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Nigeria's Power Crisis Deepens as Lawmakers Launch Probe

Nigeria's perennial electricity crisis has worsened, prompting officials to warn of nationwide blackouts. As Gilbert da Costa reports for VOA from Abuja, natural gas shortages and maintenance difficulties are blamed for the power cuts, but many people say corruption is the core issue.

Citing problems with natural gas supplies from the troubled Niger Delta, Nigeria's state-owned electricity company says power generation has dropped by 850 megawatts. This represents a significant drop in national capacity of 2,000 megawatts, prompting officials to warn of nationwide blackouts.

Despite its profile as a leading oil and gas producing nation, Nigerians have long endured debilitating power cuts. Officials say the government spent $13 billion to revive the sector between 1999 and 2007 with nothing to show for the investment.

The House of Representatives Committee on Power, which is investigating how the money was spent, says it has discovered widespread irregularities in the award of contracts.

A German company blacklisted by the World Bank for shady deals in Africa collected $3 million for a power project it never executed. More revelations are expected at the public hearings.

Committee chairman Ndudi Elemelu told VOA his group is counting on the support of Nigerians to establish the truth.

"For everybody who believes in growth and progress of a country should come out and be patriotic. We need to know," said Elemelu. "Those who were privy to all the funds, the way they channeled them, even the ones they did not utilize but moved them into accounts. We need people to come and give us information. And be rest assured that we will make it public. The position God has given is for us to make sure we live up to God's expectation. We cannot afford to fail."

Elumelu says the investigation will not be hampered despite multiple threats against his life.

The dwindling power supply coincides with the dry season when demand for electricity reaches its peak. Perennial power cuts in Nigeria, the results of years of under spending on generating capacity and corruption, have stoked public anger and stalled attempts to revive the Nigerian economy.