COVID-19

Electricity Distribution Companies (Discos) are the weakest link in the power supply chain in Nigeria. These Discos have been mortgaged to shylock businessmen who are only interested in lining their pockets. As a result, quality service delivery to traumatised Nigerian electricity consumers is not and will never be part of their agenda. Discos are only good at coming up with excuses upon excuses for their failure to effectively distribute the meager electricity generated in this country. One of the unending pretexts is that electricity supply will not improve unless consumers pay “appropriate prices” and allow investors to make enough money to reinvest in their infrastructure. Lies, Damn lies. If they get an approval today for tariffs to go up by 1000 per cent, distribution will still be epileptic and Nigeria will still wallow in darkness. Why? Discos are only interested in milking Nigerians and not in excellent service delivery. It’s a shame that these Doscos were sold to firms without passion for electricity distribution; firms without financial and technical capacity to turn around electricity distribution. They just want to make money. As a result, distribution infrastructures are jaundiced across our country.

Few days back, these electricity distributors from Hell were set to inflict another tariff increase on Nigerians amid COVID-19 lockdown. It was still all about their dubious “cost reflective tariff.” They wanted to implement between 60 and 78 per cent tariff increase approved for them by our useless electricity regulatory commission. July 1 was set for D-Day with the falsehood that it was part of efforts to “deliver excellent services to customers.”

John Ayodele, the Chief Operating Officer of Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) remarked: “In order to provide more efficient and reliable service to customers, cost-reflective tariffs are required to cover the cost of critical investment in infrastructures and other parameters necessary for improved service delivery. This new tariff design is based on quantity of power supplied as customers will only pay based on availability of supply. For example, the tariff design is based on service delivery, such that those receiving 20 hours supply daily will pay more than those getting 10 hours.”

Ayodele claimed that the company “is very mindful” of the challenging economic situation occasioned by COVID-19, but the macroeconomic facts of rising inflation rates and a volatile foreign exchange market dictated the new tariff design: “With this tariff, the company amongst other things, will be in a better position to roll out more meters, upgrade aging infrastructure and be more responsive to the complaints of its customers.”

TRACKING COVID 19

Roll out more meters? Upgrade aging infrastructure? Damn lies. What did consumers gain from previous tariff upsurges? Increase in tariffs will never translate into improved electricity distribution in Nigeria because these shylock Discos are not committed to the project. They came in to line their pockets. That’s just it. They have prioritised making money above excellent service delivery. Just look around you and you will understand what I am talking about. More often than not, consumers repair and maintain distribution transformers in their communities. Any community waiting for Discos to do this will probably wait till eternity. A large number of these power transformers were donated by state governments and politicians. Some communities also buy theirs. High and low tension cables are procured and repaired by communities.

The list of shenanigans by these coldblooded power Discos are unending. These firms deliberately reject energy amid darkness in our land. Our electricity distribution companies, that persistently tell consumers that they are not getting enough supply, deliberately reject power from Gencos. This is terrifying, while they go about terrorising consumers by collecting money for services not rendered.

They care less about our nation being enveloped in darkness. Discos just want to make money. They collect all sorts of illegal money from consumers, yet they pay for only a fraction of the power given to them to distribute. According to a recent report, Discos have been paying for an average of 24% of power given to them by Gencos, while they pocket virtually all the money collected from consumers.

The problem of crazy bills from our silly Discos has also assumed an alarming dimension. Unmetered consumers are going through hell. Daily, they protest at Discos’ offices without result. Readings from old post-paid metres are consistently ignored by these horrendous electricity distributors. They milk unmetered consumers with impunity, largely due to the failure of government and its regulatory agencies. Regrettably, this impunity has assumed a scary dimension in the last five years. Consumers are boiling. Government must take steps to stop the injustice perpetrated by these atrocious Discos.

They are averse to the metering of consumers because estimated billings provide an opportunity for them to extort money from consumers.

All previous deadlines to metre all consumers have fallen flat because the political will to enforce the deadline is lacking. For me, this horror can come to an end within six months, if government and its regulatory agencies do the needful.

Government must insist on an irrevocable deadline to the Discos to metre all consumers across our nation. Thereafter, all unmetered consumers should enjoy free electricity pending the time they will be metered. If this action is taken, our monstrous Discos will sit up and swiftly metre all consumers.

The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, must also rise from its slumber to save Nigerian consumers. Its deadlines to Discos to close metering gap are unending. Few weeks back, the toothless NERC was again talking about a December 2021 deadline. Only about 37 per cent or 3.9 million of registered energy consumers have meters.

