From Onyebuchi Ezigbo:

Acting President Goodluck Jonathan may have finally declared a “state of emergency” in the power sector without using those words as he has instituted measures to address the nagging problem of electricity supply in the country.

This is one of the major promises made by the present government when President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was sworn in three years ago.

The Minister of State for Power, Mr. Nuhu Wya, who addressed journalists yesterday on the latest plan of government for the sector, said as part of the new initiative, the Acting President has constituted a multi-stakeholder committee chaired by him (Jonathan), with Wya as the vice chairman, to implement emergency power generation plan for the country.

Jonathan has already assumed headship of the Ministry of Power in order to address the power crisis.

The Rural Electrification Agency (REA) is to be scrapped and its role taken over by the 11 subsidiary distribution companies of the Power Holding Company of Nigerian (PHCN) as part of the reform and transformation programme.

“Our immediate objective plan is to improve the power supply to the generality of Nigerians, get sufficient gas, reinforce our transmission and distribution networks and ensure that whatever has been put on ground is improved and sustained, to create an enabling environment for the private sector to come in and invest, to make the power sector a very conducive environment for both present and new participants.

“We are going to explore in the medium term, other sources of energy. We have many dams that had been constructed by the water resources; they have huge hydro electric potential. We are going to tap into those resources so that we can give Nigerians more electricity delivered to the point of consumption,” he said.

According to Wya, Federal Government’s current move could be likened to that of a declaration of a state of emergency in the power sector, though no formal proclamation has been made.

“There is no declaration of state of emergency, but we are working in an emergency manner. We are getting all the stakeholders involved to participate in this committee because power is a chain of many stakeholders, from the fuel to the generation to the transmission, to distribution, involved a lot of people. The oil companies are in charge of the fuel and water resource ministry are in-charge of the water. They are going to be involved.

“We are getting the CBN (Central Bank of Nigeria) involved to facilitate our transactions as most of our accounts are with the CBN… the issues of LC (letters of credit), clearance of our goods,  the issue of  securitisation, to ensure that whoever is giving us power has some kind of security. And we have people from the private sector who are specialists in power that are coming to assist us,” he said.

He said the power committee would ensure that all issues militating against prompt execution of power projects are concluded within the shortest possible time.

Wya said the current effort by government would be supervised directly by the Acting President, whom he said had shown a passion for a stable power supply in the country.

“He is very much concerned about the development of this nation and without power, we cannot develop. He has been leading the sector particularly the NIPP (National Integrated Power Project). He will do everything humanly possible to see that we unravel the mystery surrounding the power sector. This is the reaping point for us because we have planted, we have watered and tendered the plant and it is now reaping time. We shall achieve a magnificent improvement in power in the shortest possible time,” he said.
The minister said government has engaged other stakeholders in making sure that the programme that the committee would come up with will be a one stop centre that will deliver power to Nigerians without any hitch.

Membership of the committee includes the CBN, Federal Ministries of Finance, Petroleum Resources, Defence, and Water Resources as well as the, Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) and Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE).

Wya explained that the involvement of these stakeholders is meant to ensure that all obstacles that may impede the effort to generate sufficient power are surmounted.

For instance, he said CBN would help out on the issue of LCs and that of securitisation and other issues which mitigate against the clearing of good from the ports.

He said the Minister of Finance will be leading the financial sector on the project and he will fast-track whatever is needed in terms of budgetary needs, while BPP will process and ensure that procurements are done timely without waste of time.
“There is a need for a connection between the two lines that are not meeting and that is why the committee has included the petroleum ministry so that we will fast-track the linkage of the gas lines so that gas can now circulate in either of the plants to ensure that there is no shortage,” he said.

On the issue of vandalisation of the pipelines, he said the power sector is partnering with the Ministries of Defence and Niger Delta to ensure that the amnesty programme is going on well and to ensure that there is peace in the region.

On the state of project execution in the power sector, the Minister of State assured Nigerians that things are going on very well, and that all the projects are on course, adding that some of the units will deliver power within this year, while the bulk of them will deliver power next year.

“Everything is going according to plan. The NIPP is a well-established company, the steering council has now been converted to a governing board and they report directly to the board which the Ministry of Power is a member,” he said.

He also said the committee will look into ways of resolving the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) imbroglio to enable the commission play the role of setting standards that would attract private investors into the power sector.

Speaking on the aspect of the plan that deals with reform of the power sector, the Minister of State said BPE has been given fresh mandate to fast-track the reform agenda which was started in 2005.

He said engineers and technical people ought not to be afraid, as all of them will find relevance within whatever comes out from the reform.

“Reform does not mean sacking people. It is only changing means of doing things, doing things more efficiently. There should be proper accountability and rule of law in whatever we do. We must try to pass the message down to the junior ones particularly the unions to embrace this new lease of life that the acting president is giving to the power sector,” he said.
Also commenting on government decision to abolish the Rural Electrification Agency, Wya said there will be no need for such an agency at the centre since the issue of rural electrification can adequately be handled by each of the PHCN’s 11 distribution companies.

“Nobody can tell you that there is no rural electrification, but it is the system of going about it that we are addressing. It is the agency, REA, that we are addressing. We believe that rural electrification can be best addressed by the 11 distribution companies. These companies are the ones that connect people to the grid. What we had before was an agency that was sitting in Abuja and was awarding contracts to people to do rural electrification without a connection to the distribution companies that are in charge of delivering power to the people.

“We are saying that there should be a rethink. Who are the people giving the power to the people? They are engineers, even better engineers from the same PHCN. Is that assignment not better handled by the distribution companies who are nearer the people and who are going to run the system and manage the infrastructure at the end of the day? What we are doing is dismantling REA and establishing a rural electrification bench in each of those 11 distribution companies to ensure that our people in the rural communities do enjoy electricity,” he said.

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