Saving Nigerians From The Activities of The Electricity Distribution Companies And The Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission
After grappling over the decades. with the reform of the power sector by successive governments, committing trillions of Naira into it, with the genuine intention of making electricity available in abundance to Nigerians for both industrial and domestic uses, efficient electricity generation, transmission and supply to end users had continued to elude government, hence the decision by government to privatize the lame-duck Institution: the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), also christened in later years, as Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN).
Government had, in taking this decision, cited high level corruption by the officials of this Power Agency-which badly affected its operational efficiency-and hoped that it would be far better managed by private operators, in the interest of Nigerians.
To ensure huge success of this reform of the Power Sector and its privatization, a Presidential Action Committee on Power (PACP) chaired by the President, was put in place, with the Vice President and government Ministers as members, and key roles assigned. Also put in place was a Presidential Task Force on Power (PTFP), chaired by the Special Adviser to the President on Power-with a mandate to ensure a symbiotic relationship between the relevant MDAs and the private Investors, with a specific directive that they take good time to ensure that all risks ahead of the full sector reforms and privatization, were identified and brought up for mitigation or removal.
With no potential risks apparently seen or identified by these committees and task forces of the Federal Government, it had gone ahead to sell this very essential public utility Agency to private persons – comprising both the power generation and distribution outfits of government.
However, and so unfortunately, the dreams of the government of Nigeria and Nigerians, with regard to efficient and adequate supply of electricity for both domestic and industrial uses, still remain as far from being realized (if not farther off), as it was, prior to privatization. And there is no hope that the situation will become better in the near future, except by a kind of revolutionary approach, backed by fervent prayers for God’s miracles.
The Nigerian citizens who are seriously in need of sufficient energy for their uses, but have lived in lack of it through decades on end, are still faced with the same recurring ugly scenario of: obsolete and ageing equipments (such as transformers and cables); incessant power outages, due to gross shortage in supply or constant breakdown of these old equipments; non availability of pre-payment meters, for honest, accurate utility charges; huge estimated bills- as a result of absence of the pre-paid meters , bulk metering of villages and communities, haranguing them into paying or being disconnected; and amazingly, the recent upward review in tariff (up to 45%) by the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), in the face of the virtually zero services provided Nigerians by the Distribution Companies-apparently pressured by these DISCOs, in an inordinate bid to make profit.
From what has so quickly become of these electricity Distribution Companies- posing the same old problems to Nigerians – even in worse dimensions, it is crystal clear that these private operators who ventured into this gigantic enterprise, cannot afford to support its operation; they do not have the resources (both fiscal and manpower) with which to transform it into an efficient power supply company that could support the urgently needed industrial and economic growth in Nigeria.
The Distribution Companies, investigation reveal, are in dire need of sufficient funds with which to procure raw materials, such as the energy itself, from the Generating Companies (GENCOs) and purchase of new equipments, like cables, transformers and pre-paid meters.
The unhealthy consequence of this serious incapacity is the on-going alarming exploitation of electricity consumers in Nigeria in the bid of these DISCOs to break even and make profits through crazy, irrational monthly bills (even for energies supplied through transformers provided by communities) and the persistent push for the new tariff regime recently approved by NERC, without any iota of consideration for the plight of Nigerians, who have all these years been compelled to pay for services never well provided them by NEPA.
It is utterly unfair and unGodly for the Distribution Companies to make money off the innocent citizens through the illegal means of making people pay for energy not consumed, by failing to provide users with pre-payment meters and sitting in the comfort of their offices to manufacture bills off head-which when resisted, would result to severance of the power lines of the consumers.
No government with the interest of the masses at heart, should allow this evil to thrive-because, electricity consumption billing based on estimation is tantamount to extortion, and any attempt to get the consumers to pay this by force, is tantamount to intimidation-both of which are criminal offences punishable by the law of the land. Its astonishing therefore, that the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) put in place to protect Nigerians from these evils, appears to be condoning them; even invariably colluding with the Distribution Companies to perpetrate the evils. For instance, there appears to be more to it than meets the eye, in the hurried approval of a new energy tariff for the DISCOs, in the absence of any viable services whatsoever; indeed with consumers far worse off than ever before.
NERC should also be held liable, even culpable, for allowing the DISCOs to operate without prepaid meters made available to consumers and for putting in place the so-called Credit Advance Payment for Metering Implementation (CAPMI) – a programme fraught with all sorts of clumsiness, which appears to compel consumers to lend the DISCOs money with which to provide them pre-paid meters-as absurd as that looks, for multi-billion naira ‘body ‘corporates’ to ask poor consumers to borrow them money with which to procure energy meters. At a close glance, this appears as a tacit way of continuing with the exploitative, faceless, inhuman estimated billing method ad-infinitum – since most consumers may never easily afford the over N40,000 required to provide one pre-paid meter – an equipment that is usually mounted free for every consumer by the energy company-which remains its property.
Another challenge of the CAPMI programme is that most consumers are tenants living in other people’s houses, so, each landlord is being saddled with the difficult burden of having to get his or her tenants to make such monies available – the immediate constraint here (besides the general inability to afford) being how a tenant who manages to afford the money for the meter, but suddenly has need to leave the house, would recover his/her money, given that the meter he has helped to procure, will ultimately become the property of the DISCO, which the tenant cannot go away with, to his or her new location.
