By Adebayo Obajemu
Minister of Power, Abubakar Aliyu, after spending two months in office, has promised to improve services in the power sector. He said that he is aware of the challenges in the beleaguered sector, promising to focus attention on maintaining transparency and accuracy in billing; create liquidity in the electricity market and accelerate progress through completion of key projects of the ministry, promote competition and bring in more participants in the Nigerian Electricity Market (NEM).
Recall that in August 2021, the Minister was redeployed from the Ministry of State for Works, as substantive Minister of Power following the sack of Saleh Mamman, by President Mohammadu Buhari.
In a statement commemorating his first 50 days in office, Aliyu said he met the Nigerian power sector with several challenges bordering on poor service quality and sector illiquidity, non-performance by DISCOs.
He said, “My immediate focus is how to achieve the following through effective policy and regulation and co-operative engagement with private and public sector operators; create liquidity in the electricity market, improve services in terms of hours of supply, billing transparency and accuracy, and wider access to electricity.
“Others are to bring consumer, operator and investor confidence back to the sector to attract foreign and local investment into the sector; create jobs, promote competition and bring in more participants in the Nigerian Electricity Market (NEM).
The key projects of Ministry of power, according to him is to fix Kashimbilla power station, Gurara phase 2, Zungeru Power Mambilla Plant and others.
He said, “Kashimbilla 40MW power station has already started generating power into the National Grid.
“Gurara Phase 2 being developed in partnership with Ministry of Water Resources will soon be ready to deliver 30MW to the grid.
Zungeru Hydroelectric Power Project is progressing towards completion next year to deliver another 700MW of renewable power.
“Katsina Wind farm is with a full capacity of 10MW is already generating part of its full capacity on the grid.
“Dadin Kowa 40MW Power Station started generating power into the National Grid under a concession with the private investor. The remaining regulatory and power purchase agreement issues are being resolved.
“Mambilla Hydroelectric Power Project was contracted in 2017. Discussions are being intensified so that all encumbrances preventing full take off of the project are resolved soon.
“TCN’s Transmission Rehabilitation and Expansion Program funded by various multilateral financial institutions to ensure adequacy and stability of the National Grid.
“Systematic implementation of the Presidential Power Initiative (PPI) of this administration. The Nigerian government and German energy company Siemens AG in 2020 entered into a Power Infrastructure revamp agreement. It is a government-to-government agreement.
“The Nigerian Electrification Roadmap (NER) is a partnership that will expand Nigeria’s electricity capacity from the current average output 4,500MWh/h to 25,000MW.
“We are confident that the NER will succeed because of the pedigree of Siemens and their footprint in the Global Power Industry” he said.
The Power Minister noted that the first phase of the PPI is the upgrading and expansion of the vital infrastructure of the TCN and Discos with the end goal of achieving 7,000MW.
“This first phase started in earnest this year, with the ongoing pre-engineering phase. The selected EPC contractors will soon be contracted officially so work on the project implementation can commence”, he assured.
Meanwhile, the minister was unable to defend N42bn project in 2022 budget before Senate, proposed for the Zungeru Power Plant after N25 billion was provided for it in the 2021 budget.
He had on Tuesday last week appeared before the Senate Committee on Power to defend the Ministry’s 2022 budget proposal. He, however, faltered when the panel began to pick holes in the budget and question how previous funds were expended.
The Senate Minority Leader and member of the panel, Enyinnaya Abaribe, questioned how a project, which already gulped N25 billion, was tagged “new” for another N42 billion to be expended in 2022.
He said, “Why should an ongoing project be tagged new. Does the term “new” refer to a new loan for the project or new Zungeru project which has been increased to N43 billion in the ministry’s 2022 budget?”
In his response, the Minister apologised for the word “new” and said, it was a typographical error.
After Mr. Abaribe’s observation, the senators recalled that the same amount generated controversy between lawmakers of both chambers who described the amount as outrageous during the 2021 budget defence session.
The Chairman of the committee, Gabriel Suswam, noted that the loans collected are being paid back with no projects on the ground, to show what the loans were tied to.
The minister was therefore asked to return with all necessary details on the project as and its expenditure.
Mr. Aliyu presented a 2022 budget proposal of N301 billion for the ministry, with N294 billion for capital.
He said the federal government is set to commission the $1.3bn 700MW Zungeru Hydroelectric Power Project, and the 40MW Kashimbilla Power Station in Taraba State, by the end of December 2021.
Professor Ahmed Adebayo told the BusinessHallmark that definitely “With the country still generating and distribution below 5,000 megawatts of electricity to over 200 million people, power had to be one of those areas the Buhari administration wanted to fix.
According to the professor of electrical engineering the power sector has more than proven to be one Gordian knot that has remained difficult for the president to untie.
Nigeria’s power challenge has defied attempts by successive governments before President Buhari came. Nonetheless, upon assumption of office in 2015, the president seemed to underestimate the enormity of the task when he appointed the former Lagos governor, Babatunde Fashola, to be not just in charge of the power ministry, but also two others: works and housing.
It was a responsibility many understandably saw as too daunting for one person, and that proved true.
Fashola promised improved power supply and came up with an incremental, stable and uninterrupted electricity roadmap, but could not achieve much as there was no remarkable shift from the usual epileptic power experience Nigerians are generally used to.
Saleh Mamman was appointed power minister in 2019. Mamman, a master’s degree holder in Business Administration from Bayero University, Kano, and a former assistant director in charge of electricity in the Ministry of Works before his retirement in 2002, was believed by the administration as the magic wand to fix the power conundrum.
The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) directed the Distribution Companies (DisCos) to ensure that all electricity consumers were metered by April 30, 2020.
The order said all other customers on higher tariffs shall be metered by April 30 otherwise they shall remain connected to supply, but without further payment to the DISCos until a meter was installed for them.
In September 2020, electricity distribution companies (DisCos) began implementation of their proposed hike in tariff which was greeted by outrage among Nigerians, including labour unions. The government thereafter suspended the hike to hold talks.
In November, the tariff was eventually implemented while discounts were given for sundry categories of customers.
Two months later in January 2021, the Nigerian government yet again approved an increase in electricity tariff payable by electricity consumers.