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Power and the promise of Aba

Okezie Ikpeazu
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Four straight days without power in my estate at Ibeju Lekki, Lagos has reinforced for me again the centrality of power in the lives and livelihoods of citizens in the modern world. Huge costs attend the absence of power both in direct fiscal terms and an opportunity cost of time, convenience and capacity. Then there is the cacophony as each house switches on its power source, from the ubiquitous generator to others.

Energy is a life imperative in this age. Everything revolves around power. The telephone and the ecosystem of information management, as well as the running of our homes and offices, now depend on power. Power enables the proper functioning of communication systems, the modern appliances that make for efficiency and comfort as well as entertainment. Power in whatever form it appears is the central nervous system of advanced economies.

That Nigeria is still in darkness concerning power is cause for a national emergency. It goes beyond the politics of our Minister who played one-upmanship on his predecessors. The flagrant boasts of those days continue to haunt him every day and everywhere when citizens suffer the usual power cuts.

No, we must look at solutions and commend efforts in that direction. We must also sustain such positive narratives. They are one way to ensure that the positive is the only narrative we have on power.

Political noise tended to drown the significant development in Aba pre-election with the building and commissioning of a 9.5MW off-grid power plant in the heart of Ariaria market, Aba. Ariaria Market Energy Solutions Limited coordinates the project under license from the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission according to Section 71(6) of the Electric Power Sector Reform (EPSR) Act 2005. The project took form as part of the Energising Economies Initiative of the Rural Electrification Agency.

Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, Mr Made-in-Aba, Nigeria, deserves kudos for making the promotion of production in Aba a cardinal feature of his government. That singular focus placed the matter of lack of power in Aba further up the agenda. Embedded power in Aba is one of the outcomes.

President Muhammadu Buhari took the opportunity to talk up the programmes of the government that he leads. He also took swipes at the opposition. Then received some jabs in the season of politics for a purported snub by the people of Aba who failed to show for the political aspect of his engagement in the city.

Said Buhari: “By providing a dedicated electricity supply to the traders and small businesses in this area, we are strengthening the made in Nigeria policy for which Abia and in particular, Aba and Ariaria are already well known.

“Reliable power supply is critical to ease of doing business to ensure sustainability and improvement. I am told that before this intervention, traders in this market only got power for four hours a day and pay exorbitantly for it which constantly affect the viability of many businesses. This is the sad thing we inherited, and which we are replacing with this power supply which is cleaner and better.”

This column will continue to follow the matter of power with a visit to Ariaria soon. What difference has steady power made to the fortunes of the community? Is there real stable power beyond the buzz of the commissioning? What has happened to productivity in verifiable terms?

With over 37, 000 shops in 11 sections, the Ariaria market is a significant contributor to the economy of Abia State and Nigeria. Power minister Babatunde Raji Fashola said the ministry estimates that 6000 generators would be decommissioned in Ariaria because of the project.

The Ministry of Power has made commendable “incremental” steps in the policy arena to improve the power situation. Two measures of note are the Meter Asset Provider regulation (Regulation No NERC-R-112) that enabled the approval of 87 firms to provide meters.  The permission happened in March 2018. Meter scarcity and unavailability are still key features of our power situation.

Another one is the Eligible Customer regulation that seeks to open the supply lines and enable Gencos and independent power producers to bypass the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc to sell electricity directly to customers. It specifies four categories of eligible customers mainly firms who consume high amounts.

The regulations point to opportunities in power in Nigeria in various areas, particularly in alternative or green sources. We will see first what impact and difference availability of steady power makes in Ariaria. One litmus test would be how it spurs copycat schemes in Onitsha and other towns. If it does not come by half-year, you can safely conclude that it has not made any difference. We pray it makes a significant difference because Aba should also be a centre for start-ups. Power is foundational to the ICT ecosystem.

 

Chido Nwakanma

 

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