Home / News / Local / Living with power outages, spiralling food inflation By Alabi Williams
Adebayo Adelabu, Power Minister

Living with power outages, spiralling food inflation By Alabi Williams

12 February 2024
That power outage at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, on February 2, 2024 may have outraged travellers who were unfortunate to witness the blackout, to which the Minister of Aviation, Festus Keyamo, issued usual threat to sack managers of the facility should such embarrassment occur again.

Sadly, embarrassments are regular occurrences, while responses by government and the people are simply momentary and of no serious and lasting consequence.

In actual fact, it is the minister who should apologise or resign, instead of decreeing threats. As if he didn’t know the source of the problem. With a ratio of 40:60 for public power and in-house backup, anything could have happened. And nothing happens after these empty threats until the next oddity is staged.

It did not take long for that to happen. On Sunday, February 4, 2024, the entire country was thrown into a blackout as the national grid crashed to zero megawatts at about 1:00p.m.

Data from the Ministry of Power stated that electricity supplied to the grid dropped from 2,407MW at about 11:50a.m. to 31MW by 12noon before collapsing to zero. During Buhari’s, regime, reports said the grid collapsed 99 times and there were no sanctions. The Tinubu government appears set to outdo that record if it does not change course.

That momentary blackout of February 2, at MMIA, is what millions of Nigerians have lived with for years. For instance, the communities situated along the international airport expressway experience weeks and months of blackout and nobody is sanctioned. Here, you have a significant number of hospitality facilities servicing local and international travels. They are powered day and night on diesel engines, adding to cost of doing business.

These are metered customers any distribution company should prioritise if it desires to make profit.

Ikeja Electric Distribution Company (IKEDC) should explain what else it sells if not electricity and how it survives when customers don’t get supplied. Regulators of the power sector should come down to communities and customers when doing performance assessment. It is not enough to sit down in Abuja and do performance ranking.

Since December 18, 2023, when the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN),announced the shutting down of Egbin Power Station, for three days, to allow Nigeria Gas Company (NGC) carry out some pipeline maintenance, many customers have remained in darkness. What used to be nightly supply in some places dropped to two hours and then, weeks of blackout.

Millions of citizens still prefer public electricity to other sources as costs go up. Yet, so many locations and communities around the country are not supplied with quality power. Some have not seen supply for weeks and months.

In tertiary institutions, even secondary schools, managers are rationing power, asking students to go to bed earlier than required because of costs. It affects overall training and development of students, whose study time is now abridged to accommodate recurrent blackouts. This is the new normal in many schools, with private universities majorly affected.

The challenge is for this government to stamp its authority on the power sector and stop copying the woeful performance of previous regimes, particularly the last one. It’s not enough to liberalise power without tackling supply and the interminable corruption NEPA bequeathed.

Buhari confessed that the dismantling of PHCN did not follow due process and that the companies that emerged therefrom were shared to politicians. The enabling Act that licensed the distribution and generation companies is couched in a manner that restrict radical tampering until the licenses expire.

For the next five years while the licenses subsist, let this government stabilise generation and reinforce transmission to lessen the misery imposed on consumers. Let there be a gradual whittling of existing monopolies.

Meanwhile, manufacturers are at wits’ end trying to figure out how to survive the energy crisis. This is the sector that is meant to power Nigeria out of low productivity and import-dependence.
Some companies opted out of epileptic public power to invest in diesel engines to achieve stable and reliable energy for sensitive production. When diesel became costly, they envisaged gas engines. Now, gas supply has become more erratic than the epileptic public power from DisCos.

A new government and a new minister of power that desire to do things differently will find some ways to overcome the bureaucracy and opacity that have frustrated the sector since it was liberalised for more efficiency in 2013.

Despite campaign promises since2015,the entire power generation of a country that claims to be the most populous in Africa still hovers around a paltry 3,419.49MW in 2024. This is a sign of unseriousness, especially for a government that is combing the globe for investors.

