Dr Victor Udo , the Managing Director of Ibom Power Plant and Senior Special Assistant to the Akwa Ibom Governor on Power, fielded questions from newsmen in Lagos recently on the challenges of the nation’s power sector and stresses what should e done to achieve effective power generation and distribution, among other issues , Asst News Editor, UFOMBA UZUEGBU reports.
Can we meet you, sir
Before I joined Akwa Ibom State Government in 2011, I worked for over 20 years in the United State’s power sector. I held senior management positions at Pepco Holdings Inc between 1997 and 2011. I worked as an electrical engineer in the company’s 450MW power plant in Beasley Point New Jersey.
I was a system planning engineer and a business process analyst in the same company before joining the management rank. Part of the management responsibilities in the positions I occupied included public policy research/ development, risk management, business planning/performance and technology research/venture management. In 2003, I was appointed by the Governor of New Jersey as a member of the renewable energy task force. Similarly, in 2009, I was appointed a member of the planning board of New Castle County, Delaware. That’s basically what I was doing before I was appointed the Senior Special Assistant to His Excellency on power in 2011.
What is your take on the privatization of the power sector?
President Goodluck Jonathan’s privatization of the power sector is laudable. He has demonstrated his commitment to solving the problems in the power sector by implementing the roadmap for Nigeria’s power sector reform. He has done a marvelous job and if past administrations had shown such commitment to the power sector, we are certain that our story would have been refreshingly different today. AkwaIbom State Government, under the administration of Governor Godswill Akpabio expressed support for the privatization process. The Governor demonstrated this by partnering with our sister states that are served by Port Harcourt Electric Distribution Company, PHEDC, namely the “BRAC” states (Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River) to acquire PHEDC through 4-Power Consortium. We successfully bided for and acquired PHEDC under the Federal Government privatization process.
In my opinion, privatization of the power sector is commendable because government should not be expected to do everything. While the government focuses on providing security, education, health, road construction and growth of the economy and so on, power is better off in the hands of private investors for effective management and operation. Power is similar, in many ways to the telecoms sector.
For instance, when the government operated the telecoms industry through NITEL, there were lots of operational inefficiencies and poor service delivery. But with the advent of private investors such as MTN, Airtel, Glo and Etisalat, we have witnessed significant improvements in the telecoms industry. With the ongoing implementation of power reforms, the success story witnessed in the telecoms industry will soon be replicated in the power sector.
What do you consider the real problem that Nigeria’s power sector has been grappling with through the years, and how do you think the problem can be addressed?
This is a very important question. Over the years the problem with Nigeria’s power sector has been poor maintenance of power infrastructure overtime. Recently, the Minister of Power announced that power generation in the country dropped by more than 1000MW due to vandalisation of gas pipelines across the states. This implies that availability of gas supply is a major challenge confronting Nigeria’s power sector as a whole.
Another challenge I have identified, especially from our experience at the state level, is the lack of operational excellence, which is, not having the required core competency to effectively manage and operate the power system and the abundant commerce. For instance, in Akwa Ibom State, gas is not a problem; the governor has provided the enabling environment for a gas processing plant to be built in the state. This gas facility was commissioned by Mr. President a few months ago and is currently supplying gas to Ibom Power Plant at over 100MW production daily.
So we have gas, we have generation and we are collaborating with Transmission Company of Nigeria, TCN, on the enhancement of transmission infrastructure in the state but the major challenge we have remains power distribution.
Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company, PHEDC, lacks the operational excellence to effectively manage distribution assets and power delivery in the State. These are two major challenges in the power sector. Without gas, power cannot be generated. Even if the infrastructure is in place, if the operational competency is lacking, power will be unavailable. In Akwa Ibom State, what we have done to tackle these problems, as I mentioned earlier, was to attract a private sector investor, SEPTA Energy, to build a gas processing plant in the state which is currently supplying gas to the state owned Ibom Power Plant.
In the areas of competency development, Governor Akpa…io created the role of a Senior Special Assistant, SSA,to focus on power. Part of the role of the SSA on power is utility competency development using the people processes and technology, PPT, integration. We have three engineers assigned to monitor and intervene in power related issues across the three senatorial districts of the State. We also liaise with communities across the 31 local government areas of the state through the electricity consumer committees amongst other processes. Our efforts are aimed at coordinating utility activities across the state for immediate and sustainable results in the power sector.
Many firms have sprung up, claiming to be ready to provide affordable and adequate power for Nigerians. Do you think these new firms have what it takes to provide power for Nigeria’s development?
This is a technical question. From my understanding, there are two arms involved in the privatisation of power assets. There is the investment arm and the operational arm. An investor does not necessarily require technical expertise to invest in the power sector. The investor has the money, acquires the assets and hands it over to an operator for effective management and operation. Therefore, it is the operator that requires technical expertise. For instance, most people that have money to invest in stock exchange market are not involved in the daily trades in the stock market rather they engage the services of a stockbroker to manage their investments effectively.
Like I said earlier, Akwa Ibom State acquired shares in PHEDC through 4-Power consortium but I also mentioned that PHEDC lacks operational excellence. In tandem with my explanation, Akwa Ibom is an investor; in other words, in collaboration with three other States, we put in money to acquire the assets through 4-Power but PHEDC operates the assets on behalf of the four States (Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River). However, the original vision of the four Governors was to operate power distribution assets along State lines, so that apart from being investors, states can also have a say in the operation of their power distribution assets. If this is done, I believe that Akwa Ibom State will be a model for steady power supply in Nigeria because we already have all the building blocks in place.