• Thursday, April 18, 2024
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The states and the blackout nation!

The states and the blackout nation!

Many Nigerians believe that restructuring the country or devolving powers from the centre to the sub-nationals is the silver bullet that will solve all our problems. This belief has sustained the debate for or against restructuring for decades. As fanciful as this claim is, I disagree with this position because bad leadership is a more significant challenge than the superstructure of the country.

Although the way Nigeria is structured does not make for optimal productivity and needs some form of amendment or tinkering, we need thinking and honest leadership to make progress. This kind of leadership is required at the central and sub-national levels.

One area in which sub-nationals or states of the federation would take advantage of to show that a restructured Nigeria can be an oasis of development is electricity generation, transmission, and distribution. This is because of the multiplier effect of electricity on quality of life, productivity, employment generation, and human development. A quick review of how a change in the 1999 constitutional provision and a new electricity act have necessitated a change in the role of state governments in electric power sufficiency is essential for clarity.

Read also: Business woes worsen as large scale theft deepens blackouts

The 1999 constitution limited states’ ability to develop their own electricity markets, causing national power shortages and negatively impacting economic growth. In 2023, the national and state assemblies amended the constitution to give states more control over their electricity sectors. The Electricity Act of 2023 established a dual electricity market system: national and state.

“One area in which sub-nationals or states of the federation would take advantage of to show that a restructured Nigeria can be an oasis of development is electricity generation, transmission, and distribution.”

The National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) will oversee the national market, while individual states implement their own market policies and regulations. This dual system aims to address the challenges faced by states in regulating electricity generation, transmission, and distribution.

The current state of electricity supply in the country highlights the need for states to take full constitutional authority to create adequate supply frameworks and attract investment. The current situation, where the country generates less than 4,000 MW of electricity for 220 million people, while the same people own and operate over 50,000 MW of self-generation capacity, makes the nation appear unserious. The recent blackouts challenge the idea that devolving power to sub-nationals or states would solve all problems.

I will argue that state governments are not fully utilising the new Electricity Act to address the electricity problem and stimulate economic growth. Despite abundant gas in the south-south and southeast states, potential for hydro in the southwest states, and solar generation in the northern states, most states fail to address the issue. The lack of political will to address the power problem, the preference for short-term infrastructure projects, and the misconception that electricity is the centre’s problem are significant reasons.

Additionally, there is a lack of qualified human resources to drive policy and serve as regulators, which has been a problem since the start of the National Electricity Regulator (NERC). The long-term implementation and enforcement of policies and agreements are also challenges, with investors facing contract violations and policy inconsistencies. The author concludes that states need more investment in technology and network infrastructure for electrification projects and to make the ecosystem more attractive to potential investors.

Despite these challenges, there are some silver linings in this dark cloud. Recently, I had a long engagement with the governor of Enugu State around power. Enugu State has taken the bull by the horns and has not only enacted its state policy and law but has already set up its regulatory body, comprising experienced hands who have experience working in NERC, discos, or industry consulting firms. The Enugu Electricity Regulatory Commission is now on the verge of issuing its first licences to private investors.

There is no doubt that Enugu is on the path to energy self-sufficiency, which will, in turn, unleash her economic growth potential. States like Lagos, Oyo, and Ogun, Kaduna, Kano, Anambra, Abia, Rivers, Taraba, and Plateau, where there is a significant advantage in terms of the availability of commercial and industrial markets and fuel sources such as natural gas, hydro, and solar, have no reason to be slow about following in Enugu State’s footsteps.

The inference from the preceding is that both political devolution and electricity devolution require political will and an enabling economic environment. An economically viable state will remain a nightmare, as it cannot demand or pay for electricity. Industrial and commercial markets for power are prerequisites for investment in the power sector.

Nigeria has long struggled with electricity supply issues, leading to frequent blackouts nationwide. Several factors contribute to the current blackouts and power outages, the most recurring being grid disruptions, failing distribution infrastructure, and, topmost, a short supply of gas due to debt and other commercial reasons.

Therefore, the federal government still has a crucial role in the power sector to drive social and economic development on a national scale. It must create the right ecosystem to spur investment in electricity infrastructure, including building new power plants, upgrading existing ones, and expanding the transmission and distribution networks. It must champion the diversification of energy sources, especially renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric power, which provide a more sustainable and reliable electricity supply.

The current state of the anaemic electricity supply in Nigeria, as experienced in the blackouts of the past few weeks, calls for a new approach. Nigeria’s blackout problem is not just a technical issue but a combination of human capacity challenges and systemic inefficiencies requiring urgent and comprehensive solutions. The flickering lights of Nigeria are a stark reminder of the urgent need for visionary leadership at the federal and state levels in the energy sector. We must never forget that blackouts are not just inconvenient interruptions; they’re crippling barriers to progress and development.

The current national blackout should be a wake-up call for the states of the federation to wake up from their complacency and speed up the process of playing a pivotal role in energy sufficiency. State governments must avail themselves of the incredible opportunity the new Electricity Act provided them and at least provide the building blocks for electricity sufficiency and efficiency in the states.