Football-loving Nigerians had more than one reason to groan about the country’s opening World Cup game: not only did they lose 2-0, many weren’t even able to see the whole match.

Some viewers complained that seasonal rains affected the signal to the satellite television channel broadcasting Saturday’s match against Croatia.

Then, the power went off completely.

The Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) said six power plants were shut down to prevent the “collapse” of the national grid following a pipeline failure and unspecified “technical issues”.

For two days, the grid lost 1 087 megawatts of electricity. By Tuesday, generators had recovered to 3 876.9 MW following repairs of the ruptured pipeline.

The TCN said gas was “gradually building up in most generating stations and in a day or two days it is expected that gas and power supply would be back to normal”.

But the widespread blackout, which forced those who could afford it to turn to expensive diesel-powered generators, once again highlighted Nigeria’s perennial electricity problem.

Despite churning out some 1.8 million barrels of crude every day and being Africa’s largest oil exporter, Nigeria can barely keep its light on.

Installed capacity is 7 000 MW but actual production for a country of more than 180 million has hovered between 2 500 and 5 000 MW, according to TCN data.

Economic rival South Africa in comparison generates 45 000 MW for 53 million people.

“In the past 10 years, we have heard our policymakers say their target is… 10 000 MW,” said Obioma Onyi-Ogelle, from Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka, southern Nigeria.

“This is grossly inadequate because we believe Nigeria requires at least 50 000 MW to meet its needs,” Onyi-Ogelle, who teaches energy and natural resources law, told Africa Check in March.

Power deficit

Gas thermal plants generate about 85% of Nigeria’s power while hydro-electricity supply the rest. Several projects are in the pipeline to boost production.

But they will add only about 5 000 MW to installed capacity.

Shortages of gas, plus sabotage and vandalism of pipelines in the meantime has cut supply to the country’s 22 gas thermal power plants and three hydro plants.

Peak production is just 5 156 MW, attained in December 2017.

Since 2010, though, the underfunded, creaking national grid has collapsed nearly 200 times, according to data obtained from the power ministry in Abuja.

The World Bank estimates about 75 million Nigerians – over 40% of the population – do not have access to regular electricity.

In 2005, then-president Olusegun Obasanjo unbundled the state-run Power Holding Company of Nigeria into dozens of privately run generating and distribution companies (GenCos and DisCos).

The government retained control of transmission.

Previous administrations are believed to have spent between $11bn and $16bn on the power sector but without tangible results.

President Muhammadu Buhari, who has promised to increase generation to 10 000 MW, last month accused his predecessors of wasting public funds on the sector, as he singled out Obasanjo.

“Where is the power?” Buhari asked.

Obasanjo dismissed the insinuations of corruption as “unsubstantiated”.

Paying for darkness

Industry bodies said it was time for a rethink as irregular power supply was compounding difficulties faced by Nigerian businesses trying to recover from recession.

“Many industries, especially the small-scale ones, are spending a lot on petrol and diesel to power their plants,” said Muda Yusuf, of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“This is increasing the cost of doing business and it’s hurting,” he told AFP.

Some companies have laid off workers to be able to stay afloat while others have either closed, relocated to other countries or scaled down, said Yusuf.

He urged the government to “revisit the privatisation model because we are not just getting it right”, accusing operators of lacking the financial and technical capacity to run them.

Beyond being deprived of watching the Super Eagles play in Russia, hard-pressed consumers say poor service and high tariffs are hitting them in the pocket.

In March, the state-run Consumer Protection Council warned DisCos against arbitrary billing, illegal charges and disconnections.

“The DisCos are exploiting consumers through exorbitant bills without providing commensurate services,” said Bimpe Bello, who lives in Lagos.

“Every month they bring estimated bills which they force us to pay without providing pre-paid meters ordered by government.

“We call on the government to come to our aid because we cannot be paying for darkness.”

Nigeria’s next match on Friday is against Iceland, the world leader in renewable energy production.

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