Rafat Salami, Abuja

With President Muhammadu Buhari’s statement that Nigeria’s electricity situation was no longer a laughing matter, the hopes of Nigerians have been rekindled to expect more concrete action to resolve the issues attributed to the epileptic power situation in the county.

At the opening ceremony of a two-day summit of the National Economic Council, NEC, in Abuja on Monday the 21st of March, President Buhari identified low supply of gas to power plants due to vandalism, obsolete power distribution equipment, Power fluctuations and low voltage; as some of the problems needing urgent solution. However, he pledged that his administration would add 2,000 megawatts before the end of this year.

In this month of March alone, electricity generation plummeted to an all-time low of 1,500 megawatts, underscoring the volatility of the energy sector. The near total darkness on the 9th and 10th of March came as the nation attained its highest electricity generation of five thousand megawatts and just as the country was stepping up efforts to max out to 7,000 megawatts-its total installed capacity.

Statistics from the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission showed that much of the difficulty in generation was caused by a combination of low water levels at the hydro stations occasioned by the dry harmattan season; difficulty in transmission caused by inadequate transmission lines and importantly, inadequate gas supply to power plants. Undoubtedly, the one area that can provide immediate returns on investment is the gas supply chain. When addressed, it could amount to over 3,000 megawatts of electricity to the nation.

President Buhari and the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr Ibe Kachikwu both hinted that pipeline vandalism was a great challenge to the industry.

This has been a recurring decimal as the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in its annual statistical bulletin for 2014 declared that the country lost over N59 billion Naira to pipeline vandalism in 2014. Its 2013 report also showed that the nation lost 26.82 billion Naira to theft, down from 65.812 billion Naira in 2012. Policing the more than 5,000 kilometres of pipelines, which run through hundreds of kilometres of forests and creeks, is a tedious challenge. It is now clear that vandals exploit that challenge to perennially hold the nation down.

The Centre for Crisis Communication in January this year said Crude oil theft was a major problem in Nigeria, with an estimated loss of about six billion dollars in annual revenue. In point of fact, vandalising gas pipelines defies any reason since the gas is discharged into the air and wasted. The Centre therefore, advocates urgent procurement and deployment of drones for digital surveillance of all pipeline routes.

While deploying digital technology may be a long term plan, it is important that government expands and intensifies its community-based policing, to protect the vast artery of oil and gas pipelines across the country. Essentially, it is time to formally criminalise any act of vandalism, such that pipeline vandals can be arrested and tried for the crime of economic terrorism against the state.

It is indisputable that in protecting the pipelines alone, government will be well on its way to achieving its target of additional 2,000 megawatts of electricity before the end of the year 2016. Beyond that, the onerous task now is for all Nigerians to key in and support measures to stem the perpetual power outage that is holding the nation’s economy to ransom.