Power Outage: DISCOs kick, plunge nation into darkness

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Egbin Power Plant

• Residents Decry Suspicious Drop In Supply
• Blame Low Gas, Vandalism, Say Distributors
• ‘Sector Needs Dominant Foreign Equity Players’

The current huge drop in electricity supply across many parts of the country might be the result of subtle protest or even sabotage by Electricity Distribution Companies (DISCOS).

The National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) had kick-started a new tariff regime February 1, 2016. The move was, however, resisted by labour unions and other Nigerians who took to the streets in protest. Besides, a suspension order by the Senate put paid to the plan.

Following the directive by the upper legislative chamber, the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distribution Companies (ANED) had warned that suspending the new tariff could throw the nation into darkness. And true to their threat, the nation has plunged into darkness for two weeks and still running.

According to the Executive Director, Advocacy and Research of the Association, Sunday Oduntan, the absence of what he called a market priced tariff could cause performance failure by the operators.

In Enugu State, home of the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC), residents say supply has gone from bad to worse. Generators run full throttle, even as some parts have been without power for weeks. While in some places, supply is erratic; in others, the EEDC has resorted to load shedding.

They noted that the situation degenerated only after the Senate had refused to give a nod to the tariff increase. “The EEDC has not fulfilled any of its promises in the last two years. Several areas with old and malfunctioning transformers have been left to their fate. The Company has not installed any single pre-paid meter since it took over. Dilapidated facilities can be seen all over the five states it covers. The issue of estimated billing still holds sway, amid the poor supply.

“The Company itself appears to be more interested in improving revenue than providing supply to the residents,” said Mr. Ikechi Ugwu, who regretted he had been paying for darkness at his Emene residence.

Moving a motion in the lead up to suspension of the new tariff, Senator Suleiman Nafiz (APC Bauchi North) had said: “The increase is only intended to protect the investment of a select few and not to serve the interest of Nigerian masses who are already battling with the prevailing economic situation.”

EEDC’s Communications Manager, Mr. Emeka Ezeh, could not be reached for his reactions as at press time. A source close to the Company, however, attributed the problem to debts EEDC might have incurred during acquisition, and which it might be struggling to service, adding that the development has hindered new investment that should have enhanced supply in the zone.

The situation is no better in Edo State where several parts have experienced abysmal plunge in supply. In Igarra, headquarters of Akoko-Edo Local Government Area, Some residents complained that rationing of supply has become the order of the day. Inhabitants of Ujabhole-Uwessan Irrua in Esan Central Local Government say there is no indication their eight-month spell of darkness would change any sooner. In parts of Benin, they say there has been no improvement in supply to justify any increase in tariff, while power in the last one week has turned epileptic in the Igbukhioko area of Ekenwan Road.

‎At Isior and Adolor areas, it was a litany of woes. One owner of a guesthouse, who gave his name as Kelvin, regretted how he now spends about N6,000 daily on fuel to keep his generators running.

But the Assistant General Manager, Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company (KEDC) argued that the ongoing shortfall in supply has nothing to do with the Senate’s directive, which put on hold the implementation of the new tariff.

Alhaji Abdulazeez Abdullahi said: “Far from it; there is nothing like sabotage in electricity supply,” adding that the National Assembly does not have the power to direct a return to the old tariff.

KEDC attributed the current poor supply in its franchise area to low allocation from the National Grid, occasioned by vandalisation of gas pipelines and other facilities in the south-south and south-west regions of the country.

Abdullahi said: “The frequency in the National Grid has been fluctuating and has been highly unstable lately. Kaduna Electric was allocated only 181 megawatts (today) for distribution in Kaduna, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara States, the operational territory of the Company, as against 410 megawatts that hitherto was being allocated.”

Kaduna residents, meanwhile, are groaning under the burden of the poor supply. One angry consumer said: “The salaries of civil servants have not been increased; why should they, from the meager amount, offset increase in tariff?”

For Kano resident, Ahmad Baban Bene: “We have been facing this problem because of the Senate’s decision.” Affected parts of the state include Rijiyar Zaki, Sharada, Unguwa Uku, among others.

But Muhammad Kandi, Public Relations Officer of Kano Electricity Distribution Company (KEDCO), said people should dismiss such insinuations, stressing that there had been epileptic supply even before the Senate’s order.

“The generating companies are facing a serious challenge of gas supply; that is why we are having this problem,” said Kandi.
Asked whether the controversial increase in tariff has the prospect of guaranteeing stable power supply in the country, a public affairs analyst, Mr. Lai Omotola said: “The new tariff regime will not produce desired result the way the Minister of Power, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, has painted it. The reasons are not too far-fetched. One is the technical capacity of our indigenous companies. The other is the financial capacity of the indigenous companies to bring together necessary infrastructure that can guarantee steady supply of electricity in the country.”

Omotola, who is the Group Managing Director/Chief Executive of CFL Group of Companies and Publisher of InfraWatch Nigeria Limited, reasoned that the nation’s power sector missed the roadmap when it failed to bring on board dominant foreign equity players.

“From the beginning, we said it was not enough for indigenous companies to just bring technical partners. It would have been better for indigenous companies to bring technical partners that would also bring equity into that partnership, which is lacking.

“If the man brings equity, it means he is not just a contractor to the indigenous company, but also an investor. The indigenous company will now be able to leverage on two things: its technical competence and financial coverage. That was missing in the bid and now, we are where we are today. As far as the sector is concerned, we do not have a dominant foreign equity player.”

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