Growing up on the streets of Olodi Apapa in Lagos state, meant that the phrase ‘Up Nepa’ was one that residents would chorus consciously and unconsciously every now and then, whenever darkness suddenly gives way to light. As kids, teenagers and in some cases adults, we would all scream for joy anytime the then National Electric Power Authority brought back electricity supply after days and sometimes months of darkness.
I wonder if the same phrase is still chorused today with the change of name to PHCN but what I do know is that the power supply situation is still shamefully abysmal. This is sad because we live in a highly competitive, knowledge-led economy that is driven by speed and one continues to wonder, how Nigerians particularly startups can truly compete globally while keeping costs low and staying competitive.
There is no doubting the fact that Nigeria needs a well-developed tech ecosystem to help it out of the myriad of problems that technology could effectively solve. One thing that is, however, clear to all is that, for tech to be of any significant use in solving some of our problems, certain other infrastructures have to be effectively made available.
For me, the adequate supply of electricity is super important to move our country forward and as we know power supply has been quite epileptic for a very long time. Each government that assumes power promises to find a lasting solution to it, but at the end of their tenure in office, no solution is ever found.
Many expected that the change of name and subsequent privatisation of certain aspects of the value chain would bring the much-needed solution. Alas, the story remains the same for many individuals and businesses as they are forced to resort to the use of alternative power sources, such as generating sets and in some cases solar systems to meet their power needs. One most annoying thing is that, in spite of the fact that the Discos have continuously failed to provide adequate electricity supply, they still send estimated bills to users to whom they have failed to supply pre-paid meters to bearing in mind that millions of Nigerians simply cannot afford the extra costs demanded for such meters.
For many customers, there is no significant difference between pre-privatisation and post-privatisation of the sector as power blackout is still a grievous reality. This, in effect, puts an additional cost burden on the users and this dovetail into passing such costs to the prices of goods and services. Startups are finding it difficult to scale with the situation, as they struggle with having to run on generators, which eats deep into their cost structure.
Electricity provision, across the board, should be seen as a necessity if we must deploy and propel the use of technology to solve our myriad of problems. This is because electricity drives technology. Ever since the industrial revolution, when electricity became the backbone on which mass production was premised, it had always been relevant in powering most of the innovations and inventions that have been born. Of most importance, today is Internet connectivity, which has turned the world into a global village. Today, you can transact and close business deals with anyone, anywhere in the world, without leaving the comfort of your home or office through an Internet-connected computer device, which needs electricity. Most villages in the country are yet to be connected with electricity; hence, these places are finding it difficult to be connected to the Internet. Most Internet service providers are reluctant to move to these areas because it will be a waste of resources to mount towers in these rural areas as the return on investment will be almost non-existent.
I have always maintained that technology is here to make living a lot easier. With stable electricity in the country, the unemployment rate can be reduced to the barest minimum because, many that are unemployed will use the opportunity of the stability in the supply of electricity to key into jobs that are electricity-related, such as welding, hairdressing and barbing salons, running cybercafés, cold room for fish and meat, fashion designing, etc. This is because they will run their businesses smoothly, without interruptions and having to incur extra cost in running generating sets. This will also result in a reduction in the cost of production for many industries, which will also lead to reduced prices of goods and services.
Solving the electricity issue in Nigeria will also lead to a situation where our products can compete favourably for export, especially, in the African market, thus, opening a window for our earning serious foreign exchange from exports. It is only when we export that our earnings can improve the strength of the Naira against stronger currencies like the Dollar and save us from the present foreign exchange imbalance. The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, which is the regulatory body for the power sector in Nigeria, should put the Gencos and Discos on their toes to provide the best of services to electricity consumers in Nigeria.
The issue of irregular billing and provision of prepaid meters for every electricity consumer in Nigeria is also key. By providing the consumers with prepaid meters, the issue of crazy billing will be a thing of the past and consumers will pay for only what they consume. This is the fair thing to do. The government should compel the Discos to provide prepaid meters for the consumers with a timeline and punishment for non-compliance.
The possibilities of opening new frontiers on alternative sources of electricity should also be looked into by the government and encourage as many players as possible to operate in that field. Technology has provided various other options, such as wind, solar and many more which we can apply in areas where we find them suitable to develop and use.
ICT Clinic by CFA is published weekly in the Sunday Punch