Guest Post: “Still on Sustainable Electricity”

by Engr. Titi Omo-Ettu (President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria)

Mr Olatunji Ariyomo raised very good and informed points in his ‘Sustainable Electricity: How Nigeria Can Get It Right’ which I had read on and found compelling especially as I am one of the author’s Facebook contacts.

As a concerned Nigerian, and part of the long suffering citizenry, while I think we should revisit the subject matter, I think it is too serious to be left to the trivialities of social media.

As a member of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, ATCON, and its serving President, I adjudge it my responsibility to not only make it publicly known that we remain unimpressed by current plans for energy reform of the Nigerian Government but to postulate that it will be a miracle if the current proposals actually take us out of darkness.

We had harboured hopes that the managers of the ongoing energy reform would take a leaf from the modest progress made in telecommunications development in the past eighteen years replicating the things that we did right while avoiding those we did wrong, On the face of it, those hopes now seem misplaced.

At the epicenter of what we did right, was genuine liberalisation which saw us give out licenses to investors to open up our market and provide, sell, as well as augment their investment and networks. By creating a progressively fair investment environment, we turned aspiration into reality and a subsidized loss making sector into one that returned funds into government’s coffers – all with minimal government intervention. We also made the point to Government to stop throwing money at our problems.

Although these energy reform managers are inviting investors to participate in power supply process, they are merely presenting an illusionary version rather than genuine liberalisation and are deluded in thinking they will impress genuine and world-class investors in the present circumstance. They would do well to remember that for all the development in our telecommunications sector, we have failed to attract world-class investors to date for reasons. For reasons, perhaps not for mentioning in this intervention, the best of the emerging markets is all we have been able to attract thus far.

Producing electricity and feeding such into a national grid is not attractive to investment especially if the buyer of the product is a government rather than consumers. We observed that the government eventually identified this lapse and is presenting the creation of the Nigeria’s Bulk Electricity Trading Company as the answer. – yet another illusion which is bound to fail for it is merely establishing a bureaucracy (regardless of the name ‘Company’) where a true business model solution is required.

Selling our generating plants to private investors is an open invitation to full scale corruption which we should not allow under any circumstance and to that extent we align with those who oppose privatization of anything at this time.

Regrettably, the word ‘privatization’ has been confused with ‘liberalization’ thus making communication (with a small ’c’) very difficult, even when there is a genuine attempt to have a dialogue. Liberalization is about motivating investors to determine what sectors of the community they want to provide services for – and they often and most successfully do this without the encumbrances of dealing extensively with government bureaucracies, aside the regulator.

In my estimation and one which has hitherto been recommended, is a model of decentralized architecture, Engr. John Ayodele, FNSE recommended it in the form of Distributed Generation for our public electricity supply system when he delivered the NIEEE Annual Lecture in 2009 while I, Engr Titi Omo-Ettu, FNSE gave similar recommendation when I delivered the 2010 edition (Pathway to connecting the Last Man) of the same Lecture. Granted, of course, that since we put those recommendations in books, we might have been truly hiding them.

With such a viable model, we can provide 24/7/365 supply of electricity to many parts of this country within six months. We can also generate more than 40,000 megawatts to serve various communities of the country in 3 years. Today we probably do more than 30,000 Megawatts except that everybody does his own generation while government augments with less than 5,000 Megawatts.

Regrettably, our energy managers rather than thinking about the ‘regular supply of power’ via a decentralized architecture – the forgone alternative deployed successfully in the telecommunications sector, are, for narrow self- interests, fixated on thinking in ‘megawatts’ in grid supply.

I am aware that the managers of energy are busy navel gazing just like we in the telecommunications sector did several years ago – an attitude that we had to change before we could take Nigeria out of telecom darkness.

Also regrettably, the shift stick of progress that has become a hallmark of the telecommunications sector in spite of very poor electricity, is not only stuck in neutral but rather in danger of being stuck in reverse as it is now inconceivable that we can move forward without real improvement in infrastructure and access to adequate electricity supply. Knowing what we do, inaction is not an option as it will inevitably lead to the desecration of not only the energy but the telecommunication sector too.

The pain in one’s neck is that we keep groping and give an impression that we cannot do it. The good story is that we have demonstrated elsewhere that we can.

A painful error was made when an aspiring Minister told our Senators that he could not guarantee regular electricity until after 3 years and yet he was allowed to wear the badge of “Minister of Power”. That brings tears to my eyes and to ask what manner of representative democracy this is.

And to ask myself , how do we get out of this quagmire?

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