In a bid to boost domestic electricity supply, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has taken drastic action by cutting power supply to three neighbouring West African countries: Benin Republic, Togo and Niger. The ‘Interim Order on Transmission System Dispatch Operations, Cross-border Supply, and Related Matters’ memo, recently signed by the commission’s Chairman, Sanusi Garba, and Vice Chairman, Musiliu Oseni, for the  action of the System Operator took effect from May 1, 2024. It directed that power delivery to Nigeria’s neighbours must not exceed six per cent of the total grid electricity at any given time. It’s expected to last till October 1, 2024, and subject to change.

The move was necessitated by the  sub-optimal grid dispatch practices, which have impacted the ability of Distribution Companies (DisCos) to meet their service tariff commitments to end-users. In recent times, Nigeria has struggled to generate maximum power supply to the end-users, leading to rampant power cuts across the country. Routine national grid collapse has exacerbated the problem, resulting in hues and cries by customers, many of whom also complain of exorbitant monthly bills for services barely delivered to unmetered subscribers.  The abysmal performance of DisCos nationwide since taking over from Power Holding Corporation of Nigeria is unacceptable and must be quickly addressed.

The power cut to the three countries was also informed by the need to meet up contractual supply hours agreement with Band-A customers following the April 2024 tariff raise. Unfortunately, the grid supply fell below 3,000 megawatts (MW) immediately after. The complaint by NERC that international customers owed Nigerian power companies over N132billion since 2018 in unpaid bills is worrisome. The affected countries supplied by Nigeria have had more steady power supply than Nigeria itself. It is important that grid operators should  prioritise domestic supply over international customers while also ensuring that they don’t run afoul of bilateral agreements Nigeria has with these countries.

We believe the overseas power shedding may be a short term solution to the epileptic power supply in Nigeria. It may likely boost domestic electricity supply marginally and momentarily in the country. This is why the federal government should emphasise on generating more power befitting Africa’s most populous country and one of its largest economies. Electricity generation in the country has hovered between 3,000 and 5,000 megawatts for many years, which is a far cry from what South Africa, a country, whose population is roughly a quarter of Nigeria’s, is generating at the moment. South Africa currently generates about 42,000 megawatts of electricity.

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The NERC should tread with caution and must ensure it does not reduce the six per cent power supply allocated to the three ECOWAS countries within the six-month duration. It should avoid a collision course which could drive these nations to dam the River Niger and reduce the power generating capacity of Nigerian dams at a point the country is still grappling with low power supply. It should not forget that Niger relies on 87 per cent of its electricity from Nigeria, Benin 72 per cent and Togo 47 per cent. The cut in supply will certainly lead to energy shortfalls for six months for these countries.

In the interim, Nigeria should explore alternative sources of electricity to ramp up its power supply. The short term gains from cutting power to the three ECOWAS countries won’t solve the energy crisis in the country overnight. Successive Nigeria governments have promised to fix the power problem, but no noticeable changes have been made, compared to strides made by Egypt, Tunisia and South Africa in the sector. Nigerians should begin to hold their leaders accountable for unfulfilled promises. Government must do a reality check on itself and fish out those sabotaging energy projects in the country.

The six-month power cut to the neighbouring ECOWAS nations should be maximised by Nigeria to seek new and improved ways of generating power supply. It is also an opportunity for the country to recover the mounting debts incurred by its neighbours over the years. These debts could be rechanneled to boosting the power generating capacity of the country. Increasing power generation to 10,000 megawatts should be a short-term target. In the long-term, the federal government should work towards exceeding the over 60,000 megawatts generated by Egypt. The government should take cognizance that power remains a catalyst for industrial development.