On Saturday, August 18, 2012, Spaces for Change (S4C), a human rights organization committed to promoting awareness of government policies and programs, and facilitating citizen engagement in policy and governance processes, hosted an E-Conference on Power Sector Reforms, featuring Dr. Sam Amadi, Chairman of the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) as the lead discussant. This report documents the proceedings of the 2-hour moderated e-conference.

The e-conference, moderated by Zainab Usman, of the International Crisis Group (ICG) presented a forum for interaction and engagement between the top government official and 1,800 Nigerian citizens, at home and in the diaspora, on the Federal Government’s efforts towards achieving stable electricity supply, and a significant turn-around in the nation’s power sector. A total of 52 questions submitted by the participants prior to the e-conference, were synthesized into topics for discussion. Typical of S4C’s online conferences, a simultaneous live streaming of the key issues and highlights of the discussions on Twitter, via the #PowerSectorReforms, enlarged the interactive space, enabling more participants from all works of life, and from different parts of the world to join the online conversation.

A Working Group on Power Sector Reforms constituted after the conference, comprising civil society leaders, industry experts, researchers, policy analyst and media representatives, will establish the boundaries, mandate, modus and membership of a civil society coalition, that will monitor the procurement processes and service delivery in the Nigerian power sector.

Famed for its expertise in leveraging technology, crowd sourcing concepts and web-based communication tools to promote public awareness, and facilitate citizen engagement in the policy, legislative and institutional platforms and processes of the Nigerian oil and power sectors, S4C will use this report as an advocacy tool, and continue to use its array of online and offline platforms to amplify the conference outcomes. By working to stimulate public interest and trigger informed dialogue on key developmental issues such as oil and gas, energy, environment and urban governance, S4C is determined to create a powerful movement of citizens that can push for policy and legislative changes on a variety of vital issues affecting the citizenry.
Here are excerpts from the conference:
SPACES FOR CHANGE: Thank you for joining us, Sir. With the reports of improvement in electricity supply across the country, the question on everybody’s lips is: “Are the power sector reforms yielding fruit already?”…”Will the improvement last, or is it merely induced by the high rainfall season which keeps Kainji and the Shiroro Dams generating output at optimum capacity?” …”How can citizens meaningfully engage, participate in, or support the power sector reform processes?” We have collated some of the specific questions many Nigerians are asking. I will present two at a time.
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The first question on everyone’s lips brilliantly captured by Kunle Rotimi goes thus:

“To what extent has the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) prepared to enhance the productive and executive capacities of key personnel in the power sector to sustain the perceived improvement in supply?”
 
Sam Amadi: Our focus has been to create a regulator that can effectively regulate a dynamic market. One of the first things I did as chairman of NERC was to create knowledge platforms that will capacitate the staff to be at the cutting edge of the sector. We have the Distinguished Visitors Program, the NERC Fellowship for academics, we also have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Nigerian Universities Commission to create a curriculum for master and doctorate degrees on power system management. We are also discussing with Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS) for a professorial chair on energy law and regulation from NERC. So, we are on top of it.

SPACES FOR CHANGE: Would it then be appropriate to infer, based on your response that such capacity building of personnel in the power sector would take time to yield the expected dividends?

Sam Amadi: I think the reform is yielding fruit. The improvement is not a hoax. The Roadmap and the Electric Power Sector Reform (EPSR)1 Act passed in March 2005, are well articulated. But the problem has been implementation. There will be continuous improvement in the system as we continue to implement sincerely and intelligently, the provisions of the Act. NERC has always provided an opportunity for the citizens to get engaged. We want to form a civil society organizations’ (CSO) coalition on the power sector to monitor procurement and service delivery in the sector. I will be glad if this meeting can turn to such a coalition or at least its beginning.

Yes, it will take some time. But we have some low hanging fruits today. Because of the integrity and competence of NERC, many investors are coming to the sector. Today, we have the best privatization exercise ever in the country. We are doing well. But we must do better.

SPACES FOR CHANGE: That’s a wonderful suggestion you made and we will strive to ensure  such meetings and avenues for citizen engagement would be continuous.
Alero Mobola Adollo
The next question put forward by Alero Mobola Adollo echoes the concerns of many and it goes thus:

“Why do we have a marked improvement (in electricity supply) in certain areas but a regression in others?”

Sam Amadi: It is because in some places the distribution network is weak, while in other places it is strong. The production is not just the amount of power. Saying that there is regression in some areas is not very correct. There are many power plants that require gas to fire, but the amount of 9000 megawatts by year end is unrealistic. If
everything works well we can get about 5000 megawatts and no more by December 2012

SPACES FOR CHANGE: Understandably, any sort of reform that seeks : to overhaul a systemic problem would take time to yield desired and even results. Closely related to this unevenness in improvement of supply is that many are of the opinion that this improvement is just a temporary thing; that it has more to do with the rainy season rather than infrastructural upgrades. 
Profile pictureVictoria Ibezim-Ohaeri thus puts forward this question/comment:

“… in my experience, some level of power stability is witnessed at this time every year. That inspires the belief that the reported increase may be linked to the high seasonal rainfall. So a better way to assess performance is to compare the frequency of electricity supply during the rainy and the dry seasons.”
 
Sam Amadi: You are right to say that the improvement in power is seasonal. But I am focusing on the creation of an enabling environment for sustainable improvement. Yes, after the rainy season we will drop about 200 to 300 mega watts. But the real measure of success for me is how the structure of the sector is being made sustainable for massive haulage of power. We have over 20000 mw of licensed power which we want to make actual. If we succeed to create a market that allows for these licensees to get to bankability for their projects, then we are home and dry. So, we should not invest much hope on this small improvement.

SPACES FOR CHANGE: Thank you sir. That’s a very critical point you made that power supply and generation would drop by about 200 to 300 megawatts in the dry season, and that the main issue is not the marginal improvements but the overall “emerging structure”.
Zainab UsmanThe issue now is this, what efforts is government making to convey this clearly to ordinary Nigerians (i.e. that there would be a slight decrease after the rainy season)? From my observations and I’m sure many here would agree with me, there is a problem of clear communication of policies and their trajectories a lot of times. So what effort is being made to convey this strongly to Nigerians and assuage fears that this improvement in supply and indeed the whole of the power sector reforms are not just a hoax but would take time?

Sam Amadi: The government usually lacks the capacity to communicate well and manage expectation. There is some improvement in the sector that will last. But the improvement is in generation will drop slightly and pick up later in the years to come. It also depends on how we quickly resolve the power situation. The key thing is to let Nigerians know that although in the next 8 months or so, we may not see a major haul of new power, in the subsequent 8 months we will make significant and sustainable progress. NERC will take that communication. There is always a risk of being proactive in bureaucratic culture. Someone will attack you for being very dominant. This is the bad side of public sector. But NERC will take up that challenge. 

DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT OF THE CONFERENCE HERE

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