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Electricity Crisis Worsening Universities’ Woes

Nigeria’s public universities are under siege. Their woes worsened after the electricity distribution companies applied the new tariffs to them. This has seen an astronomical increase in their monthly bills. Their bills are up over 200 per cent though allocations have not jumped anywhere to the level of increment.

The crisis was aggravated by President Bola Tinubu’s cancellation of electricity subsidies for Band A consumers. From N68 per kilowatt hour, the tariff jumped to N225/kWh initially in April. Citing operational costs, the DisCos increased it to N209.50/kWh on Thursday from N206/kWh. The implication is devastating for educational institutions.

Most of them lament that they cannot cope with the increment considering the paltry subvention from the government. Those affected are the University of Benin, Ilorin, Ahmadu Bello, Aliko Dangote, the University College Hospital Ibadan, the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, and the College of Medicine, University of Lagos.

UNIBEN’s bill jumped from N80 million monthly to N280 million. The institution, in darkness for two months, paid N79 million to the Benin DisCo. LUTH/CMUL was billed N252 million for May and paid N49 million, though it was disconnected by the Eko DisCo also. UNILORIN faced a bill of N230 million from N70 million per month. The school lamented that it had no resources to pay.

The Dangote University, Kano, has also been disconnected by the Kaduna DisCo for its N248 million backlog, out of which it paid N20 million. The worst case is ABU Zaria. The school wrote officially to Tinubu (its Visitor) to intervene in its N3.6 billion annual or N300 million monthly bill from KEDCO.

The Committee of Vice-Chancellors projects that 52 of the 62 federal universities would go bankrupt if the new billing system continued. The vice-chancellors said only 10 institutions would survive the tariff rise because they have installed solar systems and asked for a concessionary rate for universities.

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In March, UCH and IBEDC warred over a N495 million bill following the disconnection by the DisCo.

The alternative is expensive: In Nigeria, running generators on diesel is costly, as a litre costs between N1,200 and N1,400. That means millions of naira per week. At the teaching hospitals, this is not sustainable. LUTH ran on an independent power plant, but the fuel was not cheap, forcing it to abandon the IPP.

The crisis has forced the institutions to scale back on generators. In response, UNIBEN was shut down after the students protested the blackout. Undergraduates at LUTH have protested too.

Nigerian universities are in a bad place. Years of neglect, lack of autonomy, shabby infrastructure, poor funding, and brain drain have weakened them. There are threats of a strike by the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities and the Academic Staff Union of Universities.

The Federal Government pretends all is well. Since 2009, it has not serviced a N1.2 trillion MoU it signed with ASUU to revitalise the institutions. ASUU has embarked on strikes to press home its demands to no avail. The government unwisely aggravates by establishing new universities that it cannot fund. To escape the rot, the degenerate political class sends its children to study overseas.

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Since Tinubu is bent on subsidy removal, his administration must intervene with additional funding for the federal schools to cover the electricity bills and other critical infrastructure. If it cannot, it should face reality and begin a process to merge some of the specialised universities. It should place a moratorium on new universities to fund the 62 it owns.

The universities should design and construct their off-grid electricity projects to reduce their exposure to the DisCos. This could be hydro for those close to rivers. Others in the Niger Delta can take advantage of their closeness to gas.

Source: Punch

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