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Closing infrastructure gap will improve power supply in Nigeria – Tahir

Closing infrastructure gap will improve power supply in Nigeria – Tahir

Aliyu Tukur Tahir, an electrical engineer is the Managing Director/Chief Executive of the Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA), a sole regulatory agency authorised by law to carry out the enforcement of technical standards and regulation, inspection, testing and certification of all electrical installations and equipment in Nigeria. In this exclusive interview with OBINNA NWACHUKWU in Abuja, he highlights the achievements, challenges and solutions to issues affecting Nigeria’s power sector. Excerpts:

Eight months after your appointment as the MD/CEO of NEMSA, what would you say in specific terms are the key achievements of the agency under your watch?

Thank you very much for that question. Indeed, we thank God and thank Mr. President for finding me worthy for this appointment. I am one of the pioneer staff of NEMSA and have worked for about 8 years before this appointment and this will ensure continuity in operations. Immediately I came in I had to carry out a quick assessment of the agency and I can see that a number of successes have been recorded so all I needed to do was to sustain the success. I have also seen where we need to do some re-alignment so that the activities can be brought back to the trajectory of success. We also have new areas where we have to start up because our mandate is so wide and we need to cover them all. You will recall that NEMSA was established by the NEMSA Act of 2015 to carry out the functions of enforcement of technical standards and regulations technical inspection, testing and certification of all categories of electrical installations across the power value chain of generation, transmission and distribution this is to ensure an efficient production of a safe, reliable and sustainable electricity supply in the country and also guaranty safety of lives and properties in the Nigerian electricity supply and allied industries in the country

In the area of achievements, you know I barely started in January this year, but that notwithstanding, we have recorded a number of achievements, First, we have carried out over 15,000 inspections across the country, we have also monitored existing networks in about 12,000 locations across the country, we inspected and certified about 22 electricity meter manufacturers, we increased our electrical installation personnel certification scheme from one to four schemes, we have successfully updated our quality management system (ISO 9001) certification for year 2022. Also, we have successfully started the certification process for ISO 17024 which has to do with the accreditation of our laboratories to ensure that our services are recognized globally and accepted. That is ongoing. We have also inaugurated a taskforce on monitoring of the performance of existing networks and stemming the use of substandard electrical materials and equipment across the country. Basically, the mandate of the taskforce is to look at the challenges between transmission and distribution, because we noticed that there is a wide gap between the two and it’s not helping our country. Transmission can wheel about 8000 mega watts, but Distribution can hardly distribute up to 5000 megawatts, so we have to look at that area to find out the Technical challenges and eliminate them. That’s part of our mandate. In addition, we have done a number of other things but let me stop here for now

What new discovery has the task force made in the course of the discharge of its duties?

The task force was actually inaugurated by the honourable minister of state, Power, on the 5th of August, 2022. So it has not fully started work. But we shall involve the media in the work especially at the meetings with the utility companies thereafter the finding would be made public through the media

As an electrical engineer and former General Manager, Technical Inspectorate Services of NEMSA before elevation to the position of MD/CEO, what would you say are key challenges to power supply in Nigeria today?

Thank you for that question. As you know, the issue of power supply has to do with the entire value chain of generation, transmission, distribution and utilisation. Problem at any of these stages will affect the entire industry. You can generate but have the challenge to transmit and when this happens, there is no way power supply can get to the end user. When you generate, and can transmit but cannot distribute, then there is no way the end user can still get electricity. So at any time there is a challenge in the power value chain, the end user will not get power supply. Any weakness in one area affects the other. So, one of the major challenges is that of infrastructural gap. Now, we have the capacity to generate up to 13,000 megawatts of electricity, but our transmission infrastructure only has the capacity to wheel up to 8,000 megawatts, you can see the shortfall. Coming down to distribution, the distribution companies hardly distribute up to 5,000 megawatts and that’s another challenge. So how do we close this gap? We need to carry out a lot of investments to improve the infrastructure to be able to close this gap. Another problem has to do with the distribution section. The companies that got these assets are not carrying out the required investments because you need to rehabilitate the facilities, replace all the old equipment and materials, you also need to expand. You will agree with me that from the time power assets were privatized till date, the necessary investments have not been made as would be expected. This is a challenge. But the good news is that we have leaders. Leaders in this sector who are committed to closing this gap, they have brought all of us together including those not within the power sector but key stakeholders to work together to ensure that these gaps are closed as quickly as possible.

Still on NEMSA how does your agency ensure compliance to standards with regards to the power sector?

