5000 KVA each (I can’t fully remember the capacity now), which run two at a time in a staggered but planned schedule, to ensure that the whole town was adequately covered. There were also scheduled maintenance where there may only be available two of the three plants. In such instances, a load shedding was planned and announced. In some other cases of an unexpected breakdown, the same processes obtained.

However, in all cases, provision was made in terms of priority distribution to the general hospital, police station, army barracks, post office, the palace, and of course, NEPA office, through a dedicated line, which we then called a red line. In the situation of breakdown, the local technicians mobilized to fix the problems first. While it was beyond their power, an escalation will go to the district, and then to the region, and eventually to the headquarters, where Engineers will come to address the issue finally.
Fuel dumps and storage facilities were both constructed at the power station, usually situated on the outskirts, for noise management, as well as the main office. Supplies were received from district, region, and the national store Oshodi, Lagos.

The beauty of this arrangement was that whatever happened in one undertaking had no bearing on the next undertaking. If a particular station broke down completely, which was exceedingly rare, it never stopped the next station giving light to its community.
That was the beauty of electricity before the politics of the national grid crept in. It became a status symbol that every town, village, city, and all in-between ‘craved’ to be hooked into the national grid.

The sad aspect of the situation was that those power stations were not retained as backups. It was then expected that with Egbin power station supporting Kainji and almost completed Shiroro dam (as then), and to be revived Afam and Sapele stations, enough electricity would be available. The same errors made by OBJ government building gas power plants, thinking we had gas. Little did they realized that we were mere ‘prospective buyer’ in what we thought we were the producers. Another case of ‘owning without controlling.’

At this juncture, we may ask some questions. What happened to all the power stations, littered across the whole country? Were the generating plants sold or abandoned to rot away with overgrown bushes? How about spare parts, fuel pumps, and the offices, with their furniture, were they dismantled or what happened to them? The many spare parts at the central store Oshodi, were they dispensed with, or they remain, occupying space and becoming obsolete in the process?

Apart from the above, can we sincerely now evaluate how much the policy or politics of the national grid has contributed to the ‘darkness’ or otherwise pervading the nation. If there is one thing, it was this same issue that gave birth to a new and thriving generators’ industry’ that itself has become hydra-headed and difficult to tame. I have heard people claiming that it is the generators importers that are frustrating government efforts towards achieving uninterrupted power supplies. How fallacious can that be? Did that ‘industry’ exist before the national grid menace? If not, what gave impetus to the striving of the industry that we can now conveniently label it saboteurs? Did they not just exploit the glaring gap created by bad planning or wrong implementation of an unreasonable policy or both?

Back to Ajuri Ngelale and his Siemens new arrangement.

Firstly, was it not the same agreement that the late ‘Saint’ Abba Kyari was in Germany to sign? And talking about signing contracts by Nigerian bureaucrats, how many of such were signed with national interest as the focus? Will this agreement be better than the ones before it? Like the NLNG, signing away the initial production to the operators, or the Ajaokuta Steel that has defied any logic, or which one is it taking after?
Ajuri spoke glowingly about the uniformity of processes, technology, and all that as if that is all that will make it work. It sounded great that the new agreement will eliminate middlemen, and all sundry ‘parasites’ that may halt its possible acceleration and timely delivery, however, does this constitute the best route to solve our electricity problems?

Methinks that our ultimate solution lies not in an integrated approach, but rather a modified modular system that will not lump the whole nation again into any ‘unholy’ alliance, with nothing tangible to achieve. Did Nitel with all its infrastructures achieve anything meaningful until the proper deregulation of that industry? Was the postal agency not forced to reinvent itself when its future became gloomy because of new technology and stiff competition? Is there no lesson for us to learn from all these?

With a modular system, we will be saved the frequency of system collapse that throw the entire nation into darkness. With a modular system that covers a specific area, we will perhaps no longer wait at the PHCN office for them to fuel their generator before they can issue us an official receipt. With the modular system, problems are easily localized and remedied. With the modular system, a failure in Epe may not affect the supply situation in Ikorodu and vice versa.

Is it too late to alter the contract with Siemens? I would not know. Perhaps, if the details of the agreement are available to the major stakeholders and agreed to, there may be room for sufficient modification, if the needs arise. But with a Chief of Staff as the signatory to the agreement, who will then monitor the implementation. The ministry of power, the Presidency, or anyone in favour of the power that be?

Unless another Adeshina (not the one in Aso Rock o), will arise in the power sector, to show us again that “agriculture is a business and not a way life,” like Zamfara state mantra “farming is our pride,” the politics of national grid may remain a beautiful slogan, that becomes another ‘pot of soups’ for the successive government.

If we are truly desirous of a permanent solution to our perennial ‘darkness,’ it is high time to reverse the extant laws governing electricity generation, transmission, and distribution, and allow for the modulated system as against the current integrated system that has failed us thus far.

As usual, it is ©TheVillageBoy

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Author of “Thoughts Of A Village Boy”|| Chartered Accountant|| Public Policy Enthusiast & Scholar || Business Consultant|| Columnist @premiumtimes ||MAN U FAN

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Bolutife Oluwadele

Bolutife Oluwadele

Author of “Thoughts Of A Village Boy”|| Chartered Accountant|| Public Policy Enthusiast & Scholar || Business Consultant|| Columnist @premiumtimes ||MAN U FAN

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