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As energy scarcity grounds Nigeria

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The crippling energy scarcity that has practically grounded Nigeria has exposed the futility of all the policy thrusts purported to have been applied since 2015 to retune the sector and boost the economy. This is the worst the country has ever had. There is no stable framework for managing Nigeria’s energy sector.

Nigerians and indeed, foreigners in the country, are overwhelmed by the ugly turn of events. The end, they say, justifies the means. If the end of the All Progressives Congress (APC), power re-engineering programme in nearly eight years has brought us to this messy end, then, the entire process was seriously flawed. It didn’t work. The plan, or call it framework failed woefully. This is a big lesson for the in-coming administration in 2023 to change the framework.

Everyone is questioning what sort of decisions and actions were taken or channeled into the energy sector that cannot show the slightest improvement after huge funds were expended. Rather than see improvement, the energy sector nosedived, leaving the entire economy practically grounded. The economy is in a virtual lockdown. Businesses and institutions are shutting down due to fuel scarcity. There is no gas; no diesel, no aviation fuel. The economy runs on generators.

Without doubt, the situation in the past three weeks has been traumatic. For the first time in recent years, fuel scarcity has lingered for over two months and there is no end in sight. The entire country is affected but the worst hit includes Lagos and Abuja FCT. Abuja FCT has been in the throes of the fuel scarcity for long. As supplies dry up, in Lagos, petrol reportedly is selling at N300/litre in the black market as against N162 official price. Diesel and kerosene are elusive. Diesel is selling at over N800/litre.

This is outrageous. Government appears helpless. Reports indicate there is no state where petrol is sold below N200/litre. Black marketers dominate the market space. It is survival of the fittest. The situation is critical and has gone out of hand. Airlines have cancelled scheduled flights due to lack of aviation fuel. Early last May, the airlines threatened to suspend all domestic flights until the situation improved. But government swayed on them to rescind their threat and they did.

Not long ago, the telecommunication giant, MTN, alerted millions of its customers of imminent shutdown of service. Hospitals are in limbo and can’t perform. There are unconfirmed reports that some hospitals are charging some money from patients to buy diesel.

The universities are at standstill due to the lingering ASUU strike. Normal academic are stranded, as laboratories and studios can’t function due to lack of power. Stranded motorists and hapless Nigerians, who need petrol to operate generators, slug it out wherever petrol is found.

People bear different sizes of jerry cans roaming the streets in search of fuel. The queues at filling stations are long and winding. There is commotion at any filling station selling fuel. Traffic has reduced on the roads as some people’s vehicles are packed.

Fares have tripled and prices of food stuffs in the markets have risen astronomically. Hawking of petrol at street corners has resurrected after it was outlawed many years ago.

The scarcity has made hawking of petrol very lucrative such that a lot of artisans have abandoned their trades to hawk fuel not minding the potential danger of fire. Nigerians are groaning under the weight of the scarcity, which has worsened the endemic epileptic power supply. The country is on its knees and in darkness.

The only hope now is the forthcoming general elections, which would usher in a new government to take over from May 2023 with fresh ideas on how to deal with the intractable problem. Otherwise, the incumbent Buhari administration has failed to make positive impact. Amid the fuel crisis, reports indicate that power supply has dropped to all time low. The national grid is reported to have collapsed.

According to the Ministry of Power, “Nigeria’s overall electricity generation has dropped to an unprecedented low of 1,327 megawatts a week before the transfer of power from President Goodluck Jonathan to President-elect Muhammadu Buhari”. The situation has rarely improved ever since then, especially, as the sector was handed over to private operators.

The Ministry, which rarely tells the truth, disclosed severally that most key power plants in the country, including those located at Utorogu, Chevron Oredo, Oben gas-fired power plants, were all shut down, while Ughelli and Chevron Escravos power plant were all isolated already. It said power output had dropped from a peak of 4,500MW to below 2,800, noting that the eastern axis, Shell Gas, Alakiri plants were occasionally shut down.

This is shocking, indeed; unbelievable, to say the least. Nigeria’s power generation is largely dependent on gas transported through exposed pipelines that are easily vandalised in the restive Niger Delta region. But not even at the height of militancy in 2008/2009, when militants were blowing up oil facilities, did power drop to the present level.

So, what is happening? Could this be sabotage? Why is this happening at the critical point of election year? Quite often, unresolved contentious issues are at the root of fuel scarcity.

For instance, while the contention between the Federal Government and the major oil marketers over subsidy payment was often at the root of the fuel scarcity, at other times, strike embarked upon by petroleum products transporters over debts owed to them by the oil marketers compound the scarcity. It was like the oil marketers couldn’t pay the transporters because they were owed by the Federal Government. It is a chain reaction whose fallout has brought untold hardship and grounded the economy.

At other times, the oil marketers say the Federal government owed them N159 billion to which government said was a fraudulent claim. Nigerians don’t know who is saying the truth. In the case of power, usually, any drop in electricity supply is blamed on unavailability of gas for the power plants.

It is unfortunate that Nigeria put all her eggs in one basket and has no alternative to fall back on. Given the restiveness in the Niger Delta, there is no time gas supply would be guaranteed for the power plants. The Independent Power Plant programme may have been a mirage.

Vandalisation of gas pipelines in the Niger Delta is a lucrative business that can’t easily stop.  Government should build refineries and stop the huge scam called subsidy. Also, government should switch over to alternative energy sources using solar power, and hydro-dams, among others. Hydropower, coal and solar power are dependable energy sources Nigeria has in abundance and should exploit. The in-coming administration in 2023 should explore these alternative energy sources and de-emphasise gas. The world is scandalised that Nigeria, one of the leading producers and exporters of crude oil dwells in darkness. It is a national shame.

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