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Generators-driven economy;Generations driven to extremity

Dr. Adetolu Ademujimi

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It is likely to be seen as an April fools’ day message to announce  the restoration of public power to residents of some Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the Southern senatorial district of Ondo State, who haven’t experienced electrical power from the national grid but their personal generators & solar systems, over the past ten years. Imagine that a ten-year old child born within those LGAs has never seen electrical power from the national grid. Imagine spending the greater part of the past forty-something years of my existence on earth in a perpetually dark and energy-less country. You know for sure that we all grew up chorusing “Up NEPA” with my family members whenever the defunct National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) restored power supply. Yet, the hospital, office and my computer – three workspaces that have defined my clinical, public health and writing & innovation careers for about two decades, cannot be deployed for productivity without electricity. Yet, the barber, welder, market cold room operator, restaurateur, fashion designer and all small-scale business owners are obligate users of energy. Yet, worship centers, wherein many Nigerians will rather spend their 8am to 4pm working hours praying for miracles, also require uninterrupted  power supply for uninterrupted supply from above. Yet, since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999, Presidential hopefuls have turned our energy lack into their surplus campaign promise, presenting a sham of stable power supply at the end of the day.

One of the sore points in Nigeria’s history is that the sound of generators across residential, commercial and industrial areas has become a normative part of our living conditions. Nigerians not only purchase generators but go through hell to buy diesel and gasoline to power them for home or business use. Owing to the epileptic power supply that has taken a turn for the worst since January 2024, my uncle recently spent N7.4 million to procure a full complement of alternate power source – two new units of lithium batteries, one unit of inverter and two units of voltage regulator – for his house in Abuja, to avoid the exorbitant costs of generator fuel. If there’s anything called a Basic Minimum Package of Economic Development, regular, affordable and sustainable power supply will be top on the bouquet. What enabling environment for economic growth can government claim to offer without steady energy provision? I know for sure that no acclaimed regional, continental or global giant administers an economy on generators.

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We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, that Nigerians are daily pushed to the extreme, with a huge population of both the middle-aged and younger generations racing to the embassies to japa; many idle minds taking to crime & immorality for survival; and an embarrassing 133 million quoted as living in multidimensional poverty.  For those who yet strive to produce something for sale using generators and expensive fuels, many of them have taken to below-quality products as their outputs, offering substandard & ill-preserved foods, ‘poor’ sachet water, and inferior products of paper, plastic & leather. Conglomerates such as telecommunication (telco) companies cannot also do without generators, thus offering erratic internet & telco services. For the few industries producing at high quality, the selling price is often too high because of the high production cost arising from high energy overheads.

Since former President Muhammadu Buhari left office, I have struggled to avoid pontificating against the tactless approach of his eight-year rule towards holistic economic development. it’s difficult to refrain from commenting on the poor outcomes of his change mantra that refused to change Mr. Godwin Emefiele as Central Bank Governor despite the early signs of economic perdition that his 9-year reign at the apex bank showed. That administration’s economic cluelessness was brought to the fore by the successor CBN helmsman, Mr. Yemi Cardoso, when he informed Nigerians of a staggering N22 trillion intractable vomitus from the bank’s vault through a misuse of the Ways and Means clause. So bilious is this wasteful account that could not, to say the least, be intentional in ’emptying’ the treasury on the nation’s power generation or transmission infrastructure. According to CEIC, average power generation in July 2023 was 3,970 MW, after all that our Daura-bound ex-President expended in growing our economy. The vibrations of generators to power instruments of production among artisans and small-scale business owners has become more pronounced, with its attendant high operational costs from fuels to maintenance. Somebody needs to tell Nigerians, what really changed?

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Twenty-four hours before his inauguration as President, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu had declared; “we have corruption, insecurity and many problems confronting us… but don’t pity me. I asked for the job. I campaigned for it. No excuses”. Furthering Mr. President’s Renewed Hope mantra, the Minister for Power, Mr. Adebayo Adelabu, has had his office issue out several media pieces to communicate hope of a more reliable national power framework in the nearest possible future. However, we need to remind Mr. Adelabu that the totality of the expected contributions of the current & future generations of Nigerians via the non-oil sector (agriculture, education, healthcare, science & innovation, Information & Communications Technology, tourism, solid minerals) to our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) depends first on availability of constant power supply. The expediency with which this hope is renewed will determine the time it will take several generations of Nigerians to retreat from ceaseless and extreme reactions to the power debacle – high rate of emigration and youth restiveness-turned-wrongdoings.

When asked about Nigeria’s currency crisis, billionaire business tycoon, Mr. Tony Elumelu, stated in a recent media interview that “the currency crisis is a sign of many things. As a country, we can’t produce well enough despite our natural resources. The reason is lack of electricity.” As a reminder, the electricity chain is divided into three components viz generation, transmission and distribution and each of these is presently not without its challenges.

If it is about Nigeria’s electricity generating capacity, I recall that Mr. Elumelu alluded the low level of electricity production to poor supply of energy to power stations. I thus align my opinion with his advocacy that President Tinubu’s government attracts investors to Nigeria’s gas reserves that would in turn drive the power stations to produce sufficient energy for an estimated 220 million Nigerians. Now that States have been constitutionally empowered to generate power, can Governors also explore long-term investment windows to set up power plants in their respective States like Abia’s Alex Otti recently did? Let’s be reminded that Zambia generates 2,800 MW for her 20 million population, South Africa’s installed generation capacity is 58,000 MW for her 60 million populace, and China as the world’s largest electricity producer generates 2,919,000 MW for her 1.43 billion inhabitants. Mr. Adelabu and his team thus need to take Nigeria away from the less than 4,000 MW currently generated (although government claims an installed capacity of about 12,000 MW), should we desire to move from consumptive to a productive nation.

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If it is about transmission, the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), which is the only government-run component of the three as at today, needs to be urgently liberated with requisite legislations and policies to allow the private sector to invest in it, as Mr. Elumelu also recommended. An efficient transmission network is critical to the delivery of power to the distribution companies. Therefore, clear policy, accountability, legal and business frameworks to assure potential investors of timely (medium- & long-term) Returns On Investments (ROI) ploughed into the country’s weak transmission infrastructure need be urgently put in place by the Federal Ministry of Power.

If it is about distribution, the revelation by Ms Olu Verheijen, the Energy advisor to President Bola Tinubu, that Electricity Distribution Companies are “over-leveraged and under-capitalised” requires concrete regulatory actions. While exploring workable ways to urgently close the wide metering gap among electricity consumers in-country, how can the Ministry of Power compel these DisCos to re-capitalize, thereby allowing more inflow of funds into the distribution network in a manner that will yet guarantee investors’ steady recouping of their investments on a long-term basis. That longstanding arrangement, will, in my opinion, prevent a sudden implementation of cost-reflective tariffs that may be burdensome to the already disgruntled Nigerian electricity consumer.

Conclusively, it needs not be reiterated that the procurement of generators as a pre-condition for both start-up and sustenance of business entities in Nigeria creates a disabling environment for entrepreneurial interest and participation of Nigerians in economic development. Generators cannot drive Nigeria’s economic agenda. They, at best, drive generations of Nigerians to extremity.

Dr. Adetolu Ademujimi is a Medical Doctor, Health Finance Specialist, Author, Reformer, Coach, Public Policy expert and Social entrepreneur who can be reached in Abuja via adetoluademujimi@gmail.com

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