Monday, October 25, 2010

Nigeria plans to privatize ...

its power generation and distribution. That is an excellent idea. Privatizing Hydro Quebec and the other state monopoly power companies has always appealed to me.

THE e-mail from Nigeria claimed to come from an aide to the president and touted a business opportunity with potentially vast returns. But unlike similar-sounding messages from Nigerian princes and finance ministers—known in Nigeria as “419” scams after a section of the penal code—this one seemed genuine.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who early next year will stand in an election that could split his party and spark violent protests, has asked investors to participate in a grandiose privatisation programme meant to raise $35 billion over ten years. He wants to flog state power-generation and distribution companies, and put the grid under private management.

The scheme may be his—and his country’s—best hope of salvation from chronic power cuts. At a prayer meeting on October 4th Mr Jonathan was reading a biblical passage in front of many of the country’s elite when the grid failed and his microphone cut out. He walked off in a huff.

Ordinary Nigerians are angry too. The power supply, they say, is “epileptic”. Nigeria is a big oil exporter, but its people get only a few hours of electricity a day. The entire population–around 150m–is said to use as much grid power as the area around Narita airport in Tokyo. South Africans consume 55 times more energy per head, and Americans 100 times more.

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