Fashola dissects power quagmire at town hall forum

*Babatunde Raji Fashola, Nigeria's minister of Power.

*Babatunde Raji Fashola, Nigeria’s minister of Power.

Oscarline Onwuemenyi

18 June 2016, Sweetcrude, Abuja – As part of efforts to achieve the roadmap to incremental, steady and eventual uninterrupted power supply as well as address the current vulnerability of the system, the Federal Government said it plans to increase the store of gas in various parts of the country, especially in the Eastern region and Western Axis in order to ensure supply to the gas-powered electricity generating plants across the country, Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, has said.

Fashola, who was responding to questions following his presentation at the weekend at the Merit House venue of the inaugural edition of The Podium – A Town Hall Forum organized by the Kukah Centre in the ‘Fixing Nigeria’ series, said the process was already going on in some parts of the country adding that the idea was to ensure more regular supply of the commodity to the plants which supply over 70 percent of the country’s electricity.

Electricity supply across the country through the 23 out of the 26 Power Plants being powered by gas, has been affected in recent time by militants in the oil-producing region of the Niger Delta who have been sabotaging the gas pipelines that convey the commodity to the Power plants located in various parts of the country.

Fielding questions during the robust interactive sessions involving a four-member group of discussants, Private Sector Operators, Civil Society groups, journalists and Politicians, the Minister, who said progress was being made along that line, also revealed that government was articulating the process of substantially reducing the debts it inherited from the government agencies in the last administration to the Power operators adding that the Debt Management Office (DMO) has been notified of the intention of Government in that direction while substantial payments would be made before the end of the year.

The minister announced that government has developed a three-phased roadmap aimed at ensuring improved electricity generation, transmission, and distribution in the country. “For power, the plan is a road map of three faces, the first phase is incremental power, the second phase is steady power and the third phase is uninterrupted power.”

He said the optimum capacity of power that Nigeria had produced in its 66 years of existence was 5,074 megawatts of power, adding that it was that reason government decided to design a road map for improved power supply.

According to him, the 5,074 megawatts was not enough to service the energy needs of the growing population, hence the need to get more power through an incremental process.

He said the incremental process would entail the deployment of rural electrification implementation plan, adding that strategies had been drawn to ensure full implementation of the plan.

He also said the incremental process would consist of the use of other energy sources to increase power production in the country.

Fashola said the completion of some abandoned transmission projects, as well as the completion of the National Integration Power Project, NIPP, were a process within the incremental phase.

On the plan to increase gas storage in various parts of the country, Fashola said the success of the venture to boost electricity supply would, however, depend on Nigerians who, according to him, “must take ownership of the pipelines and secure them as a collectively owned public utility”.

The Minister expressed dismay at the on-going vandalism of oil pipelines in the Niger Delta region, wondering why some citizens would engage themselves in destroying a public utility built for their use adding, “I don’t know of any nation which has to protect gas pipelines built in people’s interest.”

“Why should we not take it for granted that it is collectively owned,” the Minister asked, adding that unless Nigerians elevate themselves culturally to accept the fact that anything that was public utility was a matter of collective ownership and trust on every citizen and anyone who tampered with it tampered with the rest of Nigerians.

“We must find another way to ventilate our anger. It doesn’t make sense to me that government or indeed somebody else must be paying somebody to look after a facility built in his interest,” the Minister said.

On payment of debts owed the power sector operators, the Minister who recalled that the various departments and agencies of government, including the Ministry of Defence, have been notified of the intention, expressed the hope that the debt would be substantially wound down before the end of the year. “We must lead by example as a government. If we ask people to pay their bills, then we must pay what we owe,” he said.

He disclosed that the Power, Works and Housing Ministry was now focusing on increasing transmission of power through the Kaduna-Kano-Katsina-Calabar-Ikot Ekpene transmission line saying the line would be included among some of the transmission lines to be concluded this year.

According to him, repairs on the collapsed Ugwuanyi transmission line would be completed in August this year to add additional 1,000MW to the National Grid adding that in terms of the system collapses that had occurred, they were largely triggered off by a shortage of power supply to the systems in order to avoid damage to it.

Speaking earlier on the topic “Fixing Nigeria”, Fashola, who wondered whether it is Nigeria or Nigerians that need fixing cited the example of what is currently happening in the Niger Delta where Nigerians are destroying public utilities built for their use adding that to fix the country successfully, Nigerians must elevate themselves culturally to the position of seeing public utilities as collectively owned and take protection of such for granted instead of venting their anger on such utilities each time they had issues.

Earlier in his welcome address, Bishop Mathew Kukah said Fixing Nigeria was a signature project of the Kukah Centre that strove to provide a platform for engagement between public officers and citizens adding that the importance of robust debates could never be overemphasised in a democracy.

He said, through the initiative the Centre hoped to “elevate the quality of political discourse in the country by generating ideas through robust and informed engagement between public officials and citizens and in the process deepen our nascent democracy”.

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