‘Only market forces can guarantee stable power ‘

Nigeria has been burdened with irregular supply of electricity, a development which is having a devastating effect on the economy. In this interview with reporters, the Chief Executive Officer, Century Power Generation Limited, Dr Chukwueloka Umeh says government interference will not guarantee stable power supply. He advises government to build infrastructure and market that would sustain the growth of the sector, among others. AKINOLA AJIBADE was there.

Why has stable power supply remained elusive in Nigeria, considering measures by the Federal Government to fix the sector?

The reasons behind acute power shortage in Nigeria are many. First, the Federal Government has failed to give the sector the attention it deserved. Power is key to the growth of any economy, and as such it must be given priority by any government that wants to record success. In Nigeria, it is a different case entirely. The government has failed to give the sector the attention it deserves. Let me, at this juncture, say that the government has misplaced its priority by giving prominence to some issues to the detriment of the power sector.  Instead of putting measures, which would enable power plants access gas for production of electricity in place, the government did not.

The government did not deem it fit to provide infrastructural facilities that would aid the transportation of gas from marketers or suppliers to the power plants. That is why plants are complaining of being starved with gas, which is the feedstock they need to generate electricity. Though the country has enough gas, as it is reputed to be the largest ninth gas producer in the world, the nation’s poor and ageing infrastructural facilities have become a source of concerns in the industry. Secondly, the country lacked strong distribution networks, a development, which has hindered the distribution of electricity to the consumers by the firms approved to undertake such responsibilities.

Nigeria is suffering in the midst of plenty, considering the fact that the country has one of the highest gas reserves globally.

There is no doubt about that. I would give a simple analogy to explain this fact. A man is living on the bank of a river, which produces clean water. However, the man was unable to drink from the water due to problems confronting him.  He is finding it difficult to dip his bucket in the water in order to get some water to drink, among others. This made him to travel 20, 30 or more kilometers in order to buy water from someone else, who is taking water from the same river. This other man buys water in bottles and resells it to people. That is the tragedy of our situations in Nigeria.

We have resources, which we cannot use in order to meet our needs. This is why Nestoil and its subsidiary, Century Power Generation (CPG), have invested in the widening oil and gas space. This is a company, which is owned by Nigerians and run by Nigerians. Nigeria is the only home we have. This implied that we have no other place to run to. So, if we are going to live here, do business here, we have no choice than to fix the problem(s) in the country.

Nigerians travel overseas to buy things that they need for their businesses.  Also, those countries use resources bought from other areas, including Nigeria, to make things work. For instance, the economy of a country like China was very small 20 years ago, but it is much bigger now.  China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was very small, but it is now bigger.  China’s GDP was small, compared to Japan. The question we must ask ourselves is: What did China do?

The country invested in energy. And within 20 years, Chinese have turned their economy around. Today, China is now a global superpower as it has moved from a country, which manufactures products only to become a technology driven country today.

What lessons can Nigeria learn from the China’s example?

The lessons are many. The first lesson is in the area of energy development. China has been able to build infrastructure, build railways, roads, industries, spend more on locally produced goods, among others, because the country has provided its own. Nigeria can take a cue from China by investing significantly on power. The country must ensure that its energy sources are well implemented. With adequate power in place, Nigerian economy would become stronger in no distance future. The country would not find it difficult to produce many millionaires bigger industries would emerge among others.  I remember those days when Michelin was producing tyres in Nigeria; I remember those days when Nigeria was exporting products such as timber, palm produce and others. I remember those days when exchange rate was one pound sterling was equal to one naira and so on. Nigeria would not have some economic drawbacks if power had been stable in the country.

What can the government do to stabilise power sector?

The government should try and provide infrastructure, a development which will facilitate the production of electricity in the country. Also, the government should put in place a market that would guarantee the sales of electricity by the operators.

What influenced your participation in the Nigerian power industry? 

Issues in the Nigerian energy sector are compelling and require solutions. Is it gas shortage are we going to talk about? Is it failure of the power plants to return to optimal production? Is it the failure of transmission to evacuate enough electricity to the national grid we are going to talk about? Is it the general power outage in the country? There are lots of issues that need investigation and solution in the country. I worked in the General Electric (GE), in the United States for many years.  There, I participated in the development of gas turbines for both the airplanes and power plants. If I can do that in the U.S, I should be able to do the same in Nigeria, which is my country. I forget about the fact that I was paid in dollars in United States, coupled with the fact that I was enjoying the infrastructural facilities over there, Nigeria is my country.

So, when I came back to Nigeria, it was easier for me to work in the Century Power Limited, where we are working on 1,500 megawatts power plant in Okija, Anambra State. This is a gas powered turbine that would be completed in 2022 and it would help in providing power to the people in the state and beyond.

How realistic is 2022 slated for Okija Power plant inuaguration?

The date for the commissioning of the plant is realistic as Century Power in conjunction with Nestoil, its parent company, is working to meet that deadline. However, the plant would be ready in either second or third quarter of 2020 in the event that we are able to mobilise enough funds for the project. To enable Century Power achieve this feat, governments have to come in. A lot of things need to be done by the government in order to make the plan a reality. The government needs to approve documents to achieve this feat.  We all know that things have changed in the country. Many officials in the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and other bodies have been removed by the government and new officials appointed to replace them. This and many other problems have delayed the achievement of these projects.  There are documents, which the Ministers of Finance, Power, Justice and others have to approve. This is the only way through which Century Power can improve funding and accelerate the construction of those projects, which are critical to the growth of the nation’s energy sector.

Failure by the Century Power Limited to get these documents signed means that the projects may not be completed. That is the why the company is seeking the support of the government on these issues. Any attempts by the government to assist the firm to complete the power projects in 2020 means that the government is indirectly working for the betterment of the lives of Nigerians.

Why is it that power distribution companies (Discos) have been unable to distribute enough electricity to consumers?  

The reason is not far-fetched. The stakeholders such as the power generation companies (GENCOS), the DisCos, the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Company (NBET) and others in the energy value chain are not doing what they are supposed to do. The value chain is broken, and as a result, there is no cohesion among the stakeholders. Let us say Nigeria has installed capacity of over 12,000 gigawatts and there is problem with the distribution, how can the country provide uninterrupted power supply? The problem with the Discos, started during the privatization period.

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