The President, Nigerian Society of Engineers, Otis Anyaeji, believes that Nigerians cannot have the much-desired respite from irregular power supply for now. In this interview with ABIOLA ODUTOLA, he urges power generation companies to increase electricity output and engage the services of professionals rather than quacks to be able to deliver their mandate of providing adequate power supply to Nigerians. Excerpts:
Critics believe the roadmap for the power sector reforms unveiled a few years back is not comprehensive enough. How do you assess this development?
What has been projected has beenachieved but the reform roadmap is different and much less than the issues around power development. The roadmap was actually dwelling mostly on things like the privatisation of the National Electric Power Authority, the completion of the National Integrated Power Project plants, transmission and distribution facilities. Transmission has been placed under management contractors but the ownership of the facilities are still with the Federal Government.
But there are allegations that the NIPP is also embroiled in fraud. What is your take on the exercise?
The biggest investment the government has made in power was through the NIPP but the effort was not efficient. If it was efficient and consistent, our focus should have been 200,000 megawatts and we would not be where we are today. The energy and the time we spent to realise 5,000 megawatts, we could have done 50, 000 megawatts with it because we had the money and the capacity to do it. But they got distracted by those saying government had no business in business, and that mantra destroyed the focus government ought to have had in fostering business. There is nowhere you say government has no hand in business; government is the owner of business.
Is the lack of focus responsible for the irregular power supply?
There are reasons why you wouldn’t expect much improved power supply and availability as at now. Adequate and reliable power supply on a sustainable basis means simply that you know your electricity demand and you have made investment to provide at least one and half to two times that demand in terms of generation, transmission and distribution capacities. If your demand is 1000 megawatts and your installed capacity is also 1000 megawatts, then you don’t expect that you will always have 1000 megawatts because if one of the plants has a problem and it supplies, say 50 megawatts, then you will have 950 megawatts. You will suffer from the absence of that 50 megawatts. But if you have 2000 megawatts installed and being maintained, and a plant that is 300 megawatts goes off, you still have 1700 megawatts. So the people will not even know anything is happening and you will still have enough to give customers.
Nigeria, as an industrial country, needs more than 180,000 megawatts but we have installed about 12,000 megawatts. We cannot wheel around more than 5000 megawatts. That is where we are. And I am telling you, on an industrialisation basis, if all factories in the country were working, even if all the 12,000 megawatts were available, it would still not be enough.
What has the NSE done to address these issues?
The way we have been carrying on in energy and many engineering based sectors, it appears there is a coordinated scheme to keep engineers out of the commanding heights of these sectors. Recently, we wrote a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, which is just a typical example of the case of the National Electricity Regulatory Commission. Section 34 (2A) says that commissioners are to be appointed from people who have experience in generation, transmission, systems operation, distribution and marketing of electricity. Section 34 (2B) goes further to say that people with background in law; economics, accounting and administration are also eligible.
Do you then suggest an overhaul of NERC?
What has happened since the commission was created was that it would rather create departments for law, accounting, economics and administration than create departments that would regulate generation, systems operation, transmission and distribution. And the reason they do that is that if they want to focus on regulating these stages of the industry, then it is engineers they must put there. But they prefer to go to these peripheral areas because they want to flood the place with non-engineers.
So we have had this commission over the years doing the wrong things, focusing on the wrong issues. And that certainly is the great reason there hasn’t been much improvement since 2006, because it is working at cross purposes with the currents of the sector.
The present administration is bent on diversifying the economy. Do you think this team (ministers) can deliver that?
What is the wisdom of having ten lawyers in the cabinet if you must have 36 ministers? In a country that wants to diversify its economy as quickly as possible, and you have just two engineers in the cabinet. We have not seen any country that has sued its way to development. You can’t get development from the Supreme Court. You can win election by court orders but you cannot develop the state through court orders. You engineer your way to progress and development.
But can engineers be effective in policy making?
The American government has 15 ministries, but they have 225 ministers and each ministry defines the policies at that level. It is at the policy level that things are made or marred, not at the implementation level. If you make the wrong choices in policies, there is no way implementation would correct that. Yes, you can have engineers at the implementation level but you also need them for policy conceptualisation; you need them for policy design and choices and so on. And I dare say that any government, anywhere, that decides to get electrical engineering from people who read French, economics and so on, is simply not serious about moving forward.
If this persists, how will it affect the economy?
What other implications would be worse than where we are? The economic situation will just go deeper into the mess. They just have to appoint an engineer as chairman, an engineer each to regulate generation, transmission, systems operation, distribution and marketing. That is to say five of the commissioners must be engineers while the other two can come from the support services.