" ITREALMS: Erratic power supply, bane of ICT growth

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Erratic power supply, bane of ICT growth

Features for the week:

Poor electricity supply ranks highest among the problems facing stakeholders in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) thus retards penetration, reports REMMY NWEKE.

ARISING from his seat at the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) Center’s Agip Hall, at the recently held Computer, Telecommunications and Office Equipment (CTO-05), upcoming professional, Mr. Emeh Ekanem, 30, resolved to close his personal savings in order to refocus by acquiring a Personal Computer (PC) for $750, about N70,000 and going online.

This step was followed few weeks later by engaging an Internet Service Provider (ISP) for close to $200, about N25,000 so as to have Internet access anywhere and at anytime of the day, especially at home.

Mr. Ekanem, also known for a patriot who do not hesitate in settling his bills as soon as they come, including bills from the scrapped National Electric Power Authority (NEPA).

Although, he has been residing in the Gbagada axis of Lagos State, for over three years now, one thing that had forced him not to think about owning a PC initially, let alone getting Internet access was the incessant epileptic power supply in the area.

This kind of scenario must have forced the concerned Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) Group of 22 (G-22) in its recent eight sectoral based memoranda submitted to the National Political Reform Conference (NPRC), stated in its section three “What must Nigeria do to succeed in the 21st century,” listed as number one challenge the issue of having constant electricity supply in the system.

G-22, made up of Nigerian ICT professionals, 13 of who are resident locally, nine others reside in the United Kingdom, Canada and United States; opined that for the nation to attain any meaningful qualitative development within the global context, there must be an un-interruptible electricity supply at all points and at all times.

“We used to hear that knowledge is power (electricity) will then become the real knowledge tool for engaging 21st century global competitiveness,” the group said.

They also said in the recommendations that the nation has been disconnected for too long a time by applying what was described as “outdated strategy of even development”.

Noting that by their submission, the group has deactivated the wheel of progressive development, which they said, grossly contributed to the under-development of the nation, lamenting however, of none inclusion of ICT professionals in the NPRC.

The G-22, which has the likes of Dr. Aluko Mobalji, Alhaji Ajijola Abdul-Hakeem, Dr. Bada Abiodun, Messrs Reuben Muoka, Titi Omo-Ettu, Kolawole Ogunlana, Uche Onwudiwe, Chris Uwaje and Seni Williams among others, further insisted that the time has come to reconnect governance with the industry and academia, through a science, technology and knowledge-based public-private partnership (PPP) initiative as a strategic vehicle for national development and global competitiveness.

Managing Director, Gafunk Nigeria Limited, Mr. Ganiyu Alimi, while speaking to Champion Infotel exclusively, on problems facing ICT entrepreneurs in the country, equally picked as the number one, the problem of electricity, which has since constrained most stakeholders to power their electricity themselves through generating sets.

Mr. Alimi said that this in turn drains the pocket of growing entrepreneurs, noting the steps taken by the Lagos State government, for instance, by trying its hands on Independent Power Generation Plant (IPGP), which was unfortunately politicized to the detriment of citizens, especially Lagosians due to feud between the state and federal government.

“Until the power sector is privatized, we may not see tangible development in the country,” he said. Stressing that as he was speaking to Champion Infotel, his company runs on generating set most of the 24 hours in a day, coupled with the ever rising cost of diesel which currently sells at about N64 per litre.

“So, power is very important but not any where available for use and now you have to generate it at a very high cost,” he lamented.

All these, Gafunk boss said adds to the cost of ICT tools such as computers as well as life span of such equipment and for the nation to witness dramatic change in the industrial development, “the government must give power generation high priority”.

For the President, Nigeria Internet Group (NIG) and Vice Chairman, Teledom Group of Companies, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, who blamed this power problems to poor management of public-owned institutions just as the renaming may not after all be the solution to power supply in the country.

Champion Infotel recalls that about forthnight ago the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) was scrapped by the federal government and replaced with a new firm, Power Holding Company of Nigeria Limited (PHCNL).

Dr. Ekuwem maintained that for industrial development to occur, government at all levels has no business being in business, emphasizing that this means that any government’s public owned institution such as NEPA should not only be in the hands of the Organized Private Sector (OPS) but privatized in order to have the management structured in a way that private people manage it, with little per cent if necessary own by the government, as well as avoiding undue interference.

He dismissed NEPA, saying that it has become a national disgrace and is at the root of non-development of the country, because even those who want to contribute to the development are frustrated out, because power is not available and even where available it is not stable.

Corroborating this, Managing Director, Dunlop Nigeria Plc, Mr. Dayo Lawuyi, said that privatization remains the solution to epileptic power supply in the country.

“Many young men are waiting out there to do things with their hands but they are held up by erratic power supply,” he said.

Dunlop, according to him, has seven generating sets already and the eighth is on its way, pointing out that the dearth of the public power supply was a major handicap of Nigerians and manufacturers in particular.

He drew an analogy with the telecoms industry and argued that nowadays “Competition gives room to efficiency …. If you go to NITEL now, it is virtually empty. Nobody wants to patronize NITEL anymore and in addition, you get good service because there are options”.

Project Manager, Lagos Digital Village (LDV) Yaba-Lagos, Mr. Gbenga Sesan, lamented that the situation is literarily killing and said that as he speak that LDV has spent millions of Naira on diesel alone to keep the Digital Village up and running and this has eaten deep into other budget of LDV.

This, the pioneer IT ambassador said, poses more problem in a place like LDV, which is being funded by international organizations like Microsoft, who are dazed that such amount of money is spent on power supply alone. Additionally, this is retarding the hand of development as the plan for another Digital Village would require stringent planning and rise in the cost of operation.

Business Center Operator at the Ajegunle axis of Lagos State, Mr. John Gozie, decried that erratic power supply has caused break down of most of his PCs, apart from fueling his generating set most of the time, which cost is usually passed to the customers.

He expressed pessimism over the change of NEPA to PHCNL, wondering if that would really make electricity available to Nigerians to use and advance their knowledge, particularly in the use of ICT tools, such as the PC and Internet.

Though change of name may not really change the structure or orientation especially of then existing NEPA, some industry analyst, should have preferred taking of privatization headlong first before a new name is picked.

And even at that, NEPA which has since become “Never Expert Power Always” for most Nigerians and they are worried with the PHCNL name as ‘Power Holding’, suggesting it is not enticing either and has began to denote ‘withholding power’.

No matter how it is looked at, millions of Nigerians like Mr. Ekanem are on queue waiting to know where the train of poor electricity or otherwise, would take us beyond the change of name, even as it retards the wheel of ICT penetration.


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