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Monday, March 27, 2006

Power supply: Frustrating ICT diffusion

Special report

Unpredictable poor electricity supply is discouraging the penetration and usage of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools for development, writes REMMY NWEKE.

AT a launch of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) product recently in the highbrow area of Lagos State, the Victoria Island, a power outage was experienced suddenly there was a black out in the densely populated conference hall. And what took over was unpleasant screams of all sorts from participants casting aspersions on 'NEPA' despite its change of name recently to Power Holding Company of Nigeria Limited (PHCNL).

NEPA stood for National Electric Power Authority, an agency of the federal government before its recent renaming to PHCN.

Then the voice of the Master of the Ceremony (MC) came up in darkness, "Please remain seated wherever you are. Reports reaching us from Minister of Power and Steal, Senator Liyel Imoke, is that power would soon be restored,” he jokingly assured.

But then, the same MC sensing frustration of the participants took on 'NEPA' with his joke antics; "We thought that NEPA would improve with its new name – Power Holding, but it seems they are living up their new name to the letter – Holding Power”.

In the next five minutes when eventually power was restored obviously by a generating set, participants were already sweating.

Five minutes of business hour is a lot to modern day business professionals, especially upcoming ICT enthusiasts who usually depend on electricity to power their Personal Computers (PCs), laptops, Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), as well as wireless telephones which basically have to operate on rechargeable batteries.

Then, a Microsoft Certified Engineer (MCE) Mr. Ife Ikeazo, literarily went crazy recently when his mobile phone battery went dead in the middle of an important international business conversation, because he recalled the inability to recharge for a few days now at home where the handset cable is kept.

Unfortunately for him none of his colleagues in the office use the same handset and the kind of deal he was trying to secure was a personal one that could leap-frog him into another grade of the society, if successful, but see what lack of power at home has caused him. By the time he got back to his partners, the deal has been sealed with someone else as he could not be reached.

Ever since that incident, Mr. Ikeazo, had resolved to always have two private mobile phones with him, waiting for a second chance. And it does not stop there as these handsets require regular recharging in an environment such as Nigeria where power supply cannot be predicted, hence, he was forced to buy a Yamaha generating set for personal use at home.

As if this was not enough, he was advised to get an Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) to enable him shut down the system (PC), whenever Power Holding decides otherwise at his section of Lagos, which has been a reoccurring scene. In addition to safeguarding his gadgets from unsteady power voltage, which had earlier blown his first handset.

According to experts at the American Power Conversion (APC), end-to-end power solution provider, the UPS would afford Mr. Ikeazo to shut down properly and allow its handset to even last about 5 minutes for him to put on a generating set, depending on the capacity of the UPS.

For Ikeazo, there was no need waiting for ‘Power Holding’ to struck if one has to grow in this environment because everything is going digital and digital tools are powered by rechargeable batteries of different sizes. That is why in his home, every other electrical equipment has a rechargeable features, which enables it to function even for a while without 'NEPA' since the name has refused to 'die' in the minds of saturated Nigerians.

For the GSM operators, deploying about two generating sets per base station to power their services nationwide is a key reason for the high call tariffs.

It would be recalled that last year, during the defunct National Political Reform Conference (NPRC), a group of worried Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) experts also called Group of 22 (G-22) in its memoranda had as number one of section three, the issue of having constant electricity supply in the system.

They also posited that for the nation to achieve any significant development within the global context, there should be an un-interruptible electricity supply at all points and at all times.

According to them, “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, pointing out that by their submission, the group has deactivated the wheel of progressive development, which grossly contributed to the under-development of the nation.

The group which had renowned ICT experts as members, including Titi Omo-Ettu, Chris Uwaje, Dr. Aluko Mobalji, Alhaji Ajijola Abdul-Hakeem, Dr. Bada Abiodun, Messrs Reuben Muoka, Kolawole Ogunlana, Uche Onwudiwe, and Seni Williams to name but a few; insisted that it is now time to reconcile governance with the industry and academia, through a science, technology and knowledge-supported Public-Private Partnership (PPP) initiative as a strategic vehicle for national development and global competitiveness.

Speaking to Business Champion recently, Managing Director, Gafunk Nigeria Limited, Mr. Ganiyu Alimi, noted that ICT entrepreneurs in the country, equally picked as the number one, the problem of poor electricity supply, which has forced most of them to power their electricity by themselves through generating sets.

Hence it has become a draining pipe on entrepreneurs, as he observed, for instance, that the steps taken by Lagos State government, to establish its own Independent Power Generation Plant (IPGP), was sadly politicized between the State and federal government, to the detriment of citizens, especially Lagosians.

He called for the urgent privatization of the power sector, otherwise, "we may not see tangible development in the country.” Emphasizing that as he was speaking to Business Champion, Gafunk operates on generating set most of the 24 hours in a day, together with persistent high rising cost of diesel, which currently sells at about N72 per litre.

The Gafunk boss, described power as very essential to development of any nation, just as he decried, “Power is very important but not any where available for use and now you have to generate it at a very high cost”.

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

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

He upheld that for industrial development to take root in the country, government at all levels have no business being in business, emphasizing that any government’s public owned institution such as PHCNL, 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 relevant to be owned by the government, as well as avoiding undue interference.

Dismissing PHCNL, Teledom boss, said 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, due to non-availability of power and even where available it is not stable.

A lady Commercial Telephone Operator (CTO) Mrs. Tonia N. Umah, told Business Champion that aside from having lost a GSM set to unpredictable electricity surge, that she spend an average of N1,500 weekly on powering generating set for charging of her handsets.

She therefore, called for an urgent action by the federal government to assist small entrepreneurs in growing their businesses, stressing that it is disgraceful that Nigeria is even supplying electricity to some West African countries, yet epileptic electricity is the order of the day in the country.

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