Page last updated at 16:15 GMT, Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Power cuts 'embarrassing' Nigeria

Vice-President-elect Goodluck Jonathan
The vice-president was speaking at a conference on road safety

Frequent power cuts in Nigeria have become "embarrassing", the country's vice-president has said.

Goodluck Jonathan was speaking after the lights went out at a meeting he was attending in the capital, Abuja.

During last year's election, President Umaru Yar'Adua said he would declare a "state of emergency" in the power sector but little has changed.

A senior official gave the BBC shocking details of why much vaunted improvements have had little effect.

The vice-president was speaking after a power cut at a meeting in the Sheraton International Hotel in Abuja, where dignitaries were marking the 20th anniversary of the country's road safety agency.

"It is a problem we have and we must solve. We are determined to solve it. It is not about Abuja, but the whole country and we must get out of this embarrassing situation," he said.

President Yar'Adua fired his special assistant on power, Foluseke Somolu, last week local media reported. Mr Somolu served in the same position in the last government of Olusegun Obasanjo.

On Tuesday he announced a new target of increasing the amount of power generated to 6000 megawatts within 18 months.

Produces 3,000 megawatts of electricity
Needs at least 8000 megawatts
10 existing power stations running at very low capacity

The government has spent $16 billion dollars on building new power stations and trying to fix transmission grids in the last nine years, the speaker of the House of Representatives said last month.

But six power stations - already paid for by the government - are yet to be completed years after they were begun, a member of the committee set up to reform the power industry told the BBC.

Eighteen turbines worth $3 billion are sitting untouched in a Lagos port because the government has no way of moving them to the site of the power stations, he said.

"It's been an embarrassment for nearly a decade. Some of the construction work on the stations is so delayed that after six years they have not even finished building the foundations," said the committee member, who did not want to be identified.

"Only the president knows what the next move is," he added.

Gas flaring

A further three power stations have been completed, but have insufficient gas to power them.

At the same time oil companies burn off gas from onshore well heads, causing environmental distress to the communities who live in the oil-rich Delta region.

President Yar'Adua has issued deadlines to oil companies to stop "flaring" the gas, but some have tried to push them back.

A new contract to supply gas to the power stations is being finalised.

Nigeria currently has 10 power stations - they are all between 20 and 30 years old.

"The necessary maintenance work was never done," an inside source said.

In the meantime, businesses and many homes rely on their generators.

Many businesses say diesel represents about a third of their costs.


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