Let me start by saying that NEMSA’s 2015 act empowers it to ensure enforcement of the Technical Standards and Regulations. These standards are developed by the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) while the technical regulations are developed by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and our mandate is to enforce these standards and regulations. We carry out these through a number of activities, one of which is inspection and testing of all categories of electrical equipment and installations. When we go out on inspection we make sure that all the requirements of the standards and regulationsare complied with before we issue certification for that equipment or installation to be used in the country. Through that process we enforce the standards and regulations. We also carry out regular monitoring of existing networks. You can see that our activities are divided into five areas. First is the new electrical installations that are coming in, before they are put into use we carry out inspections, testing and certifications through which we enforce standards and regulations. The second step is the existing networks which we carry out monitoring and evaluation to ensure continuous fitness of the networks and if we notice any defect we ask for corrections and we ensure the corrections are made. And where we notice substandard materials we ask the Utility Companies to remove and replace them. We also carry out the certification of electrical installation personnel- responsible for executing electrical installations across the country through the certification we ensure that they are qualified and competent and that they understand the requirements of the Technical regulations and standards with regards to their duties. We also ensure that they regularly update their knowledge on the practice. So we monitor their performance. The next area of our mandate is the testing and certification of the electrical materials and equipment used in electrical installation works. We have our meter testing laboratories across the country where we carry out the testing of meters before they are installed/deployed across the Country.

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We inspect transformers; assembling and manufacturers as well as cable manufacturers across the country and through these we ensure these equipment and materials are tested and certified before they are deployed for use in the country. We are not yet where we want to be but definitely we are moving towards that direction

How do you stop electrical materials and equipment from being smuggled into the country?

Unfortunately we are not at the ports and the borders but even at that we work in collaboration with sister agencies to ensure that Substandard Electrical Materials and equipment are not brought into the country. You will remember that government has streamlined the number of agencies at the ports so as to reduce the clearing time for goods entering the country. But what we have done is to collaborate with SON and the security agencies to ensure that sub-standard materials are blocked from entering the country but where they manage to enter the country, we are able to detect them through regular inspection and when such happens they are identified alongside the importers and thereafter handed over to the SON and security agencies for appropriate action.

What punishment is meted out to defaulters of the regulations? Secondly, does NEMSA have the power to arrest and arraign offenders in court?

The good thing is that NEMSA act empowers it to enforce the regulations and standards and in a case of default the Act stipulates how to enforce the regulations. We are in collaboration with the Police. In the case of breach we issue enforcement notices and enforcement order and from there our legal team takes over for legal proceedings in the law court. Yes, we have the power to prosecute offenders.

We often witness explosion and failure of equipment, transformers and other materials used for electrical installation in the country. Could this be failure on the part of your agency to ensure standards and regulations?

NEMSA has been carrying out investigation of electrical accidents and through these investigations, some of these lapses have been identified and recommendations made for remedial actions to forestall future occurrences. Also through this process NEMSA have issued a number of enforcement directives. One of them is the restriction for the use of 33KV primary feeder lines for point loads connections. These directives are to ensure that we don’t have occurrence of Electrical faults that can affect the power supply and cause Electrical accident. We also have the issue of people buildings structures along power lines Right Of Way which has caused several ugly incidents in many parts of the country and these made us to issue enforcement directive that all conductors must have minimum specifications. Like the size of 150mm2 ACSR for Primary Feeder lines conductors.

How do you react to the frequent damages to power plants across the country with huge impact on power supply?

This issue is happening as you said but it is not happening in the power sector alone even the Petroleum sector is affected for instance cases of pipeline vandalism is becoming almost a regular incident, gas plants etc. This is a general problem that government is working tirelessly to ensure that it is stopped. It is regrettable that people engage in these negative activities to sabotage government efforts to better the living conditions of her citizens. In the case of electrical equipment vandalism, what we do is to embark on sensitization programme to educate the citizens on the dangers and implications of their actions especially in meddling with live conductors and the hazards associated with the use of electricity. In NEMSA we have a weekly public enlightenment programme on Radio Nigeria every Wednesday. Also in every other opportunity we have had with the media we emphasized these things as a way of sensitizing the public through the media with the objective of minimizing or even eliminating such ugly incidents

Nigeria has witnessed 7 system collapses this year alone. How relevant is NEMSA to the existence and growth of the power sector in view of the incessant system collapses?

Thank you very much. The honourable minister of power recently made a clarification that these are not system collapses, but actually system disturbances and the difference is simple. A system collapse means the entire network is completely down and you have to restart it all over. But in system disturbance you may have a challenge of one feeder or two feeders being disrupted maybe through fault and the system will now see it as a challenge and tries to adjust. You may also have one or more feeders tripping off, but the system has not completely collapsed. So its not a system collapse but a disturbance. That’s why within a short period you will notice that the system would be restored and everywhere will again have power supply. This clarification has already been done by the Hon. Minister of Power.

Why are we not having these incidents in other parts of the world including the countries we supply electricity?

