BY SIMON REEF MUSA
Since the emergence of General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) as President on May 29, 2015, the lackluster performance of the power sector has not only become worrisome, but the inability of critical power agencies to align with the vision of the Federal Government has created uncertainties in the development of critical power infrastructures. Despite government’s determination to turn around the fortunes of the sector for good and end incessant outages, efforts to improve the performance of power supply are increasingly becoming dismal, with critical infrastructure, amounting to billions of naira, destroyed.
Considering the poor state of electricity infrastructure in Nigeria, the nation loses N1 billion every day. Apart from the billions of naira lost yearly, the synergy required to harmonise and rally power operators for a common cause is absent. Instead of getting stakeholders to deliberate and evolve roadmap to finding solutions to surmount problems confronting the deplorable state of power in Nigeria, there appears to be a widening gulf between power agencies and the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), with the latter assuming adversarial disposition in overcoming the problems. In a bid to tackle the rot and unworkability of the sector, President Buhari had early in the years of his administration reached out to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel for interventions. In a determined effort to turn the darkness that has thrown its shroud over the nation, the $2 billion (N781bn) Siemens Presidential Power Initiative (PPI) deal was agreed upon with the sole purpose of improving power, with specific focus on generation and transmission. Apart from ensuring that the billion-dollar power venture succeeds, the project was brought under the direct supervision of the Presidency.
As the Siemens deal was about to set sail, the bottlenecks of bureaucracy and internal wrangling among critical stakeholders took a centre stage. Apart from several petitions by various groups that were sent to the presidency on alleged improprieties against the then Managing Director of TCN, Mr. Usman Gur Mohammed, the rate at which the country was experiencing national grid collapse was troubling. Not only was the $100 million fibre optic network infrastructure concession project handled by Phase 3 Telecom Ltd and Alheri Engineering Company stalled over disagreement, the capacity to expand the real time monitoring of power lines through the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) was badly affected.
Worried by the problems bedeviling the power sector, Buhari had on May 19, 2020 approved the sacking of the TCN boss, and immediately replaced him with Engr. Sule Ahmed Abdulaziz, a graduate of M.Sc. Electronic/Automation Engineering from the Technical University, Sofia, Bulgaria on an acting capacity. The new appointment put to sleep allegations against Mohammed who was accused of not possessing the requisite competence to head the TCN. Apart from putting a square peg in a square hole, Abdulaziz’s appointment heralds the emergence of a professional that can be relied upon to provide competent leadership for improved capacity for power generation.
Mohammed’s sack as boss of the TCN was made possible through a letter dated March 25, 2020 by the Minister of Power, Engr Sale Mamman, to the president, with reference no: FMP/TCN/2020/P/1. In the letter, Mamman had requested for the alignment of TCN with the Presidential Power Initiative – Siemens Plan. Recalling the agreement on the modernisation of the Nigerian electricity infrastructure under PPI reached between the Federal Government and Siemens on July 23, 2019, with the support of the German Government, the letter said that “TCN is marred by ineffective maintenance and poor system management, which contributes to partial and total system collapses, reflecting the inadequacy in infrastructure.”
Accusing the sacked TCN boss of not providing the required synergy in realising the goals of the PPI, the minister accused Mohammed of frustrating re-alignment strategy aimed at resolving problems plaguing the power sector. More troubling, added the minister, the sacked MD did not show support in managing issues relating to DisCos on bulk energy dispatch constraints, among other issues.
The appointment of Abdulaziz as the new TCN was based on the strong recommendation by the Minister of Power to Buhari: “It is thus critical to replace Mr. Usman Mohammed, with an individual that is not only qualified, but fully aligned with the federal government’s strategy for the sector.”
Unlike Mohammed who was an accountant, the new TCN boss is a qualified engineer that is professionally competent to unite critical stakeholders to improve on the deplorable power sector that has shown so much promise, but less performance.
There is no doubt that the sacked tenure of Mohammed was more of an incompetent bravado than demonstrating skills in managing TCN. As an accountant, he was aware of his failings and was always at war with stakeholders over his competence to manage the power sector. The result of Mohammed’s performance profile was very glaring for all to see. Despite being the TCN boss since 2014, the road to improving the power generation of the country became an uphill task. He was either enmeshed in accusing the DisCos of not distributing the wheeled power or bringing up one excuse or the other to explain the appalling state of power supply in the country. By the time he was booted out of office, the generation capacity of the country’s power sector had not gone beyond 4,000 megawatts. By the time he was kicked out of office, not only was the required synergy still unrealized, the road to stable power supply may take a long time to be resolved.
Resolving the myriad of problems confronting Nigeria’s power sector must be hinged on the appointment of a competent leadership endowed with requisite knowledge of the sector and setting the pace for development key infrastructure. Appointing an accountant to be at the frontline of resolving issues battling such a sensitive sector like power in Nigeria is a recipe for underdevelopment. The appointment of Abdulaziz, an engineer with over two-decade experience in the power sector, provides an inspiring prologue to getting the right leadership in place.
There is no denying the fact that TCN is key in pulling through the dream of the PPI for enhanced efficiency. Having appointed the right person with skilled competence and unblemished versatility in the knowledge of how the power sector works, bright prospects of realising enhanced productivity for power generation and distribution in Nigeria may have become a foregone conclusion. With the right people in the saddle of authority, the Siemens PPI project that have encountered stumbling blocks is set for full realisation in a bid to resolve problems haranguing the deplorable power situation in Nigeria.
With the right leadership now in place, and the storms of controversies now abated, it is expected that the abdulaziz-led TCN will commence rallying various groups and agencies within the power sector to work in unity in order to lighten the darkness of our nation, following constant blackouts foisted on the country. More than anyone, the new TCN boss should work in unison with unions and critical stakeholders towards building blocks of unity and providing the required synergies for enhanced power efficiency that was alien during Mohammed’s tenure.
Getting to resolve the power sector conundrum requires transparency and expertise. Abdulaziz has all it takes to rise to the beat and provide an ideal leadership that can undo the present darkness brought by the dreary performance of poor power supply. Nigerians would want to see the new TCN boss’ competence improving on the capacity of the power sector for good. With the Federal Government taking the bold step in ending the rancour-ridden leadership of Mohammed at the TCN, Nigerians, hopefully, are set to see the end of a debilitating national darkness that has trapped us in the backwaters of development.