Energy crisis leaves Nigerians in the dark

Nigeria was subject to days of power outages last week. With state and national elections in the pipeline, can 2022 be the year that Nigeria shakes up its energy sector?



Nigerians took to Twitter last week to decry a worsening energy crisis and the systemic corruption at its core.

Households across the country were left in the dark for days after the national electricity grid collapsed on Monday 14 March. Blackouts swept the country, affecting everything from hospitals to radio stations and businesses after the grid crashed at around 10am local time.

Less than 24 hours later the system encountered another failure. Generation capacity dropped from around 3,000 megawatts (MW) to 2,000 MW, with about 14 power plants shutting down.

By Saturday, only 13 of 23 grid-connected power plants were generating to the grid, with most operating below capacity, according to a chart released by the National System Operator (NSO). On Sunday output from the national grid still remained low at 2,312.50 MW.

Nigeria’s Ministry of Power blamed the blackouts on faulty infrastructure, acts of vandalism against oil installations and disruptions to gas and water supply to power plants across the country in a statement released on Saturday.

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari apologised for the “inconvenience caused” by the blackouts and prolonged shortage of petroleum products on Wednesday, claiming to understand the strain it placed on citizens and businesses.

Fuel crisis

The decades-long struggle to establish reliable power supplies in the West African country has been compounded by energy market volatility caused by supply disruptions triggered by the outbreak of the war in Ukraine.

Around the world petroleum-producing nations are reaping extra revenues from a spike in oil prices caused by the supply crunch, but Africa’s biggest crude producer is struggling with the escalating cost of energy prices as it depends almost entirely on imported gasoline, which it subsidises.

In the commercial capital Lagos, roadside fuel vendors popularly called “fuel touts” hawk petrol to motorists stuck in long queues of traffic snarling around petrol stations due to fuel scarcities.

On Twitter, Nollywood actor Uche Jombo Rodriguez asked how the country could function without power: “No fuel. No electricity. How can Nigeria work?”

Since the privatisation of the national grid in 2013, the nation’s electricity system has collapsed no less than 130 times with a lack of electricity representing the biggest and most intractable problem facing the country.

Regular power cuts can last for hours, days or even months, while millions of people have no access to any electricity at all.

In 2018, the World Bank approved $486m to improve the Nigeria Electricity Transmission Network and infrastructure.

High-profile Nigerian investor and entrepreneur Tony Elumelu blamed the unfolding crisis on systemic corruption and mismanagement of the country’s energy sector and slammed the government’s “endemic corruption” for a decision by oil majors Shell and Eni to declare force majeure on key Nigerian oil flows.

The latter development deals a major blow to Nigeria’s plans to export 1.5m bpd of oil in March, and further complicates petroleum supply which is already reeling.

It also dampens hopes that the industry is on the road to self-sufficiency in domestic oil refining as the Dangote refinery prepares to become operational in Q3.

Corruption probe

The escalating energy crisis prompted calls by local advocacy group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) for an investigation into government spending in the energy sector.

In a letter dated 19 March signed by SERAP’s deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation called for an inquest into a missing N11 trillion ($26bn) intended for regular electricity supply that had allegedly been squandered by governments since 1999.

“Nigerians have for far too long been denied justice and the opportunity to get to the bottom of why they continue to pay the price for corruption in the electricity sector – staying in darkness – but still made to pay crazy electricity bills.

“The staggering amounts of public funds alleged to have been stolen over the years in the electricity sector have had catastrophic effects on the lives of millions of Nigerians, akin to crimes against humanity and the Nigerian people.”

SERAP also demanded the immediate publication of the names of companies and contractors paid by government since 1999 to carry out electricity projects across the country.

Prospects for 2023

As election campaigns get underway in the run-up to the presidential elections next February, Tony Elumelu called on his countrymen and women to take leaders to task for the crisis by making energy and security a central plank of election manifestoes.

“Elections are coming – security and resources need to be everyone’s agenda – let’s be vocal for our nation’s priority.”

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