You see our power network is growing. When I see people comparing our power network with those of the advanced nations it surprised me. These robustnetworks are not gotten within a short time. You have to build robust infrastructure which is not there yet. Closing the infrastructure gap will gradually eliminate all these incidences. For example you have to have a communication backbone across the entire grid and it is through this communication backbone that you would be able to control the grid effectively. If there is any disturbance, the system must have enough reserve to quickly adjust. But right now, what we have on the grid is inadequate. Once there is a disturbance like a loss of generation, if that reserve is not there the Grid will not be able to adjust as quickly as possible. So these Spinning reserves need to be put in place to have steady power supply in the country.

But do you think it is possible for Nigeria to have 24hours uninterrupted power supply in view of the fact that thousands of Nigerians are making money from importation and sale of generators?

Yes, I am optimistic. It is possible. Mind you many of the advanced countries use generators as well. They have standby generators and what we have in Nigeria is the same thing. But we can overcome the inadequacies once we address all the issues I identified.

But do you think as a nation we have the political will to do that?

Of course yes. If you look at the manifesto of most of the political parties, they all have a provision for improving the economic wellbeing of the citizens and there is no way you can achieve that without improving the power supply. Like I earlier said, I am optimistic that one day we shall have adequate, uninterrupted power supply like the developed countries.

DG, are you worried that despite the efforts of NEMSA we still have low quality cables and meters in the country? What is your agency doing to stop this from going on?

Like every other Nigerian, we at NEMSA are worried but a number of efforts are being made to stem the existence of sub-standard electrical materials and meters in our country. One of the efforts as I said before is the setting up of the task force to carry out the monitoring of existing networks and to identify sub-standard materials and equipment across the networks and ensure they are removed. Another effort is our collaboration with the standards organization of Nigeria that we already have a standing committee charged with the responsibilities of eliminating all sub-standard electrical materials and equipment across the country. Another effort is the various inspection activities that we carry out across the country to ensure that the networks that are coming in are properly planned and properly executed before they are allowed to be used in the country. We also carry out a number of other measures such as issuing out enforcement notices, enforcement orders amongst other measures. As I said earlier, we are not yet where we want to be, but we are heading there gradually.

How can we ensure that every household in Nigeria is metered and that the monster called estimated billing is done away with?

Thank you very much for that question. You know it is the mandate of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) to ensure that estimated billing is eliminated from our networks, ours is to ensure that the meters in use are of good quality and meet the standard specifications so that you as a customer including the company that supplied the power are not shortchanged and this we have been doing since our inception. We ensure that these meters are tested at our testing centres and certified before they are put to use. Two features you will notice on the meters to ensure that they have passed through the testing laboratories are; one, the NEMSA crimp seal. This seal is fixed to every meter that passed through NEMSA testing laboratory. Secondly, that meter also has NEMSA test label which indicates the date the meter was tested and the date it will be retested.

Let’s now go down to you as a person. If I may ask: Who is Aliyu Tahir?

Thank you very much. Aliyu Tukur Tahir the current Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of NEMSA was born around 1967 from Yobe state specifically Fika local government area. I joined the power sector in 1991 because I did my NYSC in the industry. I have been with the ministry of power since 1993 and rose through the ranks to the level of Deputy Director in the Federal Ministry of Power until I was posted out to the Electricity Management Services Limited (EMSL) which is now called NEMSA after I had served with the presidential taskforce on power that monitored the implementation of the power sector reform programme of the federal government

Many people would wish to be medical doctors, lawyers and so on. What really attracted you to study electrical engineering?

It’s a long story but if I can remember we used to play as little kids in those days in the village. One day one of the kids came with batteries connected to bulb and was able to light the bulb in a toy car. That thing attracted my attention and I began to think of doing similar things and that was in me up till the time I was to enter the university. I remember in the secondary school when we were about to fill forms for JAMB examination, we were advised to go for medicine to arose our interest, but unfortunately we were shown round hospitals including the mortuary, the sight frightened me and that further made me to jettison the idea of studying medicine to studying electrical engineering

As a child what sort of upbringing did you have and in what ways did it influence your attitude to life and work?

Thank you very much. I am from the northern part of the country and the tradition is that as a child, you start your education from the Islamic school. I can proudly say that the Islamic school molded me and all of us in the family had good upbringing. By the time I started primary school I have already understood all the Arabic alphabets and was able to read and write and that made it very easy for me to learn going forward. My parents made sure we were given the right education and the right values. They monitored us at every stage, even when we were in the secondary schools. From Fika local government I moved to Federal government college Maiduguri and you can see the long distance. In Maiduguri we had our guardians that monitored us with regular counseling and that made us to remain within the boundaries of good behavior. We consulted the elders in everything we did and that aided our good upbringing and ensured we grew up as well-mannered children.