Last February, NERC issued Order No/NERC/197/2020, placing a cap on estimated bills to unmetered residential (R2) and commercial (C1) customers, in order to end arbitrary billing and expedite their metering process. The commission added that all unmetered R2 and C1 customers shall not be invoiced for consumption of energy beyond the price capped in the schedule, which was N1,872 for R2, where consumption is capped at 78-kilowatt hour per month, at a tariff of N24 per kilowatt. According to NERC, any customer whose current estimated bill is below the capped price shall remain so without upward review until the installation of a meter by the power distributors.

Discos refused to abide by this rule. On June 10, this regulator rolled out another comical threat, ordering seven Discos to explain within 14 days, why they should not be sanctioned for breaching the capping order on estimated billing of these unmetered customers. The regulatory commission listed the errant Discos as Benin, Enugu, Eko, Ikeja, Kano, Kaduna and Port Harcourt.

It gave an indication to punish the Discos, if after the 14-day deadline, they are unable to give any tenable reasons for their action. NERC threatened that the rules would be applied appropriately by commencing enforcement action. Nothing happened eight weeks after. I am sure that NERC had even forgotten that it issued such threat. Unmetered customers are still being slammed with huge bills. NERC is clearly a toothless bulldog.

Back to the latest attempt by Discos to increase tariffs. Pressure from the leadership of the National Assembly forced them to suspend the planned increase till the first quarter of next year. However, they said the government must start bearing the difference in the present tariff and what was considered as the appropriate tariff. This must not happen.

The comment of the Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, during the meeting with the Discos is instructive. He said: “A well-intended programme or policy of government can fall flat on the face and never recover if you do it at a wrong time. I think we all agree to that. There cannot be a time as bad as this for us to increase anything. Forget about electricity, anything; whereas, even in time of decreasing revenue, we are even reducing the pump price. I don’t know how we can justify an increase in the cost of electricity at this time in Nigeria.”

Well, it is not just about timing. Unending increase in electricity tariffs won’t translate into improvement in distribution. No tariff increase should be allowed again. The Discos have breached virtually all aspects of the shares purchase agreement. The federal government should activate necessary clause in the agreement and take back the Discos. Only committed firms, with required financial and technical capacity, can actualise our dream of uninterrupted electricity distribution. The little generated must be effectively distributed.

FG’s Unviable 774,000 Jobs

I find the planned creation of 774,000 jobs for youths, with 1000 drawn from each of the 774 local government areas across the country preposterous. They are evidently not jobs in the real sense of it, if critically analysed. These unemployed youths will get N20,000 monthly for doing public works. Then, everything ends within three months. No more jobs and pay again. This is what this government is planning to do with its Special Public Works programme. N52 billion has already been set aside for the project in this year’s budget. For me, government should either create sustainable jobs with this kind of money or use it to create enabling environment for the private sector to generate jobs. We should be creating real jobs not cash gifts to partisan youths. Government should be helping these youths to acquire skills in diverse areas and thereafter, providing them tools/grants for self-employment.

The views of the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Trade, Ukpong Akpabio, on this issue are germane. He said: “The plan to dish out N52 billion to 774,000 youths will not grow the economy.

Just ‘dashing’ money to the youths will make them lazy. It will not achieve the desired result of developing and expanding individual economies. The federal government ought to use the fund to boost small and medium enterprises because of the multiplier effect on the economy.

“For instance, if you use that amount to boost 100 small businesses in one local government, the 100 SMEs will empower another set of people. Some of the SMEs will not only employ some people, they will also train some other people and purchase machineries and raw materials from others. Their finished products will also be distributed by another set of people.”

This is the way forward for our country instead of wasting N52 billion on bogus jobs. I sincerely hope that this project will be restructured along these lines.

Federal Character and Ministry of Aviation’s Agencies

Today, I am focusing on the agencies under the Federal Ministry of Aviation, as I continue my expose on the unending lack of respect for our federal character law by the Buhari government.

Four of the six agencies under the ministry are headed by people from a section of the country. Here we go: Director-General/CEO, Nigerian Meteorological Agency, Sani Abubakar Mashi; Rector, Nigeria College of Aviation Technology, Captain Abdulsalami Muhammed; Managing Director, Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, Captain Hamisu Yadudu; Director-General, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, Captain Musa Nuhu; Managing Director/Chief Executive, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, Captain Fola Akinkuotu; and Commissioner/CEO, Accident Investigation Bureau, Akin Olateru.

These are the facts and figures. At the Ministry of Aviation, it is four out of six for just a section of the country. Buhari’s appointments are evidently skewed. We must all insist on respect for our federal character law in the interest of this beautiful country. The story continues next week.

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