Feature Article of Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Columnist: Obour, Samuel K.

Ghana’s Electricity Palaver


If there is anything Ghanaians ought to be proud of, it’s the ability of the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) to provide them with uninterrupted power supply. Apart from a few times when there has been insufficient water in the Akosombo dam and times when there have been a few operational difficulties, the ECG in collaboration with the Volta River Authority (VRA) and the Ghana Grid Company (GRIDCO) has always provided the public with uninterrupted power supply.

In this country, it’s common to go through many months without experiencing power outages. Even when there would be power outages, the ECG ensures that announcements are made mostly on radio to that effect: ‘the Electricity Company of Ghana wishes to announce to its valued customers that due to maintenance work on our Achimota sub-station, there will be power outages in the following areas from 10 am to 6 pm on Saturday…’ If there is an unannounced power outage, power is usually restored within five to thirty minutes.

The ECG has always ensured that its consumers-government, industries, schools, churches, business organizations, households-get value for money. Power stability in Ghana is a major factor contributing to the country’s accelerated growth. Apart from the fact that Ghana enjoys a stable democracy, foreign investors and multinational companies continue to troop into the country because electrical power is cheap and stable, and there will be no need to spend huge sums of money on fuel for powering generators and plants.

In recent times, however, the electricity producing trio of VRA, GRIDCO and ECG, have been plagued by certain operational, financial, and logistical difficulties. This situation has led to a significant reduction in Ghana’s electricity generation capacity. So, Ghanaians have had to endure irregular power supply for some time now. Power outages in the country have become too rampant. The situation is affecting businesses, especially small scale business ventures who cannot afford to purchase generators. Those affected most are artisans in society. Anytime there is power outage for long hours in places around the country, barbers, hairdressers, tailors, electricians and others whose businesses rely heavily on electricity are denied of their daily income.

The situation is deteriorating by the day, and as usual, people are blaming government. Each time there is a power outage, it’s common to hear people exclaim: ‘Oh this government!’, ‘Ah Agya Attah!’, and ‘Oh Mills!’ Indeed, President Mills recently affirmed, when he visited the ECG, that his grand niece had defended him after some hairdressers had shouted his name in anger when lights went off. It’s only proper for me to quote his exact words for the benefit of readers: ‘’ A seven year old grand niece of mine went to the hairdressers; as they were doing her hair, the electricity went off and all the people there shouted ‘ATTA MILLS!’ And the little girl, thanks to her, said, is Atta Mills an electrician?’’ The above exemplifies the reaction of many a Ghanaian when electrical power goes off.

What Ghanaians don’t know, however, is that we enjoy more electricity than many other countries in the West-African sub region. For instance, while a consumer in Ghana consumes at least 300 kilowatts hour of electricity per year, our compatriots in Nigeria and Burkina-Faso consume 100 and 50 kilowatts hour respectively.

Indeed, in Nigeria where I have lived, electricity is never constant. The equivalent of ECG in Nigeria used to be called National Electric Power Authority (NEPA). NEPA gives and takes electricity anytime they like. They are unaccountable to anybody. Most Nigerians experience light-offs more than twenty times a day, without any explanation whatsoever from NEPA. So ‘Never Expect Power Always’ is what Nigerians renamed NEPA. In the area I stayed in Nigeria, for instance, even though we used to enjoy electricity (though not regularly) during the day, we never enjoyed electricity at night except on Thursdays. We invariably slept in darkness everyday. Even Thursdays was not a certainty; there were times that NEPA failed us. A Nigerian friend, quite recently, told me that the electricity situation in Nigeria has become so bad that even the offices of NEPA run on generators. Now, if those producing and distributing electricity in Nigeria use generators themselves, then the situation is hopeless for ordinary citizens.

NEPA in Nigeria can be very mischievous; anytime the Super Eagles have a match, they (NEPA) do not take power throughout the day; they wait until the match is about to begin. As soon as the Super Eagles begin singing the National Anthem, NEPA withdraws power leaving Nigerians shell-shocked. Sometimes they wait till the referee whistles for the start of the game before withdrawing power. When this happens, people scramble out of their houses in hundreds, shouting and cursing wildly, as they make for the nearest football centre, where a generator is always on stand by. A couple of years ago, the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) had its name changed to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). But still, the situation has remained the same.

As a result, most Nigerians have become their own NEPA; they have purchased generators and are using it to generate their own electricity. Unlike in Ghana where generators are used mostly by business organizations and a few rich individuals, generators are as common as ‘kenkey’ in Nigeria.

The essence of the foregoing is to point out to Ghanaians that we are experiencing a much better electricity situation in this country, than our compatriots in Nigeria and other countries in the sub region. Needless to say, the trio of ECG, VRA, and GRIDCO deserve special commendation for perpetually ensuring that we get the best with regard to electricity. Although we are experiencing severe difficulties with power generation and distribution at the moment, it is important to note that the aforementioned organisations are auspiciously making efforts to ensure that those problems are solved as soon as possible. Government, also, deserves commendation for continually investing millions of dollars in the ECG to help boost electricity production.

The preceding observations notwithstanding, it’s important that the ECG puts in place measures that will ensure that Ghanaians have access to uninterruptable power supply during the entire period of the World Cup which begins in June. During the last World Cup, there were power outages on a few occasions in many places around the country. When the Black Stars played Brazil, for instance, power went off just as the match started; by the time power was restored five minutes later, Ronaldo had put the ball beyond goal keeper Kingson for the first goal. This time around, it’s imperative that the ECG provides constant power supply, especially on days when the Black Stars have a match; because unlike in Nigeria where many people own generators, only a few people have generators here in Ghana. Moreover, it is one thing to own a generator and it’s another thing to be able to afford fuel to power it.

Though Mills is not an ‘electrician’, we hope he personally sees to it that there is constant power supply, at least during the period of the World Cup.

In conclusion, I wish the Black Stars success in South-Africa. I pray especially for coach Milo, that God improves his ‘tactical acumen’ so that he doesn’t continue substituting strikers with defenders at times that the Black Stars desperately need to get a goal.

Personally, I’m of the resolute opinion that with exceptional players like Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, Kodwo Asamoah, and Michael Essien in the team, Ghana, backed by the support of South-African fans, will become the first African team to qualify to the semi-finals of the World Cup.

If we are lucky and we meet Nigeria in the semi-finals of that tournament, ‘agbena’ we’ll beat them again! SAMUEL K. OBOUR Samuelkwason@yahoo.com