The theory that generation capacity could be 7,000MW or 15,000MW is mere rumour, for whatever is not wheeled to homes and factories where it is needed for production is an unfulfilled campaign promise.

After 10 years of so-called privatisation, the power sector is still bedeviled by issues of low capacity, poor distribution and lack of transparency by operators. Power Minister, Adebayo Adelabu, has lamented the low utilisation of generation plants in a recent visit. He said some plants are operating at below 25 per cent. That cannot be allowed to continue if Nigeria must move forward.

It begins with close and transparent monitoring of activities of operators by the regulators. Despite low output, regulators should pay attention to what distributors do with the meagre supply from the grid. Some are said to divert supply to a handful of high net-worth customers, abandoning the urban and rural poor who do not enjoy any form of protection.

Since the minister has acknowledged the place of rural electrification in overall development of the country, he should go beyond lamentation to ensure that all Nigerians are supplied electricity, irrespective of band segregation.

He should work with stakeholders to arrive at a reasonable and affordable costing for metering customers. The current price of N88,200 plus a processing fee of N7,000 for one single phase pre-paid meter is outrageous in today’s economy. Folks in far-flung rural communities cannot afford it. Not metering customers provides vendors with the excuse to over-bill, even when there are no supplies. That is fraudulent.

Also, let the minister refrain from the old narrative that tariff is cheapest in Nigeria among African countries. The market here is huge and waiting for investors to apply economies of scales for endless profits. There’s a lot here to harvest, instead of doing cheap comparison with countries whose total consumption is not up to what two, three states consume in Nigeria.

Last week, President Tinubu ordered the release of grains from the strategic reserves to stem food inflation that was triggered by harsh economic policies of his government.

In July 2023,Tinubu declared a state of emergency on food security, with a promise to utilise fuel subsidy proceeds to cushion food inflation in the immediate, short and long term. He ordered the release of 200,000 metric tons of grains and other farming input to households; as well as the disbursement of N200 billion to cultivate 500,000 hectares of staple crops. Another N50billion was to be invested in 150,000 hectares of rice and maize and another N50billion to cultivate 100,000 hectares of wheat and cassava. Food inflation went higher.

Earlier, the Federal Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) had shared N907 billion from June 2023 allocation to ‘cushion the effect of subsidy removal on the people.’ The Federal Government also established an Infrastructure Support Fund for states. Critical areas the funds were to be utilised include farm to market road improvements and agriculture, encompassing livestock and ranching solution. No impact.

In December, the president was reported to have given each Representative N100 million and each Senator N200 million to provide trucks of rice, beans and other food items to their constituents. It was not a transparent process and the impact was not traceable.

Regarding the release of grains from the so-called strategic reserve, some experts fear government may have to go the way of food importation as there may not be much in the reserve. An expert said since Buhari opened the silos during COVID-19, much has not been done to replenish the strategic stock. Besides, farmers are selling as prices have been good, leaving government with no urgency and excess to mop up. The implication is that the silos may as well be empty.

Experts worry that there is nothing visible on ground yet regarding a sound policy on agriculture by this government, beyond throwing money at challenges. That’s if there are actual releases of the sums announced by the president.

The response to last week’s food riots in Minna and Kano was very poor. Apart from harassing protesters, Governor Mohammed Umar Bago decreed that henceforth, bulk buying of farm produce in the state had been outlawed. In a liberalised market economy of willing sellers and willing buyers, who does that? If it is for strategic reason of food security, Bago didn’t need to even legislate a ban. Let his government just go out there and mop up sufficient grains to share to citizens.

When prices are good, farmers are happy to sell and that’s good business. Before bandits invaded the farms, the story was that of surplus, with farmers not finding buyers and losing their investments. Bago’s job and Tinubu’s as well, is to provide security for farmers to go back to land and produce more. They should not harass citizens.

The response by the national publicity secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Felix Morka, to the food riots sounded more brainless, as he preferred to blame the opposition for what has become a glaring failure of APC.

In all, let the Tinubu government turn pronouncements into action, lest the riots multiply.

About Global Patriot Staff

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