Generator ban: As NASS leaps before looking…




SAMSON BENJAMIN in this report examines the arguments for and against the proposal before the Senate to ban the use of generators amidst crippling power supply in the country.   

The bill

A bill proposing a 10-year jail term for generator importers and sellers in Nigeria has passed the first reading in the Senate. The bill christened ‘A Bill for an Act to prohibit/ban the importation/use of generating sets to curb the menace of environmental (air) pollution and to facilitate the development of power sector’ was sponsored by Senator Enagi Bima (APC-Niger).

According to the bill, which passed first reading at plenary, “Any person who imports generating sets; or knowingly sells generating sets shall be guilty of an offence and be liable on conviction to be sentenced to imprisonment for a term not less than 10 years.

“Provided that this sub-section shall not apply to the importation or sale of any generating set to be used for essential services.” The ban, however, excluded essential services.

The bill added, “The ban or prohibition of generating sets shall not include generating sets used for essential services which include medical purposes (hospitals and nursing homes and healthcare facilities), airports, railway stations/services, elevators (lifts), escalators, research Institutions, and such facilities that require 24 hours electric power supply.

“Approval for exclusion shall be obtained from the minister in charge of Power who shall brief the Federal Executive Council quarterly on approvals granted.

“The bill further seeks that Nigerians should immediately stop the use of generating sets in order to curb the menace of environmental pollution, which leads to potential health hazards it poses to the whole nation.

“All persons are hereby directed to stop the use of electricity generating sets which run on diesel/petrol/kerosene of all capacities with immediate effect in the country.”

Explaining the meaning of generating sets, the bill stated that, “A machine that is used for producing electricity.”

What manner of bill!

Since the bill was first read on the floor of the Senate, it has generated mixed reactions from energy experts and ordinary Nigerians. In a chat with Blueprint Weekend, the national president, Energy Consumer Rights and Responsibilities Initiative, a civil society organisation, Mr. Sural Fadairo, said the bill if passed into law would be difficult to implement.

He said the promoter of the bill lacked knowledge of the realities in the operating environment, adding that even in advanced economies, generators were used as standbys.

“In which part of the world has this strategy been used to solve this problem? There is no part of the world where generators are not used; at least as emergency measures in case of sudden power system collapses. We cannot even speak of Nigeria where public power supply is epileptic with 3,000 megawatts of power at peak supply provided for over 200 million people.

“This law cannot be implemented anywhere in the world, let alone in Nigeria. Senator Enagi obviously believes that a law can be used to kill a problem. It does not work that way. Governance is more sophisticated than that. It is the job of government to identify in what ways generator importers sabotage our public power supply efforts and deal with them accordingly.

“Give Nigerians power supply and they will abandon the generators which are, in any case, more expensive and dangerous to use. People resort to the use of generators because of government failure to provide them with power. Our senators should stop patronising Nigerians with these comical and ill-conceived efforts at law-making,” he said.

Impact on the economy

Similarly, in an interview with this reporter, Mr. Earnest Ijeh, an economist, said the bill will have negative impact on the nation’s economy given the poor budgetary allocations to the sector in successive years.

He said, “With the country only able to generate an average of 3,781MW in 2019 from a yearly average of 3,807MW in 2018, the federal government plans to spend N9.05billion on the purchase, maintenance and fuelling of generators across the ministries, departments and agencies nationwide, this year.

“The government also earmarked a separate N75.4 million for maintenance and fuelling of generators in some of its foreign missions abroad. The details are contained in the 2020 budget that was proposed and signed by President Muhammadu Buhari last year.

“If the bill becomes a law, most Nigerians would be left in darkness and the economy would collapse as the critical sectors depend largely on electricity generating sets to sustain their operations.

“Presently, energy spend constitutes 30 to 40 per cent of manufacturers’ expenditure. The operating environment remains challenging and depresses productivity in the manufacturing sector.”

Lagos chamber reacts

Also, the director-general of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Dr. Muda Yusuf, said the proposition is not a realistic one and does not show that its promoter is in touch with the reality of the power situation in the country.

He said, “Is it the fault of Nigerians that they have to rely on generators for power supply? The heavy dependence on generators is a direct consequence of the failure of the power sector.

“Even with the power sector reform, the failure has persisted. What we expect from the legislators is a proposal on how to urgently fix the power problem in the country. Power issue is perhaps the biggest challenge facing us as a nation. It is taking a huge toll on businesses as well as on the welfare of the people.

“We should learn to have a causative perspective to problem solving. The way to provide a sustainable solution is to locate the cause of the problem, not to be grappling with symptoms of the problem. It is strange that the bill passed the first reading.

 “It does not make sense for them to ban importation and usage of generators for now. Let us have at least between 10, 000MW to 15, 000MW first then we can start thinking of banning it because of environmental issues.”

He said the claim that the power sector was being held hostage by generator cabals was laughable, stressing that what the sector needed was the right investments, policies and legislation. According to him, such a ban will only make Nigerians to suffer.