It is all these acts of inefficiency and criminality by the electricity distribution operators, apparently supported by a government agency (consciously or unconsciously) that have begun to send serious signals that the privatization programme of the electricity sector has turned out an effort in futility, since these investors, battled by all forms of incapacitations, want now to reap from where they have not sown, with innocent Nigerians as the beast of burden being milked by the day-a development that should, and must be quickly brought to a stop.
It is glaring that government, with all the Action Committees, Task Forces and pre-privatization strategies-particularly charged with identifying risk factors, for mitigation or elimination, eventually failed to guide the government adequately or appropriately. It has now become a monumental mistake for government to have believed that PHCN, with its essential services roles in the polity, could be privatized; it has also turned out an erroneous impression and belief on the part of the private business operators, who came angling for it, that the project was worth investing in, for profits, whereas the cost of making the energy services available to the citizens is so gigantic that only government can handle with public fund-as we all now see clearly that even the ordinary task of making pre-payment meters available to consumers, is becoming impossible to the DISCOs, hence their shameless resort to the clumsy CAPMI plan,-requiring the the ‘ordinary’ consumers to procure such a basic service tool for them – with all the difficulties involved, including the obvious crisis between landlords and their tenants.
Now that we have realised that the entire process of generation and distribution of energy to the citizenry, should never have been privatized and allowed- to be solely in the hands of private operators, with the enormous constraints facing them in providing satisfactory services to Nigerians; now that these investors have no way of going about this, without rather cruelly exploiting the masses-in view of their inclination towards profit-making; and because indeed, such essential public utility as power (electricity) should be made available to people, sufficiently subsidized by government, it is highly recommended that government should quickly nullify the sale of PHCN and make appropriate refunds to the Investors, after the necessary ‘checks and balances’. Having done that, it should then put its acts together again and go back to the drawing board on how best to make power generation and supply to Nigerians, as effective, efficient and abundant as possible, in spite of the corruption phobia that led it out into the error of privatization in the first place.
Modalities for the return of PHCN to its status quo ante should quickly be put in place by government, beginning with the selection of credible, God-fearing Nigerians who are highly knowledgeable of the intricacies in the power sector-who will sit round the table of an entirely new power reform committee of President Muhammadu Buhari, and devise new strategies for the eventual success of the power sector. Let us embark on this reversal exercise, relying on the fact that seated at the helm of affairs of the country today, is an anti-corruption President, who is totally committed to making Nigeria a corruption-free nation and has been so desirous of particularly fixing the power sector, in view of its potentials to lift Nigeria so high up, economically and socially.
In the new attempt at making this sector work, government should, this time around, seriously explore the clean energy sources of wind and solar mix (with minimal attention to hydro and thermal sources), in view of the great advantages in exploiting these sources, in terms of massive availability and safety of use (free from gas emissions/environment pollutions).
In this regard, government can still partner with private operators-particularly those who have researched into, and discovered the technology of mixing wind and solar sources to provide sufficiently abundant electricity for use by Nigerians. Other countries have succeeded in this, and are enjoying the economic advantages. Government should quickly fish out these clean energy mix experts, for the purpose of this partnership.
A public-private partnership (PPP) method with such experts, will surely work here, as each party will act as a watch-dog over the other, guided by well articulated Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This idea of partnering with energy mix engineers will be a clear departure from the past failed arrangements of ‘government alone’ with corrupt officials, or the ill-equipped ‘private operators alone’, both of which have left Nigerians suffering for so long, and the Nigerian nation trailing far behind others in development, due to lack of sufficient electricity generation and distribution. Under this new arrangement, the federal government is expected to review, through the proposed power reform committee, the activities of the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission, to determine whether the Commission will still remain relevant or be scrapped and another more relevant Commission put in its place.
A clarion call is hereby made to such Stakeholders as: the Nigeria Electricity Consumer Advocacy Network (NECAN), the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), the Consumer Protection Council, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), the Nigerian Society of Engineers, the National Assembly (comprising the Senate and House of Representatives) to, as a matter of urgency, take up this matter, and prevail on the federal government to quickly consider the obviously inevitable option of nullifying the privatization of PHCN and exploring other viable options (including, but not limited to the ideas put up in this article), towards the most effective and most efficient provision of electricity to Nigerians, devoid of any form of exploitation of the people. This should be treated as a very urgent matter of high national importance.
While this redemptive action is eagerly awaited by Nigerians presently being strangulated by the embattled Electricity Distribution Companies, the Federal Government should quickly give an order, prohibiting these Electricity Distribution Companies from any further exploitation of Nigerians-in the form of estimated bills, as well as the imposition of the CAPMI programme with all its confused and exploitative nature, etcetera.
Government should also seriously call NERC to order and get it to reverse the recent hike in electricity consumption tariff, which is clearly intended to provide the private Investors with undue benefits from the pockets of helpless Nigerians. The Regulatory Body should also be made to closely monitor the reversal to the old rates, by the distribution companies country wide, failing which the Agency should be held culpable by government for complicity with the DISCOs.
By Chima Ugwuanyi