Load shedding and power cuts have worsened in the Republic of Niger since Nigeria disconnected the landlocked country from its electricity grid, and pressure from its people is forcing the government into searching for alternatives.
Supply from Nigeria accounts for 70 percent of the electricity used in Niger. Under a bilateral agreement, Niger buys electricity from Nigeria to augment its own meager production.
Following a military coup that deposed the country’s President Mohammed Bazoum, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, applied sanctions to the coupists, which include disconnecting their power lines from Nigeria’s electricity grid. Analysts say the action could have unintended consequences.
“The strategic decision of Nigeria to halt its electricity provision appears to be a form of leveraging power, akin to Russia’s gas supply cutoff to Europe. From my perspective, this choice does not align with Nigeria’s enlightened self-interest,” said Wolemi Esan, deputy managing partner of Olaniwun Ajayi, a leading Lagos-based law firm.
Esan said it is misleading to think Nigeria’s power supply to Niger was altruistic. But it’s really done to deter Niger from building a dam upstream on the River Niger. The concern is that if Niger proceeds with its dam project, Nigeria’s downstream flow could be significantly diminished. This situation draws parallels to the challenges posed by the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile.
He said: “The repercussions of cutting off electricity supply to Niger are manifold. First, Nigeria has conveyed a strong message to Niger that Niger should pursue energy-independency. Regrettably, this stance will expedite Niger’s Kandadji Dam Project, potentially leading to reduced water flow downstream into Nigeria.
“Secondly, this decision risks rendering Nigeria’s substantial investment in the development of the 33kv power line to Niger a stranded asset. Thirdly, it will deprive the Nigerian economy of the opportunity to earn the much-needed foreign exchange, through the sale of electricity to Niger by Nigerian power generation companies.”
Life has become tougher in Niger since the Nigerian supply was disconnected, and media reports in the country indicate the soldiers who take over the government are coming under increasing pressure to fix the power situation.
This is going to be a tough call. “Niger has significant energy potential, rich and varied, that is weakly exploited,” Salifou Gado, an engineer, said in a paper published by a local think tank Energy Charter Secretariat Knowledge Centre.
Like Nigeria, Niger is blessed with natural resources but they are poorly managed and offer little benefit to its people. Data from official sources indicate that proven reserves of uranium in the Northern region of Agadez are estimated at about 450,000 tonnes. Mineral coal reserves located in Northern Niger are over 90 million tonnes, with around 70 million tonnes in Salkadamna, in the Tahoua region. It has an estimated one billion barrels of oil and natural gas reserves estimated at about 18.6 billion cubic meters.
But its hydroelectric potential is more extensive. It is estimated at approximately 280.5 megawatts, including 130MW in Kandadji, 122.5MW on the River Niger in Gambou and 26MW in Dyondyonga on Mekrou. Solar energy is possible throughout the territory where the average insolation level is 5 to 7kW/m2/day, with an average of 8.5 hours per day. Wind speeds, ranging from 2.5 m/s in the South to 5 m/s in the North, are in favour of wind turbines to pump water, the energy think tank said.
Yet the country has been unable to translate these potentials into assets for its people. The country has two major electricity operators, both public. These include the National Electricity Company founded in 1968 and which has a monopoly on transmission and distribution, and the Coal Company Anou Araren, which produces electricity in a thermal coal power plant.
Frequent load-shedding means that Nigeriens now get barely five hours’ supply of power daily, and this is for those living in the administrative district of Niamey, the country’s capital. Supply is worse in the other seven administrative districts, raising calls for more alternatives to the Nigerian supply.