Revive the Mambilla power project

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Hausa Service reported how the much talked about Mambilla power project is yet to take off despite the billions of naira believed to have been released for the project.
According to the BBC report, with the exception of some houses built by the President Olusegun Obasanjo government for the engineers and other staff, no single block can be sighted to show that the multi-billion naira power project is on course.

The most ambitious power plant in Nigeria is to be financed by the Nigerian government and China Export-Import Bank. The proposed 1,525 MW hydroelectric power plant has gone through murky waters.

At inception, the project was designed to a capacity of 2,600MW during the President Shehu Shagari administration in 1982. However, in 2012, the capacity was increased to 3,050MW due to the expansion of the former Gembu dam now Nya dam.

Currently, the capacity of the plant has been revised to 1,525MW, according to a statement credited to the former Minister of Power, Sale Mamman. It is now estimated to cost US$4bn from the initial US$5bn on the former 3050MW installed capacity.

With the damning report of the BBC that the project is yet to kick start, many Nigerians have given up. Nigeria has a sad history of abandoned projects.

The Ajaokuta steel company established by the Ibrahim Babangida military administration which gulped billions of naira but abandoned is a pointer.
Despite the country’s huge endowment of hydroelectricity potential, the state of electricity supply is very worrisome and continues to stifle economic activities.

According to a World Bank report, businesses in Nigeria lose about US$29bn annually from the country’s erratic power supply. Following the privatization of the power sector, however, one would expect the nation’s power sector to receive a new lease of life.

Sadly, this has not been the case as the entire value chain of the power sector is plagued by a plethora of problems that have continued to hinder the benefits of the privatization exercise. That was why, when the Muhammadu Buhari government came to power and revisited the project, Nigerians expressed hope that the project would be completed on time to boost power supply in the country.

However, considering Nigeria’s perennial romance with failed power projects, I am less optimistic about the building of the Mambilla power station.

There are some challenges hindering the Mambilla power project. There is the lack of political will. Observers have noted that the trouble with Mambilla project is not that there is no fund to execute it over these years, but that there is so much conflicting interest between the presidency, ministry of power and the contracting firms.

The Mambilla power project has been characterised by so much corruption. This has been observed to be one of the characteristics of large dams. So many people have come to see the Mambilla project as another financial sinkhole.

The Mambilla project is a capital intensive project. This large capital requirement has contributed to the delay of the project for over 30 years. Constant rise in the cost of the project – the cost of the Mambilla project has risen from $1.46 billion in 1982 to $3.2billion in 2011. The project is estimated to cost $5 billion at present.

It is high time government summoned courage and commitment towards ending the impediment sorrounding the Mambila power project. No nation the world over has attained greatness with erratic power supply. If the Mambila power project can be successfully built and put to use, the country’s power generation would improve significantly and many companies will bounce back to life. The Buhari administration should not make the project another pipe dream.

Ibrahim Mustapha,
Pambegua, Kaduna state

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