‘A welcome devt’

However, the national coordinator, All Electricity Consumers Protection Forum, Mr. Adeola Samuel-Ilori, backs the bill, describing it as “a welcome development.”

He said, “The totality of our advocacy toward the electricity or power sector betterment is nothing but to see that all the saboteurs of the sector are clinically dealt with.

“One of the reasons the sector has not witnessed growth is because of generator importers who do all that are necessary to see efforts at improving the service are futile. This proposed ban will not only help to checkmate their activities at sabotaging government’s efforts but will help in reducing capital flight.”

According to him, the ban will also enable Nigeria to explore renewable energy which will create job opportunities for people. He called for the modification of the bill, especially the part relating to punishing people for using their generators already acquired before its introduction.

Similarly, Mr. Nnimmo Bassey, an environmental activist and director of the environmental think tank, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, said there are many environmental issues surrounding the use of generators:

He said, “One of the most common is the noise factor. Most generators, especially the smaller ones are extremely noisy. So, there is a lot of continuous noise pollution that has an impact on productivity and on people’s health. This causes a lot of distraction

“While some may think noise pollution is a small price to pay for electricity, it can have its own, adverse, side effects. According to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, high noise levels can contribute to cardiovascular effects in humans and an increased incidence of coronary artery disease. The World Health Organisation also warns of the negative health consequences of noise. Ischaemic heart disease, sleep disturbances, hearing loss, hypertension and high stress levels are just some of the problems associated with constant exposure to noise.”

 Bassey pointed out that the smoke from generators is an indicator of the number of pollutants that are being released into the atmosphere.

According to him, “Heavy metals and other greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere regularly have an impact on human health. Where people have located their generators in enclosed places, we have had casualties from carbon monoxide poisoning.”

Casualties

There have been numerous calls for the federal government to make use of public service announcements and awareness campaigns to enlighten the populace on the dangers of having generators inside enclosed spaces and inside their homes.

In May 2019, two brothers were found dead in the shop they slept in, in Lagos state. They had put the generator on in the shop and gone to sleep.

In July 2019, a family of seven was discovered dead in their home in Rivers state. Mother, father, and five children had gone to bed the night before and apparently kept the generator on in the kitchen. The family reportedly slept in the living room and the fumes spread into the room.

In August of the same year, a couple in Niger state, who had been married for just eight months, was found dead in their home. They put on a generator in a room next to theirs. The couple went to sleep and died from inhalation of generator fumes.

Bassey also noted that it is not just the fumes from generators that are cause for concern. The improper disposal of oils used to lubricate and service generators is also a major issue. He said waste gets into the food chain and contaminates drinking water sources. The liquid waste is sometimes obvious to the eye or even to the nostril, but because “we don’t have regular checks on the quality of our lagoons, rivers and creeks, there are some places where people actually don’t know. There are also places where they know that the water is contaminated but they don’t have an alternative and they still drink it.”

On ecosystem

The environmentalist noted that the marine ecosystem is also affected. Bassey explained that fish end up living inside contaminated water and find their way onto Nigerians’ plates and into their bodies. And it is not just contamination of the marine space, but also of land. The waste product from generators seeps into the land and gets into food crops. Bassey described it as a “complex web of contamination and penetration of the food system.”

Another environmentalist, Desmond Majekodunmi, said Nigerians were not adequately educated about the environmental impact of generators.

He called it a “huge omission that government should try to undertake the responsibility of as rapidly as possible.”

 The founder of the Lekki Urban Forest and Animal Sanctuary (Lufasi) Park recommended that government must have a far more effective awareness drive about the dangers inherent in using own personal generators.

He said the use of generators is speeding up the destruction of the environment, and intensifying global warming. He said many toxic gases were released because of generators, particularly from those that use diesel.

 Majekodunmi said in the grand scheme of things, in Nigeria’s case, it was still preferable for the country to use its natural gas to provide electricity to the national grid rather than having Nigerians supply their own electricity with small, medium, or large generators.

“Many Nigerians wonder how the country came to be so dependent on generators. Lagos had electric streetlights before many European cities, yet decades later we are still chasing the provision of constant, dependable electricity for the majority of our citizens,” he said.

Renewable energy

Meanwhile, Ogboghodo called on government to invest in alternative source of energy before imposing a ban on generators. He said: “They need to ensure that we have reliable electricity supply and quality of service to a level that is acceptable to the people who are using these generators as an alternative source of energy.

“Basically, we have 13, 000MW installed capacity and only about 4, 000 gets to the consumers; so, there is a supply gap which is why the consumers are using power generating alternatives.

“So, if you are planning to ban generators, what measures are you putting in place to close the supply gaps or improve quality of service?”

 The energy expert noted that solar components which were a renewable source of energy had become cheaper in Nigeria but were still unaffordable to majority of Nigerians.

 “There is no concrete plan in place to even encourage and promote solar energy. Renewable energy is a good thing, but we don’t have the capacity right now. To be honest, even the mini grids still use diesel generators as backup, which is a cheaper option than getting batteries which are expensive.

“So, these diesel generators that they are thinking of banning are used for renewables as backups.”

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