Nigeria: The bitter truth on power supply

Jun 16, 2016 12:00 AM

It has been said from times immemorial that the truth is bitter. In terms of the cause of poor electricity supply ravaging the nation nowadays, that fact was brought home vividly by a statement issued by the office of the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Raji Babatunde Fashola, SAN. In a statement issued by one of his aides, the Minister said it was immoral to expect the Federal Government to blame electricity distribution companies called Discos for the poor electricity supply in the nation.

Ostensibly, the honourable power minister was responding proactively to the news that the House of Representatives had invited him and stakeholders in the electricity industry to a meeting to explain the cause of power failure in Nigeria. The press statement was, therefore, meant to apprise the legislators before-hand till he eventually showed up physically in the House for grilling on the subject. In effect the minister killed the proverbial two birds with one stone. He answered the question of the legislators from afar as it were. He also allayed their fears also at a safe distance on the mistaken notion that the Discos were the culprits of the poor power supply problem in the country.

Let me state clearly as a keen observer of the power sector and its development in the right direction in Nigeria that I find the pronouncements and statements of the minister candid, informed and most patriotic. In particular , I urge our lawmakers to emulate these virtues even as they grandstand to nail perceived culprits for the poor supply even though the cause is well known to all Nigerians except perhaps our legislators and trade union leaders.

The minister's statement pointed out some facts.

The first was that pipeline vandalisation had disrupted and decreased electricity supply massively nationwide and power generation, and transmission had suffered massively and such distribution had been scanty all over the nation.

The second is that many government parastatals and institutions owe the distribution companies a lot of money predating his recent appointment as Minister of Power thus tying his hands to stop the Discos from demanding immediate payment from such government agencies or have them face massive disconnection. Which ipso facto is the legal resort for such breach of payment in the face of continuous enjoyment without payment of electricity supply by these government facilities and corporations .

The third was the fact unknown to many in the public that the Federal Government before the advent of this administration had sold its ownership in the power companies and had no control over them in terms of generation and distribution of electricity.

The minister admitted that aside from the violation of the law inherent in assuming false ownership and giving futile orders, there was the dangerous risk of creating a potential rash of litigation in the advice in some quarters to stop the Discos from realising revenue for sold services both now and in the past. Especially from government institutions which have become brazen debtors to Discos which are privately owned by equally patriotic and hard working Nigerian businessmen and astute investors. In addition the minister harped on the fact that the Discos charged cost reflective tariffs approved for them by law and it would be again immoral for government whose agencies owe the Discos so much to ask the Discos not to take money for services rendered .

Indeed to support the minister on this stance was the advice he offered Nigerians when the Senate summoned him earlier in the year to explain the new electricity tariffs approved for the Discos by the Electricity Regulation Commission of Nigeria (ERCN). Unfortunately, the Nigerian Senate stopped the new tariff increase rather wrongly.

The minister said then that the increased electricity tariffs were like bitter quinine which ultimately will make life better for any patient or victim of malaria. That example was very apt and instructive but the Senate ignored it then and electricity generation and distribution took a nosedive even before the vandalisation reached the present uncontrollable situation.

If you add to that the fact that the union leaders asked Nigerians to go on strike because of the new tariffs in electricity alongside the fuel price hike of N145, then you must admit that it was indeed honourable of the minister to say publicly that it would be immoral to blame the Discos for poor electricity supply as the unions had done so unpatriotically.

Gbadamosi, an engineer, writes from Iseyin, Oyo State.

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