By Oji Odu
Both the Power Works and Housing Minister, Babatunde Fashola and the electricity Distribution Companies (DISCOs) should know that the supposedly gullible Nigerians are tired of all the bickering and lies they are always engaged in almost on weekly or monthly basis to explain to why the sector is not working.
They should also know that Nigerians are no longer deceived or fooled by their theatrical fisticuffs while the helpless electricity consumers continues to be ripped-off on daily basis with the estimated and crazy monthly electricity bills with no one ready to come to their aid, as electricity supply continues to deteriorate.
Recently, while directing the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) to find ways of eliminating the draconian estimated billings at a Press briefing in Abuja, the Minister of Power Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola advised the DISCOs to improve in their service delivery to the customers or exit the electricity market for investors that are ready to satisfy consumers.
The Minister said if he had his way, he would have directed that estimated billing regime be terminated immediately, but the local capacity is not enough to bridge the metering gap in the market.
The minister, who made this disclosure said that complaints coming to government about meters, estimated billings and mass disconnections, where not everybody is owing cannot continue.
“Government must act. DISCOs bought these assets with their eyes wide open and they must compete to deliver or exit,” he said.
Fashola directed NERC to ensure that the DISCOs improve on their distribution of equipment and capacity to take up the available 2,000mw in order to optimize the use of electrical resources produced by the electricity Generating Companies (GENCOs).
The Minister also mandated NERC to “enforce the contracts of the DISCOs to supply meters, and act to ensure the speedy installation of meters with a view to eliminate estimated billings and promote efficient industry and market structure, to stop the DisCos from preventing entrepreneurs from entering the market to supply the consumers whom the DisCos cannot yet supply and to license such persons subject to terms and conditions in order to promote competition and private sector participation and avoid a private monopoly in the market.”
He said that it is neither his intention nor that of government to take over the investors’ business, but the government desires to see the firms flourish in a competitive environment.
Government will however find a solution whenever the DisCos are inefficient and not ready to improve, he said.
The Magazine learnt that this did not go down well with the DISCOs. Speaking on the poor metering issue and in response to claims by Fashola that they power to stop estimated billing rests on them as they have the right to meter their customers, they said they do not have the exclusive right to provide meters to consumers in Nigeria.
In a statement released on Tuesday, July 17, 2018, in Abuja, the DISCOs faulted Fashola’s claims, saying the development is meant to paint them in a bad light.
“This is a contradiction of his convenient assertion now that customers with no meters should turn to the Discos,” the firms noted.
“The metering gap, a major concern for our customers and us, unfortunately, has become a politicised issue. As a means of tracking and accounting for our revenues, there is no greater interested party in comprehensive metering than the Discos.
“With the farming out of the responsibility of metering to third-party vendors under the Meter Asset Provider regulation enacted by NERC, it is our hope that the challenges of estimated billing will be minimized for our customers over time.”
They added that government has continued to prevent the Discos from receiving the allowable revenue needed to run the sector effectively and has turned around to accuse them of not investing in the sector. This they say is disingenuous, and is the major reason why the Discos can’t contract directly with the Gencos.
“The minister’s position is inconsistent with the facts. Indeed, the various interferences in the past four years have simply created a continuous shifting of the goal post,” the stated.
Speaking further, the 11 DISCOs on Tuesday, July 11 took a swipe at the Federal Government for being economical with the truth about power generation and misleading Nigerians who see them in bad light. They said government lied on its claims of improvement in power generation in the country, stressing that generation capacity as at January 2015 was 6,421 megawatts (MW) and not 4,000MW as often claimed by the government.
The operators who also took a swipe at the federal government for asking them to either upgrade their efficiency levels in the market or quit the stage, saying that such orders would not stop the imminent collapse of the electricity sector.
Reacting through the Executive Director, Research and Advocacy of their umbrella association, Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED), Sunday Oduntan, the DISCOs explained that the government has largely created more confusion in the operations of the country’s electricity sector, than it had helped it.
On government’s claims that power generation had peaked to 7,000mw since President Muhammadu Buhari came into office in May 2015, Oduntan explained that as at January 2015, Nigeria already had close to that generation figure.
He also described as false, the government’s repeated claim that an excess generation of 2,000MW was idle.
“A review of NERC’s “Daily Energy Watch” for January 28, 2015 would indicate a generation availability of 6,421MW – divided into peak of 4,230MW and constrained energy of 2,191MW. In other words, it is misleading to state that available generation has grown from 4,000MW in 2015, as a measure of progress, given that a volume of generation slightly under 7,000mw already or previously existed, prior to the beginning of this administration.
“Furthermore, there is no stranded 2,000mw. While there is an available capacity of 7,000MW, the best that can be generated, at this time, is 5,000mw. This is because there is insufficient gas to power the thermal plants due to gas line limitations – for instance, the non-completion of the Oben pipeline, and the absence of a commercial framework that would encourage gas exploration,” he said.
According to him, generation that is constrained by gas amounts to an average 1,500mw daily, adding that 25 out of 28 generation plants are fuelled by gas.
He explained that transmission grid frequency, line limitation and water management made up the difference of the balance 500mw of constrained generation.
He added: “In simple terms, the often-advertised and pronounced DISCOs limitation to take on 2,000MW of additional generation is not consistent with the facts or reality. This, therefore, shows that very little has actually changed contrary to the minister’s constant pronouncements.
“It is with much regret that we feel compelled to respond to the significantly distorted picture that has been painted of the DISCOs by the Minister of Power, Works and Housing (Mr. Babatunde Fashola), in his press briefing of Monday, July 9, 2018.”
Oduntan also faulted the government’s order to the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) through Fashola, to get them to buckle down or shape up, adding that no amount of government’s order would correct the failings of the sector, which they added would lead to its collapse.
“We are also left wondering whether such demonisation of the Discos is camouflage for the absence of the effective policy leadership that is desired for implementing the enabling environment that is necessary for the viability and sustainability of NESI?
“We recognise that we are on the crux of a political season, in which all manner of advantage is being sought by political contenders, we however do not want to be used as the whipping dog to advance other people’s agenda.
“—-Our members, the Discos, are not politicians, even though they distribute a product that is of great importance to politicians, in view of the needs of their constituents. Our constituency which consists of customers, employees, bankers, vendors and investors have a greater interest in improved service delivery than the adoption of cheap theatrics and propaganda for political advantage.”
He also stated that the Ministry of Power had taken away the independence of the NERC by constantly imposing on it orders to execute in the sector.
In his reaction, Kaliwo Ameh, a Sociologist, told the Magazine in a chat : “ It seems the two partners in crime that have continued to rip electricity consumers in this country of their hard earned money through crazy billing and estimated bills are at war. Maybe returns have reduced and there is high suspicion.
“ We are not deceived because they will always make up and continue with their dubious trade of fleecing Nigerians of money for services not rendered. Who is dishing out estimated bills for unrendered services? Who has ever been punished for not supplying prepaid meters? Who has ever stopped estimated and crazy billing? Nobody. Unless Nigerians rise up against this injustice, nothing will happen.”
In a similar vein, Mrs. Bolanle Ayodele who operates a provision store while speaking to the Magazine in a chat said: “ See how they are exposing themselves how they are shamelessly killing the power sector and hindering its progress.
“Both the Power Minister and the DISCOs should know that Nigerians see them as the same people that have continued to make life very difficult and unbearable for them. What we need is constant power supply and electricity bills for power we used, not estimated bills or crazy bills.”