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Power cost crippling schools | The Nation Nigeria

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Educational institutions are not having it easy paying electricity bills because of high tariffs. They are calling on the government to find a way out. Kofoworola Belo-Osagie, Kolade Adeyemi (Jos), Emma Elekwa (Onitsha), and Gbemisola Adesola report.

Schools are facing a huge challenge paying their electricity bill. The challenge cuts across all levels of education – from primary to tertiary institutions.

Last August, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) increased electricity tariff from N30.23 per kilowatt per hour (kwh) to N62.33 per kwh for customers in band A, B, and C, who enjoyed at least 12 hours and above of electricity supply daily. The implementation of the tariffs took effect from January 1, 2021.

From last December, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Prof. Toyin Ogundipe, had expressed concern that universities would be unable to afford electricity tariffs in the year. He told reporters that during the COVID-19 lockdown, when students were not on campus, the university was spending N62 million per month on power. He worried that the situation would be worse this year.

He said: “The universities in Nigeria are likely to have problem from 2021. The problem is that before the lockdown, in March, 2020, when you look at our electricity bill, it was around N61 million/N62 million. During the lockdown, the bill went to about N30 million plus.

“The last bill that I signed – N62 million – and that is without students being on ground. It means that when the students come back, we are going to be paying around N90 million every month. It is going to be a big problem for the universities.”

Ogundipe was right. This year, the university has had to introduce a sharing formula to deal with the high electricity cost.  When asked about the situation, he presented the university’s electricity bill from January 2020 to May 2021 for the three campuses.  While the university paid N51,045,592 in January 2020; the cost was N84,084,772.25 for January 2021.  By May it had risen to N181,974,923.24. Between January 2020 and May 2021, the university incured electricity bill of N1,045,297,671.60.

Dean of Students Affairs (DSA), Prof. Ademola Adeleke, sent a message to students that the school could not power the hostels all day so they should cook their meals early and use power in the classrooms area to charge their devices and attend online classes.

A student who pleaded anonymity said the power supply issue at the school hostel was not really affecting her as the DSA had directed them to use the facilities and library to charge and have their online lectures.

“It’s not really affecting me. According to the DSA, he said we should wake up early bath and do our stuff – cook then we will go to the faculty to charge. There is light in the faculties we can easily charge our phones,” the student said.

Head of Information Unit Mrs. Nonye Ogwuoma said the university was trying its best to provide power regularly.

“The University of Lagos tries as much as possible to ensure that the students have light in the night. There has been erratic power supply in the whole country so the university is doing what it can.  I know some universities in this country that are in darkness as we speak because they are not able to pay their electricity bill and they were cut off. UNILAG is not cut off but the fact remains that there is erratic electricity supply so there’s a general problem. But in University of Lagos we try as much as possible to make sure that the students have light in the night. We are not boasting but at least in terms of electricity supply the University of Lagos is doing excellently well and it should be the best in the country,” she said.

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Coping with the power bill has been challenging for universities. In April, the Lagos State University (LASU) suffered weeks of blackout when the Ikeja Distribution Company cut off its power supply.

Its Acting Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oyindamola Oke, said the problem started with the tariff increment.

He said: “Previously till about October we had been paying about seven million naira every month. But because of the new tariff introduced by NERC they took us to what they call technically Band A – that will ensure we have power for about 20 hours in a day.  But it came with the consequence of increase in the tariffs.  So instead of about N7 to N8 million that we paid every month, the thing just went straight to about N19.8 million and you know it is not small money every month.  So we had a serious problem.”

Since the university was reconnected to the power grid, Oke said the university rationed power on campus.

“What we tried to do was to ration the electricity which will not speak well for educational institution, people will be in their offices, and students will be in the laboratory carrying out their project; those who are not in the laboratory will be in the library so what we need as an educational institution is to have 24 hours light.  We did an experiment: we looked at if we run generator and we found out that running generator for three hours a day without air conditioner, switching off some of the things we have, we used about N16 million diesel to run all our generators. So, when you put the two together it’s still economical to go with PHCN. So what we are now going through is that we have returned to Nepa but we have all our air conditioner and everything but we cannot give anybody for 20 hours; so what we have done is to reduce our consumption with the aim of looking at it if it is going to reduce what we spend on power,” he said.

Oke said some other universities were not as fortunate and could not provide their campuses with more than three hours of light.

 

UNIJOS spends N27m

At the University of Jos, the power bill wavers between N25 and N27 million monthly for students hostels, academic and administrative building.

Abdullahi Abdullahi, spokesman of UNIJOS, told The Nation that though power supply was good, the electricity bill was very high for the university – especially that of the students’ hostels.

He however said efforts to introduce some form of discriminate power supply had been resisted by students.

“We have been involved in dialogue with students to see how load shedding can be done but they are not open to the idea and therefore are not cooperating with us.

“We spend between to N25 and 27million monthly for students hostels, academic and administrative building.

“The university is not coping very well due to economic downturn which has badly affected the university’s revenue sources.

“We were disconnected last month due to non-payment of the complete bill. But were later reconnected after engaging in a dialogue with the JEDCo officials,” he said.

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The monthly electricity bill at the Nmandi Azikiwe University (aka UNIZIK), Awka, Anambra State is about N15 million.  But that may soon be a thing of the past as the university switches to renewable power under the Federal Government’s Energising Education Programme (EEP) project for select universities.

UNIZIK is one of pilot universities to benefit from the project planned for 37 universities nationwide.

Its Director of Works, Ikechukwu Onwumere, said the solar grid was energised on Saturday, May 29, 2021 and was undergoing testing.

“The solar grid was energised yesterday 29/05/21 but still on test running. UNIZIK spends N15 million  monthly on EEDC energy supply.

“The station has 2 megawatts capacity which are supposed to run 24 hours. We had preferred six megawatts due to the load it is to carry.

“We tried energising it over the weekend when we had lower capacity. It picked, but later dropped. Presently, we are still working on it,” he said.

Some other universities on the EEP pilot project are: Bayero University Kano (BUK), Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun (FUPRE), Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka (NAU); University of Agriculture, Makurdi (UAM); Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike Ikwo (AE-FUNAI), Ebonyi State’ Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Gubi Campus, Bauchi; Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife; Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto (UDUS); and the University of Lagos.

While the EEP is running fully at UAM, AE-FUNAI (which was the first to start using it last year); and the ATBU, the project has not appreciably progressed in other universities.

Last December, a source at UNILAG, said the project was just at 10 per cent completion because of the sand filling of the site and paucity of funds.  When asked about the project later that month, Ogundipe said he could not answer why the project was progressing slowly in the university, adding that only the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), overseeing the project, could respond.  When asked about the state of the project again recently, the Vice-Chancellor gave no response.

However, universities that are already on the project are enjoying its cost saving gains.  UAM Vice Chancellor said the institution saves about N13 million monthly.

 

Renewable energy as way out

UNIJOS PRO Abdullahi Abdullahi said the university was not a beneficiary of the Federal Government  Energising Education Programme (EEP) project for renewable energy.

According to him, “We have not benefited from that intervention. An assessment was carried out but that was where it stopped.”

Oke said the government ought to give educational institution a special status regarding electricity supply.  He said regular supply was vital for educational institutions as it is needed for teaching, learning and research.

“What I will expect the Lagos State government to do for us is to approach federal government to support educational institutions. If they are saying pay N10 million, then educational institution should get 50 per cent discount.. and that will be okay,” he said.

 



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