I have said time and again that science, technology and innovations make a nation a force to be reckoned with in the community of nations. It is not the huge populations of China and India, each exceeding one billion, that make these countries powerful and developed countries; It is because of its scientific and technological advances, as well as its innovations. In the era of the slave trade, slaves were raided in Africa to work on their masters’ plantations in Europe and the Americas. With the industrial revolutions, when machines were designed and mass-produced to do the work of humans, there was no need to plunder more slaves to work on agricultural plantations, so it became fashionable to continue the slave trade and It was later banned.
Industrial revolutions, as spin-offs of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, better known as STEM education, led to the automation of most things that were previously done manually. Robots, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, aeronautics, and advances in information and communication technology have made the world a better place to live and enjoy. The center of the industrial revolution is electricity, also called power.
Nigeria has been talking about the industrial revolution for a long time without much success. Even the establishment of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, universities of technology, polytechnics and monotechnics, technical colleges, as well as the proliferation of research institutes have made us a force to be reckoned with in science and technology. Since we are Lilliput in S&T, we are still infantile in industrialization. Today, Nigeria is a net consumer of industrial products from other countries, spending billions of dollars and other foreign currencies to import innovative products from abroad.
One of the key drivers of manufacturing, let alone industrialization, is electricity. Where is Nigeria in terms of power generation, transmission and distribution? With all the huge investment in the power sector, the privatization of the former National Electric Power Authority, the transformation of NEPA into the Power Holding Company of Nigeria and the subsequent privatization into generating companies, Transmission Company of Nigeria and distribution companies, The search for stable power has remained elusive under successive governments, including the outgoing one.
Investments worth billions of dollars have earned the country barely 5,000 megawatts of electricity distribution with frequent national grid collapses. Not a few Nigerians believe that the opacity in all the privatization and commercialization of the electricity sector and the massive corruption in the area are largely responsible for the sorry state of electricity supply in the country. Other secondary factors include the lack of technical knowledge and the financial incapacity of the companies that won the privatization and license bids.
The promise of an energy mix that includes thermal, hydro, wind and solar power remains a mirage. Many Nigerians are not connected to the national grid and have to draw power from thousands of generator sets that come in all different shapes and sizes. The most popular is the I-better –pas-my-neighbour (smaller size). Many of them are noisy and cause environmental pollution while the most expensive are soundproof. Some need to be pulled to boot, while others start with the push of a button. Solar power is also gaining market acceptance. It is a combo of solar panel, inverters and batteries to generate electricity. Unfortunately, many of these power solutions on the market are bogus.
The main challenge with operating private generator sets is the cost of fueling and general maintenance. Some of these sets run on diesel, while others use Premium Motor Spirit, popularly called gasoline. Diesel is completely unregulated and as such a liter costs between N800 and N900. Therefore, running a diesel generator set for commercial and even home use is very expensive and increases the cost of doing business exponentially. This has caused many entrepreneurs to run their businesses at a loss. On the other hand, the PMS, which is heavily subsidized, is scarce. This has caused many people to obtain it from the black market at more than double the official price. The excessive reliance on this alternative source of energy is due to the severe shortage of clean energy by power distribution companies.
Despite DISCOS’ delicious promises of serving customers with free prepaid meters and pocket-friendly rates, Nigerians are still being scammed with estimated bills and non-delivery of prepaid meters even after paying for them. Not only that, customers are still largely responsible for purchasing cables and purchasing or repairing transformers when faulty. In all of them, despite a sustained blackout, there is still a sustained rate increase endorsed by the National Electricity Regulatory Commission. It’s hard to believe that NERC doesn’t believe much in consumer protection.
The gist of my argument is that Nigeria can only daydream about the industrial revolution if there is no stable and cheap electricity supply for the many Nigerian consumers. Science, technology and innovation are largely powered by electricity. Most industrial machines run on energy. Imagine that Aba, as the industrial hub of the South East, not Nigeria, does not have a stable public electricity supply and has to rely heavily on private electricity generation. Lagos’ Ilupeju and Ikeja industrial estates, Ogun state’s Agbara and Sagamu industrial parks, Abuja’s Idu industrial estate do not enjoy any stable public electricity supply but have to build their own power plant. Many high-end hotels, financial institutions, manufacturing companies and agri-food industries lacked public electricity supply and have to provide their own alternative power source, driving up the cost of production astronomically and making locally produced items more expensive than even some imported goods, such as textiles and clothing. Farm products.
I have yet to hear what our presidential candidates in next month’s elections, especially the front line ones, intend to do to save the sector and make the country self-sufficient in power production and power generation. Without solving this enigma, our commitment to the industrial revolution will not only continue to be a mirage, but our employment and poverty reduction schemes will continue to be unattainable. The best way to encourage micro, small and medium-sized companies, which are the pillars of economic growth and development, is when there is stable and cheap energy to operate businesses profitably.