Lagos SMEs can’t breathe under epileptic electricity

Any developing country always takes the issue of electric power supply seriously. Nigeria is among Africa’s developing countries, which seem to be playing games with power supply to homes and businesses. JANET OGUNDEPO, in this piece, presents the pains of entrepreneurs due to erratic power supply in Lagos State

One would think that providing Small and Medium-sized Enterprises with the basic tools they need to make their businesses grow and overcome poverty would be atop the priority of a government that rode to power on the back of the promise to fight corruption and poverty.

But the reverse is the case in Nigeria, as erratic power supply hamstrings businesses, forcing some to go under, while resilient ones relocate to countries such as Ghana that promise a better deal.

According to a 2014 study on ‘Economic Implications of Constant Power Outages on SMEs in Nigeria,’ by Akuru and Okoro, constant energy has become one of the problems mitigating the development of SMEs in Nigeria and other African countries.

This brings to the fore the fact that as technology progresses and the way of doing business experiences a paradigm shift, there is need to provide commensurate resources to create a viable environment for business, and in this aspect, power supply.

Lagos, known for its business activities, with the highest Internally-Generated Revenue among other states in Nigeria, is a city grappling with electricity issues. Most parts of the state have their various tales of woe.

A study of Mushin, a buzzing area in Lagos State and home to many businesses, including industrial enterprises, reveals a bit of what small businesses in Nigeria suffer. The sound of traffic and business activities, the blaring speakers of traditional medicine marketers and music promoters, coupled with the noise of generators characterise everyday life in Mushin. One could hear the sound of big generators while passing by the streets that host the big companies.

Some business owners reveal that the energy issues range from inconsistent supply, off-business time supply, faulty transformers and lines, outrageous bills and nonchalance of electricity distribution companies in rectifying faults.

Ayomide Olawore, who runs a barbershop that doubles as a centre for commercial photocopying, said, “Power supply is needed to run my business. If there is no light for two weeks, I use the generator all through.

“We use generator from 7p.m. till night. Our gas-powered generator lasts for three days. However, we do not add to the price customers pay when we use the generator. It affects the business because the profit is spent on gas.”

Noting that the problem had been with them for a long time, the stylist with Esteem Barbing Salon called on government to make power supply constant, to encourage their businesses.

“If there is constant light, everything will be settled,” he enthused.

Despite the constant power outage, the enterprising spirit makes small business-owners continue to thrive.

The Chief Executive Officer of Centurion Large Format and General Printing, Francis Igwe, laments that he spends about N6,000 on diesel every day.

“I bear the cost myself. I don’t add it to the price of work,” he said.

The story is same with the CEO of Divine Mercy Canteen, Johnson Azi, a Lagos-based caterer.

He said, “We hardly have light. But we have a generator, which is costly to maintain. The government should provide steady power.”

Even away from Mushin, the CEO of Feliken Designers, Felicia Alegu, who has a bag-making business in the Alimosho part of Lagos, faces the same challenge.

“Electricity supply in this part of the state is too poor. They supply light three times weekly, and that’s mostly at night. I use a manual sewing machine. I don’t use the generator often because I hate noise,” said Alegu.

For the small businesses, to encourage entrepreneurship in Nigeria, government should ensure constant power supply, which will reduce overhead cost and ultimately lead to cheaper goods and services.

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