Harmonising ICT, Power Sector

ICTBased on the fact that telecom companies have over the years suffered immensely from the poor power situation that has crippled network service, and the renewed call for a proper harmonisation of the Iinformation Communication Technology (ICT) and the power sector, Engineer Lanre Ajayi, president of the Association of Telecom Companies of Nigeria (Atcon) at a telecom event, where issues on power and the ICT industry were brought into focus, said it is pertinent that these issues are addressed without further delay. However, a look at the power sector before its privatisation process showed that large scale power generation, transmission and distribution have been the sole preserve of the government since the nation attained independence in 1960. This has been enshrined in the decree number 24 of 1972, which gave the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) the autonomy of doing so. NEPA for most of its history has had a reputation, as one of the most inefficient and corrupt institutions in the country. Although, it probably stands out because, its efficiency has had such a dramatic effect on the everyday life of most people, businesses and organisations. It has also suffered neglect by the government, a situation which is evident in the steps taken so far by past regimes that controlled the affairs of governance of this country. Series of promises to revive the power sector were made by the Obasanjo administration, all of which never saw the light of the day, in terms of moving the sector forward. The government promised that the country would have an uninterrupted power supply by 2001, a rash promise to make, considering the mess the sector was in at the time. That goal was not met, and ridiculously, the government continued to make unfulfilled promises about meeting one power reform agenda or the other, which in effect made difficult the move to foster growth in the sector. With these impossibilities on ground, the Obasanjo administration being saddled with the power problem, established the National Electricity Regulatory Commission ( NERC) as a result of the electric power sector reform act passed in 2005. The responsibility of NERC was to license companies to generate, transmit and distribute electricity; it also includes setting up the legal framework within which the private sector participating companies would operate. Its responsibilities revolves round issues like stating exactly what their responsibilities are, the kind of service they should provide, the works they may carry out in doing so, the tariff structure, and what consumers service levels are acceptable. The government envisaged that with the setting up of NERC, private and corporate organisations would be encouraged and be scared to participate in the power distribution business, thus creating competition that are beneficial to consumers. However, it is on record that measures by government were vivid in the expansion projects carried out to create more capacity in already existing generating stations. Other moves were the encouragement given to independent power producers to build and expand plants at Afam, Bonny, Kwale, Abuja, Obajana and Enugu. This dream was designed to realise a generating capacity of more than 10,000MW, mega watts, an expectation which is very low for a population of more than 140 million people. Foreign outlook: A look at a country like South Africa would reveal the inadequacies of the government in creating a suitable platform for sustainable power reform that can cater for its teeming population. It is worthy of note that the major generating capacity of Eskom in South Africa, is 40,000MW for a population of just over 50 millions, which makes it reasonable to conclude that 10,000 MW is not what a country like Nigeria, with its vast size should be talking about. The re-branding of NEPA to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), with the responsibility of generating, transmitting and distributing of power was seen by analysts as a new wine in an old calabash, would not meet its objectives as the factors plaguing the old NEPA will also showcase itself. With the over 140 million Nigerians in need of constant supply of electricity, coupled with an unprecedented surge in industrial activities, the need for efficient and steady power is top priority, and it is a widely accepted fact that, it is sine qua non in almost all sectors of the economy. Epileptic power supply, which has been the bane of Nigeria, cannot help and has actually hindered development in the information communication technology, ICT sector. However, the participation of private investors into this area was not realised as the laws governing their operations did not provide enough incentives for that. The Telecoms sector, Nigerian experience: The telecom revolution in Nigeria which began in 2001 with the emergence of Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) companies like Econet, now Airtel, MTN, Globacom, and others like Etisalat, and the code division multiple access (CDMA) operators, have in various forum hinged their poor performance on the power blackout in the country. They could not start business without factoring in the extra cost of acquiring generators and build a secured space for the power infrastructure. Because power supply has never existed, we have base stations experiencing hiccups, because their performance inherently hinges on the condition of the over-stretched generators. The high expectation the telcos had about five years ago that power supply would become steady under the last administration, fizzled out with that dispensation. The situation grew worst, that not even the trillions of naira and aggravated policy thrust at addressing the issue, brought sanity into the system. In the past eight years, the networks have grown exponentially and the operators have invested in expansion rollout in all the geo-political zones. With the large rollout, it has become quite difficult for effective service to be delivered to the millions of subscribers nationwide due to the prevailing power situation. This situation in 2007 led to the power summit organised by the Association of Telecom Companies of Nigeria (Atcon), in collaboration with other stakeholders, at the Golden gate restaurant, Lagos, in a bid to proffer solution to the ugly phenomenon. The summit which was well attended by stakeholders including, John Odey the then minister of information and communication, and Engineer Ernest Ndukwe, former executive vice chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission ( NCC), Engineer Folusheke Shomolu, senior special adviser to the president on power reform, and Dr. Ransome Owen, former managing director and chief executive officer of the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission ( NERC), to mention but a few, brought to light the fact that, the nation was lagging behind in terms of steady policy formulation and a defined roadmap in resolving the ever prevailing power problem. Engineer Shomolu, explained that Nigeria after a given pace of time was operating on a capacity of 10,000MW, that later decreased to 4,000MW due to some technical and managerial factors, a capacity that a state like Lagos would find very much inadequate.” 4,000 MW is not what a country of this size should be talking about, it is very inadequate,” he said. Though he stated that the various government reforms put in place in 2007, would help to alleviate the situation, the dream never came to pass. Similarly, Dr. Owen, former managing director and chief executive of NERC, promised that his commission would work with the various telcos, to ensure that stringent measures would be deployed to increase the level of power situation for the network operators to concentrate on service delivery, which is their core activity. “The issue of power provision, and the huge cost incurred from generating it through their generating plants, should be the exclusive responsibility of the government, a diversion from their core duty which is the provision of telecoms service. I will ensure that NERC works closely with the government to create a harmonious relationship with the operators to address the deteriorating power situation,” he stated. The summit came with a resolution for public, private partnership, and for alternative source of power generation to be explored. The power issue was also highlighted by Engineer Lanre Ajayi, president of Atcon, and from the direction of a harmonised policy between the ICT and the sector. He requested the NCC to seek for a link between both sectors for a regulatory framework that would ensure constant power supply to the telcos, which has been contributing greatly to the economic growth of the country, in terms of revenue generation, job creation and development. In a reaction to that, Juwah commented that it is really ideal for power to be restored to its full capacity for the telcos to concentrate on their core activities, which is service delivery, without procuring additional cost of providing power. With the positive response from the executive vice chairman of the NCC, telecom analysts are of the view that actions should be hastened for a harmonised framework for between the ICT and the power sector for effective telecoms service delivery. In line with that, Mr. Akinwale GoodLuck, corporate service executive, MTN Nigeria, in an interview in 2010 stated that the company spends over N500million monthly on diesel and maintenance of generator sets in their BTSs, and that such huge fund would have been used for network expansion and upgrade, building of more BTS, and rural telephony projects.

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