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Nigeria’s New Power Minister Will Need Enormous Willpower in a Fraught Sector

By Fasilat Oluwuyi, Energy Access Reporter, in Ibadan

With the appointment of Adebayo Adelabu as Nigeria’s minister of power, the very crucial overseer of electricity supply in the country has again been sourced from Ibadan, the once famous hotbed of the country’s opposition politics.

In Bola Ige, former governor of Oyo State, of which Ibadan is the capital, the city provided the first minister of power in the current fourth republic, in 1999. Mr. Ige later moved on to become the nation’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice.

A chronic shortage of publicly distributed electricity has held down the Nigerian economy for all the 24 years of the current phase of democratic rule. Mr. Adelabu’s job is to reverse the course.

Adelabu has said the right things as he took the reins of the Ministry on Monday, August 21, 2023.

“A significant goal is the universal metering of households and addressing the challenges faced by our national power grid”, the new power helmsman declared in his new office. “The ministry will leverage on the Nigerian Electricity Act, 2023 to boost power supply in the country”.

He looked to the future: “We will equally pay critical attention to the options of renewable and alternative energies”.

The new Minister’s main claim to the role has been through his fierce, aggressive involvement in provincial politics. He is a grandson of Adegoke Adelabu, the late legendary politician of the pre-independence era, popularly known as Penkelemesi (a play on the words “Peculiar Mess”, which he often used to describe the dynamics of his time). In the 2023 elections, Adelabu contested for governorship of Oyo state on the platform of the Accord Party, after he failed to clinch the ticket of the All-Progressives Congress (APC), the ruling party at the centre.

But Adelabu is also quite familiar with the politics at the Federal level, at least on the periphery. You play close to the league when you are Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), a position he occupied for four solid years from April 9, 2014 to May 24, 2018.

Still, the job of bolstering Nigeria’s electricity delivery to improve the productivity of Africa’s largest population is not as easy as a structured oversight function in a plush office at the Central Bank. 85 Million Nigerians, almost double the population of South Africa, have no access to grid-connected electricity. The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) reports that expenditure on alternative energy sources increased to around $100Million in the second half of 2022 . And President Bola Tinubu’s removal of subsidy on gasoline imports has inadvertently heightened the stakes for electricity for small scale businesses, for whom gasoline is the preferred fuel for generators in hundreds of thousands of mini- business clusters in Lagos, the country’s commercial heartland.

There is no shortage of advice on the table, ready for Mr. Adelabu’s review. One is the 66 page policy advisory report by a Power Subcommittee, commissioned by President Tinubu, which declares the electricity sector, as “fundamentally, an inadequate and unstructured governance environment”, which enables “numerous inefficiencies”. The team derides the electricity supply industry in one blistering phrase: “Low collaboration among regulatory stakeholders”, it says “hampers policy harmonization and coordination”.

Key suggestions from this report request the government to “define framework for successful participation of State Governments; restate commitment to phase out the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading (NBET), split the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) immediately into transmission service provider and independent system operator, accelerate investment for Transmission Investment Programme through concessioning, address short-term sector liquidity and restructure for lending sustainability”.

The memo also calls on the Minister to “establish electrification intervention programmes for vulnerable unserved and underserved citizens and relaunch and accelerate the National Mass Metering Programme”.

There are critics, of course. And some of them are influential. “The latest appointment of a new Minister of Power, lacking industry experience”, writes Proshare, a widely read market analysis newsletter, “and the unfolding operationalization of the Electricity Act, with its ongoing effort to transition the sector into a wholesale competitive market, contribute to a climate of unpredictability”.

Will Adelabu succeed in this fraught sector?

One thing is clear: Tinubu’s Minister of Power is a well-educated, widely exposed professional. With a first-class degree in Finance from Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), he has also taken professional courses in business schools such as Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Columbia, Kelloggs, Euromoney, and the University of London. His career began at the elite consultancy PriceWaterhouse(now PriceWaterhouse coopers) where he led and managed various audit and consultancy engagements for large banks and non-bank financial institutions. He has been Group Head of Risk Management and Controls and latterly Group Head of National Public Sector Business at First Atlantic Bank; West African Regional Head of Finance and Strategy (Consumer Banking Business) at Standard Chartered Bank and eventually an Executive Director/Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Nigeria’s largest bank, First Bank of Nigeria Plc.(CBN) at the age of 39.

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