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Nigeria does generate more electricity now than it did 15 years ago

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Nigeria’s former military leader Muhammadu Buhari has blamed the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for the country’s continuing power problems and claimed that there is less electricity now than there was at the end of military rule in 1999.

In a speech announcing his decision to run as an opposition candidate in the country’s February 2015 elections, the retired general said: “When PDP came to power in 1999 Nigeria was generating about 4,000 MW of electricity. After 15 years and $20 billion spent we are generating between 3,000 and 4,000 MW.”

The ruling party responded with a sharp rebuttal, stating that “as at May 29 1999, when PDP took office, Nigeria was generating 1,600 MW”, but that today the country generates “4,568 MW of electricity”.

Both arguments were widely reported in the national press. But the PDP statement asked observers to do the necessary fact-checking. Africa Check took up the challenge.

How much has changed in 15 years?

Lagos residents protest power cuts and erratic electricity supply in this 2007 file photograph. Photo: AFP/Pius Utomi Ekpei
Lagos residents protest power cuts and erratic electricity supply in this 2007 file photograph. Photo: AFP/Pius Utomi Ekpei" />

Nigeria’s Presidential Task Force on Power recorded generation of 3,800 MW in December 2013. As of 28 October, it was generating 4,327MW.

What Buhari and the PDP disagree on is whether that’s an improvement on 15 years ago. The key here is the difference between installed generation capacity (the amount the power that could be generated if a plant ran at maximum capacity) and the actual power generated.

According to the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission(NERC), generation in 1999 stood at only 1,750 MW. But installed capacity stood at 5,906 MW (or closer to what Buhari had claimed actual generation stood at). The reason for that, the Commission stated, is that at that time “of the 79 generation units in the country, only 19 units were operational”. If NERC’s figures are right, generation has indeed increased since 1999.

Figures from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) appear to corroborate that. Between 1999 and 2011 (the most recent year that it documents) the amount of electricity actually generated moved from 15.43 billion kilowatt hours to 25.69 billion kilowatt hours, its data show.

It appears, therefore, that Buhari was wrong. Generation has increased over the period since the military relinquished power to the civilian PDP government.

Installed capacity has increased only marginally

But while more electricity is being generated from the plants that exist, new capacity installation has been slower.

Like NERC, the EIA registers hardly any change in installed capacity since 1999: 5,888 MW against 5,900 MW in 2011, the most recent year it documents.

However, there may have been some improvements more recently. The Nigerian Presidential Task Force on Power said installed generation capacity in December 2013 was 6,953MW, an increase it attributed to the completion of some “Nigeria Integrated Power Project” plants.

Part of the reason for that is the country’s slow power privatisation programme. It took until 2005 for the Electric Power Reform Act to be passed, allowing for the construction of private plants to begin.

The capacity increases fall considerably below targets and are woefully inadequate for a nation of 170 million people. “Nigeria continues to suffer from a chronic shortage of generation capacity,” the World Bank wrote in a 2012 report. An official with the organisation added that newly power projects commissioned between 2012 and 2014 are “not running at full speed due to gas constraint”.

A comparison with South Africa, the continent’s other economic giant, is instructive. According to the Department of Energy, the country currently has an installed capacity of 44,175 MW, serving a population of 53 million. Eskom, the state power utility delivers power to 85% of the population.

By contrast, only 48% of Nigeria’s population has access to electricity, according to the World Bank. Successive presidents have vowed to increase generation by varying degrees, and make blackouts a thing of the past, but that’s never happened.

Buhari is broadly correct about the $20 billion spent since 1999.

In 2007, Dimeji Bankole, the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, stated that the bulk of that money - $16 billion - was frittered away in bogus contracts during the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo between 1999 and 2007. The next year, the House initiated a probe which corroborated those claims.

Conclusion: Buhari wrong about generation, but right on the money

Figures indicate that generation has increased broadly in line with the figures given by the PDP in its statement earlier this month. Between 1999 and 2013, generation has moved from roughly 1,700 MW to 4,000 MW.

Until 2011, installed capacity did not increase, EIA data shows. But since then, some improvements seem to have been made, though they are not running at full capacity.

So Buhari was wrong to say that generation has not increased, but right that a lot has been spent on Nigeria’s electricity problem, with relatively little to show for it for a nation of so many people.

Edited by Eleanor Whitehead

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