The governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party in Cross River State and former Attorney General/ Commissioner for Justice, Barr Eyo Ekpo, says he would give to the State a constant electricity supply with untapped 660 megawatt if voted as governor. He also spoke on other topical issues. Excerpts:
We understand you have a fair knowledge of the power sector workings and the challenges. How do you hope to address those challenges and give Cross River people electricity if you eventually become Governor?
I find it a great irony that this State is blessed with two people who probably between them, know things about the power sector than anybody else in this country and I am not saying this lightly. The two persons are Liyel Imoke and I, and neither of us has even been asked for one second this question you have asked. By the way, I am not angry about it and that’s not why I want to run for governor because nobody has asked me, Eyo how do we solve the power problem in Cross River state?’ I know for a fact that if I had been asked and I had given the genuine answer, nobody will accept it because the answer would not have enabled the governor to award a contract.
So let me answer the question in two points. In the southern part of Cross River state, there is 660 megawatts sitting down, 560 in Odukpani and 100 in Unicem. Unicem uses 45-50 megawatts of that 100 megawatts and has 50 megawatts sitting down and doing nothing. We do not have a generation problem inside Cross River state in the southern part.
We do not even have a generation problem in the state. We do not need to build that thing that they call a power plant built by Ayade’s government. The two power plants we have in Cross River, which is 660 megawatts, use gas, which is the cheapest source of fuel. Nobody can run a diesel plant in Cross River state commercially; we don’t have the money to pay for it. The cost of generating power with diesel is somewhere likes N125 to 130 naira per kilowatt hour or unit. How many Cross Riverians would be able to pay N130 per kilowatt hour.
If I run ‘I pass my neighbour,’ I am more efficient than that. So I will not buy the power. That thing the Governor is building is the very definition of a white elephant. It only benefits whoever is the contractor in that place, which again nobody knows. The solution to our power problem is actually to focus on a number of things.
One, enumeration of people who want power and their metering. Nobody will come and give you power if they don’t know if you want the power. So, we must first count the dwelling of the customers that need power, who occupies them and what’s the nature of their use, then you determine which class of customers they belong to, and then they are metered. But then metering in the other way serves multiple purposes and I will not address them because I will be giving them a few secrets to our people there, not that they will even use them because I don’t know if they need the information.
Good government work can be done with metering in healthcare, education, and infrastructure. Then the next thing we do, because we have the power, is to sit down with those people and work out how we can deliver the power to the people who need them and that is distribution and transmission. Calabar and its environs have about 4-5 injection sub stations with a total transmission capacity of less than 100 megawatts, so with 660 megawatts, this area cannot take more than 120 megawatts, and that is what you need to deal with, dropping transformers and injection sub stations in those areas.
Where I live in Diamond, we share from the Niger Mills, which has about 30 megawatts capacity, but then the little transformers that hang on the poles are not that many and that’s where the challenge is and it’s not an expensive thing to do. So, as governor, I will call the DISCO and say let me back you and let’s work together on buying more of those things and hanging them on poles so that no more than 100 or so homes have to manage more than 1 megawatt of transmission capacity. That changes the dynamics significantly.
In the central, we have the Agbokim waterfalls, why is it that we have not been able to turn that hydro source into energy. The central is two things to Cross River, first of all, it houses Ikom which is the commercial capital of Cross River and number two, that is where all our foods are grown. When you go to buy food stuff, you will see a lot of wastage there because they are not processed; and you cannot process without electricity. So, Agbokim is there and studies have shown that that place can deliver at least 70 megawatts of electricity.
At the lowest ebb of its flow, it can deliver 75 and if you use efficient machines, it can actually go as far as 100. Why did Ayade not go there instead of coming to build this thing he calls a power plant? It is because he did not know better, seek advice and it is the fastest way. A hydro plant takes a while to build as against what he is building, which can be done very quickly, award the contract and make some money, that’s the truth.
By the way, there is a dam somewhere around Boki that can take 10-15 megawatts, do we know that? We probably don’t. In the north, there is the Obudu water works; there is a dam there that can deliver another 20-25 megawatts of hydro so you can actually focus on looking for private sector people, who will come with their money to deliver these projects.
It may take you two to three years but, if we had started out in the right way, by now, we would actually have had a Cross River State that can give its people effective energy independence if not even total. This is a State that has no business being connected to the national grid. We can actually create our own grid here with private sector money and meet the needs and aspirations of our people. This is why I am involved in this journey. It is to cause a paradigm shift and make the life of our people better.
It is believed that Cross River State has a high debt profile which could impede the speed of infrastructural development. How will you defray the states debts in view of the high rate of insolvency?
We have a huge debt profile because we are not attracting investments into our state. It appears insurmountable because we want to pay our debts from the N5 billion which comes in from FAAC every month, which is for states and local governments. Unfortunately, that N5 billion goes to paying salaries and that is the basic reason our debt is insurmountable.
Fortunately, government cannot be declared bankrupt, public entities cannot be declared bankrupt and there will always be money somehow so the answer to your question is, how do you deploy our resources to ensure that the right kind of people we need come back to do business with us? The right kind of people like the Lafarges of this world, the Wilmers of this world, the GE’s, Nigerian breweries amongst others. I understand that Nigerian Breweries has even shut down operation because of high taxation. How do we ensure that they come back in? How do we ensure that people believe and see that this State has so much value, intrinsic value in its culture, come back?
How do we get an average of 30-50, 000 people to come in that month of December and spend 10, 15, 20, and 30, 000 on average? That’s the question you need to be asking because if you don’t earn, no matter how much resources you have, you will never pay debts. Debts could be restructured and bought. Cross River State today does not have the ability, the thinking capacity in government, which is very ironical considering the fact that we have the largest number of political appointees ever seen in the state, and there are thousands of them. None of them is actually thinking of how to repay our debts. It’s amazing, truly amazing.
Nobody is applying himself to actually sit down and come up with a valuable plan that will enable this State either to sell its debts or to pay it off and yet we have the natural resources, we have the brains, we have the means to actually deal with this debt. How much is it? I hear that it is about 170 million dollars or so. I’m not making light of it.
Anybody that is going to be the governor, it may be me or somebody else, but whoever is going to be the governor of Cross River State after this administration is coming to suffer. His work would be to persuade people, who have given up on Cross River to come back. Here, we do not have the earning capacity to pay up our debts ourselves, it’s that simple, you have to accept that. You have to get other people to buy in to the idea once again of a Cross River that is actually bubbling and brimming with ideas and knows how to execute those ideas.