Engr. Uwaifo speaks on How To Achieve Stable Power Supply In Nigeria
Mr Omorodion Solomon Uwaifo can be described as an elder statesman in engineering and a walking encyclopaedia in electricity issues. In fact, a contact with him shows that he radiates electrici ty!It is painful to him as an engineer that Nigeria doesn’t have a stable electricity supply. He believes the country has the manpower to generate and distribute power. He spoke with ADEMOLA ADEGBAMIGBE and OLANREWAJU BABALOLA ( Photos: AYODELE EFUNLA) on what Nigeria should do to have stable electricity supply
At what point did the General Olusegun Obasanjo regime spot you, we learnt you wrote the report on the electricity sector for that government?
General Obasanjo’s administration wrote to the Nigerian Society of Engineers, NSE, not to me or other individuals, for advice when National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) wanted the Federal Government (FGN) to allow it to go commercial. The letter was in April 1979. The President of the NSE, Engr Imarhiagbe Igiehon, called ten engineers together. I was one of them. In three weeks of intense activity, we wrote an excellent report, which the NSE sent to the FGN in June 1979. By that time, politics was at centre stage. Alhaji Shehu Shagari won the Federal election and General Obasanjo handed over to him on October 1. I presume that he also handed the NSE Report to his government.
We learnt Shagari did nothing about the report. Did you find out why?
I would say that Shehu Shagari did little with that report. However, in 1983, probably as a result of advice, the President set up what he called a National Panel to re-organize the NEPA. It was a multi-disciplinary panel that consisted of engineers, accountant, lawyer, and administrator. The four engineers were Engrs Dr Ademola Banjo, S O Ajose, Modu Kagu and S O Uwaifo. Chief Arthur Mbanefo MFR represented accountants, Dr Arthur Nylander SAN represented Lawyers and Chief Ebenezer Oke, business administration. Panelists toured the country and had meetings with stakeholders and special interest groups. Three panelists – Engrs Dr Ademola Banjo and S O Uwaifo, and Chief Arthur Mbanefo were selected to edit the final report. They did that in Engr Uwaifo’s office in Palmgrove Estate and his Personal Assistant, Mrs Funke Otusajo, provided excellent secretarial services.
The Report was handed over to the FGN in July 1983. Electioneering was in full swing as President Shagari campaigned for reelection. He won and returned to the Presidency on October 1. Unfortunately, General Muhammadu Buhari overthrew his government on the last day of the year 1983.
Before you go on, what was the crux of the report?
The crux was that a monolith, NEPA, as its predecessor, ECN, with a vertical management structure, could not give a country as geographically large and politically complex as Nigeria is, an efficient electric utility, given other constraints of poor communications and manpower inadequacies. The 1979 Report wanted the monolith reorganized consistent with the country’s state structure. The 1983 Report was similar. It wanted Undertakings, distribution services, to be as consistent with states structures as much as possible. Generation and transmission were to remain, as they were, essentially monolithic because that would serve fuel and the national economies better.
What were the differences between your 1979 and 1983 reports?
The essences were the same, but details were vastly different. The NSE had three weeks to do its 1979 report. They sat in one room to distill their experiences of the industry. The National Committee had three months to tour the country and talk to interest groups as well as stakeholders.
We heard that Obasanjo revisited the report when he came back as civilian president…
Yes, by the time Chief Olusegun Obasanjo became President in 1999, two excellent reports had floated in the federal system for two decades. A succession of five military governments did nothing about those reports. Power supply systems across the country had become decrepit. Talks were on that the President would privatize the industry. I was glad to support him, writing a weekly column, Public Utilities Watch, in the Vanguard between 2002 and 2003. The columns discussed the monolith and its problems including its derelict systems, corruption and its abuse of power. They also suggested how the industry might be successfully privatized.
But was privatization part of the things you suggested?
No, the reports wanted the power supply administration reorganized along state lines while retaining generation and transmission services as one monolith with horizontal management structure. As I have said, a monolith with a vertical management structure cannot give Nigeria the type of electric power supply service that the country needed at that time. With the telephones the country has now, monoliths have better chances, but not by very much.
Kindly appraise how Obasanjo tried to change the whole system before he left power. I mean his own privatization policy
What do you mean?
From 1999, his privatization policy the power sector …
Ah okay. By the time that Chief Obasanjo left office in 2007, he had set up all the structures needed for privatization. As a political platform, the Vice-President headed the National Council on Privatization, NCP. The electric power supply industry is intensive engineering. Privatizing one that has had assets and liabilities across the country for over sixty years needed an engineering platform and the Bureau of Public Enterprises, essentially a clearing-house for the NCP, should have been that platform. Sadly, rather than an engineering platform, the FGN made it another political platform. Probably an afterthought, but the FGN hired the services of a Canadian engineering firm to work for the BPE. The FGN had shot itself in the foot. Yes, the Canadian firm would probably have had better access to technology, but it certainly could not have matched an indigenous engineering outfit for essential information and knowledge of Nigeria’s electric power supply installations available to the engineer in the nooks and crannies of the country. A competent Nigerian engineer at the head of BPE, collaborating with other choice engineers, firms, and individuals including overseas engineers perhaps, would have been a wonderful asset for the country in terms of synergies developed and technological progress. Most if not all that was there to know about Nigeria’s decrepit assets, particularly distribution assets would have been available to interested entrepreneurs.
From 1979 you have suggested that the regulator be broken…
No, the monolith was an operator not a regulator. The office of the Chief Electrical Inspector at the Ministry of Mines and Power regulated the industry.
You said it should be unbundled but it wasn’t unbundled.
Neither of the two reports looked at unbundling. What I said was that successive military governments, five in all between 1983 and 1999 did nothing with two powerful reports that floated in the system, while Nigeria’s electric power supply decayed.
Would you say that was responsible for the mess we have found ourselves in?
No, but it contributed immensely and accelerated our arrival in the mess. The decline started some forty years ago. Engineers employed by the monoli